Key Success Factors in Career Change and Job Search


In this article I have summarised what I perceive to be the key success factors in securing a new job. This is based on the lessons learned from running a job club during the last recession and, since then, supporting individuals through 1 to 1 coaching.  

If you know someone who is considering changing their job or who is actively looking for a new job, please forward this article to them.  

You are unique

Yes, there are many people who are currently looking for a job, but you are unique.  The best way you can differentiate yourself from the others is to unearth your top 3 unique talents and strengths.  It is unlikely that you know what these are, as they may be different to your learned behaviours.  For example, I spent the first half of my career in senior positions with global firms of chartered accountants.  Although I am still competent in interpreting management and annual accounts and completing my firm’s VAT returns, these skills are learned behaviours.  It was not until I researched my first book ‘Creating a Purposeful Life’ that I discovered that my unique talents are as creator, builder, and enabler / encourager. – of individuals, teams, organisations, clubs, and communities.  I could differentiate myself from the crowd by finding a job with a business start-up or with an established organisation that wants to start a new project.  I could supply evidence of achievements to support my application.  Or I could set up my own business.  What are your top unique talents and strengths?  

At the end of this article are some references to additional reading on this and other key success factors.

What have you achieved?

Potential employers are not that interested in a summary of what you have done and how long you have been in each role.  They are more interested in what you have achieved.  Take your top 3 talents and strengths and your top 5 – 7 top learned behaviours (those that you want to carry forward into your future) and write a very brief story for each of them using the STAR format:

S – This was the Situation

T – This was the Task I was given or volunteered to do

A – This was the key Action I took which led to a satisfactory

R – Result.  Quantify this wherever possible, e.g. ‘resulting in savings of £……….’

Create Word documents for each of these.  This information will be extremely useful when networking, writing your CV and attending interviews.

The invisible and visible job markets

You will stand a much better chance of getting a job if you allocate 70-80% of your time focussing on the invisible job market.  The first step is to use your personal and business network and social media contacts to help to get you in front of potential employers.  There is more detail about this in 6 below.

Another strategy is to write directly to organisations you have researched, explain what you can offer them and back this up with your relevant achievements.

Some organisations post job vacancies on their own websites and often do not use recruitment agencies.  I regard these organisations as partially operating in the invisible market as only a proportion of job applicants look at these websites.

As an absolute maximum spend 20-30% of your time in the visible job market i.e. join the crowd who send CVs to recruitment agencies and reply to newspaper adverts.

Overcome any self-limiting beliefs

You may have one or more self-limiting beliefs that need to be challenged and changed, otherwise they will continue to get in your way and become self-fulfilling prophesies.  Common examples of self-limiting beliefs are:

‘I’m over 50 and no one will want to employ me’

‘I have been in the x sector for 20 years and I have left it too late to switch to another sector’

‘I have a disability so I would be eliminated at the first hurdle’

‘I don’t have any contacts’

None of the above is true.

Tailor your CV for each job application

The main purpose of your CV is to get an interview, not to land the job. Keep the CV concise so that it fits comfortably on no more than two sides.  Explain any gaps in your employment history.  Write it yourself and ask someone to check your grammar and spelling before you despatch the CV.  Communicate your uniqueness in your opening Personal Statement.  Google for other tips e.g. what to exclude from your CV.

There are two main types of CV:

  • Traditional style.  You use this type of CV if you are looking for a similar job.  Include your Personal Statement and your employment history emphasising what you achieved especially over the last 12-15 year, or a 
  • Transferable skills CV.  Use this format if you want to take up a different role in the same sector or move to a different sector.  Again, with this CV include your Personal Statement followed by a STAR paragraph on each of the key skills the potential employer is looking for e.g. team leader, business developer, commercial awareness.  Therefore, it is important that you have a ready stock of STARS so you can quickly select and tailor the ones the skills employer is looking for.


The first step is to list your adult family members, neighbours, contacts you have at your church and clubs, your ex-colleagues, and all your other business contacts.

When you are relatively clear of the two or three types of jobs you would like to pursue, write to each person asking them to let you know to whom they could introduce you to help you learn more about a particular industry sector.  This new contact may in turn introduce you to a friend of theirs who may have a job vacancy. 

Spruce up your LinkedIn pages, again stating the roles you are looking for, and what you can offer a potential employer, backed up by your achievements.  Join and take an active part in relevant LinkedIn groups.  Potential employers are likely to look at your social media pages, so if you are on e.g. Facebook, remove any unhelpful photos.

A key tool in networking is to have a ready-made elevator speech i.e. one or two sentences in which you can convey what you can offer.  This statement is also useful at interviews when answering ‘Can you tell me something about yourself’?

What are your personal values and what motivates you?

Write down your top 5-7 personal values.  Examples might be trust-worthy, generous, creative.  Why? Because you will obviously be happier working in an organisation whose corporate values are like your personal own. 

Also consider what motivates you.  For example, if you are motivated primarily when working closely with your team members you are unlikely to be happy as a research assistant working alone.

Where is work?

Forty years ago, ‘work’ referred to a location that you went to every working day of the week.  An occasional one day working from home was reserved for senior people. Now ‘work’ is much more about what you do, not where you do it.  In some occupations you can successfully carry out your work from virtually anywhere in the world.

If the sort of job you want means you will be required to go into the office nearly every day then, to limit travel time, your future employer is likely to be within a radius of, say, 40 kms from where you live.  Alternatively, if you will work from home your future employer may be based locally or anywhere else in your country.  In fact, if there are skills shortages in another country you may have an opportunity to join an overseas organisation, whilst working from home or you may choose to relocate to another country.  Bear this in mind when you list and research potential employers.


If you are given an opportunity to have a preliminary, informal phone call with the organisation, take this up.  The more you can find out precisely what they are looking for the better prepared you will be.

The interviewer’s main objective is to see if you will fit in with others in the organisation and with their clients.  You will also be assessing whether you would be happy working with them.

A highly effective exercise at the planning stage is to visualise an extremely successful interview you have just attended.  You then write down what made it so successful i.e. what you did you do in the days before the interview; when you arrived at the organisation’s premises; the opening few minutes of the interview (initial impressions really do count); the main heart of the interview; the closing few minutes; as you said good bye to the receptionist and left the building; and what, if anything, you sent the interviewer afterwards.  Build these success factors into your detailed planning and put them into practice at interviews.

Google top interviewing questions and write down and remember your answers.  Switch your mindset away from what you might have perceived as ‘difficult questions’ to ‘interesting questions’.  At the interview use stories (STARS) when answering questions about your practical experience – stories make life so much more interesting and enjoyable for the interviewer.  In my opinion, it would be unprofessional to bad-mouth your previous employer.  

You may be asked to attend an on-line interview.  Ensure to download and become familiar with the latest version of the platform the interviewer will be using.  Arrange some interview practice with experienced business friends or contacts and rehearse any presentation you will be asked to give.  

Remember, interviews are a two-way meeting – adult to adult.  Have some questions prepared and do not be afraid to challenge or question, in a friendly way, any important point with which you disagree.  It is usually preferable to discuss some topics e.g. salary after you have been offered the job.

Create a support system

Ask a family member and one or two friends to be part of your support system.  Many people have also found it beneficial to have an external coach and to keep a daily learning / gratitude journal.  Although job search if a full-on project, make time for exercise, consider taking up a new leisure interest or a part-time paid or volunteering job.                                         All the very best.

About the author

Richard Fox  is founder of The Learning Corporation LLP – a pan-European firm of leadership and career coaches, business mentors and facilitators.  

In his first book ‘Creating a Purposeful Life – How to reclaim your life, live more meaningfully and befriend time’ he devoted separate chapters on how to:

  • Unearth your unique gifts and talents. 
  • Identify the personal values and beliefs that energise and guide you
  • How to overcome personal barriers

He is also the author of the recent award winning ‘Making Relationships Work at Work – a toolkit for getting more work done with less stress’.  Of the sixteen chapters those with the greatest relevance to career change and job search are chapters on:

  • Building rapport and credibility
  • Working with different personalities (especially if giving a presentation at the interview)
  • Listening
  • Influencing
  • Motivating myself  See also the four tendencies quiz
  • Working from home

The paperback is £15.99.  Practical Inspiration Publishing is offering a 30% discount with the code RELATIONSHIPS30 if you buy direct.  The link is:

The Kindle book is £7.99 / $9.99.

Richard together with career coach Joanna Lott, is writing a self-guided eBook on Career Change and Job Search.