Volumes have been written on job searches, all of them no doubt more thorough and nuanced than my approach could possibly be. As with almost any topic I’ll share with you, my darling fledglings, I’m no expert. But for the last two years of radio silence, I’ve been happily employed at a job I enjoy, so perhaps my views aren’t without merit.
Job hunting today is both easier and more difficult than at any time in history, and that’s ignoring whatever state the economy finds itself in at the particular moment you start your search. The internet has, of course, made finding jobs considerably easier, but by the same token, has made getting jobs much more difficult. If you can find the job posting with a simple Google search, so can hundreds—if not thousands—of other applicants.
Obviously, before you begin your search, a little legwork is required. Figuring out how much you need to make is one step, but you also need to get YOU ready.
Do you have a LinkedIn profile? Is it up-to-date? Do you have a résumé? Has it been polished up? Does your field require a portfolio or CV? Does it represent you? Do you have any professional references, and if not, do you have any personal references who you wouldn’t be embarrassed to have them talk about you to a prospective employer? (Hint: your grandmother is usually not a good personal reference… unless she’s a BAMF business owner who made you work for her and expected more of you than anyone else because of your kinship: that’s legit.)
Looking up References
Who makes a good reference? Start with people with whom you have had a good business relationship, such as former coworkers, supervisors, or clients. Clients are a little problematic to set as references, though they may be perfect references for stylists, babysitters, dog-walkers, and baby-walking dog-stylists. Current coworkers and supervisors are generally excellent references, but be very cautious about letting your present employer or coworkers know you’re looking for a job somewhere else. If your current workplace doesn’t seem like the sort of place that takes kindly to their employees seeking greener pastures, you may suddenly find yourself without a “current workplace”. (Seriously: I got fired for this once.) However, employee loyalty is usually less of a factor with low-wage, entry-level positions, particularly as those environments typically expect high turnover: that’s partly why the pay is crap.
You should attempt to avoid using personal references, unless you can’t think of anyone reliable for a professional reference. Personal references may include teachers, athletics coaches, scout troop leaders, or mature friends whom you’ve known for many years. A pastor or other religious figure should not be used as a personal reference unless a) your religious views align with and are important to your prospective employer, or b) your clerical reference can speak of your personal character and work ethic without bringing religious views into the discussion. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives are generally poor choices as references because they are not perceived as objective. If you can’t be certain the person you’re citing as a reference will be able to speak positively about your professional capabilities and character, do not use them as a reference.
Once you’ve figured out who you might use as a reference, find out if you can use that person as a reference. Speak to your would-be reference directly (in person or over the phone, preferably) and ask for their permission to cite them as a reference. If they accept, record their full name, occupation, employer, phone number, and email address, as well as the approximate year you began your association. Not every employer will ask for references, and not every employer who does will ask for all of the above details, but it helps to have that information handy should it become necessary.
Unless a person unequivocally accepts the responsibility of providing a reference for you, do not use them as a reference. If they explicitly decline, record their name on a separate list so you’ll remember not to ask them again another time: they probably have a very good reason why they cannot serve as a reference for you, and if you think about it hard enough, you’ll probably figure out why that is. (Tip: if you’re susceptible to anxiety, don’t think about it.)
Resume Your Preparation
If you have a résumé already, make sure it’s up-to-date, then proofread it. Proofread it again. Give it to a friend to proofread. Give it to your mom, your neighbor, and your cousin’s yoga instructor. Make sure your résumé says exactly what you want it to say exactly how you want to say it, because the résumé is often your first impression with a prospective employer, and if you’re not careful, it could also be your last.
You may even need more than one version of your résumé. As a techno-creative type, I thought it was important to wow potential employers with my skill, style, and personality, and made a highly-visual résumé to do just that. However, I also encountered some job search sites (particularly in the tech fields) which attempted to strip data out of my résumé file to fill in a standard form, and the visual document wasn’t ideal. To deal with that easily, I created a plain-text document of all the same information so that I could perform a cut-and-paste.
For many fields, however, a non-standard résumé can be a detriment. If you’re seeking employment in a “white collar” field, such as financial or medical services, you should probably stick to a classic résumé. Tips and guides for making standard résumés are everywhere on the web, but Fresh from the Nest may cover the whole résumé-making process at a later date.
Put Yourself Out There
One of the easiest ways to discover new job opportunities is to let them find you. Recruiters scour the job search sites every day, looking for candidates to fill job openings. Most of the time, these recruiters are from third-party agencies who have been contracted to help a company fill a position, and they don’t get paid (as much) unless they find someone who gets hired. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is public and that your résumé is available to view on such places as Indeed.com, Monster.com, or other job search sites. If your skill set is in sufficient demand, you’ll be beating the recruiters back in no time. Some of them may even speak the language clearly!*
(*Okay, that was rude of me. Not inaccurate, but rude. I’ll put myself in the corner now.)
After my self-imposed exile has ended, we’ll continue with the job search.