I’ve alluded sometimes on my blog and on social media that I’ve had a lot of contract work. Some good, some not so good. Also, good just means that I personally like it. What is good to me might not be to you, and vice versa. Each to their own, and what I want to do here is share my tips based on my experiences, in the hopes that they help you.
How To Find A Job (Even When The Market Is Tough)
(Sadly) lots of times I’ve been job hunting from a point of scarcity. Aka financial desperation. It’s not the best way to job hunt. At all. I always feel that desperation is a stench that pervades the area around you. Probably it’s a non literal stench and small things in tone of voice and body language, but my point is that even when you have these variables in and around you, you still have to be looking. I think experts only want to talk about people who are job hunting at a more leisurely pace, which excludes reality for many people. I like reality because that’s usually where I live.
I wrote this post a few years back on Kiki and Tea (now defunct), and while I’m talking about politics (aka Centrelink), I also outline a bit about how I was in the best possible position a job seeker could be in (brilliant references, excellent work history, a great education), yet I was struggling to find work. I think you should read it, not only because I wrote it and liked it, but also because I keep finding myself sharing it online. It seems that politicians think the only reason anyone is out of work and/or poor is because they haven’t got skills or are too lazy to work. Apparently not enough jobs for the amount of job seekers isn’t something their brains can stretch to thinking about.
Look For A Job
When you don’t have a job, looking for a job is your job. If you work part time and need to be full time, the days you are not at work are your days when you job hunt. I have always assumed the Centrelink-required amount of jobs per fortnight is based on the time it takes to apply for government jobs. Personally, I think it is low; but I will caveat that with saying that I do live in a capital city and understand that regionally it is very, very different! When I needed a job, I sat there on Seek for hours per day, applying for new jobs as they went live on the site. It was truly my job to apply for jobs. FYI: It’s boring and stressful. But it is my job.
Job agencies. Ugh. Look. Some can be great. Others are awful, scarring experiences. Many staff are rude (I think it’s a shit job, granted, but I also don’t think that’s the job seeker’s fault!). Remember that they are paid by the company they are recruiting for. They are not paid by you and do not work for you. Staff change rapidly in job agencies and while a good relationship with an agency staff member can net you a lot of work, I don’t think many are consistent enough to spend a lot of time building a relationship with.
Job agencies often do not listen to job seekers. I am very up front and honest and say “Yes, I will accept temp work while I am looking for permanent work, however, I will always take an interview for a longer term job.”. Yet, I’ve still had people have giant hissy fits at me for looking getting interviews. Go figure. Not my problem, I was honest and open up front. That they didn’t listen or didn’t think I would do it is not under my control. Also be aware of annoying pitches for training (at the cost of thousands of dollars) that they just happen to offer. Again, people need to learn that unemployment is not synonymous with unskilled.
As you can tell, I’m not a great fan of job agencies. I’ve had some great ones in the past, but frankly the negative has greatly outweighed the positive. I do my best to avoid companies that recruit via agencies now. I prefer direct contact with a company and I’ve found that I am a better cultural fit with companies who don’t use middlemen.
These things vary wildly by industry and by “expert”. Most people don’t understand in the slightest my professional jobs. I’ve seen people skip over them because they just don’t understand what anthropology is or what you do when you’re managing cultural heritage. However, the easier example is that of what I call my back up career: office work. I’m not a huge fan of it, but it comes in mightily handy and there is usually a decent amount to apply for.
I keep one big, master resume. This has all my jobs on it. All the details of the duties. Keep it all there. I do it this way because I will forget otherwise; I’ve had so many jobs.
Then I tweak. I set up a few copies of the master to suit. For example, I have a resume that is more focused on the professional jobs I’ve had. Then I have one that is tailored to the institution I work for (it has a professional development section specific to their internal training). When I really needed work (and was applying for jobs I never wanted to do) I had one that focused on medical administration skills and jobs. I had a resume focused on finance administration roles. I even have a resume based on blogging (for writing/in house social media type jobs).
So how do I tailor? It’s pretty easy. Make a copy of your master. My resume has bullet points under each job. If I’m creating a finance administration resume, for example, I move the duties about finance to the top of that job, just under the company name. I also expand on the job more. I put more detail in the relevant jobs and remove detail from the less relevant jobs, to help draw people to the relevant jobs as a kind of subtle focus.
Formats, I hear you ask? I say tidy. I’ve had people love and hate my resume. Frankly, ignore the bullshit about things like if it’s acceptable to have a bullet point (or whatever the fuck people are on about) and focus on clarity and applying for jobs. I have never, ever had a consistent answer about styles and I don’t think there is one. Be happy with it and just apply for jobs.
Job hunting can be draining on many levels. As I find job hunting to be a combination of interesting and exhausting, I find that I have to un-invest a little to get through it. I can’t manage a full load of job hunting if I think:
- every job I apply for has to be my dream job
- that I will get every job I apply for
If you believe those two things, then you will burnt out very, very quickly. I don’t think that avoiding thinking that way is negative, but realistic. As soon as I get an interview, I am on their website, their social media (if they have it) and both maps and transport sites, depending on how I will get myself to an interview. I street view the road and local area briefly, to get a better sense of the place and so I can feel less unfamiliar when I show up.
My mindset when I really need a job is that all I need is a safe place to work that pays more than Centrelink. That is the requirement I look for.
I’m a weirdo who enjoys interviews. They’re kind of like improv sessions in my head. I know that’s not how most people view them. Be calm, be yourself and remember that you are also there to assess THEM. Interviews may sometimes feel like a one way street (and some interviews are plain bad) but ultimately, both parties want to know more about each other. Trust that you have something to offer them.
It goes without saying that you should be on time and dressed in a manner that suits the job. Or deliberately don’t. I was once told that I would never get a job if I wore my orange suit jacket that I practically live in for work. I now view it as a nice filter to get rid of people who are scared by something like a jacket; because somewhere I will be happy working won’t give a crap about the colour of my suit jacket. (Ironically, I get the most complements when I wear it.)
Accept the glass of water (or coffee, or whatever) when it is offered to you. It’s a nice way to break the ice (geddit?!) and it provides you with thinking time. If you feel like things are too fast paced, take a sip of water and it buys you time to think and regather your thoughts.
Questions To Ask In An Interview
You probably know that people want you to ask questions (often at the end of an interview) to show that you have done your research on the company, that you are interested in the role and so on. I prefer to have a set of questions I can ask at any job, and only one or two really specific to the role. This takes the pressure off of you having to remember unique questions and allows you to deliver them with more confidence.
The pause: You know it, right? When you finish an answer and they don’t say anything? Don’t feel pressured to reply. You can make eye contact and smile to help signal that you are done. If you can’t deal with silences then ask them if there is something they would like you to expand on in your reply.
I would be interested to know what each of you (if i’ts a panel) like about working for XYX? I love asking this as it helps you see the culture of the company and of the people you’ll be working with. And people aren’t used to being asked anything like it, so it’s nice to see how they think on their feet.
What is your staff turnover like? This is FAN-TASTIC if you are getting wiggy vibes about the place. I once asked this and they spent 20 mins talking about how they don’t have any staff turnover but the staff turnover they have is normal for the industry. Wiggy vibe confirmed.
What are the immediate goals for this role? This is a good generic one to have, as while you have often discussed the duties of the role, I’ve found many people don’t talk about immediate goals for a job in the interview.
And what if literally every question you have possibly thought of has been answered by the time they say “Do you have any questions for us?”. It happens! Firstly, take a breath. Actually, breathing is good throughout all stages. And in general, it’s a good life hack. If you really don’t have a question left, then just say “Thank you, I had a few questions prepared about your company/the role but you covered them so comprehensively in your introduction.”
If you’re going for something that has a heavily competency based interview (eg government jobs where you basically have to re-answer selection criteria) always member that you can ask them to repeat and/or clarify questions. This is particularly good when there is a two-part question. I find I’m great at the first half and then lose myself in the second half, so I ask them to repeat it to make sure I’ve covered the question. This is much easier to ask if you do truly believe that interviews are a two way street of questioning.
When you need a job because you cannot pay your rent, then I ignore all the things you are supposed to do when you job hunt. Basically, I apply for literally everything on the internet. Who cares what work you do for a little while? You can pay your bills and not get a black mark for being evicted. And you never know what other opportunities arise in a random job. You could find a love for a new industry, or a new skill or something. Oyster/World. I was applying for pizza delivery jobs. It does not matter how you pay your bills.
This is where I expect my advice will differ from the “experts”. Because when you need a job, being picky can’t happen. It just can’t. Case in point: I’ve had retail interviews in recent years. I am in no way the type of person who can do retail work. While I do have excellent customer service skills in general, they are not the same as retail skills. But hey, I needed the work. So I took the retail interviews, not matter how utterly absurd it was in my head. I got said retail interview by applying for any job online and taking any interview I was offered. I actually went to this interview late one night with a chest infection and wildly drugged up. But I went, because I needed a job. It sucked! It was so hard to be cheery and professional when I felt awful, and it’s not the type of behavior I think is healthy in life (my anti-hustle, if you’re sick rest philosophy is coming through here). But the need to pay rent was a more dire need than my need to rest. So off I went.
I was stuck in a cycle of “second best” for a while. I was getting great interviews and great feedback but nope, I was the second choice for a role. Again. And again. And a-fucking-gain. And despite what people say, it’s not “good that you’re at least getting interviews” because interviews cost money and don’t make money. They are an investment that will pay off later, but they are an immediate drain to you when you are job hunting in a tight market.
And what do you do when things are so scarce? You drop your standards. And drop them. And drop them. I drop them so far that as long as I’m safe, I can keep dropping them. Ignore your preconceptions. Tell your ego to bugger off. Apply for anything and everything.
Sources I Use For Job Hunting
Seek: My preferred major job board.I find their search and filtering much better than others. One tip though: I’ve found that using all Brisbane brings up jobs that are in the CBD but not tagged as Brisbane – Inner City. So I have to do a search for the CBD, and then an “all Brisbane” search, and that does find other jobs that were not in the first category but are in the CBD. Test it in your city to see if that’s still the case.
Career One: I don’t really like their search criteria or the application process on Career One, so I tend to use it less.
Gumtree: I find that there aren’t many jobs of good quality on Gumtree, but you can come across some really great gems (think start ups), so it’s worth keeping an eye out on here. It doesn’t change too rapidly (at least compared with sites like Seek) so it’s easy to monitor daily in a short amount of time.
Government: check state (eg QLD has Smart Jobs), APS Jobs (Australian Public Service – you can filter by state/location), and local council websites. Don’t just look at the council area you live in, look at the neighboring ones too.
Universities: not only the ones that have major campuses in your city, but regional ones often have an office in capital cities too (if you’re near a capital city). Unis often also have job boards for students that can sometimes be accessed by non students.
Professional associations: is there one for an industry you’ve worked in? They often have a job board. And don’t forget to check the industry association themselves to see if they are hiring.
Charity/NGOs: Sometimes jobs in these types of institutions are a bit hard to find as I don’t think they are not well categoriesed in job search engines. Common ones I look at include Red Cross and Mission Australia. When you can find the ones that suit your experience/skills, keep a list of their specific sites bookmarked. I’m always surprised how much they hire.
Other job search engines: Two that I use are QCOSS and Ethical Jobs.
LinkedIn: I have actually never used LinkedIn for job seeking. I’ve never been a fan of the platform and find it annoying to use. However, I’ve heard many people say they get good results from it.
And that’s my brain dump on looking for work. If you’d like to ask a question about any of this, feel free to do so in the comments so I can help you.
Do you have any tips for job seekers?
19 Replies to “How To Find A Job (Even When The Market Is Tough)”
I am saving this post as I am currently casting an eye about (after 10+ years, this is quite daunting). Totally agree with recruitment agencies where their main goal is getting people on the books and refusing to listen to your requirements. Me: “I am looking for full-time permanent senior administration roles in the CBD.” Them: “Would you be interested in a temp reception role on the other side of town from you?”
Oh good luck! I honestly don’t think much changes in job seeking, in the end the process and outcome really are the same. I think it’s the little things, like back when I was a full time temp in the UK, temp agencies really looked after you a lot of the time! You could even get day or two-day temp jobs. Now no one backfills such a short period of time.
And you have no idea how man times I’ve had that exact (literally exact) conversation with agencies. It’s a wonder I have never screamed at any. I’ve wanted to haha.
Gosh this is a great post. So comprehensive, love it! I especially like the questions to ask. We were discussing this at a dinner party recently and everyone had various suggestions but I really like your approach.
I think the questions can vary greatly by industry, but having a good basic set that works for you I think take the mental pressure off.
Anyone looking for work or wanting to change jobs needs to read this. It is very comprehensive and you have walked the walk and talked the talk. A couple of things I learned from being on ‘both sides of the interview desk’ …’dont wear anything that makes a noise or dangles so much the interviewer is so distracted he or she won’t remember a thing about you, only that!’ and do not hesitate to take a folder into the room with some points you wish to recall for your interview as the interview is not a test of memory’ … Great work here Vanessa!!
Oh that’s a great tip Denyse! I don’t wear jewellery so I would have never thought of it.
As you know this was something I struggled with when I moved and I hadn’t realised how problematic the job situation would be in Hervey Bay / Fraser Coast / Wide Bay.
Government jobs are limited to mostly specialised fields (via My Smart Jobs) so just teacher and doctors and nurses.
My current contract is due to finish in February and I probably either need to start checking on an extension or putting out feelers for other opportunities!
Even in my local area, the jobs are not that great. Most certainly don’t pay enough to live on. I wish there were more decent opportunities in Australia outside of the actual capital cities.
Great post! I have been out of the workforce for over 12 years as I am a stay-home mum, and it is daunting to think of the day I will need to go back to work!
I’m sure you’ll do fine! And don’t forget, you can update some skills online now cheap or free, so you can boost your resume before you start looking 🙂
Wow – this is a really comprehensive post and an excellent resource for anyone looking for a job! I’ve had so many years of being interviewed and being the interviewer – mostly in Government though. I became expert at Selection Criteria! haha I’m loving being away from it all these days though. 🙂
I’ve been about half government and half private sector; I swear, I wish I never need to do another selection criteria in my life.
This is such a comprehensive post, useful not only for those seeking employment but also those who are gainfully employed to have a better understanding of how finding a job is a full time job. I love the idea of the master resume and those questions to ask at the end of the interview are pure gold. I’ve always been really lucky and waltzed into my jobs with ease but I’ll be looking for work soon and this post is perfectly timed 🙂
Good luck with the job hunt.
Great advice. I would add when writing selection criteria (the thing I hate the most) is to get someone you know or who hires humans to look over them. This really helped me. As did ringing people when you get rejected from jobs. Feedback is painful but worth it.
Oh yes, feedback on selection criteria can be great. Especially when sometime they are repetitive & you are sick of staring at them 🙂
Love your questions to ask at an interview! And your advice about dropping standards. It’s good advice, people just don’t like to hear it. But sometimes you gotta do whatever you can to pay the bills!
It might be harsh, especially when you’ve worked and studied for a specific career. But really, delivering a pizza or stocking a shelf is unlikely to hurt most people! Sadly I do think it is too hard to get a basic job when you’ve done other work, I certainly struggled. Some jobs they really only want under 21’s for the cheap wages.
I’m a weirdo and enjoy job interviews too! I’ve noticed they’re a lot more casual these days (well, the last one I went to was, anyway). You’ve also reminded me to update my resume!