An effective job-hunt strategy

An IT manager who suffered three layoffs in just two years shares how he revamped his job-hunt strategy and outlines his search approach, which ultimately brought him back into the workforce.If you're out of work, with no job prospects in sight, take heart.
Written by J.W. McCord, Contributor

An IT manager who suffered three layoffs in just two years shares how he revamped his job-hunt strategy and outlines his search approach, which ultimately brought him back into the workforce.

If you're out of work, with no job prospects in sight, take heart. It's the same scenario I found myself in a couple of times a few years back, and I'm well familiar with the discouragement and frustration that comes with unemployment in an industry that is just slowly starting to rebound.

I was laid off three times in two years. Each time, my management role was downsized due to market conditions. After the third layoff, and several months had gone by without a nibble to the 250 resumes I had sent out, I decided it was time to change my job-hunt strategy as well as some other traditional employment approaches.

Initiating the job hunt
The first thing I had to come to grips with was that companies, even good companies with good management, have bad years. The sooner you accept the fact that your contribution was important at one time, and that you're just not needed due to corporate economic concessions, the better off you will be. You have to focus your energies on moving on to the next career step.

The conventional job-search methods that had worked in the past clearly weren't working anymore. To implement some radical changes, I first had to overcome four big hurdles.

No. 1: Accept that you are no longer the boss
This statement was hard for me to accept after so many years of working in management roles. I had no staff, no office, and no one to eat lunch with. The sooner you come to grips with the fact that you are no longer in charge, the quicker you can get your focus back to the task at hand. The faster you get over the trauma of being unemployed, the faster you can apply the skills you've developed to get a new position. My biggest issue was that I thought I knew how to get a job. I had to accept the fact that even though my judgment and decisions made a company a lot of money in the past, that same judgment was not working for me now.

No. 2: Realise only you can make needed changes
No matter how good your resume reads, and how perfect you are for the job, it's not automatically going to be yours. If 100 people are competing for one position, you have to change your approach in order to stand out. I knew the job situation was bad when some of my best friends, who were influential managers, couldn't get me interviews at their own companies.

No. 3: Examine the resume message
This was my second big revelation to accept — that experience as a manager can be a job-opportunity killer when the job doesn't require that level of experience. I discovered this by calling a company that hadn't even asked me in for an interview. I was told, "We are seeing a lot of chiefs coming across our desks, but not many Indians." My resume reflected and promoted me as a manager. It didn't strongly show my team skills and abilities to work as a staff member. Nowhere did it show that I was a good team player and that I got along with others.

No. 4: Understand that you may not be worth a manager's pay anymore
When I was a manager, I was paid like a manager. That, I soon realised, wasn't going to happen again in the short term. I ultimately took a 50 to 60 percent reduction in salary to get back into the workforce. Yes, it hurt financially, but my family was able to cope. We did sell a car to get rid of a note payment and then bought a cheaper car for cash. We started eating at home more and watching our expenses. Basically, I used my management skills to streamline my personal life in order to get my professional life back on track.

The new job-hunt approach

After I had accepted and cleared those four hurdles, I decided to run my employment approach the same way I had managed my workday responsibilities. I started "work" at 7am and closed shop at 5pm. My job duties focused on marketing myself, and my primary marketing tool was my resume.

The morning started with answering emails I had received the previous day. I first focused on emails that were directly sent to me from employers. These received top priority. If any email asked me to give them a call, I usually did that immediately after reading all of my emails. I waited to read all of my emails first because this allowed me to block off a period of time to do my calls at one time. This also gave me time to gather any information I could about the position and the company.

The next group of emails I tackled were those sent from job-site searches. I used a multitude of online job sites and, with each one, set up an alert to be notified when a new job that met my criteria was posted. For example, on an online recruitment site, I set up an alert to be notified of any manager, programmer, or recruiter job that became available in my area.

After the e-mail work, I would tackle newspaper ads. I sent emails to each company that had an ad for any manager, programmer, or recruiter job, even if the ad wasn't for a position I could immediately fill. Usually, I received a response about positions or was directed to the corporate Web site for more information. In most cases, the corporate site had more positions posted than the newspaper ad.

I also tried to set up lunches with ex-employees or individuals who might have some job-lead information. I didn't do this every day but did learn that most of my networking circle was very responsive to sending me leads when they came upon them. I also attended industry-related lunch events, such as professional organisations or chamber lunches, in order to network.

After lunch, I would begin my phone calling. I had developed a list of individuals, friends, relatives, and other sources during my job hunt. I tried to call 10 to 20 a day to see how they were doing and to ask them if they knew of any job openings. I then put them on a rotation call list and called them back every few weeks. You will be surprised how positive this can be. Most people are more than happy to help and will usually email or call you when they get any type of lead. Don't underestimate administrative assistants or friends at church. The people you expect the least from will usually give you some of the best leads. Remember, all leads are just one call away from a position.

I spent the rest of the day doing research on the main job sites as well as company sites.

Organisation is important
Tracking and organising potential job leads, sources, and job openings requires a specific organizational approach. I recommend using a good contact manager software for this endeavour.

I used Microsoft Outlook since I was familiar with it, but ACT! is also a good contact manager. Outlook allowed me to track my job submissions and to enter contact information about companies. This proved invaluable in processing the daily tasks of who to call and when.

The job hunt is a good time to learn something that can actually help you in the short term. A friend of mine, a VP who was laid off, took my advice and learned how to really use all the functions of Outlook. He mentioned to me that his productivity at least doubled because he learned features of Outlook that he didn't even know about before losing his job.

The resume revamp
As part of my job hunt, I rewrote my resume from scratch, since I realised I had to downplay the management element and shore up the staff/team aspect. Essentially, I took a blank Word document and wrote down what I could actually do when I was an "Indian" and not a "chief". For example, I used to be a programmer and a project manager. I wrote down all of the applications I had worked on and what programming languages I knew. My resume changed from detailing what I was responsible for as a manager to what I can accomplish as a team member.

For example, I changed this statement: "Responsible for all projects over $50,000" to "Successfully completed five projects with budgets over $50,000 on time and under budget" to better reflect an accomplishment.

Delving into job ads

When it came to actual job ads, I would review four or five ads and then dig in to see what they were really looking for. I noticed that some companies were looking for COBOL programmers. I hadn't coded in COBOL in years, but after a few inquiries via phone and email, I found out they were also looking for someone who knew SQL but would be willing to work on legacy systems. While they were not very exciting jobs, they did pay well.

Taking this information, I then reworked my resume to create one that emphasised past programming accomplishments and put a lower emphasis on my management skills. Even though I hadn't programmed in a few years, I had been teaching programming at a nearby college. Also, as a manager, I had the same responsibilities that a project manager would have in an IT environment.

I also changed my title from director to manager on this resume. I didn't drop my management skills but reduced them to one line and added five to six lines on programming experience and how my project management skills were used.

When the new resume was done, I asked someone who was unbiased to read it over. I emailed it to a few friends and explained what I was trying to do and how my focus had changed from being a manager to being an employee. Every one of them gave me good suggestions and some type of positive input.

Next, my cover letter was written directly for the position. I pointed out what my qualifications were and how they could add value to the company. The entire cover letter never once mentioned what I wanted or desired. It emphasised what I could bring or add to the company.

I also put in my cover letter that I had been downsized and that I was looking for a full-time position and doing part-time work until I found employment. Don't be scared to put this in your cover letter. In a tough economy, employers understand how hard it is to get a job, so this won't work against you.

Researching potential employers
My next step was to do some research about the company. Through networking with friends and former colleagues, I discovered an acquaintance who worked at the company. I called this contact, starting the conversation by saying that I was looking for a job and that the company had run an ad. The contact then provided some company history and told me about the manager who had the opening.

During this conversation, I took good notes. I then asked if the contact received a referral fee if he presented my resume. He said he did. I told him that I had already submitted my resume through the Web site, but it likely wouldn't hurt if he could also hand-deliver my resume to the hiring manager. As soon as I hung up the phone, I sent him an email with my resume attached.

The next morning, I emailed the hiring manager directly and told her about the conversation I had with the employee. She responded very promptly and was very positive in her feedback. She related that the HR office had sent her 100 resumes to evaluate, and mine was very close to what she wanted and she might not read the rest of the resumes! I got the position and am still at the company.

Just to be clear, I took the same job-hunt approach with nearly eight other companies before landing this job. I got five interviews and then the job offer from my current employer. The moral to my story is not to give up and to make the needed changes in both your attitude and your job-search tools (resume, company investigation, etc.). It can work, as my experience proves.

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