How to Run an Effective Job Search
Advanced tips and strategies from a serial job seeker
Photo Credit: Danielle MacInnes/Unsplash
This is a guest post by Sarah R., an energy & environment professional based in Washington, D.C. For more on these topics, please follow her on Twitter! This article was originally featured on Medium by the Post Grad Survival Guide.
That feeling of receiving a job offer — especially one you’ve worked hard for — is incomparable. Job searching is all about making it to that moment, and running an organized, strategic search will help you get there.
I know this because I’ve been on three job searches in the past two years. I’ve been through a company reorganization, a Covid-19 layoff, and most recently, I resigned from a workplace culture that was not a good fit for me.
Being unemployed throughout the pandemic offered an unintended upside: I had the time and financial support to explore new career paths and seek out professional learning opportunities. Few organizations were actively hiring through the summer of 2020, so I enrolled in summer and fall courses at a local university. During that period, I continued to learn, network, and adapt my job search to the virtual space.
The pandemic has forced most conferences and events online, making faraway events easily accessible. The resulting free or low-cost resources have become a boon for job seekers. Between regular webinars, trainings, and conferences, I was able to build the language and conceptual understanding of the industry I was targeting in my search. Additionally, frequent virtual chats with industry insiders revealed critical pieces of information that opened entirely new views into the career landscape.
Looking back on my experience, there were a few practices that helped accelerate this process. Here are the pro tips that helped me refine my search and make the most of my time. I’m sharing these through the lens of my target sectors of sustainability, agriculture and climate change; however, they can be applied widely to just about any field or industry.
An effective job search requires a heavy lift in the beginning, setting up the processes and automatic updates that will save you precious time and energy in the long run. Your first order of business is to determine the type of job positions you’re seeking and the industry you’re targeting.
First things first: you’ll want to create a system that allows you to easily reference the jobs you’ve applied for, who you’ve had networking chats with, and what version of your cover letter you submitted months ago. After all, you can only manage what you measure.
Here’s how to do it:
- Create a simple chart to track your applications, with columns for position and organization name, date your application was submitted, and status.
- You should also have a spreadsheet to track networking meetings. This can include the person’s name, contact info, date of conversation, and follow-up interactions. You can also keep a running list of people you plan to contact for networking calls in a separate tab.
- I found it helpful to create a list of web links to the career pages for all the organizations I was targeting in my job search. Being able to quickly click through a list of links drastically expedited my weekly search for open positions.
- To store my application materials, I created a nested folder system on my desktop. I added subfolders for each organization I applied to, with further subfolders if I applied for different positions within a single company. I also kept a folder for my resume and cover letter templates.
- On that note, I created resume and cover letter templates customized for each “type” of position I was targeting. One cover letter was focused on my credentials as a program manager, while another highlighted my advocacy experience. I could always add or subtract content for any given application, but it gave me a starting point that saved a ton of time and energy.
- Create job alerts. Most job boards and organizations allow you to set up email alerts to let you know when new jobs are posted that meet your criteria. There are standard job boards like Indeed, but you should also search for job boards dedicated to your target sector. Once you settle on your preferred job boards, be sure to sign up for job digest emails, where you can specify the parameters for job types and alert frequency.
Brush up on modern job search practices
The job search landscape is quickly changing to adapt to the virtual space. Keeping up with these changes — not to mention, mastering the evergreen job search and interview techniques — is critical. My favorite sources of job search advice are Harvard Business Review’s online articles and the podcast Find Your Dream Job.
Since the mass exodus from offices to home workspaces, interviews and networking meetings have largely moved to the virtual space. If you’re interviewing for positions with a remote work component, employers will be interested in seeing that you have a comfortable, productive workspace. Make sure your setup has good lighting, a webcam, and a microphone. A separate computer monitor, keyboard and wireless mouse, as well as an ergonomic chair, may also help optimize your workspace. Finishing touches — such as an organized bookshelf or a simple painting in the background — can create a pleasant atmosphere for both interviews and networking chats.
If you’re interested in upgrading your workspace on a limited budget, check out Facebook Marketplace, your local Facebook Buy Nothing group (read this if you’re unfamiliar with the gift economy), or local auctions for budget-friendly furniture and equipment.
Stay updated on industry news & developments
There’s no overstating how important it is to keep up with the latest happenings in your field. Being in the know about new trends and developments will help you stand apart from the crowd when networking and interviewing.
Start by searching for respected trade associations and professional organizations in your sector. There are often different organizations at local, state and national levels, as well as some that differentiate themselves by focusing on women or professionals of color. Be sure to sign up for listservs, newsletters, and email updates from any that you find.
In my case, I found a local eco-focused, women’s professional organization by doing a quick online search. This organization’s listserv quickly became my most valuable source for job-related news. In addition, members often posted about free webinars, events and conferences.
You should also track respected news sources and blogs related to your sector. If you prefer reading online articles, create a Feedly account and subscribe to RSS feeds of the blogs and websites you’d like to follow. This could also be a way to declutter your inbox, allowing you to unsubscribe from emails and newsletters and review your “feedly” every few days instead. If you’re into podcasts, subscribe to shows and queue up episodes related to your field.
Take advantage of free or low-cost learning
The beauty of a job search is that you’re the boss. You can decide to spend your mornings on job-related tasks, while leaving the rest of the day to other pursuits. And there is value to adding variety to your day. After completing job applications, my second priority was learning.
The pandemic has yielded a surprise upside when it comes to professional development: many conferences and events have shifted online, offering free or low-cost options that don’t require travel. Attending conferences is an excellent way to keep up on industry developments and meet new people in your sector. A bit of advice: search for conferences now and add them to your calendar. Otherwise, you risk missing a great conference that you’ll only hear about after it’s over.
If you have room in your budget, LinkedIn Learning has a wealth of online, on-demand courses. Its offerings range from project management to writing to programming.
Connect to people in your field
To maximize your visibility in your field of interest, you should regularly connect with people who are plugged into that world. Virtual networking can be nerve wracking, but it helps to go in with the right mindset. Come prepared with good questions and don’t hesitate to politely end the meeting early if you’re not connecting with the person.
When I meet someone I connect with, I promptly follow up by adding them as a contact on LinkedIn. It helps to include a personal note with your connection request — something along the lines of “it was great meeting you and I’d love to keep in touch.”
The working landscape has changed — from applying to interviewing to remote work — and so must your strategy for landing your next job. What job searching strategies have worked for you in the last year? Respond in the comments below.
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