To effectively conduct a targeted job search, it is critical that you define a list of target companies. To take a trip, you need a destination to enter in GPS. You also need a target for your job search so you don’t expend valuable time and energy in unproductive aspects of your search.
Consider the Universe
Think about the types of companies you would hope to work for and start making a list. Consider the industry and the products and services. Think about location. Consider size. Do some initial brainstorming to capture a broad range of possibilities. As you start to identify trends such as industry, do additional online research to identify other options. You may not be aware of small to mid-sized companies in your desired industries without doing some online research. At this stage, do not limit your thinking, just capture a broad list of possibilities.
Narrow the Focus
Now review your list and based on your very limited current knowledge, rank them based on your interest level as A – top priority, B – medium priority, and C – low priority. You are not taking anything off the list at this point just focusing a bit for next steps. I’d recommend capturing your data in a spreadsheet so you can continue to refine it as we move through the process. For now, list companies and interest priority. Sort by priority so your “A” companies are at the top.
For your “A” companies, do some quick research. This is where you need to be careful not to fall into the trap of over-researching or getting distracted by online applications. This is a quick review to further prioritize your list. You need to do two things for each “A” company. Check LinkedIn or your alumni database to see if there are alumni at that company. Just yes or no on your spreadsheet in a column for alums. Do not start looking up individuals, seeing what jobs they hold, etc. Just yes or no, are there alums at the company. Second lookup is on indeed.com. Check to see if the company has posted positions in the last 2-3 months and if any were in your field. Do not look up the jobs or apply right now. Yes is the posted and Yes if there are jobs in your field.
Prioritize Your List and Start Networking
Now, resort your “A” companies so that companies with alumni connections and recent, relevant postings are now at the top of your list. This helps you focus your search on the companies most important to you with the greatest opportunity to have an impact. You will now work your way through your target companies in priority order looking to identify relevant alumni connections. Ask for networking meetings and conduct informational interviews. Learn all you can about those companies and their hiring processes. Work to build strong relationships so you can an internal advocate when an appropriate position does post. Keep track of your networking activity and what you learn about each company. Make progress on networking in your target companies by setting weekly goals and holding yourself accountable.
Update and Refresh
As you work the process, it is likely that some “A” companies will drop lower on your list and you can repeat the process to move “B” companies further up the list. Continue to use the same process to prioritize your list. To effectively manage a job search, you should have between 30 and 50 target companies that you are working.
By prioritizing and monitoring your list you are focusing your networking on your top companies instead of random activities and this has a significant impact on your success. Build a strong target list to lead you to success in your search.
A well-written, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile but common errors on your cover letter can result in a quick trip to the “no pile.” To avoid the dreaded “no pile”, avoid these common cover letter mistakes.
- Overuse of “I” and “my”— Resist the temptation to start every sentence with “I” or “My”. Your focus should be on meeting the employer’s need to address a business issue. Vary your sentence structure and keep the focus on them. Too many “I”s comes across as self-centered and cocky and demonstrates sub-standard communication skills. Your cover letter is considered an example of your business writing so put your best foot forward.
- Typos and Grammatical errors – Proofread your letter and least twice and have someone else read it for you as well. Do not rely on spell check to identify all the errors. Hiring managers expect your cover letter to be error free and will often immediately move a candidate to the “no pile” if there are errors in the letter. The worst is a sentence highlighting your attention to detail which contains errors.
- Form Letters – To be effective, a cover letter must always be customized to the specific position and company. Hiring managers who read cover letters often can spot form letters very quickly. Phrases such as “this position” and “your company” scream form letter. Candidates often
- Tentative Language – In your cover letter you want to be confident but not cocky. Avoid tentative language such as “I think”, “I feel”, “seems like” or “I had to.” Be honest but always project confidence when sharing your experience.
- Inconsistent Bullets—It is acceptable to use bullet points in your cover letter to highlight the experience you bring to the job. Ensure that bullets are consistent in format. Don’t start some with verbs and others with nouns or mix tenses. Consistency is important. Also, don’t use the same bullet points as on your resume.
- Arrogance—Avoid phrases such as “best candidate” and “perfect fit” when describing your capabilities. You are really not in a position to make that assessment and it comes across to the reader as arrogant. You want to be positive and confident but cocky is a turn off. It is best to demonstrate your capabilities with examples.
- Lack of Professional Format—A cover letter is a formal business letter. It should have your contact information on the top with the same heading as your resume. It should then have a date, an address block and a salutation. “Dear Mary Jones” is not appropriate for a salutation. It should read “Dear Ms. Jones”. Failure to follow official business letter format gives the letter an inappropriate air of casualness. Demonstrate that you are taking this seriously and that you can compose a proper business letter. This is also a sample of your written communication skills for the hiring manager.
- Failure to Connect the Dots—Hiring managers know what they are looking and for and you know what you have done. Don’t assume they will take the time to connect the dots. Use your cover letter to clearly identify how your experience and skills meets their needs.
- Limited Language – Do not use the same words repeatedly in your cover letter. Use a thesaurus if necessary. Using the same words and phrases implies that you don’t know other words and that your communication skills are limited.
- Use of Acronyms – The hiring manager does not know your hiring company. They will not have a clue what the XYZ project is for the ABC system. Explain your responsibilities in clear language that anyone could understand. Don’t let your accomplishments be lost in the acronyms that only insiders understand.
A carefully crafted, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile for consideration. Avoid these common mistakes to stay out of the “no pile”.
Networking is the most critical thing you can to in your job search. It is important to maximize the benefit of each networking meeting. Here are some tips for success.
- Be prepared. Prior to the meeting research the company and the contact. Have insightful questions prepared prior to your meeting. Preparation demonstrates interest as well as your work ethic.
- The day before your meeting call to confirm the time and location of the meeting. Ensure that you know exactly where you are going and allow adequate time to arrive about ten minutes prior to your appointment.
- Networking Profile. Bring a couple copies of your networking profile. This can make it easy for your contact to identify opportunities to assist you in your search. Do not bring resumes. You can always send one as follow-up if it is requested.
- Business Attire. Dress as if the meeting was an interview. Demonstrate that you are a business professional and that you are taking this opportunity seriously.
- Anticipate Logistics. Be sure you have a photo ID available in case it is required by building security. Have your business cards accessible. Bring a small notebook or padfolio with pen so you can take notes. You can also have your questions noted in advance.
- Listen More Than You Talk. While it important for the contact to get to know you, be sure to ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to what the contact is willing to share. You can gain significant insight on the company, the industry and the role based on your questions to the contact.
- Open with Small Talk. Demonstrate your interest in your contact. Break the ice and build a connection. You may ask about something displayed in their office. If referred by a common connection, you could start by talking about how you both know that person. If the contact shares only professional information, do not start talking about outside activities. Mirror the contact’s energy level. Do not spend more than five minutes breaking the ice.
- Be Prepared to Run the Meeting. Some contacts will take the lead but others will sit back and wait for you to drive the meeting since you were the one to request this time together. Have your questions prepared and take notes on their responses.
- Say Thank You. Be respectful of the contact’s time and bring the meeting to a close in the agreed-upon time. Thank the contact for their time and insights. Show genuine appreciation and interest. If follow-up is appropriate, ask permission to follow-up. Exchange business cards. Within 24 hours of your meeting, send a handwritten thank you note. It is a simple but highly effective way to differentiate yourself and be remembered.
- Ask for Additional Contacts. Now that the contact knows a bit more about you, ask who they suggest you speak with and ask if they would be willing to introduce you. A referral from a trusted colleague can open critical doors for you.
A special situation is the meeting with a contact who was referred to you by another contact. In that instance, you should also send a thank you note to the contact who recommended the new contact or made the introduction for you. Show them that you appreciate their support. They may have other valuable connections for you as well.
Following these steps will help you maximize the value of your networking meetings and will help you identify further contacts.
You see the perfect job posted online and you can’t wait to attach your resume and hit send. Resist the urge. Take the time to create a customized cover letter and it will increase the odds of the hiring manager reviewing your resume. A resume is a historical look at what you have done in the past. The cover letter is an opportunity to focus on the specific position of interest while highlighting your historical and transferable skills to meet their needs. Do not assume that the hiring manager will take the time to “connect the dots” between your experience and their needs. Writing a customized cover letter does that for them.
Focus on Their Needs – The hiring manager has a business need to meet so focus on how you can meet their specific needs. They really don’t care about what you need and want. Be very specific in addressing their needs outlined in the job description and show them how you can address their specific needs.
Highlight Transferable Skills – You may not meet every requirement in the job description but you bring valuable transferable skills to the position. Focus on what you bring and the value it has to them. Maybe you never worked in that industry before but if you have successfully transitioned to a new industry before, leverage that. If you never used the particular software they use but have learned new systems quickly in the past, highlight that.
Be Careful with the use of “I” – The cover is letter is about meeting their needs so be very careful not to overuse “I”. Do not start every paragraph or multiple sentences with “I”. Think about different ways to get your message across. Keep it focused on them.
Do not use a generic letter – Most recruiters and hiring managers can easily recognize a template cover letter. It typically does not relate to the specific job or even the specific company. Don’t waste the hiring managers’ time by sending generic letters. Worse still, avoid the cut and paste errors of referencing the wrong company or position. That is a guaranteed trip to the “no” pile.
Attention to Detail Matters – Be sure your letter has been proofread for spelling and grammar. Most employers will consider it a sample of your business writing. Worse still, don’t cite your attention to detail as an attribute and then have glaring spelling or grammatical errors in the letter. That is a quick route to the “no “ pile.
A successful job search is the result of strategic effort. It is not about how many positions you can apply to online. A successful candidate is one who identifies the right positions and then submits a flawless resume and customized cover letter. Further success comes to those who have also networked at the company in advance. Don’t let the lack of a cover letter or a poorly written cover letter prevent you from advancing in the process. If the job is worth applying to, it is worth the time to create a customized cover letter.
The single most critical step in the job search is networking and unfortunately it is the most frequently overlooked step. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 80% of jobs are filled through networking. Many jobs aren’t advertised or publicly posted these days. Networking helps you successfully tap this hidden job market. If you are looking for a job, you can’t afford to avoid networking any longer. Here are some tips for successful networking:
Why network? There are several benefits to networking. You will learn about different companies, different functions and roles that interest you, the critical skills required in your desired field and gain insights in the company hiring practices and priorities. Your networking efforts also build you a network within your target companies to provide access to the hidden job pool, to act as an early warning on open positions and serve as an internal advocate. Networking is the most critical step in the job search.
More is not always better. So often, frustrated job seekers feel that spending more time on the computer looking at job boards and applying for open positions will increase their chances of landing a job. The majority of online applications are never seen by the hiring manager. You could be the most perfect fit for the job and if your only connection is through an online job board the chances of you landing that job are slim. Resist the urge to spend hours behind the computer and get out to network. It will greatly increase your chances of landing the job. Check postings at your target companies at least once a week and do a weekly scan of the online job boards. You should spend ten times more time and effort in networking than you do on the computer if you hope to succeed in your job search.
Getting Started. I always encourage job seekers to start with the low hanging fruit – people you know when starting a networking process. Ask your friends and family who they know in the companies on your target list and in the field you are most interested in. Ask your friends’ parents and your parents’ friends. Use your alumni network. Look for former colleagues on Linked In. Starting the process with “warm” contacts helps you build your confidence so you can continue to expand your network.
Build Your Network. Always ask each networking contact who else they can introduce you to. Once they know more about what interests you they likely have contacts who can be helpful. If you respect their time, listen well and say “thank you” they are likely going to be willing to make referrals. Ask them what professional associations they belong to and what meetings they find most valuable. These groups can provide many valuable connections.
Be Open To Random Connections. If you are focused on networking and have a clear sense of your target companies and your career interests, it can be amazing where you will find connections. You could find your next connection at the neighborhood barbecue, a social event with friends, an adult education class, or sharing a seat on the train or plane. Ask people what they do and where they work. You can learn a great deal and can make valuable connections.
Networking is the key to job search success but it is also an interesting journey. Enjoy the people you meet along the way and learn as much as possible from each connections. You don’t know which connections just might lead you to your next job.
Your goal in an interview is to land the job or at least be moved forward in the process. For the employer the goal is finding the best candidate for the job. While several candidates may have the appropriate skills to succeed in the position, employers use the interview process to identify and assess the best fit. You want to make the best possible impression with everyone you meet in the process and you do not want to give them an easy reason to eliminate you from future consideration. If there is a strong pool of candidates, they are often looking for small reasons to cut the pool. Don’t make it easy to cut you.
Attire and Professional Presence
For interviews you want to always put your best foot forward. While it is not likely you will get the job simply because you have the best suit, you can be easily eliminated if you do not make a good professional impression. You want to project a confident, professional presence. Always wear a suit and be sure it is clean, pressed and that it fits well. Ladies, pants suits are fine but if you wear a skirt, be sure it is not too short. Have a blouse that tucks in and is not low cut. Men, the shirt should be pressed and the tie should coordinate. Socks should match the trousers. Be sure to polish your shoes. When in doubt, err on the side of being conservative. Be sure your hands are clean since you will be shaking hands. Hair should be clean and well groomed. Deodorant is critical but go easy or eliminate cologne since it can easily overpower an interview room. Go easy on jewelry to ensure that it is not a distraction during the interview.
Demonstrate Your Interest Through Your Preparation
Be well prepared, it shows interest and professionalism. Have questions prepared in advance that you want to ask. You should have your references available in case you are asked. Be sure you have verified and confirmed the contact information.
Be Someone They Want as a Colleague
Even if you are nervous, it is important to smile. It demonstrates your interest. While you are onsite for your interview, be pleasant to everyone you meet. It is not unusual for a hiring manager to ask the administrative assistant or receptionist for feedback on candidates. Arrive a few minutes early. Ask if you can take notes as appropriate. Give it your best shot – focusing on how you can meet their needs not on what you want.
Say Thank You
A handwritten thank you note should be sent to every person you interview with at a company. Each note should be customized to the individual, referencing something that you discussed. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills, your professionalism and your enthusiasm for the opportunity. Each note should be unique since they will likely compare notes. Thank them for their time. Let them know what you are excited about regarding this job. Let them know you want to be on the team. If you know the process is moving quickly you can send a very professional email thank you note but should still follow-up with a handwritten note. It is a differentiator. So few people write handwritten notes anymore they are memorable. Always get your notes in the mail within 24 hours of the interview. In a tough decision between two finalists the decision may come down to who sent a thank you note.
Whether it is in your formal performance review or in a periodic status meeting with your manager, what you say does matter so be sure you are always professionally presenting your personal brand. Some phrases are guaranteed to push a manager’s buttons and should be avoided.
“It’s Not My Job”
Not everything can be captured in your job description. Sometimes projects arise that just need to be done. Wouldn’t you rather have the reputation of being the “go to” person who can be counted on to get things done instead of someone who wants to live by the limits of the job description? Sometimes a stretch project shows the manager your capabilities and could lead to increased responsibilities. Sometimes work just needs to get done and those who are willing to pitch in and make it happen earn reputations as team players. Don’t build your professional reputation as a shirker or someone who exists only inside the box of their job description.
“I Deserve a Raise”
Who doesn’t? Most people think they deserve a raise but it is more important to demonstrate why you deserve a raise through your work accomplishments.
“It’s Not My Fault”
Blaming others for every problem does not make you look better, instead you look like someone who can’t work with others. Avoid the blame game. Take responsibility for your own errors and work closely with your team to address problems encountered. Pointing fingers makes you look like you take no responsibility.
“It’s Just Who I Am”
If your manager takes the time to give you constructive feedback, take it seriously and view it as an opportunity for growth. Don’t write is off because you are who you are. We all need to grow and change to be successful at work. Ask for advice on how to address the issue and monitor your progress. Those who can grow and change are more likely to advance.
Pay attention to what you are saying at work so you are not inadvertently damaging your personal brand and your opportunities for success.