Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Job Search
Do you need to start a job search or get yours back on track? For most people, job searching is never easy, whether it’s your first or fifteenth time looking for a new job. If you feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to start—don’t worry. Job searching is both an art and a science, one that requires time, planning, preparation, and some brain power.
The truth is, job searching can be an exhausting and daunting experience. However, if you approach it systematically, the process will be significantly more manageable, and you will have much more success in getting the offer you deserve.
Follow these steps for a crash course on how to find a job.
Strategize Your Transition
When it comes to finding a job, everyone starts somewhere, whether you’ve just finished school, you’re planning to resign for a better opportunity or career change, you’ve been fired, or you’ve been laid off. Regardless of your circumstances, plan your approach and take care to address any potential obstacles earlier rather than later.
When You Are Resigning
If you’re resigning from your current job, unless you have the financial means to do so or the circumstances are so difficult that you can’t stay, don’t resign until you have secured a new position (and prepared an appropriate explanation for your resignation, as you will likely be asked during interviews). In addition, you’ll want to make sure to coordinate the timing of your resignation and the start date of a new job.
For example, in most cases, you should plan on giving your old job two weeks’ notice before you move on and make sure you do not commit to starting a new job until those two weeks are up. It’s important to strike a balance between maintaining a good relationship with the company you are leaving by giving adequate notice and starting your new job on the right foot by adhering to the start date you agree to.
When You’ve Been Fired or Laid Off
If you have been fired or laid off, avoid connecting the company that terminated you with potential employers, if you can, unless you’re sure your manager will provide a glowing reference (this would likely only apply if you have been laid off due to budget cuts or company restructuring).
Even in this early stage, start crafting your answer to one of the most challenging interview questions: Why were you fired?
No matter where you’re coming from, get your story straight now and learn it by heart. Narrate your background in a way that’s compelling and convincing so you are ready to explain, concisely and succinctly, your reasons for finding a new job, how it relates to your professional goals, and why you are the best fit for any given position.
Determine Which Jobs You Qualify For
Before you start looking for a job, you have to figure out what position you want. Have a specific title in mind, and then do some research to determine the keywords you’ll use when you start looking for jobs. (For example, a digital project manager might also search for “web” or “technology” project management roles, as well as searching for “project manager” or “project coordinator” positions.)
Keep in mind that when you start job searching, the job description, responsibilities, and requirements will tell you more than the title alone, as titles and roles tend to vary between companies. It can also be a helpful exercise to write a sample job description outlining your ideal position.
Tip: If you need some ideas for what to do next in your career, these free online career quizzes can help.
Although it’s acceptable to apply to several “reach” positions, don’t waste your time searching for or applying to jobs that you are clearly unqualified for. Figure out in advance how you’re going to decide which jobs to apply to, then actively keep these parameters in mind when you’re job hunting.
Define Your Personal and Professional Priorities
Define your priorities before you begin your job search. First, make a list of the “must-haves,” such as the location of the company and your commute time, a desired salary range and employee benefits, and any other factors that are “non-negotiable” to you.
Then, make a list of the “nice-to-haves.” For example, are you looking for a specific type of company culture? Would you prefer to work at an established corporation or at a start-up or small business? Do you want to work on a small or large team?
Asking yourself these types of questions (and writing down your answers) before you start to look for a job will help you make a clear and confident decision once you have a job offer.
Clean Up Your Online Presence
Even though they shouldn’t, some employers Google candidates before their interviews, so it’s more important than ever to brush up on your social media do’s and don’ts when it comes to job searching.
You should assume that your potential employer will be Googling your name and looking you up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.
It is generally advisable to keep all social media profiles as private as possible while you are job searching. Even if your profiles are totally family-friendly, remember that human resources professionals are indeed human, and thus have biases they may not even be aware of.
Something as seemingly benign as sharing a political news article, or even sharing an article from a particular news source, could get you knocked off a candidate list, even if it theoretically shouldn’t. Play it safe and keep social profiles totally private.
The one exception, however, is LinkedIn. Your LinkedIn profile should include a professional headshot and should be up-to-date with your most recent experience and qualifications. Take the time to write an engaging summary that will catch the attention of hiring managers.
Prepare Your Resume and Cover Letter
You should have a “master” version of your resume finalized, formatted, and proofread before you start job searching. We say “master” because it’s likely you may tweak it as you job search to highlight and emphasize different experiences or qualifications based on the specifics of the different positions you are applying for.
Although a cover letter is harder to prepare, as it should be personalized for each and every job you apply to, review what to include in a cover letter and figure out what you can write in advance, and what you will need to customize once you start applying to jobs.
Get Your References Ready
Most jobs you apply to will require you to provide three to four professional references who can testify to your qualifications. You don’t want to have to scramble to reach these people, or worse, have an interviewer catch them by surprise. Instead, contact them in advance and let them know that you are starting to look for jobs and that you would like to use them as a reference.
Be sure to get their most recent contact information (cell phone and email address), as you will need to provide these to employers who ask for references.
Explore (and Expand) Your Network
Networking can be a truly powerful way to land a job if done correctly. In fact, studies have shown that you are more likely to get a job offer if you have a connection to the company you’re applying to. Your “network” can be anyone from former colleagues, managers or clients, alumni from your alma mater, friends, or friends of friends, family members, neighbors, or anyone from a “community” you belong to, whether that’s a church or religious group, a yoga studio, and so on.
If you feel like you’ve exhausted your network, spend some time expanding it. Again, because you are significantly more likely to be hired if you have a connection within the company you’re applying to, dedicating an hour or two to expanding it can be much more valuable than using that time to apply to random jobs.
You can expand your network both online (for example, by joining and contributing to professional groups on LinkedIn or Facebook) and offline (by attending industry events such as conferences or trade shows, or going to networking events specifically designed for that purpose).
Set Goals and Get Organized
Job searching is a tiring process, and it’s easy to burn out. Set reasonable, achievable goals for yourself; for example, you might aim to apply to ten jobs per week. Then, be sure to set aside time to complete these goals. You might have to make some sacrifices, such as getting up an extra hour early, or using your lunch break to look for jobs.
Although you can likely get away with scrolling job listings on the fly (like when you’re watching TV, or while on the train or riding in the car), don’t underestimate the importance of setting aside dedicated, quiet time to submit your applications, so as to avoid mistakes or typos.
Organize your job search progress and note which jobs you applied to, and when, so you can follow up accordingly.
Start Searching and Applying for Jobs
So you’ve outlined the position you want, and the key search words you’ll use to find it. You scrubbed your online presence, and your references are on board and expecting to hear from employers. Your resume is ready, and you’ve written some material to integrate into the cover letter you’ll customize once you find some potential job options. Now, it’s time to find and apply for those jobs.
There are many places to search for jobs. Sites like Monster, Indeed, Dice, and CareerBuilder.com are among the best and most utilized job sites. You’ll find thousands of listings on them, but be sure to target your search, so you’re getting the most relevant job postings.
LinkedIn can also be a great place to search for jobs and will also show you if you have any connections at companies that are hiring.
Finally, if you know you want to work for a certain company, look for job openings directly on their website. You may have to do some digging, but most companies list jobs on a “Careers” or “Opportunities” page that you can find on the footer of the website.
Keep in mind that the vast majority of job applications these days are online applications, so you will need to submit a digital version of your cover letter and resume. Be sure to use a working (and professional) email address for all correspondence related to your job search.
Get Ready to Interview
The next step in landing a job is acing your interview. You may have several rounds of interviews, usually starting with a phone interview, then followed by in-person interviews. You should never risk an interview by “just winging it.” Take your interview preparation seriously, and be sure to:
- Carefully read the job description, focusing on the responsibilities and requirements. Be prepared to explain, with tangible examples, how you fit the requirements and how you can fulfill the responsibilities.
- Research the company, including its mission statement and any recent or notable achievements or changes in strategy or positioning.
- Practice answering interview questions specific to your position/industry.
Prepare for a Remote Interview
When you’re interviewing remotely, it’s important to make sure all your technology is in working order. Take the time to check in advance to be sure you’re set for the interview, and that you’re comfortable with the process.
Prepare for a Phone Interview
For a phone interview, set aside at least 45 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time. Have your resume and cover letter printed or open on your computer for reference. Be sure to take the call somewhere with excellent cell service. If you have one, a landline is preferable for optimal audio quality.
Prepare for an In-Person Interview
For an in-person interview, arrive 10 minutes early with a printed cover letter and resume. Be sure to dress to impress, and express polite and professional enthusiasm about the position and the company.
Tip: These free online interview practice tools will help you feel comfortable with the interview process and confident in your response.
Take the Time to Say Thank You
Be sure to take the time to follow up after the interview with a thank you note or email message reiterating your interest in the job and the company.
Evaluating Job Offers
With one, or several, job offers in hand, it’s now time to evaluate your option(s). Look back to your original “must-have” and “nice-to-have” lists and see where the offers fit. Be sure to consider practical factors, such as the salary, benefits, vacation time, corporate culture, your commute, and the attitude and personalities of the people you would be working with.
If you’re stuck, make a list of pros and cons—and be sure to listen to your gut in order to choose the best job for you. Your gut is usually right, so think twice if it’s telling you that you really don’t want the job.