Personal Finance Basics: Job Search Techniques
As I’m writing a series on Personal Finance basics, I have to be a bit general since “the basics” applies to a wide variety of individuals. Although all of my recent experience is in white-collar jobs, I’m also aware that many (if not most) of my readers are blue-collar workers.
So in this edition of the basics, I’ll discuss some basic job search techniques. I’ll talk more about the fundamentals rather than the tools, because job opportunities can come from any place, any time. Even right now in my life when I’m not actively searching for a job, I’ve had 4 job opportunities open up to me in just the last 2 weeks!
But I didn’t get to where I am today by just sitting around and waiting for jobs to come to me. I had to actually make an effort. Did you know that in my senior year of college, I went through major job interviews with at least 2 dozen companies for post-college work, but only got a single job offer? And it was my last interview of the semester. I learned a few things from that experience:
Work History Matters
These employers knew I was a college student, not an experienced IT worker. However, nothing on my resume helped display my professional or IT skills. I worked at McD’s and a women’s clothing store (in the back office), and I had no professional internships on my resume. If I wanted a corporate job after college, I had to develop some BS skills very quickly, and I don’t mean “Bachelor of Science”!
Right now in my career, I do have quality experience to show on a resume. However, in the span of exactly 1 year, I had 4 different employers. Luckily in the contractor field, people don’t question loyalty as closely, but jumping ship so often in other fields could indicate a lack of maturity or questionable stability. I’ve known people to have literally 20 or more jobs in a year because they just couldn’t find the right fit for one reason or another. So keep an eye on your work history and be prepared for questions if you have quite a few entries in a short amount of time.
I am certainly not one of the most organized people on the planet, and what I’ve found from experience is that being organized when it comes to job searches really improves your chances of landing a gig. Here are some tips:
- Prepare a list of the employers you wish to contact, including their Human Resources’ contact information, as well as any direct contacts you’ve made within the company.
- List the skills required for each job at the target employers. Each company will need something a little different from the next and you’ll want to know how to prepare your answers when you obtain that first interview.
- Prepare your resume and cover letters. There are thousands of online and print publications on preparing resumes and cover letters, so I’ll refrain from giving more advice except that you want to tailor each document to the company and job skills they require. And yes, in the internet age, some companies don’t even bother with cover letters anymore, but you need some type of introductory text.
- If this is your first post-graduation job, ask teachers, former employers and other upstanding individuals to prepare letters of recommendation for you. For the rest of you, have a list of quality references handy, and be sure to ask them if it’s alright to list them. I still have to submit applications along with my resume, and they do ask for references.
Making a Plan Matters
You need to understand your goals in this job search. Is it more money, more challenge, more stability or something else? You’re almost assured to be asked questions such as “Why are you leaving your current employer?” or “Where do you see your career in 1-5 years?”. You really, really need to be prepared with a clear, concise and legitimate reason. Make sure you run it by friends to see how it sounds in others’ ears.
In addition to goals, you’ll want a checklist for each employer. You need to note:
- When you contacted them
- How you contacted them (phone numbers, email addresses)
- To whom you spoke (including job titles and authority)
- What materials you sent them (what version of your resume/cover letter, any emails or letters, and especially thank you’s)
- The status
Speaking of tracking the status of the job search, you’ll want to be consistent and persistent in checking back with the employer. However, there’s a fine line between persistence and annoyance, and it’s tough to tell whether 1 call a week is too much or if they would rather have one every 2 weeks.
Important: No more than 1-2 days after the interview, you’ll want to respond back with a thank-you. A personal thank-you letter (the paper kind) is the most noticeable, but it’s also common in my field to just send emails or just call the employer back. You can also use this opportunity as your first status check too.
Remember that even the Clever Dude had to go through dozens of rejections before finding a job (the one that brought me to D.C. no less), so don’t be discouraged and definitely don’t show your frustrations with the employers. Be kind, courteous and patient and they’ll recognize those virtues.
Also, always continue to find new leads and act on them. Don’t hold out all hope for that one “dream job”. You need to prepare yourself if it doesn’t come through as you had planned. Keep plugging away at interviews, and always be prepared to be called in on short notice. As I’ve found these last few weeks, you never know when opportunity comes knocking.