James Johnson* had a successful 14-year engineering career, and for the first time in his professional life, he faced a job search.
James was ready to move up from being hands-on to a director where he’d have greater impact on the business. But there was no room for growth, so it was time to look externally.
One year later, James landed a coveted position as director of engineering at a mid-sized high-tech manufacturer. Here’s his story:
What was your main motivation for changing jobs?
I was ready for a vertical move and to have more responsibility. Given my options, I needed to switch companies to make that happen.
How long did your job search take?
It took me weeks to perfect and polish my resume and LinkedIn profile, start networking, and get viable leads. While my total time from starting to look to getting a job offer was close to a year, I didn’t get really serious about searching until I was about six months in.
What were your biggest challenges in your search?
The hardest thing was wanting to move up (from principal engineer / system architect to engineering director) to a different level and hearing other people’s perceptions. People don’t understand your capabilities and potential. I knew what I could do, but no one else did. It was up to me to refine my messaging, be clear, and market myself for the next level up. No one else could connect the dots.
It was also difficult to find a company where I could make the most impact. It would be easy to take the first thing that came along, but I was determined to dig down and find a great fit. I didn’t want a job, I wanted to make a strategic career move.
What was the most effective job search strategy you used?
I found sources for my target positions through networking. At first it was a problem for me, having not done it before. There had been times when I was referred to someone, but I wasn’t actively tracking down people I wanted to talk with. Things changed when I was more proactive–when I had a networking job search strategy.
I knew when I submitted an online application, I didn’t expect a lot in return. I’d always check LinkedIn to see if I knew someone—if there was a connection there. And you don’t know when something will hit. In my current job, I’d talked with the hiring manager 6 months before there was an opportunity.
If I’d initially spent more time at networking, I would have landed faster.
LinkedIn is very effective. I’d see a job opening and then use the platform to see who I knew there. It’s become a habit. To this day, I’m connecting with or talking with 9 people a week.
What was the least effective?
The worst response I ever got was from big companies’ human resources departments. I’d proactively work to get into their database, but there was no return response. I’d always try to find somebody I knew there, then network, and told them job I was looking at. There were times when the proactive submission worked with small companies. I’d get response from them.
How many companies did you interview with before landing your current position?
I had phone interviews with several companies. I interviewed in person with 3 companies.
Every interview was an opportunity for me to interview them. I’d ask, “What’s it like here?” “What are your priorities?” I’d evaluate them as much as they were evaluating me.
What were some of the more unusual job interview questions?
I didn’t get any really unusual questions, but one interviewer showed me data and a timeline and asked me what I thought of it. It was essentially an impromptu (and free of charge) consulting meeting.
Did you ask for feedback after interviews?
I didn’t ask for feedback. I tried to take verbal cues. I’d ask for feedback in networking meetings.
What was the interview process like when you interviewed for your current position?
First, I had several phone interviews with the director, division manager, business manager, and the other director of engineering. Then I came in for in-person interviews with a succession of 7 more people. After that, they made the job offer. They were thorough!
What job search tips would you give to other job seekers?
One, get a professional to do your resume and LinkedIn profile that speaks to the jobs that you want.
The second thing is that you need have a networking strategy—whether it’s through email networking, coffee shops, or on the phone. I also went to job search groups and group networking events. The first couple of meetings may feel uncomfortable, but then you get the hang of it. Get comfortable with the process with someone you know first.
*Subject’s name has been fictionalized and company generalized for privacy
I’m Dalena Bradley, job interview and career marketing coach dedicated to helping you communicate your value, stand out from the competition, and win the job!
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