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How to Navigate Your Job Search

Allen Leng


9 min. read

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If you’re in the market for a job right now, you’re not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veteran American workers have held about 12 different jobs between ages 18 and 50. That means an average tenure of only three years or so at each workplace!

And considering how much the workplace has changed in the last few decades, most experts predict younger workers will see an ever greater rate of job-hopping by the time they reach their golden years.

Sometimes, looking for a new job is part of a big life change like graduating college or moving to a new town or re-entering the workforce after time away. Image

Other times, the job hunt is a necessity after you lose your current job. While the economy in general seems to have recovered nicely since the Great Recession, layoffs are still an unfortunate reality at many companies that are suffering specific challenges. For instance, General Electric announced plans to let go more than 1,000 workers in 2017 amid a corporate restructuring, and electric vehicle icon Tesla also let hundreds of employees as it struggled to appease investors.

And then, of course, there’s the voluntary job hunt that begins when you decide your skills could win you a better paycheck or simply workplace environment.

Regardless of the cause, however, many Americans will find themselves looking for a job in the near future.

So, how do you find one?

The world of job searching can be intimidating, and can sometimes be a difficult task depending on your skills or desires. But thankfully, the process isn’t all that complicated.

Here’s your roadmap for navigating the world of job searching, and tips to set you up to receive the great job offer you deserve.

Preparing for Your Job Search

It’s tempting to think you can just dive into searching for a job and land an interview. But as with many things in life, proper preparation will make the process easier and increase your chance of success.

First, polish your resume. One of the most necessary pieces of your job hunt is your resume. It is the first thing anyone will ask for, and the easiest way to sum up what you offer a prospective employer. Before you do anything else, take your time crafting an error-free resume that highlights what you have to offer. There are countless resources and templates on the internet to help you along, so put in the time to create the right document for you and your skills before doing anything else. Image

Next, contact your professional network. Sometimes a former employer or co-worker will have information about a new opportunity. A recommendation like this is a great way to get a leg up on the competition in your job search. But even if nobody you know has any tips on recent job openings, you’ll want to let them know you’re looking in case you need a reference. Not only is it presumptive to send a potential employer to a reference without telling them in advance, it’s important to know if they will actually say something positive in your favor when they are called! It’s best to find this out early, before references are needed.

Then, polish up your skills. If you’re looking for better job than your last one, that often requires using different skills or taking on additional responsibilities. It’s crucial, then, to make sure you’re prepared. Taking classes, purchasing software you expect to use or simply reading up on best practices online can go a long way towards making you feel confident and allowing you to speak intelligently about these areas in an interview. The best way of all, however, is to consider freelance or contract-based work as a way to get your feet way. Job portals like Toptal and Glassdoor are great ways to seek out some side work – and generate supplemental income – while you are looking for your next full-time opportunity. If you’re currently unemployed, finding work via sites like these will also allow you to put more recent items on your resume to prevent a gap in your employment experience.

if you have embarrassing pictures of your high school reunion or potentially offensive comments directed towards acquaintances, you may want to delete them

Lastly, clean up your social media accounts. Many job seekers use LinkedIn for a public professional profile, so make sure your account puts your best foot forward if the hiring manager looks you up. But also remember that many other social accounts like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are equally public – so if you have embarrassing pictures of your high school reunion or potentially offensive comments directed towards acquaintances, you may want to delete them or make them private before a potential employer finds them and holds them against you.

Performing for Your Job Search

If you’ve done a good job preparing, then you should be in great shape to start actually looking for opportunities that appeal to you.

The biggest keys to job hunting seem contradictory; you need to be patient for others to get back to you, but you should always respond with a sense of urgency when anything is needed on your end. Remember, employers are looking for someone who is eager… but not someone who will bug them every minute because they can’t wait their turn.

It can be difficult to balance this mindset, but it’s an important part of proving you’re a quality candidate. Keep this in mind as you go through the following steps.

First, look at multiple job posting services and do so in different ways. You don’t want to waste your time applying for jobs that aren’t right for you. But similarly, you don’t want to miss the perfect opportunity. That means you’re doing it wrong if you just go to one site and sign up for job alerts based on one keyword. Each job portal has different postings, and job alerts don’t always send everything that’s relevant. It’s up to you, then, to put in some serious time to see what’s out there – and more importantly, which sites are most aligned with your personal job search. For many skilled professions, trade publications or industry-specific websites could be the best place to find opportunities. But for others, a major portal like LinkedIn or Indeed may work just fine. The bottom line is that you won’t know which method is best for you until you spend some serious time looking. Take a look at our job site reviews for an in-depth look on what we think are the best job portals.

it’s crucial to identify the oldest job postings that interest you, and make them a priority

Next, prioritize the oldest ads first. There are always jobs out there, and there’s a chance that your dream job has already been posted and other applicants are already being interviewed. That’s why it’s crucial to identify the oldest job postings that interest you, and make them a priority. Even if you find your dream job that has been posted yesterday this is true, because no hiring manager in their right mind makes a decision in just a few days. If an ad is two or three weeks old, however, there is a chance the employer is pretty close to making a decision. That means your window of opportunity will close unless you express your interest. If you put in the time to work through older posts, it will be easy to apply promptly to new job openings as they pop up.

Lastly, don’t stop searching until you actually have accepted a job offer. It’s normal to like one job positing ahead of all others. It’s also wonderful if your initial contact with a company went well. But that shouldn’t stop you from continuing your search and applying to others that are still of interest. And it certainly shouldn’t cause you to apply to everything else in a slipshod matter. Particularly if you’re out of work, it’s dangerous to presume an employer will like you as much as you like them. Besides, there’s nothing unethical or inconsiderate about applying earnestly to two or even three jobs at the same time. If all of the hiring managers express interest, not only will you have more leverage when negotiating salary but you’ll have more confidence to ask questions and figure out if a given job is truly a right fit for you.

Applying for Your Next Job

Your skills are sharp, your resume is polished and you’ve found a few jobs that are perfect for your skills.

But how do you actually apply, and ultimately land a job offer? Image

The trick is to treat each opportunity as a unique situation, and to engage with the same energy and enthusiasm each time. Hiring managers can tell if you are just window shopping for jobs, sending out the same old emails each time, so part of getting past the initial screening processes is standing out from the pack.

First, tweak your resume and create a custom cover letter. A good cover letter is as much about the employer as it is about you. Yes, you have talent and skills. But how do they match up with this specific company and this specific role? What requirements do you have that were listed as requirements in the advertisement, and what past experience do you have that aligns with responsibilities at this new job? You may think your resume can showcase these skills, but one study showed the typical recruiter spends just 6 seconds on the average resume! If you’re not prioritizing the items that matter to each employer, then you may miss out whether you deserve it or not.

Next, jump through all the hoops. Some employers have complicated HR systems that require you to register an account and follow their specific procedures on an application website. This can be tedious, but is an important part of the screening process because it ensures applicants can follow direction and are actually interested enough to do more than fire off a generic resume. If you don’t play by the rules, you won’t land an interview.

If you really like a job and haven’t heard back, it’s appropriate to send a follow up email a week after your application

Now, wait about week to hear back. This may sound agonizing, but most HR experts agree that roughly five to seven business days is enough time for the company to take first steps but not so long that they’re deep into the hiring process. Any sooner and you look too impatient, and any longer and you may miss out. If you really like a job and haven’t heard back, it’s appropriate to send a follow up email a week after your application – unless, of course, the ad expressly advises against such a thing.

If you land an interview, practice! If you’ve played your cards right, by now you may hear back from an employer about a phone interview. That’s great news! But remember, you only get one shot at a first impression. Don’t be embarrassed about practicing with a friend or relative who role plays as the hiring manager. You can expect any employer to ask about your current employment history, why you’re interested in this job and where you expect your career to go long-term. Preparing a good answer to these items and other common questions will ensure your hard work on applications was time well spent.

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