While I certainly understand the instinct to jump on the first offer that comes your way, unless your circumstances are dire (and if you’re still in the nest, they probably aren’t that dire), a little discretion is advised. The “right” employer may also be looking for the “right” candidate, and they may not be in a hurry to fill the position. Plus, you don’t want to commit to a job in another city, pack up your belongings, sign a lease, and start work… only to end up hating what you do and/or where you live.
Let’s face it: there’s always a chance that could happen anyway. However, if you take your time and do a little homework (you thought that stopped after graduation?), you can lessen your risks a little. With each new job listing that comes your way, try to find out what you can about the employer, the position, and if it’s even worth your time to apply.
Fire up the job search engines and find a job title that sounds about right. Take a quick note of the business name (unless it comes via a recruiter), the job description, any required qualifications, any desired qualifications, the salary range, and if any benefits are described.
Does the job description sound like anything you’d be remotely interested in doing? If peripatetic periodical publication peddler* doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then you’re finished with that listing and can move on to the next one. Is it a “permanent” position, contract-to-hire, or temporary? Are they looking for someone full-time or part-time?
*Heck, even I might consider being a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman if it meant having that for my job title!
If the description’s good, move on to the qualifications. Sometimes a required qualification can be a negotiable qualification if you’re missing one and you can demonstrate you have a similar skill and the ability and willingness to quickly pick up the excess. Other times, a required qualification may be an instant deal-breaker. If you’re missing or weak in a requirement but everything else for the job checks out, go ahead and apply for it: the worst that’ll happen is they’ll say ‘no’. However, if you’re missing or weak in several qualifications or if the job description places special emphasis on a missing or weak skill, you may want to give the listing a pass.
Some job listings are for purple squirrels**: the stated requirements are so specific and/or arcane that it’s unlikely anyone exists who can meet them all. Purple Squirrel job listings are particularly common in tech fields, so that penny-pinching employers can avoid filling a vacancy with an otherwise-qualified candidate while working the current team as hard as they can, and/or use the inability to fill the posting as justification for importing a lower-wage migrant worker because “we couldn’t find anyone who was qualified”.
**No, I did not make up the term “purple squirrel”, I promise.
If every required qualification you don’t have is a point against you, then every desired qualification you do have can be a point-and-a-half in your favor. An applicant who meets only the required qualifications may be an acceptable candidate, but someone who can exceed those requirements with desired skills will go to the top of HR’s pile. Take a moment to double-check your résumé: are all requested skills you possess represented? If not, be prepared to include them in a kick-ass cover letter. If you’re missing a requirement, you’re also going to have to write a kick-ass cover letter. Heck, if you meet every requirement and then some and have it all on your résumé, writing a kick-ass cover letter is only going to help, got it?
Job listings didn’t use to include much if any information on salary or benefits, but many online postings—especially for high-demand fields—now include some of this information up-front. If you haven’t already (and you should have, if you made your preliminary budget), compare the compensation rate with the average regional rate for the job title and level of experience. If any Roman numerals are given after the job title, that usually indicates an experience level; typically, I is entry-level, II is mid-level, III is advanced/supervisory level, and anything higher is often expert, mid-to-upper management, executive, “C”-level, or some other highly-qualified position usually promoted from within or head-hunted by expert recruiters***, rather than posted online for all the world to see. Unless you have two or more years of direct, verifiable employment in a similar position, you’re probably at entry-level.
***PurpleSquirrel.com claims to specialize in this sort of thing. See? I told you I didn’t make that up.
(You did take on an internship and/or co-op in your field while you were in college, didn’t you? If not, and your circumstances allow it, delay your flight plans for a little while and take a peek at some internships—preferably paying ones—to get some much-needed practical experience.)
Be wary of jobs which prioritize trendy perks over stabilizing benefits. Sure, on-site gyms and coffee bars may be awesome, but are those provided because the health plan is a joke and mandatory overtime is the norm? Obviously, you’re not going to know about the downsides from just a job listing, but it’s something to consider. No mention of benefits doesn’t mean they don’t have them, after all, but you may want to give extra consideration to job postings which do mention offering health, dental, and vision insurance, disability insurance, 401k plans, and paid time-off.
Unless the job is coming through a recruiter, take the opportunity to plug the prospective employer into Ye Olde Google and see what comes up. What does this business do? What is their core product or service? Who are their key competitors? Have they been savaged by disgruntled ex-employees on Glassdoor, and do those reviews seem credible?
Even if a job does come through a recruiter, once you’ve advanced enough into the recruitment process, you should be able to find out who the employer is before being interviewed by anyone at that company. While it’s okay to go to a screening interview with the third-party recruiter without knowing who they’re hiring for, you must find out who the employer is at least a few days before proceeding to a direct interview.
If you are at all interested in continuing beyond this point, research the company. Even if you think you know who they are and what they do, if you are lucky enough to get an interview, then you are going to need to ask an intelligent question or two about the job.
Yes: the commute you’ll face every day is a factor you need to consider alongside everything else. Once you find out who the employer is and the likely location where you are to work, plug that sucker into Google Maps and find out exactly where they are. Open a few new tabs and search the area with Realtor.com, Apartments.com, Zillow, Hotpads, or whatever other buy-or-rent search tool you prefer.
Are you comfortable with a lengthy commute? Can you manage sitting in traffic for that commute twice a day, five days a week, fifty-ish weeks of the year? Are you a public transit traveler or a cyclist? Are they near a mass-transit line, or does the route appear to be bicycle-friendly? Do you think you can even afford to live within an acceptable commute of the employer at the salary range the job has listed? Are you going to need to find a roommate or three to split housing costs?
So, you’ve found a job that sounds interesting, you’re qualified for it, and it’s in a place you think you won’t hate and can afford to get to everyday…
…Well, what the heck are you waiting around for, anyway? Apply for that sucker!
And then find another and do it again. And again. And again. Even if you think you nailed that interview, don’t stop applying for jobs until you’ve accepted an offer.
Speaking of interviews… guess what’s up next in this series?