by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
The bulk of the many emails I receive from job-seekers deal with frustrations caused from innocent errors or omissions they unknowingly make in their job-searches. Letting valuable days pass while doing nothing toward their job-search. Time -- countless hours -- wasted applying to far too many jobs posted online and hearing nothing back. Posting resumes on a large number of job boards. Applying to jobs using a generic resume. Not understanding the immense value of relationships and the power of networking. Blowing interview opportunities by making a bad first impression or providing weak interview responses. Waiting days, weeks, and even months without following up.
The antidote to these and other common job-search errors is to follow this article's 10 rules of a good job-search.
Following these 10 job-search rules will not guarantee your job-hunting success, but will reduce your frustrations and time wasted on fruitless activities -- while directing you to the best and most efficient job-search techniques.
1. Use time wisely. For most job-seekers, finding a new job takes significant time, effort, and hard work. Some job-seekers, though, waste valuable time by mistakenly using weak and ineffective job-search techniques. The most important source of job leads is people in your network; the weakest sources are general job boards (many of whom have misleading or outdated job postings). Do not waste your time engaged in useless activities for the sake of doing something. Instead, follow the other rules in this article for the best uses of your time.
2. Understand your unique brand. It's critical that you understand the key characteristics that make you unique on the job market -- that make you stand above other similar job-seekers. (These characteristics could include your past experience, education, training, skills, and traits.) Not only must you be able to understand what makes you an attractive prospective employee (from the employer's prospective), but you also must be able to communicate these attributes in your job-search correspondence and in the job interview. Do you know the value of your career brand? Take Our Career Branding Quiz -- and learn more in our article, Building Your Brand: Tactics for Successful Career Branding.
3. Have a specific job goal. If you don't know the type of job(s) you seek and how you're qualified for them, how will any prospective employer? Take time to research the jobs you are qualified for -- jobs that also interest you -- and carefully document your qualifications (previous work experience, education, certifications, skills, and the like) you have that meet or exceed what each job requires. Once you have identified your job goal, develop a plan to achieve it. (See Rule #4.)
4. Develop a plan to achieve your job goal. It's one thing to have a goal, but without a plan on how to achieve that goal, you may never reach it. Your plan should include detailed steps for how you will work at your job-search to identify, apply, interview, and accept the ideal job for you. If you must, put your plan on paper so that you review it regularly, making positive steps toward your goal. Read our article, For Job-Hunting Success, Develop a Detailed Job-Search Plan.
5. Work on your job search daily. After developing a plan, your next step should be to pull out your calendar and set a daily job-search agenda. No day should pass that you do not achieve something related to your job-search. Possibilities include attending a networking function, applying to a job opening, going on a job interview, following up a job lead or after a job interview, attending a job fair, requesting or going on an informational interview, researching prospective employers, catching up with a network contact, attending a job-club meeting, seeking advice from a mentor or former professor/boss/co-worker, updating your resume.
6. Create, edit, polish basic resume. While you will rarely use your basic uncustomized resume as part of your job-search, you must have a good resume before you modify it for each job opening, as discussed in rule #8. Virtually every resume could use some tweaking -- and because the resume is the key that opens doors to the interview -- take a hard look at your resume, making adjustments as necessary. If you have not needed to update your resume -- or you never written a resume -- carefully review current trends and rules of resumes. Review (or start) your resume using some of the resources we offer in the resume section of Quintessential Careers.
7. Talk to people you know (your network) to obtain job leads and gather insider information. Repeat this mantra to yourself and use it to motivate you to strengthen and expand your network of contacts: "Networking is the BEST tool for helping me find a new job." All the other job-search tools combined do not equal the power of networking in helping you find that next great job opportunity. Traditional face-to-face networking is still the best method for building and maintaining valuable relationships, but don't ignore online networking opportunities, such as with LinkedIn and Facebook, among others. Read more in our articles, Networking Your Way to a New Job and Frequently Asked Questions About Career Networking.
8. Apply to job openings using targeted resume and cover letter. The cover letter and resume combination that will help you get noticed by a prospective employer is one that is clearly tailored to the job opening and employer. Every resume and cover letter you submit to an employer must show your unique fit to the position and the employer. Use keywords the employer uses to describe the ideal candidate, as well as words the organization uses to describe itself. Read our article, FAKTSA: An Acronym for Remembering Key Resume Enhancers.
9. Interview strategically. Never go into a job interview unprepared, and whenever possible, ask your employer contact about what to expect at the interview. Even if you can't obtain information about the type of interview or the people you'll be interviewing with, you can prepare responses to the most common interview questions -- using anecdotes and stories to illustrate your points. When possible, research the employer and interviewers -- and show that information in the interview. At the interview, remember to gather contact information (including correct spelling of names) on each person who interviews you so that you can follow up with a thank-you note. Take a look at our collection of Job Interviewing Articles for Job-Seekers.
10. Never stop following up. The hiring cycle is often unpredictable -- and sometimes extremely drawn out -- and the job-seeker who stays in contact with the prospective employer is one who will be remembered when the time for hiring finally arrives. Many job-seekers say they don't follow up because they are afraid of being seen as pushy or too aggressive, but as long as you are professional in your follow-up, these should not be concerns. Following up with employers shows your continued interest and gives you an opportunity to provide more information and make your case to be hired. Learn more in our article, Job Interview Follow-Up Do's and Don'ts for Job-Seekers.
Final Thoughts on Good Job-Searching
Finding a new job takes time, determination, hard work, patience, and persistence. Job-seekers need to thoroughly understand themselves and prospective employers and then use multiple tools and skills to demonstrate your fit with each job, each employer. Remember to work smartly. Don't waste time on ineffective job-search techniques just to feel like you accomplished something; instead, remember to focus on the activities that offer the highest chances of success.
Three quizzes that may help you hone your self-branding, networking, and job marketing skills are:
- Career Branding Quiz
- Career Marketability Test for Job-Seekers
- Career Networking Assessment
Looking for more advice? Consider these Quintessential Careers articles:
- 10 Ways to Develop Job Leads
- Ten Questions to Ask Yourself if You Still Don't Have a Job
- 8 Job-Hunting Mistakes You Don't Want to Make
Finally, to stay on top of the latest trends in online job-hunting, read our latest Quintessential Careers Reports on the State of Internet Job-Hunting.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.