“I’VE SENT OUT hundreds of CVs but I never got a response, not even a thank you or acknowledgement”. This is what I hear from candidates all the time. They feel frustrated. They look for reasons why this happens – sometimes we seek to blame both ourselves and others.

“I’m the wrong side of 50…” “I’m not good enough…” “I’m the wrong gender…” “I have everything they’re looking for in the ad and they haven’t got the good manners to reply…”

The cold, hard fact is that when you are looking for a job, you’re now in sales, even if that is not what you have your training and experience is in. So it is up to you to follow up on every opportunity that you are chasing, and not up to the business you are chasing. Is it fair? I look at this at being neither fair nor unfair. It simply is the way it is. Hard fact of life, yes, but a fact of life it is.

So now it’s up to you. There are some questions you need to be asking yourself, and issues you need to think about when you are job hunting, and these are not easy, but unless you are clear and specific in your own mind, how are you going to be convincing to any employer?

1. What do you offer?

I’ve seen so many good CVs that start with “20 years’ experience…” In reality, the comment that I have is “so what?” Be clear and concise: what can you offer a potential employer? What problem that they have can you solve with your background and expertise? This is not about age or experience, it is about expertise and a proven track record.

2. What do you want?

Of course you want a job (or a winning lottery ticket). But, specifically, what is it that you are looking for? What type of company, what level of role, what type of industry…?

Many times we automatically go to the remuneration place, and my challenge here is what do you need to earn? Unless you are clear about what you want, you will inevitable waste time looking for roles that you will not be satisfied with.

3. Don’t panic!

Set yourself realistic expectations. I’ve met with candidates, who, for example when facing a redundancy in six weeks will say to me ‘I want to be in my new job in six weeks’. Think about this, normally the recruitment process can take up to three months, and that’s assuming that you find the right job today – so set realistic expectations

4. Does your CV really sell you?

Do you talk about duties and responsibilities in your CV? If so, these are largely irrelevant! Let that sink in… these are irrelevant. What a CV is designed to do is get you an interview, not a job. Therefore it is a sales document, and as a sales document it need to show what impact you have made in your career to date, and show the quantitative measure of success. Don’t use jargon – be direct and concise.

5. Do you “follow up”?

Don’t expect people to respond (and by the way forget about your value judgement as to whether this is good or bad!). You are now in sales, you have to follow up. Be focused and persistent. Clearly you don’t call every day, but follow up three to four days after your initial contact and/or application. As I say, this is the difference between persistence and stalking! Follow up on everything, and send thank-yous after meetings or interviews. This makes an impact.

6. Who are you talking to?

With the greatest of respect to HR people –unless you’re looking for a role in HR, avoid them. They are not decision-makers, they are facilitators. Get to the decision-makers. And a word about job descriptions that you see either online or in the printed media. We all KNOW that these are very broad outlines on the role, so ring up and find out what exactly the role involves. It shows that you are interested in the role, and it gives you an opportunity to find out exactly what the employer is looking for. So you don’t waste your time applying, or it allows you to make a strong case for the company to meet you.

7. What is your job search plan?

If all you are doing is focusing on looking at job ads and the internet, the reality is that you are looking at roughly one third of the jobs market. The majority of roles that are out there are ones that you have to “network” for.

It’s a horrible word, “networking”. I agree with that. Most of us are not natural networkers, but the good news here is that it’s a skill that can be learned. Get out and start connecting with people. That’s how you will hear of potential new roles. Sitting in front of a computer or your phone or tablet searching job websites and LinkedIn is only giving you access to the small part of the market.

8. Do you use the phone?

Most of us are so used to communicating via e-mail, that we have lost the art of using the phone. Ring people – and yes you’ll have to make a few calls each time as it is unlikely that you’ll get through the first time – connect with them and let them know what you’re looking for. Remember people hire people. Of course the skills and expertise are critical but you, as the sales person, need to reach out. Again. And again.

So who am I to be giving this advice, another recruiter or someone like that? No. I’ve had to do this myself, having gone through redundancy twice (one in my 30s and once in my 40s), having experienced a separation and illness which put me out of work for 18 months. I’ve also tried to run a small business and been unable to take a salary for over a year in that space. So, yes, there have been other pressures. As there always will be.

I have the large corporate background at director level also, having worked internationally in Europe and Latin America. But one of the toughest and most important lessons I’ve learned is that I am only as good as my last sale. I have had to re-invent myself, and dig deep. In fact I do that every day – and I’m 56 in two weeks!

Oh, and I’ve just started a new business of my own, supporting people in taking control of their careers.

So, shake off the invisibility cloak. Pick yourself up. Know your skills. Sell those skills. Be persistent.

Peter O’Connell set up his own business to proactively support people in building and managing their own careers, following on from personally experiencing redundancy and career change from large multi-nationals and SMEs – “by taking ownership of your career, you can achieve success” – [email protected]