It would be terrific if every degree came along with a job we loved, but then we wouldn’t be living in what has appropriately been dubbed “the real world.” In the real world, a great job is a prized possession, and what’s more, it’s something that the average college graduate must work increasingly hard to get. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 1.6 million bachelor’s degrees are conferred every year in America. Roughly all newly minted college grads look for some type of employment, which means you face some pretty tough competition.
As you are searching for the position that will jumpstart your career, keep in mind that the job search process can be a long and tedious one for both the recent graduate and seasoned professional. In fact, because of the current higher-than-average unemployment rate, unemployed older professionals often apply for entry-level positions—the same ones new graduates need to begin their careers. And the job market you’re entering has also not been helped by the growing number of companies now outsourcing professional positions overseas or that have had to downsize to stay in business.
Since these and many other factors are beyond your control, it may take you months upon months to land the type of job you’re searching for. Until you find a job appropriate for your career, consider your job search as your temporary full-time job—one that doesn’t pay anything but has good benefits.
The job search tactics you use can mean the difference between a slightly mind-numbing job search experience and a painful one. Instead of playing hit or miss, you should take smart, time-efficient, calculated steps to secure a position. Once you’ve decided on the career you want, your goal should be to locate those companies or organizations that offer jobs relative to your career aspirations. Make a point of thinking outside the box as you job search. Magazines, websites, TV stations, book publishing houses, and PR firms aren’t the only companies looking for people with English and communication degrees. There are plenty of places nurses work besides hospitals. And accounting firms aren’t the only entities hiring accountants.
It’s also important to apply to companies of varying sizes. Many people apply only to well-known, large-sized companies because they think the pay will be more and it will look better on a resume, but this isn’t necessarily true. You might actually earn more and put your career on the fast track through “thinking small.” As a plus, smaller companies tend to be easier to get into because less people are applying for positions within them and it’s easier to gain the interest of the actual owner. And, as I have found, working for companies that have relatively few employees gives you an opportunity to learn and do more, which is what really helps build your career. The point: The faster you are able to recognize not-so-blatant opportunities and expand your idea of where you should work, the closer you will be to getting hired in a position you will enjoy.
Job Search Strategies
Although many people rely on the more formal methods of job searching, such as applying to positions listed on websites, the fastest way to secure a position is by using both formal and informal strategies. Informal strategies, such as job searching through networking (online and off) and contacting employers directly, will take more time on your behalf but are definitely worth the effort. It’s estimated that more than 80 percent of all jobs are secured through using informal job search strategies.
Informal Job Search Strategies
Cold calling: If you learn about a company that might have a position of interest to you, but you don’t know if they’re hiring, be proactive and find out. When you speak to a manager, briefly tell him or her about your background, the type of position you are seeking, and the career you want to pursue. But how do you get their contact info? The Internet has made this simpler than ever. The name, phone number, and email address to human resources (HR) staff and the people you would ultimately work for are often listed on a company’s website.
Email and direct mail campaigns: This is a “wait and see” strategy. After identifying companies that offer (but may not be hiring for) positions in your field, you email or mail the hiring manager a customized cover letter and resume and hope you get a response. You will need to be quick about following up on all the emails and mail you send out to make the most of this approach.
Informational interviews: An informational interview is a meeting that you initiate with a potential employer to ask for career advice and learn more about a particular field. Unlike a regular interview, you ask the majority of the questions. Requesting an informational interview is a great way to network, get yourself on a company’s radar should they be hiring for a position that fits you in the future, and learn about opportunities with other businesses.
During an informational interview held over lunch with a senior book publishing professional, I was actually invited to apply for a position I didn’t even know she was hiring for. My “informational interview” turned out to have doubled as a real interview, and I was soon offered the job. If you ask intelligent questions, confidently discuss your goals, and come dressed to impress, someone may decide that they need you on their staff, too.
Your personal network: Tell all your friends, relatives, former professors, and mentors about the type of jobs you are seeking. To inform them all at once and take real advantage of social media, put up a tactful but direct post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and whatever other social networking tool you use. Example: I have a business degree, strong work ethic, and excellent analytical and communication skills needed to start my career in [fill in the blank]. All I need now is a position I can prove myself in. If you know of a position I might be right for, please let me know! Or, even simpler: I want to work at [fill in the blank]. Can you help?
Your end goal is to have as many people as possible on the lookout for your first or next job. If there are certain people in your life who seem to know any and everybody, make sure they have a copy of your resume.
Professional organizations: Joining an organization related to your career is a great way to network with people who can give you leads on job openings within your field or hire you themselves. Many organizations provide members with lists on who is hiring or have companies recruiting people specifically from their organization. Find, join, and become actively involved in a professional organization in your city as soon as possible.
Alumni associations: Check with your alma mater to see if they offer placement services for their graduates. If the alumni association provides a list of alumni and the fields they now work in, take the initiative to call or email those working in your field for job leads.
Volunteerism: Volunteering is an excellent way to network with people working in different fields. The people you meet may open you up to job opportunities you never considered. As an added bonus, you can use your skills to help an organization or business and include this work on your resume.
Formal Job Search Strategies
Internet ads: There are tons of sites on the Internet with job listings, and this is where you will likely find the positions that are advertised. However, you should choose just a select handful to browse so you have time to spend job searching through informal methods. You can search sites like Indeed.com, CareerBuilder.com, Craigslist.com, and Idealist.com, which have listings for nearly every field in every city, or field-specific sites like ones for counselors. If you find a great listing that doesn’t show the date it was posted, or the posting is more than a month old, call the company to see if they are still hiring for the position and if they have any other positions open that fit your interests.
Newspaper ads: Millions of people still look in newspapers across the United States for job listings every week, but thanks to the Internet, it’s almost pointless because employers have found advertising online to be cheaper and faster. Also, keep in mind that most newspapers have websites now. Their websites will allow you to check for job listings every day so you don’t have to constantly buy papers.
Employment/staffing agencies: Generally, employment agencies (also referred to as temp agencies) get paid by companies to find new temporary or permanent staff, so they can be extremely helpful in securing a position that interests you. Often the agency pays you instead of the actual company you are working for. Some employment agencies are industry-specific, only dealing with techies or creatives, for example. Look for an agency that specializes in placing people within your field—particularly in entry- to mid-level positions—before you go with one that works on a broader scale. You can also register with temp agencies to just help you find a job that will pay the bills while you look for something better. Run from agencies that ask you to pay them for anything.
Job fairs: Job fairs offer a convenient way for you to market yourself and learn more about companies in your field. Always dress like you are going to an interview and bring plenty of resumes and business cards.