1. Identify your strengths, not just interests
First, you need a clear definition of yourself as a worker. Your interests are simply what you like to do, whereas your strengths are what you can offer an employer. A company only cares about your interests insomuch as it improves what you can offer them.
Plus, if you start with your strengths, you open yourself up to positions you might’ve otherwise overlooked. For example, I’m a huge music fan, but so is 95% of humanity. If I narrow my job hunt to my interest in music, I’m just restricting myself to a very competitive (and not very lucrative) job market. And I don’t really have any outstanding strengths in the field that markedly set me above every other guy who was in a medium-low band in college. That said, I have a strength in management and communication. I’m a people person. And thinking from that perspective opened me up to a whole world of positions I’d never considered. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to work in a field where you excel, rather than blend in. Find what you’re good at, something a company needs, and do that.
2. Keep the resume prioritized and concise
There could easily be a whole post about resumes. But above all else, lead with the most important information, and only make the resume as long as it needs to be. Having watched others review resumes as well as reviewing several myself, I can tell you with confidence a lot of employers skim read. They’re just people after all. Chances are, if they’re hiring, they’re probably busier than usual. So they’re trying to find the useful information in your resume as soon as possible. So if you bury your experience and strengths between a bunch of nice-to-knows vs. need-to-knows, they’ll likely get overlooked.
3. Network, network, network
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, and it can make the job hunt sound more like luck than anything else. Yes, it’s true that the most talented person does not always get the job. The person with right friends does. And you can choose to write yourself off as an unlucky introvert and curse the unfairness of life, or you can decidedly get your name out there. Where do your friends and family work? Where do your friends’ friends work? Find companies where you might fit and excel. Then, find a connection to someone with hiring power/influence. This is exactly how I got someone to look at my resume at that ad agency, which made it possible to start this leg of my career.
You have to find a way to get your resume to rise above those online forms they make you fill out, and nothing does that better than word of mouth within the company.
4. Informational interviews
Here’s a networking tool. Don’t overlook a company just because they’re not hiring. If you’re able to track down a valuable contact there, see if they’ll set up an informational interview to talk about their company and the kind of employee they’re looking for. This accomplishes a few things. First, it further establishes this person you meet with as a connection within a company you’re interested in. Second, it communicates forward thinking and your passion for the company. And last, chances are someone working for the company is well connected throughout the industry. While this company might not be hiring, they can recommend you to a similar company that is.
Yeah, I know. I know. Another social network where you have to build ANOTHER network base. Shouldn’t Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and whatever Google+ is be enough? You might even already have an account that’s just sitting there. Believe it or not, when it comes to job hunting, LinkedIn is far and away the most useful social network. It prioritizes sorting people by the company they work for. You can find a company you love and then find a person that could connect you to it.
I’ve had several job recruiters find me because of it. I’ve landed several interviews through finding connections. Yes, it can feel shameless, but it totally works. It’s how I got my job at an agency in Nashville (a city I really wanted to live in). If you’re only half-heartedly using it, try out its full potential and establish some connections. Think of it as an active tool to find people rather than a passive tool for people to find you.
6. Never overlook internships or any chance at experience
The more experience you have, the easier you make the job hunt. The best way to show you know how to do something is to do it. Again, I can’t speak for all fields, especially the public sector and highly specialized positions (healthcare, accounting, engineering, etc.). But in general business, experience wins over education every single time. I’ve seen college dropouts with ample freelancing/contract experience get the job over people with their masters. And that’s so annoying, because I can control the education I get, but it’s a lot harder to control my experience if a company won’t hire me. It’s this catch-22.
I can’t get a job to get the experience to get the job. So if you’re looking to break into a field, consider an internship. Or start freelancing for some of your friends’ small ventures or needs. Offer up free services. Employers aren’t going to ask how much you got paid to do it. They just want to see what you’ve done in a real-world situation.
7. Take any opportunity to show you care
Every piece of extra effort is noticed and appreciated. If you’re applying, definitely write a custom email (or cover letter) for each company. We can always tell when it’s copied and pasted generically. Dress up for an interview or meeting. Do your homework on the company. Learn about their values, culture, news, or just anything you can find online about them. Make it really clear you want the job.
8. Think of an interview like a conversation more than an audition
Here’s another topic that could get its own post. Yes, they need someone with the right skills, and the interview will mostly center on that. But more than hiring a functional set of skills, they’re hiring a friend—someone they’re going to have to be around for 40 hours a week. If they like you as a person, that immediately pushes you to the top of the list. Ask a lot of questions about the job. As far as you’re concerned, they’re experts about the company. Make them feel like that, and be sure to show your interest in what they’re saying. Follow the rabbit trail down any tangents they want to go on. Make them laugh. I promise if they enjoy the conversation, they’ll remember you.
Above all, be comfortable. The best thing my dad ever taught me about interviewing was that the interviewers want to hire you. They want to be done with the search. And they want you to be the one. They’re hiring because they need help immediately. If you’re the right person, that means they’re relieved of some stress.
9. Follow up
This is an easy one. Again, you’re dealing with busy people. It’s very possible they didn’t get your email with your resume. Or if you’ve already interviewed, and it’s been a couple weeks, check in and see where they are in the decision-making process. Anything you can do to elevate your name a little helps.
10. Be patient and try not to get your heart set on one job
When I first started my job hunt after college, I found this position online that had me obsessed: Music Editor Assistant at Amazon. If I recall, the job pretty much entailed helping choose featured albums for the music page and the short write-up descriptor copy. It had vague enough requirements for me to qualify, and I felt like a perfect fit for it. Part journalism, part music. I could do that! I completely customized my resume for it and wrote an overlong, embarrassingly passionate cover letter.
After I submitted my resume to their automated job recruitment system, I was so excited I told my dad about it. He just kind of smirked and started rapid-firing questions at me: “Seattle? Who do you know up there? Why would they hire someone in Missouri? Do you know anyone who works for there? How are you going to get your resume looked at?” I wanted to think my dad just didn’t understand how the Internet worked and that he was totally wrong. But sadly, nope. Never even got a response.
You will find several jobs that you think are the one, the kind that get you daydreaming. Most of them won’t be. You will not get the vast majority of the jobs you apply for. And don’t be discouraged by that. It’s just a game of numbers. Keep applying. Keep trying. I’ve applied for hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs in my life. It can take months, a year, or in some cases, years. You might have to take a lesser job while you continue to hunt. The only way you can guarantee you won’t get a job you love is to stop trying.
None of these tips are the magic bullet. Unfortunately, that doesn’t exist in job hunting. It’s a combination and a lot of trial and error. The whole process can be wildly discouraging, but I can’t recommend enough to push through. It will get better.