1. Be patient, but have a plan
In a good economy, the average entry-level job search can take from three to six months. In a poor economy, it takes even longer. There may be fewer opportunities available, and even if they have opportunities, employers may be cautious about filling them because of budget concerns. In addition, the hiring process can be lengthy because there are so many steps involved (the application process. . . the first interview. . . several follow-up interviews. . . a background or reference check. . . the offer. . . the acceptance). Start early to develop your resume, gather supporting application materials, practice interviewing, explore opportunities, and begin to apply for jobs even before the need arises.
2. Take at least one step daily
Be proactive! Develop a list of job search goals. Get a calendar and write one task for each day of the business week, Monday through Friday. Include time to refine your resume, write application letters, attend professional meetings, meet with people, and follow up with employers.
3. Identify your unique qualifications
Put yourself in the employer’s shoes. He or she has a position to fill and is looking for a particular set of skills and/or experience. Take the time to research the position and organization, identify what sets you apart from other candidates, and include the information on your resume. Make certain the employer can see how your skills match the job requirements. If an employer can quickly scan your resume and determine if you’re a fit for the position, the document has done its job.
4. Get out there
Take advantage of every available opportunity, such as job fairs, campus interviews, and other networking events. A resume can’t tell your whole story to an employer, so an in-person meeting (no matter how brief) gives you an opportunity to provide details about your skills and experience. Show that you’re a professional (in attitude, appearance, and behavior), and let your personality shine. Employers tell us that face-to-face situations help them to confirm if a candidate will be a good fit for the job and organization.
5. Be persistent
Be persistent, follow up with employers that interest you, and be professional. During this economic crisis, you may need to apply for a broader variety of jobs, including jobs for which you may feel under-qualified or over-qualified. The more jobs to which you apply, the better your chances of getting interviews, and ultimately, getting a job. The key is to get your foot in the door, build your skills, network, and be ready for the economic upswing.
6. Network, network, network
Since many jobs are never advertised, networking is one of the best ways to find employment. Of course, building a network means that you have to talk with people, whether you know them or not. Start with family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and professors until you begin to feel more comfortable. Then attend professional organization meetings in your field and get involved so you can expand your network. Share your career interests, geographic preferences, and other pertinent information. Eventually, one contact will lead to another and another and so on, until you get a referral that is successful. You never know where your next job lead may come from.
7. Look for “hidden” jobs
The majority of opportunities are filled before they are announced publicly. Your challenge is to find out where those jobs exist. Use your network to inquire about opportunities and get some leads. Then target an organization and a department where you are interested in working. Research it through publications and people connected with the organization, such as vendors, customers, and employees. Identify the person (usually a manager) who makes hiring decisions for the department. Get yourself introduced, or make contact through e-mail, a phone call, or a personalized letter. Inquire about current or upcoming opportunities. If you learn about a position, ask how to formally apply for it. In addition to the formal application, send a thank-you letter to the manager and include your resume. Follow up each application with a telephone call to the recipient to make sure your application was received.
8. Consider an internship
Make contact with a recruiter to determine if the organization would consider you for an intern position. An internship may not offer benefits, but you have an opportunity to gain experience, network, and get your foot in the door while the employer gains a good worker at less cost than a full-time employee.
9. Volunteer your time and skills
Even if you’re not working full time, you can continue to hone your skills and gain experience by volunteering. If you are actively engaged in community service or volunteer work, keep it up! If you aren’t, now is the time to get involved. In addition to contributing your time and talents to a worthy cause, you will meet people who may be good sources of job information. Most nonprofit organizations have a board of directors and volunteers that are accomplished and successful in their own careers. Tap into this network of individuals to obtain job search advice and identify possible opportunities.
10. Clean up your profile
Your on-line image is just as important as your face-to-face image. When you invite people into your Facebook or LinkedIn network, you are linking to their networks, the people they have in their networks, and so on. You never know what employers are checking the sites for information on you as a potential candidate, so professionalism is critical. In addition, you should be selective about the people you invite into your network because what they say about you could impact whether you get a job or not.
11. Use your best job search manners
A little appreciation goes a long way. Send thank-you notes to individuals who help in any way with your job search, from writing a reference to providing a job lead. Thank-you letters sent after an interview are also important. Don’t think that it can make a difference? Here’s a real-life example: One of our colleagues reported that an employer was having a difficult time deciding between two equally qualified candidates. Who got the job? The candidate that wrote a thank-you letter after the interview was offered the position.
12. Keep a record
Since job hunting can take weeks or months, it is helpful to maintain a record. Keep track of the contact information for individuals in your network and prospective employers. Include deadlines, actions taken, and results. In addition, keep copies of job descriptions, applications submitted, and correspondence sent. Use a notebook, database, and/or calendar so your job search is organized and efficient. Review the information daily to determine if there are steps that need to be taken and to see how much you have accomplished.
13. Don’t hide out in grad school
When the economy goes south, some graduates decide to continue their education, thinking that adding another degree will buy some time and make them more marketable in the future. However, there are some issues to consider before spending a lot of time and expense on graduate school. Be sure your career interest area requires that you have an advanced degree or more specialization in an area of study. If you are still unsure of what you want to do, make an appointment with a career counselor instead of accumulating more debt and an extra degree.