Whether you are a senior or a recent grad less than a year out of school, in between jobs, working but wanting to switch, or someone wanting to get back into the professional world after some time off–everyone at some point or other has to go through the dreaded job search. Job search can be an exciting time–but more often, it is very stressful, sometimes even devastating. The reality is that, while the economy is recovering, there are still more people looking for jobs than there are spots. Here are the best job search tips I’ve learned over the years.
1. Go to the drawing board: Just because you really want a job (like, NOW!) doesn’t mean you should just rush into things. Think about it this way: even if you really wished you were married, you wouldn’t just rush into things with someone you barely know. Likewise, you can’t just go on Craigslist and apply to anything that seems not unbearable. Why? Because if you can’t say why you’re applying for that job besides that you need one badly, they won’t want you either. This is exactly why companies that post online (basically, everyone) receive so many applications–and most of them are filtered out automatically, so no one even sees them. So go to the whiteboard and give yourself some time to imagine your life path. You want to be selective about where you put your effort, because your talent is valuable.
2. Create a story with your resume: If you have now identified what jobs you want to apply for, update your resume to make that job a natural extension of your past. In other words, create a story of your professional life that makes sense. A story is basically something that has a beginning, middle, and an end–not just a bunch of disjointed bullet points. For some people this is not an issue: say, if you studied business in college, and went to work for a big accounting firm, and now want to be an in-house director of business operations or something. But recent grads and people with lots of varied experiences have to make the storytelling count. Try to see the thread that connects the experiences you’ve had, and highlight that as the focal point of your career choices. That could be your love of helping people, or your curiosity about how systems work. There is at least one main theme that you can use to package what might seem at first like a weakness, to what makes you interesting as a candidate–and as a person.
3. Edit your resume: The importance of this cannot be overstated. Make sure your resume is professional in both layout and content. The layout should be easy to read, well-organized, and visually appealing. Choose fonts that are legible (no cursive or novelty fonts) and elegant. If you must, limit your “creative” font to just your name at the top, but be more restrained than exuberant. Read your resume multiple times to catch any typos, grammatical errors, and incorrect information. When it comes to describing your experiences, go for quality, not quantity. For instance, don’t list 10 bullet point items for your work experience as a baby sitter. BUT, the fact that you have 1,500 followers on Tumblr deserves a mention as proof of your social media expertise. Focus on highlighting what’s actually marketable for the job.
4. Look for “Safety,” Middle, and “Reach” opportunities: Just like applying for college–don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In addition to being rational, this can also keep your spirits up. Getting an interview or an offer from the easier opportunities can give you confidence, even if you ultimately decide not to take it. To cast a wide net, try using indeed.com, which you can set up to get alerts whenever your job key word (i.e. “project manager”) is listed. Or if you’ve identified key companies at those 3 levels, follow them on LinkedIn and Twitter, and even try tweeting at them with a friendly query.
5. Write the cover letter: It’s amazing how people who claim to want a job send in a resume without a cover letter, or with a one liner, “Hi I’d like to work for your company. Here’s my resume. Thanks.” This is extremely unprofessional. Your cover letter (most likely in the body of your email) is your “face” in this first crucial “meeting.” If you make a bad first impression, they won’t give you another chance. And don’t say you don’t have time to write a cover letter because you are applying to hundreds of jobs and no one will give you a chance (see #1). You can be short and to the point, but always be polite, enthusiastic, and friendly. Start with “Dear [Name ideally, otherwise job title]” and always sign off with “Sincerely,” “Best Regards,” “All best wishes,” etc.
6. Look interested and professional: If you go in for an interview, dress about 1- 1.5 degree more formally than the employees of that company. (Smart casual? Throw on a blazer or a sport coat, and nice heels for ladies. Business attire? Full suit/suit dress with jacket is the only option for both men and women.) Try to exude confidence, intelligence, and enthusiasm (exude it, I say!).
7. Draw from your old network: Tell all your friends, family, acquaintances, etc that you are looking for a job. Ask them to keep an eye out! This can be tough when you are used to being self-sufficient, but here’s the reality: Most jobs are filled by candidates with an “in” through some connection or another. But even if your connections don’t have any job leads to offer, the moral support can be priceless–and this was exactly the case for me.
8. Keep meeting new people: It can feel like the most efficient thing is to stay glued to your computer, finding and applying to all the jobs you can find, but it is crucial that you stay connected to the real world–and make new connections. Connect to people on LinkedIn. Find alumni who are in the field and ask for an informational meeting. Go to MeetUps and bring cards, and an open mind.
9. Keep your chin up: I know how tough this is. No one likes uncertainty and rejection, and job search is full of both. But you have to believe in yourself. Even if you don’t know you’re going to get the job, you have to feel as though you’re going to be fine. My favorite metaphor for this is climbing Mt. Everest: even if you can’t see the peak, you have to know, feel it in your core, that the peak is there. (Because it does exist!) Have faith that every No, every difficulty is a hand nudging you to the right path.
10. Keep doing something that shows a continuation of your career: If you are not currently employed, don’t just invest all your time doing the job search. You should always be doing something that shows you’ve kept up your professional interests, whether that is blogging on your field of expertise, volunteering your skills for a nonprofit, or seeking consulting opportunities.
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