It’s been months since I’ve been asked, but the hatred I have for this question still lingers: what’s next?? You’re asking that to a student currently contemplating how she’s going to finish an assignment and study for a final exam in the same night, Sharon – don’t ask me what’s next.
Save for the fortunate few, job-searching sucks. There, I said it. It’s a lot of putting yourself out there, realizing you’re not that special all while realizing just how special you truly are. Though the results are different for everyone, I learned a few tricks and tips that I thought might save someone else (like you, fellow reader) from wasted time and torture. So, if any of this resonates… de nada.
Before I begin, let me just inform you that job-searching is a job within itself. Even in this day and age, with a tonne of digital search tools at your fingertips and endless free, accessible resources, job-searching still takes hard work and a lot of patience. Depending on where you want to work, what you want to do, and who you know (yes, this matters), finding a job can take a long time. So, it’s important to set aside a good chunk of time to find a job because doing something well is never a quick process.
Still, the first thing to know is this: you will find a job.
Hearing this while unemployed can be hard. How do you know I’ll get a job? Can you see the future? Well, no. But unemployment is literally one of the worst signs of an economy’s well-being (thanks Professor Dungan!!) so your time will come, however long it takes (if you keep searching!).
A second, perhaps more important, tip is to figure out exactly what it is you don’t want.
Yes, you read that right. Of course, knowing what you want is very helpful and can make the process so much easier; but knowing what you don’t want to do or where you don’t want to work can really help narrow your search, save you time, and make you more confident in your decisions. Try this: write down a list of the qualities and tasks of a job in your field that you would never want to do, and go from there. It might just do the trick. So might a personal SWOT analysis. See what works for you.
Also, if you’re like me, and you’re really bad at faking enthusiasm (for jobs or really bad birthday gifts), don’t just take any job: look for something you’ll actually like. Though your first job out of graduation does not define the future of your entire career, I do think that it can help guide you into your next step; or hold you back. This advice may not work for everyone, as the pressure to pay bills and other personal responsibilities may not allow all of us to freely choose how we support ourselves. Nevertheless, if you have the flexibility – and the patience – I highly recommend working towards finding a job that you like, if not love. The energy, creativity, and enthusiasm of new grads should not be put to waste, so making sure the first job you land fulfills at least some of your passions can truly make the process worth it. Plus, life’s too short to waste 40% of your time on this planet doing things that don’t make you happy!
Now that you know what you’re searching for, the next question is: “Where to start looking?” Sometimes, it’s in unlikely places:
- Of course, Google and general job boards are a given.
- If you’ve recently graduated or are about to graduate from a program, university and college job boards and career centers are great tools, too.
- Your friends and colleagues: spread the word that you’re actively looking for employment! You never know who they might know.
- And social media: as unhealthily addictive as they can be, social media has its benefits.
- A good Twitter search with the right key words can reveal jobs you haven’t yet discovered.
- LinkedIn is another great tool: the basic account features are very useful and can help you find jobs straight from a company’s official LinkedIn page.
- Tip: use LinkedIn’s “Jobs” page to bookmark specific jobs, receive regular job alerts based on key job search terms, and cater your feed to what jobs you would like to have recommended to you. Like Twitter, you can use LinkedIn to reach out directly to important people, like hiring managers! And make sure to keep your profile updated, neat and active, because you never know who might be looking!
Once you’ve found a job you’re interested in applying to, it’s time to craft a good resume and cover letter! (Wow, that enthusiasm…just…came out.) Resumes can be tough, but they’re easy once you get the hang of it. And with this, my advice is brief:
- Place a 2-3 lined personal statement right at the top of the first page of your resume to quickly summarize your experience, career goals and what kind of work you want to do (catering it to the field you’re applying to).
- Unless you’re 90 years old or in academia, limit your resume to two (2) pages maximum. Have no fear: you can use your cover letter and interviews as opportunities to expand on some of your other experiences you weren’t able to mention in your resume. Employers like to learn more new, great things about you at every stage of the process.
Now, for the more dreaded of tasks: cover letters. How does one craft a good cover letter? you ask. It’s impossible. No, but seriously; the list of suggestions is truly endless, and, quite frankly, subjective. So here are my personal tips that have worked well for me, and may just work for you, too:
- Use the first 2-3 opening sentences to reel in the reader.
- Start with a general statement that shows you know about the company’s mandate. For instance, “With a personal mission to improve the world’s climate by proactively engaging in wildlife conservation, I am eager to join the WWF Climate Task Force …”.
- Connect your experience to the goal of the position and close with how adding your experience to the team will be a brilliant opportunity for yourself and the company.
- Use the next 1-2 short paragraphs to expand on your professional experience (unlike your resume), linking it directly to the job posting. Here, it’s important to use similar language to the job posting – but don’t copy and paste, as it will be obvious.
- Tip: Employers have little to no time to read your cover letter so make sure it is 1 page maximum. Also, use bullet points, bold and/or italics to highlight key information about your skills and how they match the qualifications necessary for the role.
- Close with why you want to work for [said] team at [said] company to achieve [said] goal, and that you look forward to hearing from the employer soon.
Next: the interview! PREP AHEAD. Grab a friend, a partner, a mirror, anything. Just prepare yourself verbally and mentally as much as you need for the conversation about to take place. Make up questions or have your partner improvise. Preparation helps to ease the nervousness of interviews, so practice indeed makes perfect!
Other interview tips I learned over the course of my job-search:
- Bring a notebook. Use it to write down the questions interviewers ask you before answering them, as well as to take down key notes and thoughts during the interview. If you’re nervous about looking away while they speak to write, let the interviewers know before you begin the interview that you’ll be taking notes. This also shows them that you’re actively listening.
- Look up the average salary of this role before the interview so you’re prepared when they ask about salary expectations and you don’t over- or under-sell yourself.
- Prepare questions ahead of time to ask the interviewer during or at the end of the interview. Here are some great examples.
- Follow-up with thank-you emails!! It may seem lame or over the top, but trust me when I say they work! Follow-up emails will remind the employer of your interview and name, and truly show that you’re keen on getting the role. Use them strategically, especially for the jobs you’re really eager to get. You can structure them like this:
- Open with a statement of thanks for being invited in for an interview;
- Mention a particular high point in the interview discussion, reiterating how you hope to contribute to the team/tackle the company’s current pressing issue; and
- Close with “I look forward to hearing from you” to let them know you’re available and ready.
Now, for the worst.
I hate this word.
I know you hate this word.
I know you know we all hate this word.
Like the cover letter, networking is oftentimes a necessary evil. It can feel forced; it can be nerve-wracking; and – when you’ve been doing it constantly for months – it can start to feel like a waste of time. But, like everything else I’ve listed here, I truly believe it helps. Here are some tips to make the process a bit easier:
- Approach networking as a conversation, because it is!
- Prepare your 3-sentence “elevator pitch” ahead of time. Who are you? What are your top skills? How do you hope to make an impact?
- Be confident in your job-search: know what you’re looking for and communicate it confidently with the people you meet. Everyone job searches at some point in their life, so there’s no need to be shy about it.
Fun-fact: it’s hard to realize in the moment but there’s a lot you can learn while job-searching that’s not necessarily related to the process itself. You may learn more about your own personal strengths and weaknesses; discover new skills you never knew you had and cool organizations you had never of before. You may even meet new friends and brilliant mentors (for the love of Gouda, please find a mentor, they’re the absolute best!). Most of all, you might just find your purpose in this little thing called life. Not too bad, eh?
And while you’re learning and doing all those things, remember to do other things in the process too. Volunteer! Go to a party! Attend free seminars and workshops!!
Job-searching can be a difficult, frustrating period; but whatever you do, try your best to avoid getting stuck in a sad, impatient head-space. In times of intense change, it’s continued hope that gets us through. So keep it up and best of luck to everyone! GO. GET. EMPLOYED.
**Regularly scheduled travel blogs to be resumed.**
Music for the Moment: