How to Get Unstuck from Any Part of Your Job Search

Remember MacGyver? That TV character who could get out of any situation – locked in a bank vault or strapped to an atomic bomb – with just his trusty Swiss Army Knife and a paper clip?


Well wouldn’t it be great to be the MacGyver of job hunting? In other words, no matter how stuck you may feel in your search, you could escape with just a handful of simple tricks?


That’s what I want to show you today: How you can become a human Swiss Army Knife, solving just about any job search challenge. All before the episode – and your patience – expires!


3 Stages of the Search


In order to unstick yourself, you first have to identify the stage of the job search at which you’re stuck. But, luckily, there are only three to focus on:


1.     Getting Started – You’re stuck in a dead-end job and don’t even know where to start your search.

2.     Getting an Interview – You’re applying for jobs but never hearing back.

3.     Getting an Offer – You’re getting interviews but never closing the deal.


So before moving on, think about where in this process you’re getting caught up. And then consult the sections below for the exact techniques to plot your escape.


Stage 1: Stuck at the Start


If you know you’re unhappy with your current situation but don’t have a clue what to do about it, fear not! This is actually the most fun stage to escape from, believe it or not. And that’s because you don’t even have to stress out about applications or interviews yet. Instead, you can just focus on fantasizing about a better career.


Here’s how, step-by-step:


1.     Go to LinkedIn’s alumni page, which will give you a taste of what your classmates are up to.

2.     Click the right arrow to scroll to the second page of search criteria, so you see “What they studied.”

3.     Select your major from the list of degrees (or search for it by clicking the magnifying glass).


You’ll now see a list of professionals from your same school with your same credentials. In other words, the jobs they’re doing today are likely jobs you’d be qualified to get! And so all you have to do is just start scrolling through the results. Then, ask yourself:


·      Does this sound like an interesting job? (“I’m passionate about the environment – maybe ‘Sustainability Manager’ is right up my alley.”)

·      Does this seem like an intriguing company? (“I’ve heard really good things about this place.”)

·     Is this person someone you admire? (“I’ve always thought Sarah would be a great person to work with.”)


If you answer “Yes” to any of those questions, immediately reach out to the person to set-up some time to learn about their job and how they got it (you can usually find their email address via your school’s alumni directory). And before you know it, you’ll be able to envision multiple next steps for your own career - and multiple escape routes from your current dead-end!


Stage 2: Stuck in Application Mode


But what if you already know what you want to do next – and you’re just not getting anywhere with your applications for it? In that case, there are two MacGyver solutions, depending on your specific predicament.


Application Trap: Quantity


One possible trap is that you’re just not putting out enough applications. While I’m all for being focused in your search, don’t let that concentration become a justification for laziness (“Well, I only applied to one company this month because I’m just so laser-focused…”). After all, if the odds of getting a job at a place like Google are something like .2%, you’re going to need more than a few applications to have any serious chance of getting traction.


To that end, here are two simple ideas to force yourself to get more applications out there:


1)    Find a headhunter since they have a direct monetary incentive to get you out there as fast and broadly as possible. Try searching “executive recruiter” and then your industry or location on Google or LinkedIn to find someone specific to your space.

2)    Put your own money on the line. Sign-up for a site like Stickk that makes you commit to a certain goal (e.g., 10 applications a week for the next 4 weeks), along with a referee and a consequence (e.g., your best friend will take your $100 and donate it to your least favorite cause if you don’t follow through!). You’ll be shocked by how many applications you start putting out all of a sudden…


Application Trap: Quality


Let’s say you’re already putting out dozens of applications a week but still having nothing to show for it. In that case, your trap may have more to do with quality than quantity. And, again, there are two potential quick solves:


1)    Find someone in your desired space (e.g., the person who has your dream job or hires for it, using the same LinkedIn search strategy described above) and have them review your application candidly. As in: “Tell me all the reasons why you wouldn’t offer me an interview. And don’t pull any punches – I’d rather hear it from you than hear nothing from recruiters at all!”

2)    Find someone on the inside who can refer you. If you’re applying for a super competitive role, even an awesome application isn’t sufficient. So, again, use the LinkedIn strategy to find a fellow alum who can put in a good word for you. I lay out exactly how to get this referral here.


Stage 3: Stuck in Interview Limbo


So you’ve made it all the way to the final stage but just aren’t closing the deal? First of all, take pride in the fact that you’ve already overcome some of the biggest challenges: You know where you belong and recruiters agree that you’re in the right place. And then remember that all you have to do now is put on a great closing performance.


Thus, just like an actor preparing for the stage, there are only two things holding you back from certain stardom: Your lines and how you say them.


Interview Trap: Your Content


The first place to look is the content of your answers. For example, are the stories you’re telling about your background and work experience compelling? Or do they come across as amateurish and/or irrelevant?


To find out, map out your best work stories (e.g., leadership, communication, conflict-resolution) against these bullets:


·      What was the big challenge? (My team was up against a major deadline and everyone was stressed out since it looked like we wouldn’t hit it.)

·      How did you respond? (Rather than let everyone burn out and hand in sub-par work, I led an impromptu outing to a local kickboxing class. And once our team got our frustrations out, we came back to the office and worked together better and harder than we ever had!)

·      What was the result? (We not only finished our project ahead of time, but we also had 100% retention on that same team for the next two years.)


And then have a friend review your stories to make sure they’re both clear (“I understand exactly what you did.”) and compelling (“I understand exactly why it was important.”).


Interview Trap: Your Delivery


But maybe your stories are spot-on? In that case, chances are it’s how you’re delivering them that’s holding you back. And here’s where you need to do some practice interviews, arming a friend with the following delivery checklist:


  •  Did the candidate have:

o   A sense of humor?

o   Self-deprecation?

o   Positive energy (smile/body language)?

  •  Would you want to work with the candidate?


Because, as it turns out, hiring managers don’t just look for competence, they also look for warmth. And so even if your stories demonstrate serious expertise, if you don’t also come across as an engaging human, you’re unlikely to get the offer.




So the next time you find yourself in a job search jam, don’t stress out while your career time bomb ticks down. Instead, ask yourself: “What would MacGyver do?”


And then figure out the simplest, most direct path to freedom. Because you don’t need a ton of fancy tools to rock your career. Just common sense and a paper clip or two!


Want more MacGyver tips for your career? I developed a series of job hacks to help me go from teaching kindergarten to working at Apple. And now you can get my step-by-step career course for free – to MacGyver your own career!