How to Prepare for a Successful Job Search
Ready to Look for a New Job?
Whether you’ve recently lost your job, or just in the market for something new, job hunting can be a time consuming, unsure and painful undertaking. Some people just jump right in and start applying to anything and everything they see. This is a waste of time. Remember, you’re looking for the next stepping stone in your career path, and a company you’ll hopefully spend many years at, not to mention a place and people you’ll spend more time with than your home and family. You better get it right!
I’ve spent the past 12 years in Corporate Recruiting and have also been on the other side of the table many times myself, as a job seeker. I know what works, what doesn’t, what’s important, what’s not, and will share a strategy that, if executed well, should result in a successful job search and land you a job you’ll love.
In this article, I’ll help you prepare for your job search, so you’ll be geared up for the journey of exploring new opportunities. I’ll set you up for success in an oftentimes stressful process and share some exercises that can be really helpful as you think about your next move. So, where to start? Let’s break it down to some steps.
Steps to Prepare for a Successful Job Search
- Soul Search and Reflect
- Determine What’s Important to You
- Build Your Brand
- Find the Right Company
1. Soul Search and Reflect
Yes, this may sound like a step you could skip, but it’s crucial to spend the time reflecting on your last position, company, successes and potential failures, to really understand what you should continue, and where you could possibly take a different direction. You shouldn’t be looking for just any ole job. And if you are, that’s an entirely different conversation. If you’re truly interested in finding a job you will love, or at least tolerate well, that brings in a decent living, you need to take the time to look for something that will be long term, and something you might actually enjoy and be good at.
So how do I actually reflect?
Sit down and make a list of what went well in your last role. What did you enjoy? Did you receive promotions or lateral movements? Why? What feedback were you given in terms of your successes, and also what constructive criticism did you receive that could help you improve in the future?
And don’t stop there. What did you like about the company? And what would you change? Make a list of pros and cons. You’d be surprised what you can uncover in doing this. In my last role, I realized I wanted to make a shift in my overall career path, and I did just that, and it turned out to be a great thing for me. I was once told that a true career path is not always an upward career ladder, as most people see it, but more so a jungle gym—with twists and turns, upward movement, and some downward too.
In order to be as knowledgeable and well-rounded as possible in your field of choice, you should gain experience in as many different areas or sub-departments as possible. This will also give you the best overall understanding of what you’re best at, and what you enjoy most. Which ultimately, is what is most important.
2. Determine What's Important to You
Next, you should do a simple stack ranking exercise on what’s most important to you in terms of benefits and total rewards packages. For instance, do you have a medical need that requires an excellent or specific benefits package? If so, this is at the top of the list, and will need to be weighed highly in your ultimate job decision.
Other things to consider. Is a stable and dependable base compensation most important to you? Or is the chance to earn an additional commission or variable income and potentially “control your income more favorable?” Are you open to joining a startup company with higher risk and potentially higher reward with an IPO or exit? Or would you prefer a larger, more established and risk-averse organization where there isn’t much of a gamble to company success, but not as much upward reward in an exit?
Also, 401k match, tuition reimbursements, location of your workplace, hours, etc. There is so much to think about outside of just the job. Make sure you sit down and understand what’s most important to you, and where you have tradeoffs. As we know, most jobs won’t have every single thing we’re looking for, so you need to be prepared to weigh some things and make some decisions once you get to an offer.
If you think you have a good idea of what you're looking for, what’s most important to you, and the types of companies you want to go after. Now what?
3. Build Your Brand
This entails building (or updating) your resume, ensuring you have a strong online professional presence, building a cover letter template, and generating some references that will speak to your past performance well.
First, break out your resume and add your latest experience to it. Make sure you don’t have more than two pages. Three at the absolute most, but only if you truly have the substance to warrant it. Still, I don’t recommend it.
Next, check your formatting. While it doesn’t really matter which order you put your experience vs your education and skills, make sure your experience starts with the most recent role and goes backward from there.
Don’t put anything older than 10 years on your resume and leave off irrelevant experience to what role you’re going for, unless it gives you a gap in your chronological years.
Bullet out the top 5 or 6 responsibilities and highlights of your achievements such as "I grew my book of business by 150% YoY.” It’s important to be truthful here. Some people will have a tendency to exaggerate, but too much of that will shine through when you’re interviewed. You won’t be able to accurately speak to your performance or a specific skillset, if you haven’t truly experienced it, so be honest.
If you do have gaps of employment, or a short stint at a company, be prepared to speak to it. Put the months on your dates—this is a pet peeve of Recruiters, and they’ll ask you if you don’t have them, so you might as well disclose on the front end.
Leave off anything personal including pictures. Use bolding, italics, underlining, and proper spacing to ensure a visually appealing resume flow. And, SPELL CHECK, PEOPLE!!! For more detail on resume best practices, check out my "Rock Your Resume" article here.
Don’t forget a cover letter. The fact is that a lot of Recruiters will skip past them, but the last thing you want to do is not have one, and you’re reviewed by someone looking for one.
At this point, just write the skeleton or template, with the structure and basis for the letters you’ll be writing soon. Include blanks where you’ll address the specific company you’re applying directly to, and some space to highlight a few points regarding why you’re interested in this specific role and company. Keep it short. Keep it efficient and to the point but sell yourself a bit.
Next, make sure you have a strong LinkedIn profile, including a professional picture. 80% of the time you’re being reviewed for a job, an employer or Recruiter will search you on LI. Get out there and start joining groups in your field or industry, too. Start connecting with your past co-workers if you haven’t already and build your network. Ask for recommendations from past or current co-workers or Managers. People can post recommendations to your profile, which is really powerful when potential employers search for you down the road.
In addition to LinkedIn, make sure to check your other social media channels and ensure you are accurately representing yourself online, and wouldn’t be ashamed of anything if an employer searched you. This DOES happen, and I’ve seen people lose out on opportunities due to their social media profiles, so be prepared for it. Either ensure your profiles are private, or, better yet, clean up your social media presence altogether.
Finally, reach out to a few current and/or past co-workers and Managers (if appropriate), and ask if they’d consider being a reference for you. Make sure to only ask people you trust would speak highly of you, and let them know you’ve just begun your search, but that you’ll let them know when things get serious, so they are prepared for a call.
Now that you’ve reflected on what you’re looking for, what’s important to you, and are prepared with a stellar resume and online brand, it’s time for the actual hunt.
4. Find the Right Company
Most people struggle with where to actually look for a job, and how. I’ll explain three key points so you’re set up for success.
- Which job boards are the best to target
- How to search for the role or company you want
- How to increase your chances of a call from a Recruiter
First, Job Boards. There are so many out there. The best two, in my opinion, are Glassdoor and LinkedIn. Indeed can be ok too. If you’re looking for a startup or smaller company, Builtin can be another great one, and The Muse is also on the rise. Builtin can be better in some areas of the country, however, so make sure you’re in a well-known city if you’re going to utilize that one.
The best thing about Glassdoor is that it is a powerful resource for you to also research the company, and learn about benefits, offices, and what current and former employees feel about their time working there, the company outlook, leadership, culture, etc.
Key Tip: The best organizations will be responding to reviews—positive and negative—so keep an eye out for that. Speaking of reviews, take them with a grain of salt. Remember that typically the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Make sure to read all or most of the recent reviews, and specific to the department you’re looking for. Generate your own opinion but be sure to also dig in more during the interview process if you find key themes.
My favorite part about Linkedin? It’s the largest network of professionals in the world. Point blank. You can also join groups that can help you find opportunities that might not be posted on job boards, through your network.
Next, learn how to search for the role or company you want. This is pretty easy. When looking at companies, there are some great lists out there you should be looking at. One is Glassdoor’s Annual report of Best Places to Work. This will give you the top 100 companies as reviewed by their employees. They’re looking at overall employee reviews, total rewards plans, culture, growth, stability, etc. Another great one is Forbes’ Annual List—you’ll see some overlap with Glassdoor, which is a good thing!
Some other lists to check out will be dependent upon what you’re looking for. Top Startups? Linkedin has a good list here. Fastest growth? Forbes 2018 list is here. Keep in mind these lists were compiled when this article was written, in 2018, so just google the most recent list if you’re searching later!
Once you find a company you’re interested in, check them out on Glassdoor as mentioned above. Look at their current job openings. If your search is more geared towards specific roles vs company (really it should be a nice mix of both), go to the top job boards mentioned above and start searching your job title. Remember to also incorporate similar titles i.e.: “Account Executive” and “Sales Representative” etc. You can create job alerts as well—this is a great way to get daily/weekly emails or notifications as new jobs hit the market.
Last but NEVER least? How to increase your chances of a Recruiter actually reaching out after your application
This is simple. Follow the steps above. Be prepared. Have a stellar resume, cover letter, and online presence. Grow your network. Have good references. Utilize the resources in this blog and know where and how to search. Make sure the jobs you’re applying to you’re actually qualified for. And most importantly, be confident. Job searches can take time, especially if you’re looking for something very specialized. Be patient, and don’t give up. You’ll get there!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Ashley Gray