Like most meaningful things in life, finding a good job takes a lot of work. And by work, I don't mean glancing at Monster.com and firing off a resume to every company with a listing. That's a rookie move, and it's not likely to land you any job worth having. The work I'm talking about takes time and dedication. It's practically a full-time job in itself.
The good news is, if you're smart about it and you put in the work, you're far more likely to land the job you want. Since you'll spend upwards of 40 hours a week working, putting in the effort now is a small investment with a potentially large return.
Below are five job hunting tips that many of your peers aren't doing. They're not all easy to do. (If they were, everyone would do them.) They might not be fun. (Ditto.) But if landing a job that suits your skills is your goal, these five things will put you a step ahead of the competition.
Do Your Homework
Many job hunters, whether they're looking for their first job or trying to change industries, go about their search knowing little about the market they want to enter. To employers, these applicants tend to blend together. If you want to make a great first impression, you're going to have to do some research.
Scott Kustis is the assistant director of career services at Ohio State University. He told me over email that job seekers should “research employers and industries the way they would research for a term paper.” He recommends spending four to six hours a day on your job hunt, with much of that time devoted to research.
So each day you should take a few hours to read up on the companies and industry before you even send out a cover letter. Read the website of the company you want to apply to. Look at the websites of their competition. Check them out on Wikipedia and LinkedIn. Go to the library and read relevant books and articles. Do a Google News search and familiarize yourself with current industry news.
Once you've familiarized yourself with the company and industry, you'll have a better idea of where you might fit in. If you get an interview and you can talk about current, relevant issues facing the company, they'll know you take them seriously, and they'll take you seriously in return.
Individualize Your Message
Remember that rookie job hunter who spams the same cover letter and resume to a bunch of different companies? His biggest mistake is thinking that resumes and cover letters are “one size fits all.” They're not, and if you treat them that way, any hiring manager who reads them is almost guaranteed to overlook you. The best way to make your materials stand out is to craft a targeted message for each company.
To do that, Kustis says, “Make sure your cover letter demonstrates that you have researched the employer. Let them know how you think you fit into the organization and why you are interested in them.”
If you do that, you won't blend into the crowd like the rest of the applicants. Instead, you will have already demonstrated that you're a smart, determined applicant who's ready to get to work.
Do the same thing with your resume. “Resumes,” Kustis says, “should not just be a laundry list of former job duties. The job duties need to be presented in terms of skills and abilities gained, and tailored to target the position one seeks.”
To do that, you can use the job posting as your guideline. If they list the qualities they're looking for, you can write your resume so it displays how you attained each of those skills.
This takes a lot of time and effort, of course. But when all your potential employers have to go on is the paper you've sent them, targeting your message by far the best way to stand out.
You probably think that being interviewed for a job is something only a masochist could enjoy. You're not alone: Even many interviewers don't like giving interviews.
Unfortunately, the interview is the best tool most companies have to select new hires. If you don't come off well in an interview, you're not going to get the job–it's that simple.
So how do you prepare for an interview? The same way you prepare for anything else: practice. Do mock interviews with career coaches, parents, friends, uncles, pets–anyone who will give you five minutes of their time.
Regardless of how awkward it feels to role play, you have to take it seriously. Think of it as eating your vegetables. Practice really does make perfect, and if you practice your interview skills, you'll have a leg up on the competition.
Show, don't tell. Every writer has heard this advice a thousand times, and there's a reason why. Telling is weak. Showing is powerful.
What does that have to do with looking for a job? In an interview, no matter how great you promise the hiring manager you are, your words mean very little. This person barely knows you, so why should they believe you when you say, for instance, that you're good in tense situations?
Instead, before your interviews, take some time to brainstorm stories about your previous job experience that illustrate the qualities you want to convey. If you want them to know you're good in tense situations, paint a vivid picture of how you diffused a situation with an irate customer at your last job.
Come up with five or six stories that each show a different positive quality you possess. Write the stories down. Practice telling them in mock interviews.
Then, when you do a real interview, you won't have to “tell” how wonderful you are. You'll be able to use stories to “show” them.
If you're relying on job boards to find a job, I have some bad news for you: Many open positions never make it to a job board. In fact, putting up a job listing is a company's last-ditch effort to fill a position. It’s easier for a company to promote from within, or hire someone recommended by a trusted employee, than to open their search to the unwashed masses.
To find out about those under-the-radar job openings, you have to know people. The more people you know in the industry–a.k.a. the wider your network–the better your chances are of hearing about job openings.
Networking comes in a lot of different forms. If you want to go for broke, you can attend industry conventions. You won’t find more industry people clustered together anywhere than at a convention. You can also start a blog that covers what’s going on in the industry, and use that as a platform to connect with people.
But the easiest way to network is on social sites like Twitter and LinkedIn. LinkedIn is particularly helpful, because it focuses on your professional life. The first thing to do on LinkedIn is make a profile and search for people who work in your desired industry. Connection requests don’t cost anything, so send them to as many people as you want. Feel free to carpet-bomb the industry.
When people start accepting your requests, send them messages to introduce yourself and ask questions about their job and the industry at large. Take some time with these and make the messages as personal as you can. Not everyone will respond, but try to keep the conversation going with the ones who do. Let them know you’re interested in entering the industry, and would appreciate any help they can offer.
There’s no way around it: Finding a job takes a lot of work. But if you follow the advice laid out above, and you put in the effort, you’ll be in a much stronger position than most of your peers. It’s not easy, but what other choice is there?