Master Your Job Search
The content in this guide is provided for general information only, and is not intended to address specific circumstances of any particular individuals. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.
Master Your Job Search
Whether you are looking for a better job or hoping to get your first real career job out of college, the job search process can be time consuming, stressful and frustrating. But don’t despair: there are strategies that can help save you time, zero in on the right opportunities and get a great job. From advice on how to bolster your resume to tips for a successful interview, you won’t want to miss out on the helpful information highlighted in this guide.
Attitudes and Behaviors of Successful Job Hunters
Very few job hunters apply for one or even a handful of jobs before getting a job offer. It can feel more like a marathon than a sprint. To help get you through it and reach your goal, practice these important attitudes and behaviors during your job search.
Focus on the Positive
The process of searching for and applying for jobs can feel like a slog. It’s a sad fact of life that for many of the jobs you apply for, even ones where you feel like you’re the perfect fit, you will get no response. Don’t despair and don’t take it personally. This is not a judgment on you as a person. It just means that it wasn’t meant to be right now. There is a great job for you out there, no matter your level of experience; you just need to find it.
Identify and Rectify Weaknesses
If you have been applying for jobs and getting little response, a part of your application may need to be strengthened. For example, maybe your resume is lacking. Use the tips in this guide to tighten it up and give it a professional look or seek out a professional resume writer. Some online job boards even offer resume critiquing services.
Or, it may be that the jobs you are applying for require a professional certification. Many certification classes are available online. Once you get your certificate, make sure to add it to your resume and cover letters.
Remind Yourself About Your Goals
Yes, you want a job because you need money to pay the rent, buy food and pay for other things. But what is the underlying reason you want to go into this particular career in the first place? Maybe you want to be a therapist because you are passionate about using your skills to help people.
Or, you may be fascinated by engineering problems, get satisfaction from building things or get a thrill out of seeing your ideas come to life. When you remind yourself about whatever it is that excites you about this industry, searching for a job will feel less like a chore and more like an adventure.
Practice Resilience and Persistence
Understand that you will meet with some rejection, and take it in stride. To some extent, job searching is a numbers game so it pays to keep applying. Modern recruiting practices involve a lot of automation, and your resume may never have been seen by a human at the employing companies. Learn how to tweak it for the machines and continue the job search as if it is your job until you get a job.
Hit It from More than One Angle
You may have heard that in advertising, a consumer needs to see an ad seven times before making the decision to buy. This is no less true when you are marketing yourself to a prospective employer. In addition to the online application, consider stopping into the company in person, sending an email or two, reaching out on LinkedIn, networking and attending conferences. The more times you are seen by the hiring managers, the more memorable you will be and you will have demonstrated the coveted traits of dedication and persistence.
Be Confident, Not Arrogant
In your resume, cover letters and during interviews, it is important to be confident about your skills and abilities in order to engender the same feeling in the hiring manager. However, nobody likes someone who is arrogant. Highlight your abilities by demonstrating how you used them for previous employers rather than complimenting yourself. For example, instead of saying “I am a great salesperson,” you could say “I was the top salesperson in my department three years in a row and exceeded my sales quota by 30%.”
Keeping Your Job Search Secret from Your Current Employer
If you have already started your career and are looking for a new job, the last thing you want is your current employer finding out about your job search. If they know you plan on leaving, they are likely to hurry you out the door so they can hire someone more long-term. That’s why it is important to keep your search under wraps with these strategies.
Don’t Job Hunt at Work
The best way to get caught looking for a new job is to do your job searching on company time.
So, by looking for or applying to positions online only when you are at home or otherwise away from the office. Likewise with updating your resume and writing cover letters.
Your current employer has every right to monitor what their equipment is being used for, and they often do just that. So by avoiding using your work computer or laptop for job searching, resumes, cover letters and job search-related email correspondence and don’t use your work email address on your resume, your current employer will have no way of finding out you are searching for a new opportunity.
Schedule Interviews With Your Current Schedule In Mind
When a prospective employer wants to schedule an interview with you, great!
Now, the trick is scheduling it around your work schedule. Inform the prospective new employer that you are currently employed and of your work hours so they can work with you. Think about early times, before you go into work, at lunch and after hours.
If you are planning to take a day or half-day off to interview, try not to schedule back-to-back interviews, since this can be stressful and confusing. If a company offers you an interview opportunity but you know that you probably will not want to work there, it is OK to politely decline.
Be Mindful of LinkedIn
If you are using LinkedIn for your job search, it’s a good idea to take care when using it. If your company is paying for LinkedIn Premium, they are likely to monitor your activity. Even when your account is independent, companies sometimes keep track of employee activity and may notice if you have a bunch of new connections to recruiters and human resources people.
One alternate solution might be to connect directly with hiring managers when possible, and then email them from your personal email address regarding open positions.
If you have friends among your coworkers, it may be tempting to share your job search with them. However, this sets you up for being the topic of conversation and your boss eventually hearing about your plans through the office grape vine. By avoiding sharing this type of information with coworkers, you can minimize your chances of your employer finding out about your job hunt.
Create a “Limited-View” Resume
Some online job boards give you the option of making your resume “visible and limited,” which means that your name and contact information is not visible until you apply for a particular job, and then it is only visible to that employer.
How to Set Your Resume Apart
One of the most important parts—and first steps—in landing a job you love is to polish your resume. Don’t think of it as just a piece of paper that highlights your work history. Your resume is a synopsis of your work life, education and skill set, and although it should loosely follow a certain set of business standards, it can be tweaked in order to set you apart from other candidates.
Algorithms and Customization
In the past, job seekers would mail their resumes to hiring managers or bring them to in-person interviews. Today, when the vast majority of resumes are submitted online, the rules have changed. Most employers now use an algorithm to parse through the hundreds or even thousands of resumes they get every day. The algorithms try to find job candidates with the most relevant experience by matching keywords from the job listing to the resume. The systems look for exact matches, not matches in meaning.
So if a job posting keyword has the words “search engine optimization” and your resume says that you have experience in “SEO,” the algorithm will say that your resume did not have the required skill even though you do. Only once the selection of resumes is winnowed down does an actual human being typically look at them.
To get around this, customize your resume for each job you apply to online. Search through the job listing for possible keywords and edit your resume to include those keywords. Use the more important keywords such as the job title multiple times in your resume.
Be sure to list any skills that the job listing requires, either in the description of your past and current jobs as appropriate or in a separate “Skills” section at the end. This includes hard skills such as “Microsoft Excel” as well as soft skills like “leadership” Use the exact wording as in the job listing.
Other mistakes when submitting resumes online include using graphics, fancy fonts or non-standard layout (like using columns or formatting it in landscape mode). This makes it harder for the algorithm to scan and make sense of, so your resume will immediately get rejected. If you are in a creative field or just want to stand out, you can create two versions of your job-specific resume: a plain one to submit online and a nicely designed one to bring with you to the interview.
Resume Best Practices
Generally, a solid resume will adhere to certain standards. It should be no more than one page in length or two pages if you have a long work history and should focus on the relevant experience and skills you would bring to a specific job. Hiring managers typically spend only a couple of seconds glancing over your resume, so long sentences and fluffy writing harm your chances of snagging a second glance.
With that being said, don’t make your resume look like every other one that comes across a hiring manager’s desk. There are ways in which you can stick to the standards of resume protocol while putting your own spin on it to make it stand out. Here are a few things to consider for the 21st century resume.
Always Put Your Contact Information at the Top
Make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to get in touch with you. As mentioned, he or she might come across hundreds of resumes per week. If your phone number and personal email are clearly marked at the top of the page, the hiring manager will not have to spend time searching for them. They will be more inclined to reach out to you before continuing to browse through the others.
Lose the Objective and Start With a Brief Summary
The first (and often only) thing a hiring manager will read in full is the statements or sentences at the very top. The objective was once a significant part of the resume, but today has become obsolete. Since managers are more concerned with what you can bring to their companies, it doesn’t make sense to describe what it is that you, the candidate, are looking for. Instead, type up three to four sentences that act as an outline of your work history, highlighting years of experience, relevant skills and notable achievements. Create an engaging header that describes your expertise.
Play Around With the Design
Your aim is to catch the eye of the hiring manager, coaxing him or her to spend a few extra seconds browsing your resume. The traditional black-and-white sections and standard layout become repetitive. Consider using a splash of color here and there to mix things up. But be careful – too much color or unusual formatting can be counterproductive or off-putting. Choose one highlight color to implement throughout the resume, using it only for section headers, for example. You can also use a more modern font than the typical Times New Roman or Arial. Unusual layouts and creative designs are best used for creative jobs and should only be used when submitting a resume to an individual in person or via email, not through an online application.
Eliminate Irrelevant Material
Most hiring managers do not care to know about the job you had in high school (unless you are just out of high school with minimal job experience). Since your resume should not be more than two pages at the most, save yourself some space and remove that fast-food position you held as a sophomore. Only include work experience that relates to the position in which you’re interested. This also goes for your achievements – be sure that the accomplishments you list under this section are relevant to the position. Prom queen, for example, should not make an appearance on your resume.
Use Bullet Points
Summarize responsibilities and accomplishments for each position using bullet points rather than writing out a description in sentences. This allows the hiring manager to quickly get the gist of your experience and abilities.
Use Action Words
Using passive voice in your resume is wordy and unprofessional. Always aim to speak in the active voice, utilizing key action words to describe accomplishments in the workplace. For example, instead of saying “Sales and growth were driven upwards by 23 percent,” you can say “I drove sales and growth by 23 percent.” The emphasis is now placed on your actions, which will be received more clearly by the hiring manager. You can find a list of action words to use by doing a quick internet search.
Avoid Personal or Private Matters
Your resume should be a formal introduction to who you are as an employee, not as a person. While your character and personality are important parts of your workplace persona, your resume is not the place to show it. Avoid going into any detail about your personal life or habits, such as your religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or political affiliations. These things are not necessary in the decision to hire you, and may unwittingly sway or influence the hiring manager in a negative way. However, if you volunteer by participating in a service club, doing beach cleanup or feeding the homeless, it is appropriate to list that.
The Cover Letter
You’re ready to go, your resume is looking sharp, you’ve got a great feeling – but wait, you need a cover letter, too? Ugh! For people who are not confident in their writing skills, writing cover letters can seem like torture. Although this piece of paper is hated by most everyone, it is nonetheless an integral part of the job search process.
Why Cover Letters Are Important
If your cover letter feels redundant or seems like a repeat of your resume, you’re probably not writing it correctly. Hiring managers look at your cover letter to gain insight or information that they did not learn from your resume. Therefore, it’s crucial to provide them with an expansion of key experiences and achievements that were not fully explained in your resume. It is also a great place to highlight experience that is particularly relevant to the job opening and to express your admiration for and knowledge of the company. Were you referred by someone? The beginning of the cover letter is a perfect place to drop that name.
Every Cover Letter Must Be Unique
Although you most likely send out a slightly amended version of the same resume to each company to which you are applying, you should never send out the same cover letter. This is one of the biggest mistakes that job seekers make. Yes, it may be tiresome and annoying, but you must tailor your cover letter to the specific position and company to which you are applying. This is the only way to ensure that you market yourself directly to the specific job requirements of the advertised role. The job positions you inquire about may exist within the same career field but are probably totally different in their descriptions, necessities and goals. You must account for these changes by modifying your cover letter for each job, because this is a clear sign to hiring managers that you have read and understood the job description and truly believe you are a good match.
Follow the Basic Cover Letter Structure
The entire cover letter can be thought of as a meticulous formula. Each part of it is a key element in the overall solution, and each element is closely connected. You should always start with a restatement of the position for which you are applying. For example:
“I write to you to express my interest in the position of ____ at ____ company, as advertised in ____.”
Nearly every cover letter can use this basic format, which introduces you as a candidate to the hiring manager. Once you summarize the position you’re interested in, it’s always a good idea to drop the name of someone who referred you, if that is the case.
Next, state where you currently work and relate it back to this new position. This sets up the rest of your cover letter to discuss the relationship between your job history and your job skills, which will then help explain why these skills will transfer into this new position. Finish by expressing your enthusiasm and a call to action such as “If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. Otherwise, please expect a follow-up call from me early next week.”
Your cover letter is your chance to shine. This is where you’ll explain why you are the candidate best-suited for the position and why you would be a great fit for the company. You can do this by highlighting two or three specific skills you possess that you believe the company finds important. Your resume will mention them, but your cover letter explains them.
Provide Examples From Past Work Experiences
The skills you choose to discuss in your cover letter should be explained through specific examples of past successes. If you claim to have excellent writing skills, you should relate it to an achievement from a past job that benefited the company. By telling a story about how your skills created a specific, measurable positive outcome for a past employer, you are setting the stage for the hiring manager to envision you doing the same for his or her company.
How to Handle Employment Gaps
If you feel that there is something on your resume that needs a more detailed explanation, you can use your cover letter to do just that. Sometimes, your resume might show a gap in employment. While it is not necessarily a red flag to a hiring manager, they may be curious about the reason. Be sure to discuss any employment gaps in a positive light if possible; for example, perhaps you took time off to raise your children or participate in a volunteering opportunity. These explanations can add to your experience and offer a different perspective to the company. However, if the gap is due to a negative circumstance, it might best be left out and discussed in a formal interview.
Review Before You Hit Send
Because cover letters are so important, you should always take the time and effort to thoroughly read through them several times. It’s never a bad idea to ask a friend or family member to go over it as well. A fresh pair of eyes might be able to catch a spelling mistake or grammatical error. If you are using a previous cover letter as a template (making sure to customize it for the current job posting, of course), make sure that the name of the company is correct. The last thing you want to do when you’re applying to a job is to appear unprofessional. If you rush through writing your cover letter or cut corners in an effort to save time, it will likely be apparent to the hiring manager.
Finding the Right Fit for You
Finding a job is great, but finding the right job is imperative to your success and happiness. Finding the right fit for you starts in the process of your job search. Knowing where to look and what to look for will help you save time and energy and will narrow down results to only the best options for you.
Searching for a job can be an overwhelming and daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Rather than sifting through thousands of results for positions you have no interest in, you should understand how to search only for positions which will work for you. Inquiring about a position you might possibly qualify for can help you get a better feel for the requirements of the job.
Be Honest About Your Level of Experience
One of the mistakes that job-seekers make in their search is not specifying their level of experience. When you’re caught up in the enthusiasm of the prospect of landing a great job, you might not realize that you’re wasting valuable time. Your resume and cover letter might look attractive to a hiring manager, but if he or she calls you in for an interview and realizes your lack of relevant work experience, they could excuse you from the rest of the interview process.
Moving up in the professional world is attainable, but it almost always requires you to start at the bottom. If you’re just starting out, search for entry-level positions. If you’ve got a few years under your belt, use it to your advantage. Obtaining a position for which you are underqualified will place immense stress and pressure on you, and result in poor productivity. The moral of the story: don’t lie about work experience.
Find Something You Love, Even If It Takes Time
Avoid falling into the category of Americans who despise their jobs. Some people see dollar signs or other benefits and are quick to accept a job that is nowhere near a great fit. This only leads to poor work performance and a negative state of mind. Work dissatisfaction can also bubble over into different areas of your life, causing nothing but stress and headaches. Since working is a major part of your life, treat the search with the same care and meticulousness as you would if you were buying a new car or house. If you’re not completely sold on it, think about continuing the search process until you are. Of course, if you are in a position where you need to pay the bills in the meantime, don’t hesitate to take a less-than-perfect job while you continue to look for your ideal job.
Determine What You Will and Won’t Settle For
Understand what it is you’re looking for in a career. Is location important to you? Do you want benefits? It’s important to make a list of things you absolutely need and things you are willing to compromise on. For example, some people are willing to commute more than an hour to work. Are you willing to do the same? Some companies will state outright that the role’s salary is non-negotiable. If it does not meet your standards, you should decide whether you’re willing to take the time to apply anyway. By taking the time to separate job aspects such as these into different categories, you can cross certain positions off your list and spend more time applying to the ones that meet your needs.
To Know What You Want, You Have to Know Yourself
Part of understanding what you’re looking for is understanding your own personality, both at work and in general. Do you enjoy working in a quiet space with independence? Do you thrive on group meetings and projects? Be aware of your own work habits so that you can compare them to the habits and culture at your prospective company.
Unsure about the culture at a prospective employer? Research what other current and former employees have to say on Glassdoor.com. Nobody enjoys being an outlier, so if you feel that you work in a completely different way than the current employees, it could be a red flag that it might not be the best fit. Be honest and up-front with the hiring manager in your questions. Don’t be afraid to speak up – after all, the fit should be right for both you and the company overall.
Where to Look for Jobs
Now that your resume is in order and you know how to customize it for each job you apply to, the next step in your job search is to identify jobs you want and apply for them.
Tap Your Network
Do you have friends or family members who work in your desired industry or company? They are the perfect “in” to not only finding a job but they can also work as references. If you have an inside person, he or she can talk up your qualifications, resulting in an interview even before a job vacancy has been officially posted online.
If you don’t have a personal contact in the company or industry in which you want to work, no worries! Build your network by joining networking groups or industry organizations. Attend events and make connections, making sure to let them know you are looking for a job. Rather than asking if a connection has any open jobs at their company, ask him or her for career advice. This approach makes your contact into a mentor and makes it more likely that you will be hooked up with a job opportunity, and maybe even with a recommendation.
Peruse Company Websites
If there is one or several specific companies that you would love to work for, it makes sense to target them. Many companies will post available positions on their websites and nowhere else, usually under a heading of Careers or Join Our Team. Keep tabs on those pages, noting when a lot of new positions are being posted. This means that the company is in a growth phase. Even if your qualifications do not match any of the open positions posted, it can’t hurt to send your resume and a snazzy cover letter. The company may be just about to post the perfect position for you.
Online job job boards like Indeed, Career Builder, GlassDoor and Monster have thousands of job postings. Set up a profile at several, by uploading your resume (this will be a general resume that is searchable by employers, but you will use a custom one when it is time to apply) and indicating what you are looking for in terms of job title, industry, location and salary range. Then you will get email digests containing job postings that meet your criteria. There will be some overlap, as some positions are posted on multiple job boards.
There are also job boards that focus on specific industries. For example, if you want a government job, check out USAjobs.gov. Creative types can search at Behance.com and those looking to get into a finance job can go to Efinancialcareers.com.
Some job postings allow you to apply on the job board site, while others bring you to their websites to apply. Although they will ask you to upload your resume, be prepared for also needing to input all of the information from your resume into the application. Remember to use keywords from the job posting when filling in the application. You will normally be able to upload your cover letter as well.
Job fairs are a convenient way to get some face time with human resources professionals and hiring managers from a bunch of different companies at once. Dress professionally and bring printed copies of your resume with you. Find out which companies will be there ahead of time and do your research on the ones that interest you the most. Your knowledge will come out in conversation and you may even get an interview on the spot.
Headhunters and Recruiters
Headhunters and recruiters are people hired by employers to help find job candidates. A headhunter typically looks for high-level candidates like senior salespeople and executives and is often proactive in reaching out to possible candidates, even if they are already employed somewhere else. If you are contacted by a headhunter, you have already established a reputation in your industry. Headhunters are looking for qualified candidates to fill specific positions, so if you are looking for a new job and are contacted by a headhunter, this is a good opportunity. The headhunter will usually ask you for a resume and tell you a little about the position to ascertain your interest before passing your information along to the hiring manager.
Recruiters are more like outside human resources professionals. They create the job postings and then are more passive, waiting for candidates to apply and collecting their resumes and applications. They often pre screen candidates with a short interview, then pass along the top candidates to the hiring manager for additional screening. If your qualifications are not a good match for the job that you applied for, a recruiter may take a look at other positions the recruitment agency is handling to see if one is suitable for you.
LinkedIn, Social Media and Personal Websites
LinkedIn is the top social media platform for professional use, and as such, is an excellent source of job opportunities. There are several ways to use LinkedIn for jobs.
Your LinkedIn Profile
Recruiters and internal human resources professionals search for possible job candidates on LinkedIn by looking at their profiles to see if they are qualified. Even when you apply for a job some other way, many hiring managers will take a look at your LinkedIn profile. That makes your LinkedIn profile extremely important when you are looking for a job. Here are some tips for standing out on LinkedIn:
- Use your LinkedIn profile to build your personal brand – Highlight the work-related skills and accomplishments you want to be known for, as well as a little of your approach to your work and your relevant personality traits. If you’re a great public speaker, post videos on your profile of speeches you’ve given. If you are a terrific writer, post links to things you have written.
- Use relevant keywords throughout your profile – While you can’t change your whole profile for each job you are applying for, use keywords for the types of jobs you want. Select common keywords you have come across in jobs that interest you and that you want.
- Have a complete profile – If LinkedIn gives you space in your profile to put information, it benefits you to do so. Complete profiles rank higher in search results within LinkedIn and are given a designation as an “All Star.” Plus, the more stuff you put there, the more opportunities to add keywords and to really sell yourself.
- Get recommendations and endorsements – Although a lot of your LinkedIn profile has similar information as your resume, one place it differs is that it has recommendations from others. Periodically, send out requests for recommendations and endorsements to your contacts, especially people you are close with. The more people who have something nice to say about you or endorse you for a specific skill, the more compelling a job candidate you will be.
- Use a professional photo – Make sure to upload a professional headshot of you. Don’t try to be cute, and post a more sassy or casual photo. It can be appropriate to post a job-related photo, like wearing a hardhat if you are in the construction industry, for example.
- Humanize your “About” section – While being professional, it is a good idea to use the About section to let a little of your personality show. Use the first person (“I” and “me”) rather than talking about yourself in the third person. You can add quotes that inspire you and encapsulate your approach. At the end of this section, add a call to action such as “Let’s connect,” or “I’d love to hear from you.”
- Use action words and concrete examples of your accomplishments and skills – As with your resume, using action words and specific examples of what you’ve done will be more compelling and dynamic. You can list more of your experience and accomplishments here, since there is no one- or two-page limit.
- Add licenses, certifications, projects, volunteer experiences, accomplishments, interests and languages – These extras at the bottom of your profile can make a difference to a hiring manager or recruiter.
- Make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile match – Since hiring managers will usually check out your LinkedIn profile if they are interested in you for the job, make sure your experience and dates match. Otherwise, you might end up looking shady.
Posting and Connecting on LinkedIn
While your LinkedIn profile is a “build it and they will come” approach, you can also use LinkedIn to proactively search for employment. The first way to do that is by expanding your LinkedIn connections. Like in-person networking, LinkedIn networking can allow you to connect with hiring managers that you might otherwise have access to through normal job application channels. Form online relationships with these managers, offering something of value, whether that is an offer to make an online introduction to one of your other contacts or simply some validation with an admiring or thoughtful comment on their posts. While it may not be enough alone to cause them to hire you, it increases name recognition and adds to the number of positive touchpoints that contribute to a hiring decision.
Another approach which should be used in parallel is to create posts that showcase your knowledge and interest in the industry. It can be a link to an accomplishment of yours like an award, a comment on industry news with a link to the article or a work-related tip, insight or idea. Join industry LinkedIn groups and repost your content there for a targeted audience. People who are really interested may click on your profile and find out that you are looking for new opportunities (assuming that you are unemployed currently). Or you could reach out to message them directly to convey that message if your job search is on the down low.
LinkedIn has its own built-in job board under the Jobs briefcase icon at the top. There, you can set up job alerts and search jobs that are posted. Some companies use LinkedIn as the only place they post job openings. For many jobs, the application process is seamless, sending prospective employers to your LinkedIn profile which stands in for your resume.
Other Social Media Platforms
While LinkedIn is really the only professional social platform, it is not unheard of to discover jobs through your personal network on Facebook or Twitter. This goes along with the networking piece. Definitely let your personal contacts know that you are looking for a new job. However, as with LinkedIn, other social networks are public and what you post there can easily be found by your current employer if you have one. Your best bet is to reach out to people individually, via direct message.
Also, it pays to be very careful what you post on any social media platform, as it can come back to haunt you during your job search. Absolutely stay away from posting anything incriminating, illegal, racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise immoral. Stay away from overly political posts and anything critical of your prospective employers, their employees and their customers. As a rule of thumb, if you wonder if you should post it, don’t.
Want a way to stand out to a hiring manager? Build a personal website and send them a link to it. A personal website is, well, more personal than a resume or LinkedIn profile. It shows that you put some time and effort into your job search and gives you more room to express yourself. Make sure yours has these elements:
- Intro – This should be somewhere between one and six sentences and should introduce you, what you do and a brief background. The tone should be friendly but professional.
- A photo of you – This should be a nice headshot, but can be a little more friendly looking than the one you use for your LinkedIn profile.
- Your projects – List projects you have worked on plus a little about how you handled them and your thought process.
- A portfolio of your work – This is really more for creative types and project managers, who can showcase some of their work output. It might include articles or links to websites you’ve written if you are a content marketer, things you’ve designed if you are a designer or links to apps you created if you’re an app developer.
- Good design – The site should be clean and easy to navigate with nicely placed, high quality images. Its tone can be fairly casual, since it is a personal website but it shouldn’t be off putting to a hiring manager.
- Personality – Are you a deep thinker, friendly, analytical or quirky? Your personal website should showcase your personality through its design and tone, offering hiring managers a peek into what it might be like to have you as a colleague. Although this is a personal website, it is not the place to go off on a rant about your political opinions, talk about religious beliefs or share your childhood trauma.
Relocating for a Job
Are you open to the idea of relocating for work? If you have this flexibility, you may have a leg up on your competitors, especially if the company is located in a smaller job market. Here are some things to consider before making the leap:
- What’s the opportunity? Is this your dream job?
- What is the longevity of the opportunity? Can you see yourself advancing at this company in five years? How about ten years?
- Do you want to live in this type of place? Consider the size of the city or town, the region, the climate, the friendliness of the residents, the crime rate, availability of mass transit and other quality of life issues.
- What is the cost of living there? A job paying $100,000 may be considered to be well compensated if it is in Columbia, South Carolina, but much less so if it is in New York City or San Francisco.
- If you are married, have a partner and/or have children, how would the move impact them? Could your spouse or partner easily find a new job? Are there good schools and plenty of kids the same age as yours? Could they be happy there?
When companies recruit outside of their geographic area, they are usually looking for specialized talent that they feel they might not be able to find locally. This gives you some leverage when you negotiate your salary and the rest of your compensation package. If you are considering accepting the position, be sure to ask if they offer a signing bonus, relocation services and allowances to help offset the expenses of the move.
Nailing the First Interview
At some point in your professional life, you will be required to attend a job interview with your prospective bosses. More than likely, you will have multiple interviews before you are satisfied with a job role and the employer is confident that hiring you is the right decision. In-person interviews remain a staple in the job search process in America. Since the pandemic began, video call interviews have gained popularity, but have not entirely replaced the traditional face-to-face interview, so it’s important to prepare for either scenario.
Preparation Is Key
Preparation is one of the most important parts of the interview process. You can’t expect a successful interview without first fully understanding your qualifications for the role, the position duties and the company.
Spend some time researching the company and familiarize yourself with its current happenings. It will allow you to ask relevant questions during the interview and will show the hiring manager that you’ve made an effort to learn more about where you might end up working.
If possible, also research the individual who will be interviewing you. Do an internet search on the person’s name and see if you can find a bio on the company website. You may discover something that you share in common and that can be used to your advantage. For example, maybe you both graduated from the same university or share a love of animals. Casually dropping comments about shared experiences or passions during the interview will build your rapport. You might also be able to find an article that the interviewer wrote, or perhaps a speech or interview he or she gave. Mentioning that you saw or read the piece will show that you are diligent, proactive and really interested in the position.
You may want to practice answering common interview questions, especially if you are more introverted. Familiarizing yourself with the questions and preparing an answer can help you avoid looking stumped and make you appear more confident and articulate. You can find a list of the most common interview questions by doing an internet search. Sit down with a friend or family member posing as the interviewer to practice until the answers come naturally. Just doing the preparation work will allow you to go into the interview with more confidence.
Understand the Position You’re Applying For
You should also be familiar with the job description, duties and requirements of the position. If you understand what the interviewer is looking for in a candidate, you’ll know what to expect when it comes to questions. Hone in on a couple of key elements or skills in the job description and tailor your discussion to them. You can also prepare to discuss certain past experiences that exemplify these elements. You’ll impress the interviewer when you recall them during the interview and are less likely to be caught off guard by any scenarios given to you.
Review Your Resume
Go over your resume before the interview and be prepared to refer to any specific results you achieved at previous positions. Your interviewer will most likely have a copy of it in front of him or her, so you can expect that certain aspects of it will come up in discussion. For example, if the hiring manager asks about a specific experience you listed where you said you increased customer retention by 30%, you should be able to recall and restate the 30% increase, not give another number or a vague answer.
Make a Good First Impression
As you prepare for the interview, and after you’ve gone over the essentials discussed above, you can begin to focus on the details. The first job interview with your prospective employer is your chance to make a memorable first impression. How you present yourself can either make or break your chances of getting hired.
Dress to Impress
You should always dress in a manner that is appropriate for the position to which you are applying. Most job interviews are formal, and therefore require a business-appropriate wardrobe. Your outfit should be professional dress if the employees at the level you are applying wear professional dress or business casual attire to work. If the employees dress casually at work, it is appropriate to wear business casual clothes to the interview. Avoid wearing anything that could serve as a distraction, like bright colors or loud prints. Neutral colors are always best.
- For men, a suit, dress shirt and tie or slacks, dress shirt, tie and sports coat with dress shoes
- For women, a skirt or pants suit, a blouse and conservative skirt, blouse and dress pants or a statement dress with dress shoes (flats, loafers or heels)
Business casual attire:
- For men, a dress shirt and slacks with either dress pants or khakis, dress shoes
- For women, a button-up shirt or blouse with a conservative skirt or dress pants with flats or loafers
Plan to arrive early for your interview. The general rule of thumb is to get there 15-20 minutes before the scheduled start time. If you arrive any earlier than that, you may unwittingly cause an awkward situation to arise or place pressure on the interviewer to hurry. Leaving yourself with plenty of time can alleviate stress if there is any traffic during your commute. It also shows the interviewer that you take the interview seriously.
Maintain a Sense of Professionalism
When you meet the interviewer, offer a greeting by saying “Nice to meet you,” give him or her a firm, but not crushing, hand shake, smile and look the person in the eyes. Stick to a professional tone throughout the interview. It is okay to discuss casual things with the interviewer if he or she brings them up, but you should always be as formal as you can. Chances are, the interviewer is also nervous, so let him or her decide on the vibe and roll with it. No matter how informal the interview might be, it’s never okay to assume swearing is acceptable. Even if he or she uses this kind of language, it’s better to stick to professional terminology.
It is also a good idea to avoid complaining about previous employers or bosses. When asked why you left a previous position, stick to the facts and conclude with a neutral statement like “I didn’t feel that I could grow there,” “It ultimately wasn’t a good fit,” or “I wanted to pursue opportunities where I could make a difference.”
How to Talk About Yourself
Talking about yourself and your accomplishments may come naturally to you or it may not. However, in the context of a job interview, there are certain dos and don’ts. First, you should understand that the interviewer has invited you there expressly for the purpose of finding out about you and your qualifications. Now is not the time to be modest, deflect credit to your team or talk about group efforts. That being said, it is also not appropriate to come off as boastful or arrogant. You should aim for somewhere in the middle: confident in your experience and skills but also eager to serve the company and learn additional skills if hired.
Many interviews start off with a general request along the lines of “Tell me about yourself.” This is where your pre-interview research and preparation come into play. When you studied the job description and the company’s website, they likely had some personal attributes that the company is looking for in its ideal employees. This may include things like “leadership” “excellent communication skills” “working well with a team” or being a “self-starter.” Choose a couple of the top attributes and characterize yourself as having them by saying, for example, “I am a self-starter who tends to take the initiative whether working solo or as a member of a team.” Follow this up with an example of how this company-aligned character trait has led you to pursue specific work opportunities including the job for which you are interviewing. The goal is to portray yourself as someone who is uniquely suited to accomplish the goals that are most important to the company.
During the interview, answer questions by talking about your skills and qualifications mixed with anecdotes and examples from your previous positions that exemplify them. Think of the interview as your audition for the job; it is your chance to give the hiring manager all of the reasons why you should be hired.
Using Anecdotes and Examples
Interviewers’ main goal is to make the right choice, meaning hiring someone who can and will excel in the position. To communicate that you are that person, it is important to use anecdotes and examples from your past. Opportunities to do this may be explicit, as when an interviewer asks you to tell them about a time when you handled a difficult situation or about the thing you did that you are most proud of. You can also use anecdotes and examples when the interviewer mentions a job requirement by responding with a statement like, “I’ve had experience [doing that required skill] when I …” Use these guidelines:
- Be sure to use actual examples of things you have done; interviewers can detect outright lies or exaggerations immediately.
- Keep your anecdotes short and to the point, between one and four sentences.
- Paint a picture with your words. Don’t just say something dry like “we came in on time and under budget under difficult circumstances.” Give enough details that the interviewer can picture what the challenges were, how you handled it and what the outcome was as a result.
- If you are fresh out of school and have little to no work experience, use anecdotes from school projects, sports teams or volunteering.
Although you may consider an interview to be a bit like show and tell, it is important to also ask questions. First of all, while the company is trying to decide if you are the best job candidate, you also need to be satisfied that this is the right job opportunity for you. Secondly, asking questions shows that you are actually interested, and not just going through the motions.
Don’t ask a lot of questions; the focus should be mostly on answering the interviewer’s questions and conveying your qualifications and selling points. However you can sprinkle some throughout the interview conversation. At the end of the interview, many interviewers will close by asking if you have any questions. It is a good idea to have several questions prepared ahead of time based on your company research. Asking thoughtful questions shows the interviewer that you took the time to research the company and are genuinely interested.
In addition to saying the right things in the interview, a key goal to success is creating rapport with the interviewer. In a nutshell, this means getting the interviewer to like and respect you. The first step is part of your interview prep: the part where you research the interviewer to identify any commonalities. You can then mention these as appropriate during the interview to spark discussion and create goodwill.
When the interviewer is speaking, indicate your interest by maintaining eye contact, nodding, smiling and responding with follow-up questions. Once in a while, repeat some of their comments back to them before adding comments or relevant anecdotes of your own. Encourage conversation by asking open-ended questions about the interviewer’s role, the job and the company as a whole. Subtly mirror the interviewer’s body language. Lean forward slightly when you are speaking to show your enthusiasm and use a friendly but professional tone of voice. All of these actions will contribute to building rapport with your interviewer and will help propel you into the stage of the hiring decision.
Finish With a Follow-Up
Once the interview has finished, it’s important to ask the interviewer when he or she plans to make a decision. This will be helpful for you as you plan when to follow up with the hiring manager or whoever ran the interview.
It is imperative to send a thank-you note via email to the interviewer and/or hiring manager later on the same day as the interview. Not only will it be received as a gracious gesture, it will also serve as another reminder of your name and interest in the position.
The follow up email has several goals: to express that you are still interested in the position and to reinforce your selling points, prompting the interviewer to move your application along to the next step in the hiring process. Following up is essential after any job interview, but it should be done with respect to the hiring manager’s schedule. For example, if the interviewer mentions that there are a few more candidates who will be interviewed for the same position over the coming days, it might be considered overly pushy of you to follow up before the interviewing process is complete for all candidates.
A follow up should start by addressing the interviewer by name. Open with appreciation for their time on the date of your interview. Then you should restate your interest in the position, refer to any company plans discussed during the interview and suggest how your skills and experience can help the company. Close by saying that you are willing to provide any additional information if necessary and confirm when a final decision is to be made.
Acing the Call-Back Interview
Congratulations – you nailed your first interview! As exciting as it may be, your work is nowhere near complete. The call-back interview is just as important as the first interview, if not more. You’ll be expected to go into greater detail here, with job- and company-specific plans, ideas and scenarios.
The Second Interview is Not a Repeat of Your First Interview
The follow-up interview is a chance for you to provide your prospective employer with both personal and professional information. Don’t repeat the things you’ve said in your first interview verbatim – you’re expected to build off those ideas and center it on more duty-related specifics.
…But Do Repeat Successful Behaviors
It’s a good idea to review your previous interview(s) to focus on areas in which you excelled. Obviously, you impressed the hiring manager enough to be invited back for a second interview. This means you succeeded in certain aspects, such as your dress code, your language and your professional attitude. It’s important to repeat things like this, to show reliability and professionalism. Bring these same characteristics back with you to the follow-up to assure your employer that they can count on you to always maintain this type of professionalism in the workplace.
Think of the first interview as your inside look at the real environment of the office. You were able to see how the other employees dressed and acted and can use it as an advantage for your follow-up.
Ask for an Agenda
Now that you have established enough rapport with your interviewer to merit a second interview, it is appropriate to ask for an agenda for the second interview. This involves asking who will interview you this time (the original interviewer again, another person or multiple people), if there is some specific topic they want to discuss in more detail and how much time you should expect to allocate to the interview process. Some second interviews may involve a tour of the offices or introductions to key people at the company and you should be prepared if this is the case, by wearing comfortable shoes for example, or arranging transportation.
Do More Research
Part of your preparation for the first interview required you to research the company to understand its purpose. The research should not stop there – it’s important to keep digging to find more information about what the purposes and challenges are for the department or job role to which you’re applying. You can do this by reading some of the company’s press releases or related news stories, if available. This should actually be easier for you to do after the first interview because the employer has likely explained the main duties of your position. You can use this knowledge to your advantage while researching for the second time.
Expect Scenarios and Prepare Responses
If you weren’t given any specific scenarios during your first interview, you can expect to be confronted with some during the follow-up. In essence, this is when an interviewer asks you, “What would you do if…” or “How would you handle…” This is a tactic employers use to see if you can think quickly, if you’ll be able to perform the duties required by the job, and to what level. You can prepare for this by reviewing your research and coming up with examples from your prior work experience in which you have overcome a challenge of some kind. The examples you choose to discuss should exemplify your excellent use of a specific trait that is relevant and important to the company.
Expand On and Add to Discussions Had in the First Interview
Other areas of your first interview should be altered or changed to avoid repeating the discussions that took place. Think back to some of the key points that the employer made. If the two of you spent 20 minutes talking about one characteristic of the job, you can expect that it will probably come up again. Don’t rely on the same responses you used in the first interview; instead, build and expand on your first responses to include more detail in terms of how you’ll excel in the role.
You can also bring up topics yourself, exemplifying how you embody some other treasured characteristic of the company. For example, if a key focus of the company is sustainability, and you spearheaded a project to reduce packaging or increase recycling at your last job, look for ways to work this into the conversation.
Continue Building Rapport
If you find out that you will be meeting a specific manager in your next round of interviews, repeat the process of researching the individual so you can build rapport with the person who is most likely the decision maker. Use the same rapport-building strategies as you did initially with any new people you meet including mirroring, touching on commonalities, using active listening, asking questions, smiling and maintaining eye contact.
During the follow-up interview, you might be given a tour of the office or introduced to potential fellow employees. This is not uncommon. Employers are interested in seeing how well you are likely to fit in. You don’t really need to prepare for this, but you can be ready for it by going in with a clear mind, a friendly disposition and a firm handshake.
If you meet with multiple people, make sure you look at and talk to each of them, even the ones who seem less friendly. Maintain a relaxed but professional demeanor throughout the day, whether you are at a formal interview, walking around on a tour or eating lunch with your hosts/interviewers.
Remember: Employment Is a Two-Way Street
Remember that a tour of the office also gives you the opportunity to determine whether you’d be comfortable working in such an environment. If you don’t feel comfortable during the tour or with the employees you meet, that might be something to consider. You may discover things about the company’s expectations, culture or the job duties that you are unsure about.
The follow-up is the best time for you to ask any and all questions you may have about the position. You may have asked a few during the first interview, but now is the time to really dive in. Remember, employment is a two-way street; you need to be reasonably certain that the position and work environment is right for you. Asking questions will help you feel more confident that your decision is the right one.
Follow Up With a Thank You
Whether or not the follow-up interview was run by the same hiring manager as the first interview, you should always send another thank-you email. Be sure to send one to each person who was part of the process, if possible (you can make this easier by asking people for a business card when you meet them). It shows the employer that you’re serious about the position and keeps your name in circulation.
The Job Offer: Negotiating for Your Best Interests
So, your hard work has paid off – you have received a job offer. But the job search process doesn’t stop there. Chances are, there are certain aspects of the job offer that you’d like to change and now is the time to do this. This is not uncommon, but it can be challenging for some people to learn how to negotiate for their best interests.
Researching Comparable Salaries
How do you know what compensation is fair? You can find out what other people in your industry, job and location with your level of education and experience earn by doing an internet search. Of course, these are general and individual companies may pay more or less, but at least it is giving you a ballpark. Make sure that the employer is not giving you a low-ball offer by letting them know you are aware of the going rate.
Maintain Professionalism as You Negotiate
One of the most important things to remember when negotiating the terms of a job offer is that likability and professionalism go a long way. Nobody will be willing to fight for you if you come across as greedy or petty. It’s important that you have people on your side – they are the only ones that can work to get you a better offer. There are ways in which you can argue for your needs while still remaining polite and persistent.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice negotiating with friends, colleagues or family members. They’ll be able to tell you how they perceive your approach. If you come across too firm or unrelenting, scale back your demands. If you come across as a pushover, now is the time to be more assertive. It’s a balance that you can only achieve through practice and experience.
You have to make the hiring manager believe that you’re worth it. You cannot expect to demand more money or additional benefits without giving reasons as to why. One technique you can use to do this is by providing an example to go along with your demands. Justify your additional requests by relating them to past work experiences.
To avoid sounding greedy, focus on the value that you can bring to the position in dollars. For example, you might say something like, “At my last job, I saved the company $150,000 by spotting double billing, more than paying for my own salary. I believe Company X can benefit from this level of experience and diligence.”
You can use other job offers as leverage to negotiate for a higher salary, but do this with caution. If not explained properly, employers might take this as a rejection of their offer. Again, you should always be able to defend the reasoning for your negotiations. For example, if you share the fact that Company Z has made you a better offer, explain to Company X why you would rather work for them, which is why you are asking them to negotiate the original offer.
Show Your Dedication Throughout Negotiations
Remember, employers won’t be willing to bend over backward for you if they think you’ll reject the job at the end of the day. Even if you use other offers as leverage, make it clear to the employer that he or she can absolutely hire you based on one or two key changes in the offer. They should see that you are serious about this position and this company or they will move on to their next best choice.
Sometimes, hiring managers may want to hire you but they just don’t have the authority or ability to give you what you want. They might have strict salary limits or perhaps the company’s sales are down this year. If you are unable to get a higher salary, consider negotiating on other benefits including performance incentives like a bonus if you hit a certain target, more vacation time, the ability to telecommute one day a week or a performance review in six months.
Do Not Resort to Ultimatums
Never give an employer an ultimatum. It comes across as threatening and manipulative, and can therefore hurt your chances of getting what you want. If you feel that you are on the receiving end of an ultimatum, try to ignore it. An employer who tells you that they will never do something could always take it back after realizing your negotiations are doable. Rather than dwelling on it, counter it. Recognize that the hiring manager may be having difficulty on his or her end meeting your demands, and shift gears so that you can move on to another part of the negotiation.
Read and Re-Read the Offer Letter and Contract
An offer letter and subsequent contract should always be reviewed thoroughly to be sure you clearly understand what you’re being offered. If you made verbal agreements with the employer, they must be laid out in the offer letter. Without these agreements in writing, the employer has no responsibility to adhere to them. If the letter or contract is lengthy, consider using a lawyer to review it.
It’s also helpful to understand your duties, responsibilities and any disclosures so that you can avoid getting into trouble in the future. Pay particular attention to non-competition clauses, which can affect your career trajectory by preventing you from working for other companies in the industry for years after you leave this employer. For example, if there is a non-disclosure clause, and you unknowingly share information with an outside party with whom you are restricted from sharing, it could be grounds for suspension or termination. In employment contracts, there is usually a section on termination including how, when and why the employer can fire you. This will let you know what you need to avoid and how secure your job is.
Accepting the Offer
Once you have everything in writing, you can formally accept the job. This should also be in writing, so that you and your employer are both on the same page. Generally, a response to the offer letter or returning a signed employment agreement will suffice as an acceptance, as it indicates you are satisfied with all of the terms and conditions that were mentioned.
Rejecting the Offer
After all is said and done, you may feel that a position just isn’t for you. Rejecting a job offer doesn’t have to be emotionally scarring. Write a rejection letter that thanks the managers for giving you their time. Give them the reason for your rejection if you are comfortable doing so, but keep it brief. The employer does not need to know anything more than the fact that you chose to accept employment elsewhere or are continuing with your job search. End with cordiality, mentioning that you wish the company all the best.
Leaving Your Current Job on a Positive Note
When offering you the job, your new company will typically ask when you can start.
When you accept a new job, you may be so excited that you want to start right away. However, if possible, it is best to give your current employer at least two weeks’ notice. This allows your old boss to find a replacement and ensures a smooth transition. It also communicates to your new employer that you are professional and considerate.
When you leave your job on good terms, it can help you down the road by creating goodwill. This can manifest as a positive recommendation when job seeking in the future and talking well about you (or at least not bad-mouthing you) in the industry. Follow these best practices:
- Give your notice to your supervisor and thank him for the opportunity of working there
- Refrain from insulting or criticizing any employees or the company in general
- Organize your files, remove any passwords to files or your computer and unlock file and desk drawers
- Finish projects that you have started, if possible
- Offer to train your replacement
- Email customers, vendors and key people in other departments that you will no longer be with the company as of your departure date and introduce them to your replacement for a seamless transition