Finding new employment is essentially a full-time job in itself. Depending on your personal circumstances, be prepared to dedicate up to 40 hours a week. The whole process could take several months. Fortunately, you have an abundance of resources and tools at your fingertips to facilitate the job-search process. Using these tools effectively can drastically reduce the time it takes to find a job.
Landing a job that suits your career and lifestyle goals is more than simply applying to a few jobs on search engines. Especially in the current environment, you need to devise a thoughtfully planned job search strategy that can give you a real advantage. Once you do so, you can execute your strategy to maximize your chances of success.
The path to employment involves:
- Self-Assess & Set Goals
- Seek Assistance, Feedback, and Mentorship
- Prepare your Personal Brand & Support Team
- Reassess (or Consider an Offer)
Each of these steps will be discussed in detail, but they are not meant to be chronological. The most successful job seekers develop the mindset of constant networking, self assessment and refinement of the process. Setting a strategy and layering these steps around each other to form a cohesive process, instead of following them step by step, will get you the best results.
Self-Assess & Set Goals
Right now is as good a time as any to take stock of where you’ve been, where you are are and where you want to go. Take some time to analyze your personal situation, goals, and other considerations so you can focus on finding the right employers. If you target your goals and aspirations to a specific job, your authenticity will come through, and can give you a leg up on the competition. When done effectively, sending out fewer resumes to relevant employers is a better use of your time than blindly applying to any open job.
This assessment process is also backwards looking. Where have you been? What skills do you have now? Knowing this will help you understand what skills you need to develop in the future to hit your goals and further target the right jobs. Sometimes a step sideways or even backwards is necessary to obtain the skills to get to the next goal.
Once you have a clear picture, you can better prepare your resume and other assets, and even help you negotiate when the time comes.
Self Assessment Questions
Here are a few helpful questions you should ask yourself to get this process started. Pull up a Word document and write them down.
What is my current job situation and timeline?
Are you currently employed and seeking a higher-paying job? Have you decided to transition into a completely different industry or role? The most time-sensitive: Have you been laid off or are otherwise unemployed? In any of these circumstances, determine exactly what you’re looking for in your next job and how much time you have to secure it.
If you’re unemployed, time is of the essence. Make sure you diligently evaluate your monthly budget to cover your basic living expenses. If you’re struggling despite what you’ve saved up, financial support from family and friends, or unemployment insurance, consider adding part-time or freelance work as part of your job-search strategy.
What are the characteristics of my ideal job?
You should consider the following things:
- Industry—This will come in handy when you begin selecting job search sites. For example, if you want a healthcare job, you can use HealthCareerWeb.com or CareersInGear.com for a job in trucking & transportation.
- Part-Time/Full-Time/Freelance/Contract—Remember there are also part- to full-time or contract to full-time jobs available.
- Department/Role—e.g. research, sales, marketing
- Position Level—e.g. entry-level, manager, director
- Responsibilities—e.g. data entry, writing, project management
- Minimum Salary Requirement & Benefits
- Location—How long and how far are you willing to commute to your job? Take traffic into consideration.
- Company Size—Do you prefer a small business with an intimate setting or a Fortune 100 company?
- Telecommute Options—Do you need to work from home a few days a week?
- Supervision—Do you prefer managing a team? If so, how large?
What am I willing to compromise on?
This question is a bit broad, but it will help you stay flexible while sticking to your goals. For example, if you’re specifically looking for a part-time job to spend more time with the family, your new job must offer that schedule. On the flip side, perhaps you’re open to a full-time position if it the salary passes a certain figure. Think about what you absolutely require versus what you’re open to negotiating.
What are my current skills and what skills do I need for the job I want?
Once you determine the industry and role you’re looking for, write down all your relevant skills that make you an attractive candidate. Then, write down the skills you need to learn or improve.
Assessing your skills and areas of improvement will help you in the following ways:
- If you’re changing industries or roles, you can focus on finding applicable ways your current skills suit a prospective job. For example, if you’re a copywriter and want to transition into the nonprofit sector, you can highlight your versatile writing skills for a role in communications or grant writing.
- If you’re lacking a certain skill set to be considered for a new job, you can start taking workshops or online classes to demonstrate your dedication to employers. For example, if your graphic design skills are weak and you’re aiming for a job that requires sophisticated PowerPoint presentations, you can start teaching yourself by accessing online tutorials.
Network Constantly and Purposefully
Networking is all about building relationships. The quantity and quality of professional relationships you have can significantly boost your odds of landing a great job. For instance, getting a referral from a current or even former employee at your target company will send your application soaring above the rest. In fact, according to a JobVite study, although only 6.9% of applications come from employee referrals, a whopping 39.9% of hires are from referrals.
It’s clear why you need to create your own support team when you’re searching for a job. Networking is so important, you should constantly network, even before you’re in the market for a new job. Why? Because the downside is that it takes time. Weeks and months are needed to contact enough people to have enough meetings and get your desired results.
Since you’ve gone through self-assessment, you can organize your contacts list and more easily identify who to reach out to. Remember: Even someone who isn’t working at your target company may have plenty of contacts for you. A salesperson, for instance, meets a lot of different kind of people across all industries. And don’t leave someone out just because they’re retired—they’ve probably accumulated the most connections!
To begin effective networking, follow these steps.
- Gather a list of contacts from your address book, which may include friends, family, former colleagues, etc…
- Craft a letter stating that you’re on the market for a new job, describe what you’re looking for, and specify your skills. Mention you’re open to a casual meeting even if there are no open job opportunities. Make sure your note doesn’t sound like a form letter. Be prepared to add a personal touch to each one. Keep it short—one or two brief paragraphs will suffice unless it’s someone you know well.
- Extract a list of contacts you deem will be the most helpful. Pay special attention when you write their messages.
- Send each message via email, as it’s usually the preferred method of communication and is least intrusive.
While these steps will get you started, the key is persistence and follow up. A good relationship is not built on one meeting. You need multiple touchpoints, and a mutual platform for gain, so figure out how you can help the people you’re meeting with and they’ll be happy to help you.
The informational interview
You’d be surprised how open and willing people are to share their experience with you—even top-level executives. If there is a particular company you’re eager to work for, try to set up an informational interview even if there is no job opening. Generally speaking, the direct approach works best. Send the person a brief email stating you aspire to learn more about what they do. Prepare questions about what you want to learn, what you already know, and focus on the person and their career history and trajectory.
LinkedIn is the most utilized career-networking site. A huge majority of professionals are signed up for the site, even if they’re not active. If you upgrade to their Premium account which is about $500, you can send InMail messages to people who aren’t first-degree connections. They’ll receive your message directly. Response rates are generally multiple times the response rates of regular email.
Reciprocation and Value
Figure out how you can help the person you are networking with. Representing your value to someone else plays on the human tendency to be reciprocal. Don’t meet someone expecting them to introduce you to everyone they know without doing something for them first. Offer to introduce them to someone you know too or if you can help them in any way.
Always remember, networking is an ongoing process. It is a habit that will serve you well in your career and aids all of the other steps toward employment. The key is: Always be persistent!
Seek Assistance, Feedback, and Mentorship
Very rarely does a person find a job all on their own. You will benefit from the advice of other throughout the job search process. Here are some different ways you can utilize help, feedback, and mentorship.
Job Search Help
Many local government agencies have Career Centers. A career counselor will help you from beginning to end, including your cover letter, resume, interview preparation, and the application process. Career Centers even offer access to Internet and printers. Simply run a Google search for “career center” along with your city. If you happen to live in the same city as your alma mater, definitely call the alumni department. These services are typically free.
There are plenty of job search consultants who often can work with you online. Consultants are experts who have worked with thousands of job seekers and offer individual coaching, resume building, workshops, and professional development services. These services will cost you, but many individuals find it a worthwhile investment since it enhances their chances of landing a well-paid job. Make sure you speak to at least three different consultants and compare their services, procedures, prices, and success rates.
You can also work with a recruiting agency, especially one that specializes in your target industry. Keep in mind some do not offer comprehensive job search services, such as interview preparation. You’ll meet with a representative who will essentially interview you and review your resume. They will ask you about your job preferences (your self-assessment and goal-setting will come in very handy at this point). They will then represent you to their clients and recommend you if they feel it’s a good fit.
Get Third-Party Feedback
While you’re sure to benefit from a consultant’s objective point of view, your family, friends, former colleagues, and other individuals who know you a little better can offer some unique insight into what your strengths are. When you’re going through self-assessment, you might find yourself branching out into many different directions if you have multiple interests. Feedback from those who’ve known you longer can help you narrow down your goals.
Below are some questions you can ask them:
- What do you think are my greatest strengths?
- For what would you most likely ask me for help?
- What kinds of roles do you see me thriving in?
- What do you think would be my perfect job?
One of the best things you can do for your career is to proactively seek out and build relationships with respected leaders in your field. A mentor will not only prove to be an excellent source of connections but will also help you assess and progress toward your goals. If you have any nagging questions or lingering doubts about where you’re headed in your career, an experienced mentor can provide insight and offer invaluable suggestions practically no one else can.
Finding a mentor might seem a little intimidating, but just think of it as networking.
Here are three ways to get started:
- Industry Associations: Join, then try to attend as many of their events as you can. Conferences and trade shows are great places to meet leaders. Plus, they’re often easy to identify since many of them get invited to speak at workshops and seminars.
- Colleagues: If you decide to remain in the same industry, ask former colleagues and supervisors to introduce you to potential mentors. If you’ve never spoken a word to the CEO of your previous company, don’t be afraid to reach out to her or him!
- LinkedIn: You can easily perform a search for people using keywords to find experts in your field. Read the Networking section below for more information on how to use LinkedIn.
*TIP: You might meet multiple influencers in your field, but don’t ask all of them to be your mentors. Generally speaking, focusing on one mentor is a more efficient use of your time.
Prepare Your Personal Brand
Of course, recruiters pay special attention to resumes and the interview, but many also learn about you through a quick Google search before they even call you in. With the prevalence of social media, your first impression will likely occur before the first point of communication with a hiring manager.
Social media, resume, references, and everything else about you help to shape your personal brand, and give a hiring manager a snapshot–right or wrong–of what you stand for. This can be a double-edge sword because, while a properly maintained social presence can send your resume to the top of the pile, a racy photo of a night out will send your resume into the circular file.
Your Online Reputation
You probably can’t win a job with your online presence, but you can certainly lose one! Here are some tips to clean up your profiles and get the most out of your online reputation.
- Photos: You don’t need a professional headshot, but make sure all your profile photos across all social networks are appropriate. If you have any doubt, ask someone.
- LinkedIn: Make sure your profile is completely up to date and is consistent with your resume. Ask former/current colleagues for recommendations and showcase any of your work.
- Facebook: While you’re job searching, remove or hide indecent photos and text.
- Twitter: If you want to demonstrate your expertise on a certain subject matter, send out tweets and interact with other users in your field. This will show you have a serious interest. Just make sure there isn’t a history of lewd or offensive comments (you never know how far back someone will look). Even if the recruiter doesn’t see this prior to the interview, you can mention it in your resume or elsewhere.
- Blog: You can also start a blog showing your expertise on a subject. Don’t start a blog if you don’t plan to keep it updated. However, if you happen to enjoy writing and have a lot to say, consider starting one, as you can easily include it as part of your portfolio.
- Google yourself: Once you’ve built your first-impression-ready social networks, Google yourself to make sure your online persona looks hireable!
Your references act as independent confirmation of your character, work ethic, and other intangible qualities that do not come through on paper. It is very important to choose references that can honestly attest to the qualities you wish to convey to an employer.
Choose three or more professional contacts you want as references and send them a note alerting them of your job search. Get their permission to be used as a reference, and find out their preferred method of communication so you can include it in your application before the prospective employer even asks for it. Connect with your references as soon as possible and always be courteous of their time.
Your resume is an overall representation of your work history and skills. These days, it’s OK to get a little creative so you can stand out. Here are some tips.
- Unless you believe a prospective employer is strictly traditional, consider creating an online resume with graphics. With a service like VisualCV.com, you can input your experiences, skills, portfolio, references, and visual elements, then simply send the link to a recruiter.
- Make sure you also have a Word or PDF version of your resume since many job sites require uploads prior to submitting.
- Include keywords in your resume, such as required skills. This is especially important if you’re applying through a job board. Recruiters often use filtering systems to separate candidates with certain skills or experience under their belt. If you’re applying for a financial analyst position, for example, somehow include that exact term in your resume—even if you haven’t held that role before. The hiring manager may type in “financial analyst” to narrow down candidates.
- In your list of work experiences, focus on describing your tangible accomplishments rather than simply listing the tasks you were responsible for.
- Don’t include every single job you’ve held unless you have a good reason to do so. This means you can omit your high-school gig as a barista if you’re searching for a managerial role in the semiconductor industry.
- Generally, fit it all on one page.
Enlist Your Own “Publicist”
To be extra sure you’ve displayed your online reputation, ask at least two people to review your social-media profiles and resume. When you’re deep into your personal-branding project, it’s easy to miss a thing or two. Also, first impressions of photos are very subjective–what you might think is appropriate might not be to someone else. A fresh eye will be able to help you determine how positive your online reputation is. Ask your publicists to also edit your resume and LinkedIn profile for typos or grammatical mistakes.
There are many ways you can find and apply for jobs. Networking, as mentioned above, is imperative. Below are the other methods you can use:
Industry associations, universities, and municipalities often organize local job fairs.
There are even online job fairs. These events either cater to the general population or specific groups. For example, WomenForHire.com hosts online job fairs for women, while Idealist.org organizes in-person fairs for nonprofit professionals. Depending on your personal circumstances, make sure you research which ones you want to attend and sign up for their mailing lists.
- Create and rehearse a concise, 30-second introduction of who you are, what you do, what you want to do, and what you’re good at. This is sometimes called your “Elevator Pitch.”
- Take several copies of your resume along with your portfolio.
- Visit the job fair website, identify 5-10 companies you want to speak to, and read through each company’s site so you can ask the right questions, grasp what they’re looking for, and present yourself accordingly.
- Don’t forget to get the company representative’s business card and to follow up with them within a day.
- When you attend, make sure to dress professionally with comfortable shoes. Don’t forget to network with other attendees! They may be your competitors, but they can also be great sources of contacts and referrals.
Colleges typically hold networking events, alumni reunions, and career fairs for their alumni, sometimes even out of state. Sign up for the alumni newsletter and LinkedIn groups to stay apprised of all their events. Most colleges also have alumni-specific job boards with exclusive listings from local companies.
There are so many job sites available. Using your self-assessment and goal-setting sheet, identify the few job sites most relevant to you. There are several types of job sites you should consider:
- Job Posting Sites: Employers directly post their job openings on these sites. These sites always have category filters so you can view just the types of jobs you’re looking for. Examples are: craigslist.org, Monster.com, and LinkedIn.com.
- Job Search Engines: These sites aggregate job listings from all over the Internet. The most popular are Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com.
- Company Websites: Many companies post job openings directly on their website. If there’s a company you’re specifically after, fill out their online application even if there aren’t any postings listed. Since you’re in their system, they’ll even send you notifications of any new opportunities if they match your resume.
- Industry Association & Special-Interest Websites: Sign up for any membership programs within your field. For example, if you’re a marketing professional in Los Angeles, join the LA chapter of the American Marketing Association and check their job listings. If you’re a freelance writer, subscribe to ProBlogger.com so you can get updates from their job board.
If your timeline allows it, volunteering is a great way to network as well as potentially find a job. These days, there are many telecommute volunteer opportunities, especially for creative tasks such as writing and graphic design. Check out VolunteerMath.org
An internship offers an even higher likelihood of securing a job. If you’re willing to go this route, check off the “Internship” radio button on job sites in addition to checking out sites like: internSushi.com and Internships.com.
Once you’ve identified the ways you’ll search for a job, begin applying!
Write a Stellar Cover Letter
Simply put, your cover letter is an introduction. It is valuable real estate to demonstrate your interest and add a human touch to your application. Below are some tips to help you get started:
- If the employer posts specific instructions on what to include in your cover letter, such as your minimum salary requirement, follow them! Some hiring managers will immediately look to see if you’ve followed directions and remove you from the pool if you haven’t.
- Don’t simply list your work history and skills—that’s what your resume is for.
- Personalize each cover letter you send out. Create a document with bullet points listing statements you want to make sure are included in each letter to make your writing easier.
- Consider including your most significant achievement at a previous job. Make sure you back up your claims (e.g. “I spearheaded the Facebook ad campaign, which increased revenue by 35% over six months” instead of “I managed the Facebook ad campaign.”)
- Describe why you specifically want to work at that company. Research the company online so you can pinpoint a specific initiative or area of improvement you’d love to contribute to.
- If relevant, mention an issue that exists within the entire industry and explain how you can help the company solve that issue.
Use online resources like Glassdoor.com or Indeed.com to gain a general sense of what the average pay is in your geographical area and for your career level. This will make negotiating much easier and get your expectations in line with the reality of your profession.
Start preparing for phone and in-person interviews as soon as possible. Practice with your career counselor, a friend, or former colleague. You can also record yourself on a computer.
Start with the questions from Glassdoor.com’s “50 Most Common Interview Questions”:
1. What are your strengths?
2. What are your weaknesses?
3. Why are you interested in working for [insert company name here]?
4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
5. Why do you want to leave your current company?
6. Why was there a gap in your employment between [insert date] and [insert date]?
7. What can you offer us that someone else can not?
8. What are three things your former manager would like you to improve on?
9. Are you willing to relocate?
10. Are you willing to travel?
11. Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
12. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
13. What is your dream job?
14. How did you hear about this position?
15. What would you look to accomplish in the first 30 days/60 days/90 days on the job?
16. Discuss your resume.
17. Discuss your educational background.
18. Describe yourself.
19. Tell me how you handled a difficult situation.
20. Why should we hire you?
21. Why are you looking for a new job?
22. Would you work holidays/weekends?
23. How would you deal with an angry or irate customer?
24. What are your salary requirements?
25. Give a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.
26. Who are our competitors?
27. What was your biggest failure?
28. What motivates you?
29. What’s your availability?
30. Who’s your mentor?
31. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.
32. How do you handle pressure?
33. What is the name of our CEO?
34. What are your career goals?
35. What gets you up in the morning?
36. What would your direct reports say about you?
37. What were your bosses’ strengths/weaknesses?
38. If I called your boss right now and asked him what is an area that you could improve on, what would he say?
39. Are you a leader or a follower?
40. What was the last book you’ve read for fun?
41. What are your co-worker pet peeves?
42. What are your hobbies?
43. What is your favorite website?
44. What makes you uncomfortable?
45. What are some of your leadership experiences?
46. How would you fire someone?
47. What do you like the most and least about working in this industry?
48. Would you work 40+ hours a week?
49. What questions haven’t I asked you?
50. What questions do you have for me?
In addition to these common questions, remember to prepare the following:
- Questions you have for the employer to demonstrate your interest and knowledge about the company, as well as specific questions about your role.
- Research and insights about the industry in general.
- The mindset to answer unusual questions. Interviewers sometimes like to ask random, seemingly unrelated questions to gauge how quickly you think on your feet or to simply get to know you better as a person. You probably have to answer these questions on the fly, so don’t be afraid to take a moment to think. An interviewer can ask something like “Who’s your least favorite singer and why?” If you’re applying for a scientifically oriented job, you might be asked to solve actual problems or case studies.
As with your cover letter, you should personalize each thank-you letter for every interviewer you spoke to–not just the primary one.
*TIP: Ask every person you speak to for their business card. If they don’t have one, ask them for their email address.
Reassess (or Consider an Offer)
Statistics say that you will most likely not be hired for the first job you apply to. In fact, you will probably be rejected by more employers than you get offers from. Hundreds if not thousands of qualified candidates get rejected for varied reasons. The good news is that it only takes one person to say “yes.”
Reassess your plan and review your cover letter and resume to make improvements. Take some time to weave in feedback from mentors, family or trusted advisors. Not only should you view each interview as firsthand practice but look at it as a networking opportunity. If you keep in touch with interviewers even after you didn’t land the job, you’re simply adding more contacts to your professional network.
If you do get hired, congratulations! When you’re extended a job offer, however, don’t instantly accept. Make sure you review the contract terms, salary, and benefits carefully. Look back on the self-assessment sheet you created at the beginning of the process and make sure your criteria are aligned with what you’re offered. Your requirements may have changed throughout the process, but it’s important to know you’re not making a huge compromise you’ll end up unhappy with (e.g. a two-hour commute). Also, check in with other companies who are still considering you, if any. Are any of them more suitable to your goals? If so, you’ll have to ask for more time to accept the offer.