The Best Job Search Tips Ever…a Comprehensive List

Over the past several years,  I’ve collected a lot of advice and opinions from HR recruiters and from job seekers about what is the best way to go about looking for a new job.

Below is the most updated list of great job seeking tips.  Be forewarned – this is an exhaustive (read: long) list but I think you’ll find a lot of nuggets of useful information in here.

It is divided into four main categories:

  • General job search tips
  • Resumes and cover letters
  • Networking
  • Interviewing

Some of these tips are practical, some are humorous and some are just plain common sense.  Do you have additional tips or questions about the job search?  Leave a comment and lets discuss!

General Job Searching Tips

Your job right now is the Chief Marketing Officer for YOURSELF!  Develop a job-search routine.  Divide your time throughout the day into a.) Internet job search b.) employer research c.) networking and cold-calling d.) creating and sending out resumes and cover letters

Establish realistic job search goals.  By establishing goals, you will feel a sense of accomplishment each and every day and you will see yourself becoming a more skilled job seeker!

For example:
3 prospects per-day,
4 phone calls each morning,
4 resumes sent out each week,
3 interviews per-month.

Create a plan!  Who’s your target market?  Do you have your sales collateral ready (resume/cover letter/portfolio)?  Are you prepared to ‘sell’ yourself?  Can you answer the question, “Will you please tell me about yourself?”

Carry a professional notebook/portfolio with your resume and notepaper. If the person you interview with is giving “advice,” WRITE IT DOWN, particularly if you are spending time with someone who has been asked as a personal favor to interview you.

SEEK MOTIVATION!  Remember a time in your life that you set a goal or faced a challenge or obstacle?  What was it that motivated you or inspired you not to give up, even when a situation seemed hopeless?  A mentor?  Faith?  A book?  Music?  An historical figure?  Family?  A book?  Friends?  Turn back to that experience and tap into the thing that motivated and inspired you!

Read the business section of local newspapers regularly and keep in touch with changes in your industry and in businesses you are interested in working for.

Be persistent. Don’t just send in a resume and hope for someone to call you back. Even if you’re responding to a classified ad that doesn’t give a contact name, do some research and find a warm body to call and talk to. Be resourceful — search the company’s web site and ask your colleagues/peers if they know anyone at the company.  Show your interest and conduct a quick follow-up a week or two after submitting your resume.

Are you the entrepreneur type that wants to work for yourself?  There are plenty of websites and government agencies that have information on building a business plan, financial resources for low-interest loans, and other helpful tips. Start with realistic goals and talk with others about the challenges and the rewards of owning your own business.

Use the job-hunting resources available to you from local governments.  Every state has a workforce development agency which provides numerous job search resources.  These include books and brochures, career fairs, free computer access to build your resume and professional career counselors that are available to help you with your job search, your resume, your strategies, etc. They assist ALL citizens whether you are an executive, or whether you are a first-time job seeker.

Don’t be put off by exotic job requirements. Usually they represent the perspective employer’s ideal candidate. Believe me, these people are few and far between. If the job sounds like something you could do, give it a shot. You may prove to be what they really want!

Buy the Denver Business Journal’s annual “Book of Lists” — the bible for job seekers in Colorado, it is updated and compiled ever year, and is simply the most valuable resource for basic information on companies in the Denver area.

Use the web to your advantage. Many organizations will list jobs on their websites that you won’t see anywhere else. Their websites also offer tons of information for your networking strategies. Who is on their board of directors? Who are the top officers? You’d be surprised how many times you find people you know that serve in these capacities.

Create a couple of 1-2 page “case studies”; short narratives about a particular project, situation or event in your career that show off your management skills, your problem-solving abilities, your creativity, how you rose to the occasion when challenged, your follow through in beginning and completing a project, etc. It’s one thing to list your skills on a resume; it’s another to actually show how you utilized those skills.

Never quit looking – even after you have a job, keep your eye on the market. You’ll pick up trends and lists of skills you may want to gain or build on. It will make you a better staff member where you are and position you much more competitively if you decide to move on.

Always apply for jobs that look interesting, even if they seem out of your “reach.” You never know who else will be applying and you might be the perfect fit for the job.

Get at least conversational with a wide range of computer programs. You don’t have  to be an expert in web design or publishing programs but if you can open them and do basic work it may give you a leg up.

Create a job-seeking journal.  Use it to jot notes and to make lists.  Pull it out when you have a brainstorm about a new job-seeking strategy or when you think of a new ‘power word’ or ‘power phrase for your resume.  Write down companies you hear about that seem interesting or websites you might want to explore later.

In this job market be open to new opportunities in new fields. Keep on searching diligently and apply extensively. Attend Job Fairs. Send in a quality resume with an appealing cover letter. Be sure you meet the qualifications.

If the ad says “No calls, please,” DON’T CALL. The employer is working overtime to make up for short staff and has 300 resumes to review. He or she probably can’t spare five minutes for every applicant to confirm that the resume has arrived, to describe the position and to say whether or not interviews have begun. Many of the 300 resumes will be for highly qualified people, and frankly, employers are looking for reasons to disqualify you. Failure to follow instructions is a good one. Even if the ad doesn’t say “No calls, please,” DON’T CALL. In addition to the reasons above, trying to circumvent the hiring process won’t gain you any points. The only exception is if you actually know the person doing the hiring.

Take a few hours off from your job search – take a walk in the park or a hike in the mountains, listen to your favorite CD or go see a movie, hang out with a friend, eat an ice cream cone, volunteer with children or at a senior home… do something to release the pressure. Clearing your head really does help. It gives you clarity and focus and helps you to organize your thoughts and strategies before you jump back into your job search.

As difficult as it can seem, remain optimistic and energized. There will be times when you are a finalist and then you don’t get the job. There will be times when you send out a dozen resumes and don’t hear a word. As devastating as this may seem, just keep thinking about the next day, the next job interview, keep your head up and do what you can to not let it impact your self confidence.

Resumes and cover letters

Two most important things we look for in resumes:
1.) Does their resume match the qualifications in terms of years of experience, industry, expertise and skills.
2.) We are looking for well-articulated results
3.) We are looking for them to articulate their relevance to the job we have posted.  We can’t make assumptions, they have to tell us why their background is relevant to the position.
4.) What makes someone unique?  What differentiators are going to show us you are more likely going to succeed at the new position?

One unfortunate truth is that in today’s world, often your resume is actually never even considered by a human being, but by a sophisticated, turbo-charged database called the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).  An ATS is a software application designed for recruitment tracking purposes and to manage resume data. Your resume or online application should include key qualifying phrases and information that matches with the job description.  An ATS is programmed to look for these words and phrases and if your resume does not include these, it may never be seen by a recruiter.

A short branding statement should be included on the top of your resume that starts with the words “I am….” followed by a description of your expertise, your experience and your skills.  This is also a good exercise for that inevitable question “Can you tell us about yourself?”   Here’s an example:

I am a demonstrated senior-level executive, innovator and business development leader. I possess specific expertise in leading and managing complex bureaucracies, developing new markets, programs and services in three sectors: higher education, nonprofit organizations, and business.  I have a proven ability to develop and manage budgets and drive and increase sales and revenue goals.  I am recognized for my passion in planning, coaching, mentoring, training, problem solving and communication and I continuously strive to raise an organization’s level of engagement and achievement. I’m a former Peace Corp volunteer and am fluent in Spanish.

This statement should be followed by three columns of no more than 9 key words and phrases that best describe your expertise.  These words can be interchanged to match the qualifying words on a job posting.  Below these columns is where you begin your reverse chronology of your experience – most recent job first.

An HR recruiter has a large pile of resumes they will scan through.  The recruiter has about  60-90 seconds at most to determine to determine if you match the qualifications of the job.  They will be looking for criteria in this order:

1.) Do you meet the basic criteria as stated in the job description (education/expertise/background)?

2.) Do you have the stated years of experience and the chronology of progressive experience as stated in the job posting?

3.) Are there any red flags such as gaps in employment, ‘job jumping’, typos, etc.?

Looking for a job is not a time to be modest!  This is ‘show time!’ and you have every right to take credit for your accomplishments, to highlight your skills and expertise and to demonstrate the results of your hard work. Highlight real accomplishments on your resume. Instead of saying, “I managed a sales program for ABC Company,” add details that show real results; for example, “I created and executed a sales campaign that resulted in a $5 million increase in revenue and increased our market share by 15%.” Prospective employers, particularly executive management, like to see vision, hard work and the results of that hard work.

For entry level job seekers, a one-page resume is fine, but for most mid-senior level professionals, you should aim for a two-page resume.

Education, boards and volunteer projects should be represented at the end of the resume, never the beginning.

Create a cover letter that with bullet points with specific scenarios you’ve faced in your daily career that match the requirements that are spelled out in the job posting.

Your cover letter needs to answer four specific questions:

1.) Why am I the most qualified?

2.) How does my experience/skills/expertise match the job requirements?

3.) What differentiators set me apart from other applicants?

4.) How will hiring me add value to the organization?

Create different resumes and cover letters that focus on job duties tailored to  specific industries which you’ve worked in.  So when applying for a job in healthcare, education, technology, etc. your resume reflects strengths in that industry.

Have several people review your resume and cover letter for typos. A universal theme is: “If there’s a typo throw it out. Period.”

If you have a physical address to mail your resume and cover letter, send your packet by registered mail with a return-receipt requested. If possible, hand deliver your resume packet.  In this day and age of high tech and email, many employers appreciate the effort when people hand-deliver their resume. Plus, you know it got there before the deadline. Use high quality paper.

If you are in a creative career (marketing/advertising/pr/graphics) think about having have a good portfolio on hand for the interview.  It should show the progress of a project from beginning to end.

Always have at least two good general reference letters in your packet.

Include in the cover letter a very specific list of job requirements and matching qualifications in side-by-side columns so that the HR person reviewing the submission can see quickly that you have all of the qualifications for the position. An HR person explained to me that many hiring managers never see most resumes because the person screening resumes didn’t think they saw all of the required
qualifications.

Don’t send duplicate resumes to HR, the receptionist and the supervisor. They all end up on the same desk in the end, and it looks like you’re either desperate or trying to do an end run.

Networking

There is nothing wrong with being unemployed and your job search is not the time to be modest!  Let everyone know what you’re doing, and don’t rule anything out.  I know a guy who got a lead from someone sitting next to them at Starbucks who overheard him talking with a friend about his job search.

Even if a company does not have a job opening (or has one you may be overqualified for), set up informational interviews with friends/acquaintances/peers in that industry.  Then follow-up with them every month to two to keep your name in the forefront.  It could be that call from a reference to a potential employer that puts you over the edge and separates you from the crowd.

People love to be asked for their advice. If you are seeking an informational interview, ask someone if you can meet with him or her briefly to seek his or her advice.

Use your resources to network. Friends, family, colleagues, fellow service/professional/civic organizations, the church/synagogue you attend, health/sports clubs you are part of — all are part of your network. Be ready with a personal business card that includes a couple of key job experience points on the back.

Be as visible as possible. Take every advantage to be seen and to connect. Go to events, receptions, etc.

Volunteer for high profile, leadership positions that provide significant opportunity for interaction.

Volunteer for a nonprofit using the skills in the field you are interested in. There are great opportunities if you serve in a volunteer capacity for a cause you like and that matches your career goals. That is where you meet lots of people from different organizations with the potential of several jobs. If you do a good job, they’ll create jobs for a hard worker in their organization. You’ll also meet a ton of high profile folks working on boards and committees for charitable non-profit organizations.

Create a diverse network of references. I have a large list of confirmed people who represent or reflect a very broad spectrum of society (i.e., government, business, non-profit, media, etc.). As such, when I’m applying for a position, I’m able to pick my references to fit that opportunity.

Use LinkedIn.  Create a professional profile with your general resume and engage using the various groups that are tailored to specific careers and other areas of interest.  Recruiters are using LinkedIn to identify new talent.

Interviews

Dress to impress a potential boss. Even though we are in casual Colorado please do not show up for an interview dressed as though you’re heading to a ball game. A polished, professional appearance means you are serious about getting this job. Business suits for both women and men are a must — not just for the first interview, but the second and third!

Do your homework. Know the company/firm/agency with whom you are seeking a  position. If you come to the table as a qualified candidate and you have taken this extra step, you will be an impressive interview.  Every company has a web site. Newspapers archive their articles that makes it easy to track down the business’ history, issues, trends, etc. The Securities and Exchange Commission web site (http://www.sec.gov) has regular online company filings that provide very detailed information (annual reports, quarterly filings, etc.) on companies. You should be an expert on the company going into an interview. Google the CEO or other top management. You might find out background information about that person that is helpful to your interview or your cover letter.

Before going in for the interview, anticipate the questions that might be asked of you. Ask your spouse, a friend or a family member to do a dry run with you to practice your answers.

Many interviewers will ask, “What are your weaknesses?” Although saying, “I’m a perfectionist,” may sound like a good answer, it’s really not. I’ve worked with perfectionists, and they never finish anything.

Many interviewers will ask, “What did you dislike about your last job?” Avoid the temptation to launch into a diatribe about your martinet former boss and idiot former coworkers. Also avoid the temptation to say, “I liked everything about my last job,” because it’s hard to believe. If you’ve been in a supervisory position, I find this is a good answer: “I’ve never enjoyed firing people, but I will do it when necessary.” No manager can argue with that.

Tell the hiring manager/search team about how you can bring an immediate benefit and include a list of key strengths that match the job description.

Ask the right questions of the employer to ensure that YOU want to work there. Is the management team committed to doing interviews and making appearances? Do they have unreasonable expectations that the company’s stock with triple and they will be on the ‘Today’ show simply because they’ve hired a PR professional? What’s the process for issuing releases and other documents? Make sure you can live with their policies.

A slightly humorous tip is when going in for an interview, before entering the office, take a moment to use the restroom and wash your hands in very warm water. The result will be a warm handshake.

Do not wear cologne or perfume to an interview, as either may be a turn-off or a medical (i.e. possible allergy) to the interviewer.

Close the sale. Whether you’re in a screening interview or the final round, ask for the job and reiterate how your skill set matches what the company’s looking for.

Always send a thank you note for any kind of meeting. It will distinguish you from other candidates. Specifically send a note that addresses YOUR interview.  Highlight the areas of the interview that you think distinguished your strengths and how your skills are going to help the organization.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Best Job Search Tips Ever…a Comprehensive List

  1. Andrew – Thank you so much for consolidating and reposting your “Best Of” job seeking hints. Even if we are aware of some of the tips, even if they make perfect sense, it is good to be reminded. Sometimes we need to “get back on track”. This is a really big help. -sg

  2. Great blog I will be back, learned a lot more about how to do an efficient job search

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