Wednesday, October 14, 2009

10 Tips for Finally Landing a Job

Let's face it, I am now realizing what everyone in the so-called real world always told me — you don't have much time for blogging when you get a grown-up job. OK, maybe no one actually ever used the words "blogging," but the general warning was there. And they were right. In fact, my social media and video gaming time has significantly decreased in the month since I've been working full time. Sure, I'm not spending my evenings doing homework anymore, but I also can't stay up until 3 a.m. because I don't have a class until noon.

So for all of you out there still playing video games into the wee hours of the morning, sucking down Mountain Dew and pursuing creative endeavors to your heart's content (a.k.a., the unemployed), I imagine you'd like to know how I finally landed a job in this tough market (or perhaps you just stopped reading because you realized how foolish of a plan getting a job actually is).

Well, I can't say that my methods are the only way to go or that they will even work for you, but I thought the least I could do is share some tips that I've come up with based on my own experiences. If I can help anyone else out there at all, then using my few minutes of free time to write this blog post is worth it because, in all seriousness, I know first-hand how frustrating it can be to try to find a job, especially in a recession. And while signs point to the recession being over, the job market is still expected to be in rough shape until about halfway through next year. While my field is public relations, and that's the area I try to focus on the most on this blog, I think these tips have multidisciplinary relevance.

  1. Saturate the job market, and start early— I applied for more than 200 jobs from late December 2008 through the end of summer 2009. Let's face it, you might not be qualified for every job, or perhaps there is a lot of more-experienced competition in play, especially during a time when a lot of seniority has been laid off elsewhere. Spend some serious time filling out apps, and make it your full-time job until you find one.
  2. Don't broaden your horizons — You always hear the opposite of this advice, that you should be open to jobs that aren't directly related to your degree and skills. I was very open for the duration of my job search. I even became willing to accept pay that probably wouldn't have covered the rent, and I started applying to lots of jobs outside my field or below my education and experience qualifications. However, I never heard back from places such as Barnes & Noble and Gamestop, so I guess there really is such a thing as being overqualified. I even had a Borders manager tell me outright that he only wanted to hire folks that he thought would be there long-term, and he didn't see me being one of those with my qualifications. He was right. In the end, the job I got is one that matches my background and skillset almost exactly. I'm doing public relations work for a client that has a heavy journalism focus to its tasks. Moral of the story: Don't settle. Find the job that matches what you are all about because employers will take notice when someone is a perfect fit. And it'll speed up the rate at which you get calls for interviews.
  3. Don't apply to jobs that don't really interest you — I sort of covered this in number two, but this deserves explicitly stating. If a job really isn't up your alley or isn't in a location where you can see yourself actually moving, don't bother applying. You won't try as hard to get the job, meaning you're just wasting your time applying to a job when you could spend that time applying to one for which you'll actually put some effort into the application process.
  4. Try CareerBuilder — And don't use a cover letter. Seriously, this is how I got my job. Also, it's how I got every single interview to which I was invited. I used Monster, USA Jobs, company Web sites, you name it, and CareerBuilder was where I had the most success. And no, they aren't paying me to say that. Once you have your résumé formatted just right, and once it has the proper information in the proper format, it should speak for itself, no cover letter needed. When you upload that résumé to CareerBuilder, you'll be able to apply to jobs in one click, making the number of jobs to which you can apply in one day much higher than with traditional job hunting.
  5. Be patient and flexible — My current employer posted their job early in the summer, and I applied to it at the beginning of July. I participated in several phone interviews and about three in-person interviews with the company before I got the job — in late September. Yes, it took quite a while, and it required me to make a good impression on lots of different people within the organization (and eventually on the client). The key here is balancing following up with a company with not coming off as completely desperate and annoying. It's OK to wait a few days and followup after an interview with an e-mail thanking the interviewers, which hopefully will trigger a status response without you actually having to ask if you got the job, what the next step is, etc. I thought more than once that I was the butt of some joke or that the company had moved on, but just letting them have some time and space worked out in the long run.
  6. Have an online portfolio — Several times in interviews, employers referenced the online portfolio I had sent them. Other times, when people asked for a portfolio of work samples, I was able to direct them to my Web site on the spot, which they seemed to find impressive. Whether you're a writer or you build things, it's definitely great to have a quick reference point for potential employers to visually check out your product.
  7. Be honest about your strengths, weaknesses and desires — Don't embellish your skills. You don't have to come right out and say you have a weakness during an interview (unless, of course, it's directly related to the requirements for the position), but be honest about where your strengths lie. And be sure to let potential employers know exactly what sort of work you hope to do, that you really are interested in the company and the job (some prior research definitely helps). Finally, the question everyone hates is the one about what your salary requirements are. I've read so much advice about this, and lots of people say to ask what the range is for the position and to go with a middle-of-the-road approach. However, I gave a number that I really thought would be fair, realistic and competitive, and my employer actually went a little higher when they sent me the offer letter. Of course, for a different interview at a different company, the manager told me on the spot that I couldn't expect to make that much there (even though the requirements I gave him were $12,000 annually less than what I ended up starting at with my current company). Moral of the story: Don't get ripped off. Make sure you're getting paid what you're worth. And repeat your strengths, but be truthful.
  8. Don't rely on social media — Finding leads and contacts for jobs via social media is fun, often exciting, and it is played up a lot by social media fanatics. Keep in mind, though, that most of those fanatics don't have jobs. I did get a couple good names and leads via social media, but nothing gained through Facebook or Twitter ever yielded an interview.
  9. Clean up your act, and make it consistent — Make sure your social media accounts and Web presence are clean and professional. Google yourself and make sure there's nothing that a potential employer would find that could even come close to making a negative impression. On the other hand, they shouldn't find zero results — some good, professional references to you online make a good impression. It shows that you're not a nobody. It's also a good idea to make all of your social media profiles private and to brand yourself — use the same copy and profile picture (wearing dress clothes!) on any public profiles you may have on sites such as LinkedIn and any other similar sites that potential employers can see.
  10. Take some time off — Enjoy being unemployed while you can. After a while, yeah, you're tired of it. Trust me, I've been there. But the fact is you won't have all the free time you have right now at any other time until you're retired, most likely, so spend some days actually having fun instead of grinding away applying for jobs. After all, you'll just get burned out and stop putting effort into it after so long anyway, so you'll need a day or two to refresh before you get back at it.
Have you tried anything else that works? Have questions? Feel free to discuss in the comments section, and best of luck in your job search!