The Riley Guide: How to Job Search
If you're only searching for a job by checking the classifieds, asking your friends and looking for "help wanted" signs, you're missing out on jobs that could be more better paying, more interesting and more fun than anything you've tried so far. Yes, competition is stiff on job websites. Online job searches play by different rules than traditional ones. But with a basic understanding of how to search and apply effectively, you can leap ahead of the competition and land in a job you'll love. So read on to find out how to make online job searching work for you.
Remember the thrill you felt the first time you reconnected with a long-lost friend on Facebook? You didn't have to scan through dozens of phone books, or call up old teachers and classmates – you just typed your friend's name into the search box (or got a surprising message in your inbox) and suddenly you were chatting with someone who'd seemed like a distant dream only a few minutes before.
This is essentially how the Internet works in a job search, too: Job search engines and custom alerts do most of the boring legwork for you, leaving you to get down to business with potential employers whose job descriptions and salary offers line up with what you're looking for. True, not all employers will respond to your queries – but after all, that's every bit as true in the "real world" as it is online. And while it's also true that it takes some know-how to get the most out of job search engines, the amount of time and energy you'll save in the long run is more than worth the time it takes to learn.
The process of getting started is actually very simple: Just select a few job websites that fit your needs (this article will explain how), run some searches for jobs that interest you, send out applications, and follow up on any offers for interviews. From there on out, the process works almost exactly the same as in a traditional job search – although you may find yourself interviewing over the phone instead of in person. And if a certain interview doesn't work out, you'll have a ready roster of other posted positions to apply for.
As mentioned in the section above, if you've used Facebook to connect with old friends, you already know how powerful a tool the Internet can be. But why is the Internet particularly useful for a job search? For quite a few reasons – including the following ones:
- You'll have access to job postings in all sectors of work, at all levels and pay grades, all over the world.
- You can search for jobs at any hour of the day or night, on any day of the week, whenever you have time.
- You'll gain practice with computer skills, which means you'll be beefing up your skill set as you search.
- Online interactions are lower-pressure than face-to-face ones, so it'll be easier to keep your composure.
- Powerful search tools will help you discover and browse career areas you might never have considered.
But the strongest argument for taking your job search online is that, once you get used to the process, it's a whole lot easier than a traditional job search. All you've got to do is type a few keywords into a job website's search box, and you're presented with pages and pages of jobs related to your specific interests. And once you register an account on a job-search site, you can save your searches and run them again with a click of a button – or even set up email alerts to let you know as soon as new openings that match your interests get posted. And all you've got to do is sit back and pick the ones you like.
Preparation for an online job search doesn't take much – and in fact, it has a lot in common with preparation for a traditional job search. The first thing you'll want to do is make sure you've got your resume up to date, and formatted as a Word document, a PDF file and a plain text document. As you update your resume, take notice of the keywords you're using, and jot down some notes of the ones that seem most relevant to the types of jobs you're looking for. These keywords can fall into several categories, each of which forms the answer to a certain kind of question:
- Who are you, in terms of your training, your qualifications and your job titles? For example, are you an air conditioning technician? A chemistry teacher? An administrative assistant?
- What do you do, what can you do, and what do you want to do? For example, are you an expert in welding? Have you corrected legal documents? Do you like serving as a project manager?
- What fields interest you, and which subfields particularly catch your interest? For example, are you just interested in healthcare in general, or in medical equipment sales? Are you only passionate about nonprofit public relations, or can you see yourself working in PR for other types of organizations as well?
- Who do you want to work for, and how does this relate to your previous employers? For example, do you have experience at small companies but dream of working for a Fortune 500 employer? Have you worked for tech start-ups but want to branch out into launching other types of businesses?
- Where do you want to work, geographically and environmentally? Are you limited to the East Coast, or specifically to the state of Maryland? Are you a city person, or are you open to rural work? Do you need a stable living situation, or can you travel freely?
Although your resume may not answer all these questions, thinking about them will give you some solid starting points for putting together the list of keywords and search settings you'll use as you look for jobs online. If you find yourself having trouble generating keywords, there are other places you can go for help, too. Try asking your friends for their insights on your talents and passions. Ask a librarian, or a worker at a job center, for help describing the type of work you'd like to do. Or browse through some websites related to your area of work, and note down any keywords that catch your eye. Before long, you'll have a ready supply of terms to use when you start searching for jobs.
The Internet abounds with job websites of all shapes and sizes – and the sites that your friends, family, and the staff at the career center use and love may not be the best ones for you. So how do you decide which resources will fit your needs? Try asking yourself the questions below as you scan a site.
What does the site offer? Some sites offer only job listings, while others also offer networking opportunities, discussion groups, articles and newsletters with job-search tips, and even lists of trade associations you can contact for more info on certain professions.
How frequently are the listings updated? Most of the largest job websites are drowning in hundreds or thousands of new posts every day – but there's probably no point registering for a site that only gets a few new job listings per week. If you see a lot of listings that are at least 30 days old, or only a few from the current week, that site probably isn't worth your time.
Who runs the site? You can easily find this out by clicking the "About Us" link that's at the very top or bottom of almost every major job website. If you don't recognize the company that runs the site, plug their name into Google and find out a little more about them. While many companies are perfectly legitimate, others may not be as trustworthy or helpful.
Do the admins respond to messages? If you're going to be spending a lot of time on a given site, you'll want to make sure the customer support staff are eager to help in case of a problem. Try firing off a quick email or message to them, asking any of the questions above, or just saying you want to check on their responsiveness. If they don't get back to you, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by moving on to other sites.
If there's a fee, is it worth it? Quite a few job-search sites are free for basic use, but some charge a fee for advanced features like networking and high-volume messaging. Depending on your situation, some of the paid features may be worth your money – but never trust a site that charges you, or makes you register, just to take a peek. Any site that's trustworthy will at least give you a look for free.
Remember, only you can decide whether a site and its resources meet your needs. Asking friends, family members, colleagues, and even others in your job transition group (if you're a member of one) will help you create a list of starting points for your search – and it might also cross some sites off your list as others relate problems they've had. So go ahead and exchange ideas with others as you begin your search – but keep in mind that these are just suggestions. If they don't work out, you can always jump on Google, track down some other promising sites, and branch out on your own.
As useful as the Internet is in a job search, it's only one component of a complete job-searching strategy. A complete job search includes four main activities, and this section will walk you through each one of them. The activities are as follows:
1) Networking – Put out the word that you're in the market for a new job. Don't make an annoyance of yourself, of course, but don't be shy about mentioning it in conversations with friends, family members, former colleagues and classmates, and anyone else you happen to meet. You never know where the next opportunity might come from. Consider joining a professional association, as well as a job-search support group – even if they don't directly connect you with job opportunities, they'll help guide you in your search. If you don't already have a profile on LinkedIn.com, set one up and join some discussions related to your field. And seek out discussion groups on other social-networking sites like Facebook and Google Plus, while you're at it. Every conversation is an opportunity to learn something useful for your search.
2) Researching Employers – Potential employers come in every size, from local small businesses to multinational corporations – and almost all of them have at least a basic website nowadays. Jump on Google and search for terms related to businesses in your geographic region and your area of interest – for example, "bakeries in St. Louis" or "Colorado telecommunications companies" – and explore these companies' websites to find out how their application processes work. If you can't find info on a given company's website, contact them yourself and ask. And for more ideas, use the Employer Locator from CareerOneStop to create a list of target employers. You can search by industry, occupation, or location to create your list of possibilities.
3) Reviewing Job Leads – The sheer quantity of job lead sources available today means there's no way to look over it all – so go for quality over quantity and target your searches strategically. As described in the sections above, use keywords to focus your searches on sectors and types of work that particularly interest you. For a quick start, head over to our handy list of Sites With Job Leads, select a category from the top of the page, then select your target page within the site to view resources specifically for you. You can also use search engines like Indeed.com to search multiple sites and sources from one simple interface.
4) Sharing Your Resume – Think of your resume as a marketing brochure for yourself and your work. It says "I worked here, and while I was there I did this to benefit my employer", implying that you can also benefit any potential employer with whom you share it. And while it's a good idea to make your resume available for viewing on one or two major job search sites, as well as one or two sites related to your industry in particular, use caution when deciding how freely to share your contact information, and how widely to distribute your resume. Som resume distribution services (also known as "resume-blasting" services) offer to send your resume out to thousands of companies in return for a fee – but many of the email addresses to which they send it may not even be active anymore, and there's no guarantee that the people at the other end signed up to receive resumes. So avoid getting a reputation as a resume spammer, and focus on getting your resume in the hands of people who express interest in it. And when you've found a job, delete your resume from everywhere you've posted it. You don't want your new employer to stumble upon it months later, and call you into the office for some serious explaining.
Follow these tips, and you'll be putting together a multi-level job search that utilizes all the resources at your disposal. Keep in mind, until you've found a job, looking for a job is your full-time job – so treat it as seriously as you would any major assignment, and you'll start to notice results over time, even if it takes a few months of concentrated effort on your part.
There's no question that the major online job databases are huge places. It can be easy to get lost in the listings for hours, especially if you're replying to lots of them. So how can you make sure you're using your time effectively? How can you track your progress, and be sure you're actually getting somewhere? By making sure you start in a new place every day, and that at the end of each day of searching, you've learned something new.
Each day, start with a different site, or with a different search on your favorite site. Yes, things change quickly, but not so quickly that you'll miss something important if you skip one day – not even on the most fast-paced job sites. Focus on sites and services that lead you to the data you really want, whether that's networking groups, lists of potential employers, or job listings specific to your industry, job function and/or location. And take advantage of aggregators or employment search engines like Indeed.com or Careerjet.com to cover lots of job sites with a single search. Switch up your search techniques, and take notes on what works. And when you start to feel like you're just spinning your wheels, glance back over those notes and remember how much you've learned since you started.
Here are some final overall points to keep in mind as you progress in your job search:
Job websites aren't your only resource. As mentioned above, an effective job search makes use of networking contacts, face-to-face conversations, discussion groups and every other source of information you can find. The Internet is a very powerful tool for job-searching, but many people's frustrations with online job searches result from over-reliance on career search engines. They're helpful, but they're not the end-all.
Online job searching should only consume half of your job-searching time. Spend the other half networking face-to-face, cold-calling companies that interest you, and talking through your job-search problems with people who want to help you. If you start to get discouraged, reach out to friends, colleagues and people in your discussion groups, and share your frustrations. You may be surprised at how much you learn from their feedback.
Take time for yourself. One day a week, shut off the computer and spend some time with your family, friends, and yourself. Relax, do some reading, walk outside, play with your dog or scratch your cat, and remind yourself that there's a whole world outside, full of people to talk to and new experiences to discover.
Online Job Search Tips, Tools, and Strategies — Links to loads of articles and free tools to help with your online job search.
Top 10 Online Job Search Tips — A list of quick tips from CareerBuilder, one of the largest career resources on the web.
Job-Hunt.org — Very helpful site with job-search articles on dozens of topics, each written by an expert in the field.