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The need for speed in today's job search environment

The rise of overnight shipping has killed our patience. Don’t have that order you placed 2 days ago? What terrible service!

This “must-have-it-now” mentality is beginning to permeate everything in our lives—including how managers view hiring, as I recently wrote in a brief LinkedIn essay. As consumer gratification gets close to instant, individuals bring this mindset to their workplace as well—and to suppliers of all types of services.

With this “Amazon time” phenomenon in mind, let me ask you, how long has your job search gone on? Are you pushing the envelope, getting yourself into the market faster, and getting those interviews and offers and eventual employment opportunities in front of you faster than ever before?

I don’t mean to intimidate you, but if the answer is “no,” you might need to start prioritizing things a bit differently than you have in the past. No job seeker has time for complacency or indecision under these changing job search timelines. When you are ready to move and your transition lies in front of you, jump in with everything you can give it.

No time to waste

In academia, where things move at a turtle’s pace, it’s not uncommon for many months to pass between submitting an application, interviewing, accepting an offer, and finally starting a new position. This is definitively not the case in industry. Industry employers have no interest in candidates who can start in 9 months or a year. Instead, a hiring manager begins with the idea that she wants the position filled “yesterday.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that; filling the job “yesterday” has become the standard to which everyone aspires. Realistically, companies want to take no more than a month or 5 weeks to identify and interview their prospective hires.

Consider ABC Biotechnology, which has a big R&D program that it plans to launch in 90 days. Staff members have been planning for months to get the pieces in place. They’ve written job descriptions for researchers, regulatory staff, and laboratory support personnel. The human resources department will be working feverishly to get the positions filled with the best people before the action starts—which means that the fast and the flexible are most likely to land those jobs.

Industry hiring has always moved at a faster pace than academia does. But things have sped up even more in recent years, as I’ve seen with a nonprofit R&D institute client. In the past, this prestigious center would be pleased to set up interviews for the best people at the convenience of the candidates. Now, the employer insists on one particular day for all interviews, with only a week or two of notice. It’s an international job, meaning that travel arrangements to leave the country for the interview must be made. Don’t have a passport? Too bad, you’re out. Can’t make that day because your best friend is getting married? Sorry, postponing is not an option.

What the new rush means for you

In this new world, you need to move your job search into the same hyperspeed mode that employers now operate at. It may feel a bit overwhelming, particularly if you are coming from the slow-moving waters of academia. But getting on the fast track just requires a mindset adjustment, and a few new practices to speed up your job search activity. Here are some ideas to get you started. 

  • Don’t spend forever writing your CV and cover letter, potentially wasting weeks of valuable job search time. Just make sure your package represents you well, and then put it to use. That doesn’t mean you should skip customizing your CV to each position, but don’t agonize over it. The most important thing is to get your application in the mix sooner rather than later.
  • Don’t sink a lot of time into building a personal website to highlight your CV. It’s fine to do this in your “off” time or while you are also actively pursuing leads. But if you focus only on your website before moving forward with your search, by the time you’ve finished the effort, three of your job market competitors will have been hired for jobs that could have been good fits for you. I'd suggest putting more effort into creating a strong LinkedIn profile, which is what most recruiters use to identify first-tier contacts. LinkedIn is the low-hanging fruit of recruitment tools, used long before a Google search.
  • Speed up your networking by creating standardized text you can use to reach out to potential contacts. Write a great introductory email, save it as a template, and use it to quickly introduce yourself to people you’re interested in connecting with. But never write a “Dear Sir or Madam” letter—take the time to find the right person and address them by name.
  • People typically respond to emails more quickly than they respond to LinkedIn messages, so do what you can to find potential contacts’ work email addresses. If you’re already connected with the person on LinkedIn, you can see their email address in the contact details on their profile. If you’re not connected, you might be able to find their email address with a Google search. If that doesn’t work, find the standard format a company uses—for example, Robert Smith at ABC Biotechnology might be r.smith[at]abcbiotech.com—and there’s a good chance that the other ABC email addresses use the same protocol. Use LinkedIn mail only for last-ditch contact attempts.
  • Use attendance lists from meetings in your topical area to build networking rosters. What’s nice about these lists is that you have, in one place, a group of email addresses for relevant contacts that you can move through quickly. There is nothing more valuable to your job search than a meeting attendance list that includes job titles and email addresses, so make sure you get and save these throughout your search. Remember, industry professionals don’t mind getting your unsolicited email introductions, and they are often compensated for bringing you to the attention of hiring managers.
  • Every time you are offered an opportunity to talk or go to an interview, give that person the first possible time you can fit it in. There’s nothing that sounds better than “I’m available to interview starting tomorrow morning.” Reinforce your eager interest to the person you are talking to at every opportunity.

Moving from one pace to another in the job search is a jarring experience. The best way to manage it is by making a little progress every day. So, apply your scientific mindset to your job search and monitor your numbers. Keep track of how many cold contacts you are making per day, how many job applications you have in, how many follow-up calls you’ve made, and so on. Chart those numbers, and then strive to improve them on a daily or weekly basis.

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