Beginning a job search can be confusing – and often leaves you with more questions than answers. Even if you’re eager to get started, how do you figure out which steps will really get you to that job you want?
When I was about to graduate college, my great plan was to make 100 copies of my resume and send them out to all kinds of companies, along with cookie-cutter “To Whom It May Concern” cover letters … and then I waited hopefully. And waited. And waited. Every day I ran down to the mailbox to see who had responded. The answer was always the same: Nobody!
Where to really start looking for a job
I don’t want what happened to me to happen to you. So let me start you off, as you begin your job search journey, with eight key things you need to know to get your search headed in the right direction.
NOTE: I know this is a lot, but keep going. What you don’t know you don’t know in job search can hurt you! 🙂
1. IMPORTANT: Take time to know yourself – That may sound obvious, but don’t blow it off too quickly. It’s more critical to a successful job search than you think. Not only will you be selling yourself to a potential employer, but you’ll need to know enough about yourself to aim in a direction that makes sense for you and the employer. Saves a lot of wasted time for both parties.
The more you know yourself, the more you can zero in on a good job fit for yourself, and also explain why you fit well to a potential employer. Of course, self-knowledge grows over time – we hope. But even if you’re fresh out of school, there’s a lot you can learn by looking at how you handled things along the way, including the challenges, large and small. Look for success moments – even ones you might not remember at first.
In fact, while you are assessing yourself, you can be making notes that will help you present yourself more effectively in an interview. Employers love stories about how you overcame problems by finding a clever solution or learning a new skill. And, it may also help you to avoid a job environment or job type that you wouldn’t be good for or even enjoy. Effort up front pays off big time later on. Even the ancient Greeks thought “know thyself” was a pretty cool thing.
So don’t skip this step if there’s even a chance it might help!
2. Assess your human resources – Your first and most important resource is you. But a successful job search also needs strong allies. This is NOT the time to be shy about asking for help, even if that is your nature. (It’s mine, by the way.) This is the time to remind yourself that the most important job you have at this moment is finding a job. And that you are someone who will be a valuable asset to the right employer, because each person brings something to a job no one else can. (Step #1 helps you put that picture of what makes you unique together for yourself.)
So now it’s time to think about who you know or have known at some point – or who someone you know might know. Make a list as long as you can, even jotting down maybe names. Think hard. Family members. Former teachers. Former colleagues. Former classmates who may be able to help or may be connected to someone who could help. Bosses who thought highly of you. People you’ve met at a conference or anywhere (good to start collecting business cards, even if you aren’t sure you’ll ever need them). Organizations you’ve belonged to. Places you’ve volunteered.
Also think about organizations you’ve been part or even projects while in school or sports teams or other places where you did a good job and/or made good connections. You can always edit the list later, so for now include every name you can think of who might help, even if you can’t imagine how right now.
3. Research the job market – In contrast to the hit-or-miss job search approach I took years ago when I was looking for my first just-graduated job, it pays to take time to think about what’s going on in field(s) you’re most interested in, and where the jobs are. First, take a look at the current job market. Here the internet, plus a little ingenuity, can be your best friend. You can use your favorite search engine to find out more about your preferred industries and specific companies.
You can also use LinkedIn and even Twitter, Facebook, etc. to nose around for keywords that will lead you to more information. And while you’re snooping around, look for relevant organizations and conferences (you can add 2013 to your search terms help find recent information) where topics and projects will help you see what’s trending. Job listings also, even if not anything you are specifically interested in, can help paint the picture of what’s happening now.
4. Where the jobs are – I know how frustrating job search is. Really. I’ve been there. Many times. But if you find yourself slowing down and telling everyone “There are no jobs out there”, I want you to think about this: people are getting hired. Somehow, some way, there are jobs. You just haven’t found yours yet. But you will. Now that isn’t to say you should be hard on yourself. Even the most experienced, well-connected people can take a long time to find a job – especially if they’re waiting for one that feels right, or even mostly right.
• Online sources of job openings – Job boards, although not the only place you should look, are still important sources of good jobs. Here are some job boards you might find useful. They also come with advanced searches to help you better target the job you want (once you know what that is): Monster.com, Indeed.com (accesses multiple job boards), CareerBuilder.com, Dice.com (IT jobs), SimplyHired.com, LinkedIn.com, LinkUp.com, US.jobs, Net-Temps.com (temp jobs and permanent), CareerOneStop.org, USAJOBS.gov (federal govt jobs).
Although you can find non-profit jobs on many of these sites, there are a few sites specifically aimed at not-for-profit jobs: Idealist.com, Nonprofit-Jobs.org, Philanthropy.com (click on Jobs). And, where offered, remember to sign up for job alerts for your most relevant search criteria (keywords, job title, location, etc.) You can find jobs online by going directly to company websites. While you’re researching industries and companies, think about those you might want to target for closer inspection.
And don’t forget colleges & universities, local hospitals and health centers (health care is growing and has all kinds of openings), department stores, non-profits, manufacturers, and various other employers you might notice in your area as you drive around. If they have a website, check for job openings.
• Working with recruiters – Recruiters help companies find the right candidate to fill job openings. They also help job seekers find those jobs. Although recruiters are paid by the companies with the job openings, it’s in their interest to make the best match possible, since they hope to get more business from that company. It’s up to YOU to help them see why you are someone who will be a great match for one of their employers. Recruiters may contact you from searches they do on LinkedIn or from resumes you’ve posted resume online somewhere, such as on a job board.
You can also find recruiters yourself using a search engine, targeted LinkedIn exploring, or, if at all possible, from someone you know who personally recommends them. Maybe your alumni association or perhaps a networking group can clue you in. But … and this is very important for you to know … you can still find jobs even if recruiters won’t help you. As a non-linear careerist (more on this in other posts), I’ve spent most of my career finding great jobs without a recruiter. So there’s hope either way!
• Unlisted jobs – Unlisted jobs are my favorite kinds of jobs. They aren’t on a job board. They aren’t on company websites. They may not even have a written job description yet. But I assure you that plenty of jobs are out there that you will never find through the most obvious channels. Some jobs get filled without ever even going through a traditional recruiting process. These are the ones you get from networking and from seeing articles or press releases about new initiatives – or just happening to be in the right place at the right time. But of course, most “luck” happens when you make the effort to get yourself out there on every front possible.
• Temping – Temping isn’t for everyone, but sometimes, especially if you’re just starting out or changing careers, it pays to see a company from the inside – and let them see you. Even after I had my graduate degree, I’ve used temping to find new opportunities … and keep the cash flowing. I’ll talk more about this in later articles, but more than once I was offered jobs / and or found new opportunities as a result of my temping.
• Volunteering – Sometimes you find a volunteer job that is just that and nothing more. And at the very least, it keeps you active and energized. And gives you something to talk about in interviews when they ask you what you’ve been doing since your last job. But occasionally, you get to apply for a job there or meet people who clue you in to opportunities elsewhere.
• How flexible are you willing to be? – I am a strong believer in setting your sites for something you really want, including the “right” job. But sometimes the right job at the right salary just isn’t happening right now, or it happens two jobs down the line. That happened to me once. I wanted to work with issues of homelessness and went after it with all my heart, but I wasn’t finding a job there and needed to pay rent.
So I took a job (at a lower salary than my last) helping a literacy organization. I found this while telling someone about my job quest at a BBQ. Well, after about a year, one of the Board members of my new employer helped me get to a good job at the New York City agency that helped homeless people. It pays to be flexible – and to keep your eyes and ears open to opportunities.
5. Job search tools – Jobs are out there, although not always where you can see them. And when you do find them, you have to make sure you have the job search tools to present yourself in the very best light – a true reflection of who you are, packaged to be exactly what they want. Here are the most important job search tools for today’s job market:
• Resume & cover letter – Despite some online articles that declare “the resume is dead”, it isn’t. Trust me. These articles are written just to get attention. Other than a rich relative who runs a company, your resume and cover letter are the most important job search tools you have. Take the time to learn how to create resumes and cover letters that tell your story well.
It’s not just a list of what you’ve done. Your resume and cover letter should carefully match you to the job in question. And it’s worth tweaking them for EACH job you apply to.
• Social media – This is a tricky area. The last few years has seen a rapid expansion of social media sites and tools. But there is nothing like getting to meet someone in person. You want to balance the time spent online (it can be addictive) with things that will get you face-to-face meetings. LinkedIn is a great site for setting up a professional business profile and becoming visible to prospective employers and networking contacts, but you don’t need to overdo it. (And, for folks still employed, it needs to look fairly routine.)
You can also use Twitter, Facebook, and others to some extent. Even YouTube, if done right. But remember you want your job search to stay professional, and anything you do online lives on.
• Networking – Networking is a job search essential, right up there with your resume and cover letter. Earlier in step #2, I asked you to make a list of every potential person you might contact. That doesn’t mean you WILL contact each and every one. And when you do contact someone, you need to be prepared to engage them in your exciting quest. Most people love to help if they can. But this is not the time to tell them the sad story of your job hunt.
Even if feeling sorry for you gets them to help, you’ll have a better chance of getting to quality contacts if your job search story is compelling. And that’s when you turn to things you learned as part of step #1 in this article. Where are you going and who might they know now (or later on), that can help you. It’s a chance to get them to invest in you and your story.
• Informationals – An informational interview is a more formal chance to sit down with someone in the industry you are interested in or someone who knows about the kind of work you want to do or simply someone who knows people you might contact. Once again, you want to get them excited about your job quest. You are NOT there to ask for a job.
If they happen to have one, great, but it’s best to aim the informational interview at finding out more information about the industry or type of work (thus the name “informational”). And you want to leave with the name and contact info for at least one more person you can reach out to. Oh … and don’t forget your thank you notes for all networking help you get!
• Search engines – There is a wealth of information out there about companies, industries and individuals (you have to find people to network with), so there is no excuse for going into an interview without doing at least a little prior research. Search engines like Google can get you to a lot of juicy and hopefully helpful info. LinkedIn also is a powerful research tool, just jam-packed with interesting people and facts.
You might even learn about projects you might qualify for BEFORE they post the job as you snoop around. Get familiar with keywords, key phrases, and ways of combining them to find what you need. You can even try to find direct contact info that might help you get your foot in the door.
6. ANTICIPATE PITFALLS – A few things you need to watch out for – and possibly fix – as soon as possible … and definitely once you begin your job search:
• Credit scores – These really do matter. Check with AnnualCreditReport.com. We are entitled to a free credit report each year from each of the three national credit reporting companies, and you need to see asap if there are any problems lurking in your credit history that might affect your score. If there are inaccuracies, get them fixed now. If the issues are real, prepare to explain (once you are at the point of an offer) how you’ve faced the truth and are working toward resolving the problem.
• Online social media landmines – We are all over the internet nowadays. Most of it is good. But you may have photos or things you’ve written that can come back to bite you. Google yourself and see what comes up. A potential employer may do the same, and you want to be ready. Just know that even after you delete something online, cached pages can still show up for a long time, so start cleaning NOW or employers will find those pictures of you mooning on a hot summer’s day!
• Email address & voice mail – You don’t want to use a cutesy email address on your resume or in correspondence, even when networking. So if you don’t have a professional email address, get one now and use that. Same goes for your voice mail. You want to minimize your chances of turning off a potential employer during the job search process.
(NOTE: While I have had an AOL account for many years and still stubbornly use it, please know that some employers might look down on that. Fear not. It’s easy to get a Gmail account from Google.)
• What if your boss finds out – Not a problem if you’re not working, but what if you have a job? Don’t let this keep you from looking, but try to keep your search out of the office. And when you look for jobs online, you might want to stay anonymous until contacted. TIP: Do all you can to take on new projects at your current job that you might enjoy, to enhance your job search but maybe also to make your current job more interesting.
• Lack of good current references – References can make or break a job search. Don’t wait to find out if you have any reference problems. If you’re not sure about someone, it’s worth contacting them now to find out if they’ll give you a good reference, rather than getting a nasty surprise. In fact, it’s polite to ask references in advance, so they don’t get any surprises. If you don’t have good current references, this is the time to volunteer or take on some work that may help get you some.
7. Keep the momentum going – Job seekers who get hired seem to be the ones who continually have a few balls in the air at the same time. That’s not to suggest that random motion will get you anywhere or that you don’t deserve some downtime – you do! But coming up with more than one search path and continuing to methodically look for new job openings and contacts – while gently maintaining contact with key ones you already have in your tool kit, will help you get to that new job faster.
It’s not as much every action you take; it’s the whole package. The energy you put into the job search – and the attitude you bring with your efforts – is reflected in your face and the way you carry yourself when you finally do meet people who might get you to that new job.
And don’t forget volunteering or interning or even taking a course to learn a new skill. While there can be downsides to this I will talk about elsewhere, volunteering (1) helps you feel positive about yourself; (2) gives you different energy than just lying around and waiting; and (3) you never know whom you might meet. So if you’re just lying on the couch hoping the three resumes you sent out last week will bring you the interview you want, remember that the energy you expend on a daily basis is often reflected in your interview.
8. Remember that job search takes time & patience – Resilience is the mark of a great job search, and it’s also something employers look for in a successful job candidate. The way you organize your job search – from the first contact to what you say to a receptionist to how you deal with the entire job search process, tells an employer what you’d be like to work with, especially when things get tough.
So not only is patience immensely important for helping to keep you sane during a prolonged job search, but more often than not, maintaining a positive attitude the best you can in spite of the obstacles (with occasional downtime for screaming at the wall), becomes the mark of a successful job seeker, since that is the YOU most people get to see and eventually want to help – and hire.
Now let’s talk about JOB INTERVIEWS: