Five Tips for Improving Your Job Search–and Your Life

Close-up of magnifying glass focusing on two people

Introduction

The following is a guest post by Laura James, who works as a writer for Inside Jobs, a career exploration site set up to provide a place “where people can explore what opportunities exist and learn what paths can take them there.”

Laura describes her own experience in the job market this way:

My job search was terrible. It was confusing, and for many months I was really bad at it. But by the end, I had learned a lot. And then I started working at a career exploration site, where I learned even more.

Here Laura shares some personal job search tips.

Job searching is rough, which I learned from experience in a good chunk of 2009, as I sought my first job after graduating from college. The lack of income isn’t necessarily the worst part. The process itself can be the bigger beast to reckon with–it is filled with uncertainty, anxiety, and lack of recognition, which makes for a lousy experience.

However, your experience can be improved. By taking charge of your job search mentality, you can make your time out of work far healthier. And, as luck would have it, improving that experience will make it more likely you will find success.

Here are five of my hard-earned job search tips, based on what finally made my job search infinitely better.

Job Search Tip No. 1–Get Off Major Job Boards.

Responses to job board postings easily number in the hundreds, which means all the time, energy, and hope you put into that application will likely be wasted.

Why? Because employers aren’t going to look through all three hundred cover letters they receive—they’ll grab a handful, and skim through those quickly.

The result is that you’ll invest yourself in researching companies and writing specialized cover letters, only to be thanked for your effort by a discouraging silence, or a form rejection notice (if you’re lucky).

Not only is this a waste of time, it’s demoralizing. So stop doing it, and find avenues that will give you feedback or some validation of your efforts.

Informational interviews and direct company contacts can do this for you–in these forums you interact with real people who provide you a response to your application effort.

Plus, submitting applications for positions found through these avenues is far more effective than submitting applications to positions found on job boards.

If it sounds too extreme to cease all job board efforts, strictly limit the time you spend on this less promising job search method, and focus carefully, following tip 3, below.

Job Search Tip No. 2–Exercise

Not the most intuitive step, but one that will do miracles for your job searching experience.

The wonders of exercise are many–it releases endorphins to make you happier, it improves your blood flow so you can think more clearly, and it gets you in shape, which makes you feel better about yourself.

These benefits will improve your energy and focus for your job search, and will help you shine as a candidate when you interact with others who can help you land a job.

The cost of all these benefits: No more than an hour of your day. For this boost in morale and energy, consider that time well spent.

Job Search Tip No. 3–Be Focused.

Too many job seekers scattershot their job process–they want a job, any job.

While it’s good to have an open mind, not focusing on a particular area keeps you searching at the surface level of many industries. This means that you’re looking at only the most visible opportunities, and thus competing with the maximum amount of other job seekers.

Instead, pick a narrower area and dig deep.

  • Find the small companies, not just the big names.
  • Contact the small companies, even if they don’t have postings.
  • Network with people in your desired field
  • Set up informational interviews to leverage contacts from within the industry.

This focus improves both your chances of success and your mental state.

Oftentimes, the hardest part about making a career move is figuring out where to begin. That uncertainty can induce a tremendous amount of anxiety.

By deciding upon a certain area, you can free yourself from the mental wheel-spinning process of continually reevaluating what you want to do, and instead start to gain traction and move forward towards a goal, however gradually.

Remember, this job won’t be permanent; it is just a step in your career evolution. It’s here that you’ll learn applied skills and experience you can transfer to your next job.

So don’t fret about finding your perfect job—find an area you think is interesting, then focus and go after it.

Job Search Tip No. 4–Get Involved.

Job searching is hard for so many reasons, one of them being that you often invest a huge amount of effort without making any progress.

I got tremendously frustrated with job searching, because after a few months I felt that I hadn’t accomplished anything, I hadn’t learned anything, and I hadn’t made any advancements despite my massive amount of invested time.

So change that. Find volunteer opportunities that will keep you busy, look good on your resume, and help you make connections. Helping out in your field of interest at a local non-profit is a great way to do this.

Getting involved this way does a few things for you:

  • It gives you a sense of accomplishment and confidence in your work, which is really important.
  • It shows potential employers you like to be productive and keep busy.
  • It introduces you to a new group of people whose contacts, friends, family, and so forth become potential networking and informational interview candidates.

Job Search Tip No. 5–Be Proud

Inevitably your job search and unemployed status will come up in conversation. This can be discouraging, even depressing — or you can turn it to your advantage.

Stop mumbling excuses when someone asks you what you do. This is your opening to very briefly tell them what you want to do and seek their help.

Hold your head up, and be excited about your career opportunities. Have goals. Then let people know about them, and see if they can help. When discussing your employment status and job search refer to your volunteer work (see job search tip 4) and job search focus (see job search tip 3).

Not only is this important for your self-esteem, it is important for finding opportunities.

If you say, “I’m looking for a job,” people draw a blank and wish you good luck. If you say “I’m excited about moving into an entry-level position with an advertising/PR firm,” chances are that sooner or later someone will say something like, “Oh, my friend is a vice president at X firm.”

Looking for work is normal, but if you hide it or act ashamed of being unemployed, people will perceive it — and you — in a negative manner.

Instead, you need to take control by leading the conversation in a positive direction, and suggesting ways for people to help you. You’ll be surprised by the effect this has.

Conclusion

Job searching can be a hard process to go through, especially for an extended period of time. But you can define how you let that process affect you. Make the choice that you’re going to control your job search, not the other way around — it will make you have a better experience and strengthen your position as a job candidate.

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