Tips for Job Hunters

One thing that I truly dread doing is job hunting.  Unfortunately, I’ve been doing it nearly constantly since I graduated from college.  (I graduated in the spring of 2005, for anyone who is curious.)  Even when I had a job, I was always searching for a better job, a job in a different location, a more interesting job… you name it, it motivated me to search for a job.  During my searches, I’ve slowly gotten better at job hunting, and so today, I hope to share some of advice with you.

First, when you’re first starting your search, you should go to your parents, older siblings, college room mates, and anyone who would be willing to help you out and see if you can get them to help you get your foot in the door.  While you shouldn’t count on getting a job based on a relationship with someone already working at a company, just getting an interview somewhere you’d like to work can be a huge step in the right direction.  If you went to college or a trade school, try to stay in touch with your classmates and professors; that way, if something does come up, they will think of you if a new position becomes available.

Thanks to the internet and online social sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, it’s easier than ever to keep up with your contacts and avail yourself of any possible job leads.  (Although, LinkedIn tends to be better at networking; Facebook is much more of a social site.)  On the flip side, the ease with which you can use the Internet to stay in touch has decreased the perceived worth of online messages and contacts; if you only send someone an email  (or worse, only when you need help locating a job), chances are they aren’t going to feel very close to you.  Instead, try to phone people you want to stay close with; it comes off as much more caring, and it’s always possible that you can use the time on the phone to find out more about the person and become closer to them.

If you don’t have a built in network from school or previous jobs, or none of them have any good suggestions for job opportunities, you will probably turn toward online sources.  Two of the most popular job hunting sites are Monster and Careerbuilder, although, depending on your education and job desires, there may be specialized job hunting sites available to aid you in your quest.  For example, I’m a member of the American Chemical Society (ACS), and they provide job hunting resources and advice for chemistry graduates via their portal at chemistry.org (which is rather different than chemistry.com…)

While you are doing your searching, you might be tempted to rule out temporary positions, especially if you are looking for a long-term job.  Don’t.  Many temp jobs can lead to longer term positions and can be a useful to get your foot in the door at some of the larger companies, some of which prefer not to hire directly.  (Sanofi Aventis, a pharmaceutical company I’ve interviewed at in the past, comes to mind in the biochemistry field.)  Even if a temp position doesn’t lead to anything permanent, it will give you something to put on your resume and some possible references, which will make you that much more attractive to the next employer you petition.  (Full disclosure: three of the four positions I’ve held since graduating college have been temp or temp to perm positions, and the fourth was at my alma mater, an example of using your connections to get yourself an opportunity.)

When you’ve found a position that looks attractive, take a second look at your resume, and be sure it is appropriate for the position.  If you’ve had a substantial job history, especially if you’ve worked in multiple industrial sectors during your professional life, then not all of your job history may be relevant for every position.  Consider trimming back some of your experiences or with holding them entirely and emphasizing others according to the specific job you’re attempting to acquire; the better a fit for the job you appear to be, the more likely it is you will get an interview.  (Note: this is not an invitation to lie on your resume; besides being unethical and in bad form, if you lie about your qualifications, you can end up giving your employer grounds to dismiss you later.  What I’m suggesting is simply tweaking your resume so as to emphasize the qualifications most applicable to the position to which you are applying.)  Consider keeping several different versions of your resume handy, each focusing on different qualifications you hold, and using whichever is most appropriate for a given job opening.

Next, when you send a resume off to a company, do what you can to make it stand out.  Most job sites give you the opportunity to attach a cover letter to your application.  A cover letter will enable you to specifically address the recruiter in charge of filling the position, pointing out your strong suits and why you’d make a good fit for the position.  If you’re given specific contact information for a position, direct your cover letter towards that person; try to highlight why you fit their needs for this position and why you’re looking to work for their company.  The more specifically oriented to the specific position the cover letter is, the better.

Finally, follow up.  Where the contacts for a particular position give their phone and fax numbers, be sure to send them the occasional reminder (preferably by phone) that you are interested in the position, and to see how the job filling process is going.  You’ll accomplish several things with this: making your resume stand out to the recruiter, showing you are really interested in the position (rather than just tossing your resume everywhere and seeing where it sticks) and perhaps, getting the recruiter to keep you in mind for any future positions they may have available.  All that from just one little phone call!

By now, you might start to see why people say that searching for work is a full-time job; if you diligently build and check your network, scan through hundreds of job postings, apply to numerous jobs with customized cover letters, and follow up on the most promising ones, you could easily spend eight hours a day (or even more) hunting down your next opportunity.  And we haven’t even gotten to things like job interviews and all their attendant preparation.  We’ll talk more about how to prepare for a job interview soon.

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