In the midst of joy and promise of one holiday season past, I sat on my living room floor, wrapping gifts I’d meticulously purchased on sale. Instead of good cheer though, I felt a deep ache in my belly grow. What I really wanted in my stocking was a new job.
I’d been underemployed and searching all year, applying feverishly to more than 150 positions. Some were a fine fit, others were dream jobs, and some were “oh, why not?!” picks that I would say yes to if I were desperate.
I had made my job search list and checked it twice. I had a recently revised resume packed full of experience, references at the ready, and the flexibility to stop, drop and do something new at first offer. I was giving it my all. And yet… I reasoned, there was no way things would change over the holidays. I wondered, should I give up or continue to grind it out through this not-so celebratory season?
You might be in a similar place, during a year with far more complications, feeling as though the end is nowhere in sight. First, let’s acknowledge that the bah humbug feeling is real and valid! And yet there is hope and some manageable steps you can take to turn your job hunt around at the holidays.
Here’s how I kept my search going.
List those gifts
Your confidence may have taken a hit over the course of your job hunt so remind yourself of what you bring to the workforce. Asking yourself what specific values you offer to employers is a critical first step in the process of job hunting, says career coach Melisa Liberman in a recent Unity Hour session with The Mom Project. You have value yes, but you might not be communicating it well, or at all. Getting clear on what you bring to the table by listing out your experiences will help you communicate that value in a meaningful way.
The next quick step
First, take a few minutes to review your resume and unpaid experiences. Create three columns on a piece of paper—one for skills, one for personality traits and one for possibilities you see in the industry or specific positions or companies where you’re a great fit. Take five minutes and list as many things as you can in each column (use words, phrases or bullet points to keep it simple and swift).
Now bask in this list for a minute—look how much you have done, can do and are! Circle or highlight the strongest point in each column. Put them on a sticky note and repeat them daily. Ta-da! You now have a value mantra that you can easily rattle them off, and use to start the new year off feeling comfortable and confident in your own amazingness.
Connect through holiday cheer
The holidays offer the perfect opportunity to connect with friends, your professional network and even prospective employers. Since all of our inboxes are bursting with unread end-of-year emails, write a handwritten card, send a text or (you can do this) pick up the phone. You are building relationships here. Ask what their hopes are for the year ahead, what the hidden blessing of a pandemic year has been, and if (get ready to rattle off that mantra) you can use your (insert bright, shining light skill or trait here) to be of service to them, their business or someone they know.
The next quick step
Who would love to support you in having a thriving career in 2021? Write down the first ten people who come to mind. Then run through your Facebook friends list, LinkedIn connections, email lists, or networking groups and find another ten or 20 people. Put specific people to contact in your calendar over the next few weeks. If it feels right, ask to continue the conversation over coffee on Zoom and get a date on the calendar.
Do the research
Last year, as the school board chair, I led a year-long search for a new principal. I had one big takeaway about how to stand out in an intensive job search: know your stuff about the organization.
The next quick step
If you have an upcoming meeting or application to send to a prospective employer, this is your chance to stand out! Study the mission, the ways of working, past clients, current projects. Check out who is on the board (you might even have a connection there!), dig into the website, have a good understanding of who they serve. And have that cheat sheet handy so you can seamlessly integrate it into your “Why Me?” statement or cover letter and interview conversation.
Circling back to your value mantra: Your research will also help spark those ideas that will set you apart from other candidates and underscore the experience and attributes you are already comfortable sharing.
Be ready for virtual interviews and catch up sessions. Get everything prepped so that you won’t have to scramble a few minutes before a video conference. No need to make big purchases or rearrange the whole house. Instead, investigate where the wifi signal is strong, where are the quietest corners you can realistically set up and how you appear on screen. If you set up now, or have a pre-game routine in place, you will be better able to focus on sharing your value and having a rich conversation.
The next quick step
Do a practice run on Zoom, so you can get a good look at yourself through the camera lens. What’s behind you and what message is it sending? Do you feel confident in this space? Make sure you have a light pointed at your face behind your computer (this can be a desk lamp or $20 clip-on ring light), which does wonders in making us all look more alert and professional. Place a notebook that’s been filled out with your value mantra and research notes next to your computer or propped up so you can glance at it inconspicuously. And finally, have earbuds or headphones charged up and handy to block out the sound of screaming kids and barking dog, and so you don’t miss a word of your next employer’s praise for your killer resume.
Make the investment
Real talk: The thing that did the most to lift me up from that career-search slump years ago required a lot of courage and some money I was afraid to spend. I hired a business coach.
Although I thought I was doing everything right, I actually needed to polish my pitch, create a portfolio website, up my rates and set daily, do-able goals. She’s the one who showed me that applying to hundreds of jobs was not a good approach for me, and helped me refine the right roles and companies to pursue. I’ve had two business coaches since then—one who taught me how to close client sales and another who helped me untangle the emotional blocks I had around being successful. With each, I have built skills and esteem, and become a student of my own career. Being curious, accountable and a lifelong learner has also made me more marketable (and there is the value mantra again).
The next quick step
If your budget allows, consider hiring a reputable business coach, join a mastermind group or sign up for a course that will give you the support and study you need for your search, your next position and the long stretch of your career. There are also many online programs (and free downloads or webinars) that can get you started. Hey, it’s the holidays! Why not ask your family or partner to give you a gift card or cash to invest in yourself?
👉 Get more from The Mom Project: Head over to The Study for more resources for your career search and beyond, and check out our RALLY Program to get matched with another community member one-on-one to meet, teach, learn and grow.
Plug the lights in
The holidays are exactly the right time to pull yourself up from the floor, metaphorically and otherwise, so you can nurture your value, your relationships and your next professional move. Even if you’re convinced you’re doing everything right, or there’s no way you will get hired or noticed when much of the world is on vacation. In fact, many recruiters say it’s the applicants (not the opportunities) that slow down during the holiday season.
When it feels frustratingly dim, that’s your chance to turn the search around and work on you. Plug the lights in and see how much you really can shine.
Jessica Ashley is a writer, content strategist, and coach whose life’s work (paid, unpaid, and in endless school board meetings) is focused on empowering women through tough transitions with creativity, grace and maybe some cussing.
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