Job searching can be hard. It takes time to apply, research, and prepare. It can be disappointing when you hear, “We’ve moved forward with more qualified applicants,” or when you just don’t get a call back.
But job searching can also be exciting. Every resume you submit and interview you accept offers you an opportunity to learn more about an industry, deepen interpersonal skills, and further discover your passions.
During my senior year of college, I stressed a lot about finding a job. I felt certain that my “dream job” didn’t exist. I wanted to work in a marketing role for an ethical company with down-to-earth people who were both fun and professional. None of my previous jobs or internships pointed to the ability to have both in a job.
But, two weeks before graduation, a marketing professional guest lectured in my Advertising and Promotion class. Her topic was, “How to be a Christian in Marketing” — the exact question I had been grappling with all year! Six weeks later, I started my career at that company. (More on that story here.)
The organization offered me latitude to try my hand at multiple skills, suggest ideas and test them, and feel like I helped make a difference in the world though my work. It was an incredible experience. (More on that in this post: “How My Job is Healing My Heart.”)
After four and a half years there, I decided to move closer to my family. The relocation included a job change. Whether you’re leaving a job you love, trying to find your first job, or making the change for a different reason, job searching can be time-consuming and discouraging. But it doesn’t have to be!
When I transition, I follow specific steps to make the right impression, and find, as well as provide, the information I and the employer need to make an informed decision. These steps have always paid off and put me in the job I wanted.
Before You Apply
- Study the company’s website
Identify their core values, mission, purpose, and anything that sets them apart in their industry.
- Identify similarities
Where do your background, personality, and skills fit into the story that the company is writing? What element of the job description aligns with what you’ve already done? Include your specific wins that align with what the company is looking for in your cover letter and/or resume. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for the organization’s leadership to visualize you fitting in with their team. If you’re already doing what they’re looking for, that helps you stand out among other applicants.
Before the Interview
- Check company social media pages
Get a sense of the company’s culture and what matters to them, and be ready to share how you align with that. This includes researching executives and leadership on LinkedIn. Knowledge is power, and you want to learn as much as you can about who makes the decisions.
- Know Your Top Three Strengths
Our brains think in patterns, and there is research that shows the human brain specifically likes the number three. Expect the question, “What are your strengths?” in every interview (here’s a list of other common interview questions to practice answering).To stand out when I answer the strengths question, I avoid responses like, “I’m a people person,” or, “I care about details.” Anyone can say that, but I want to add definition to my strengths. Using the STAR method helps me do that. If you’re not sure what your strengths are, I highly suggest taking the StrengthsFinder test. It was life-changing for me.
- Buy a Padfolio
I am passionate about padfolios, and have a lot to say about this one!
Interviews are about making impressions. That means whatever you choose to bring with you to your interview impacts the way your potential employer views you. You must bring something to take notes with to an interview. Please do not bring: floral or colored notepads, colored ink pens, your phone, or anything that looks beaten up (for example, old college notepad or extra journal). One of the best pieces of advice a college professor told me was, “Invest in a padfolio and take it to every interview and meeting.”
Maybe you’re applying for a job that isn’t super fancy and it seems over the top to bring a padfolio. Bring it anyway. It makes you look professional, in control, and serious about getting things done.
So, what is a padfolio and where do you buy one? A padfolio is a mix between a binder and a wallet (samsill.com). It is usually leather bound and comes in black or brown. A padfolio is an accessory where you keep business cards, pens, jump drives, files, and/or calculators, depending on your position. It also has space for a notepad, so essentially all you need for a meeting is in one folder. You can buy them at Target, Staples, Office Depot, Amazon, and other places that sell office supplies.
During the Interview
- Take notes (in your padfolio!)
You don’t have to overdo it, but write down a few things that you want to research further, that caught your attention, or that you want to ask about later. Also write down the names and titles (if they’re mentioned) of everyone involved in the hiring process. One person might interview you and give you their card, but it’s helpful to know who the other decision makers are.
- Make eye contact with everyone in the room
Show that you’re approachable, engaged, and friendly. The best way to accomplish this is to look the people who are speaking to you in the eye. When I am nervous, I tend to break eye contact. Many of us do. If that is your tendency as well, practice holding eye contact when you speak, and make it a point to look your interviewer(s) in the eye when you answer or ask a question.
- Be honest if you don’t know something
I applied for a job that sounded exactly like what I had done at my previous position. When I got on the phone interview, I discovered it was actually very different. The interview outlined specific responsibilities and systems the hiring manager expected a new hire to know, and I didn’t know any of them.
I told the interviewer that I am a fast learner, and I gave her examples that proved it. But I said, “While I know I could learn it and I’m ready to dive in to help your company, that is not something I am currently skilled at. So if you’re looking for someone who already knows that system and can immediately dive into implementing it, that’s not me.”
It felt freeing to know that I didn’t have to prove that I was the right fit when I knew I wasn’t. If I would have gotten that job, I would have performed poorly and disappointed both myself and the employer. Stating the truth about my skill set upfront saved me and the interviewer time because we knew that moving forward wouldn’t be a good fit. That enabled me to continue applying and ultimately finding a job that fit my skill set perfectly, and it enabled the interviewer to move forward with candidates that fit her criteria.
If you don’t know something, be honest. Acting like you know something you don’t is only going to backfire.
- Ask questions (here are some suggestions)
I usually jot three to five questions from a list like the one above in my padfolio before I get to the interview. That way, if nothing comes up during the conversation, I have questions to fall back on. You never want to not ask questions in an interview. Asking questions shows you’re engaged and not afraid to show you don’t know something. There is usually a time at the end of the interview where the interviewer will ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” That’s your time to shine and show your engagement. If the interviewer doesn’t offer that, you can graciously say, “I have a few questions for you,” and segue into the discussion that way. If your interview is very conversational, you can use your discretion to potentially sprinkle your questions throughout the conversation. Whatever way you choose, just make sure you have some good questions!
After the interview
- Send a thank you email immediately
Send it to everyone who interviewed you. Send it as soon as you get home, or earlier if possible. If you have a smartphone, pull into a parking lot near the interview location and type a quick email to send before you leave the neighborhood. Saying “thank you” is a lost art, and saying it immediately is rare. You will stand out if you do this.Y our thank you email should include three pieces:
a) Thank the interviewer for his or her time.
b) Highlight something from your conversation that you both bonded over (perhaps a shared interest in a certain coffee, or passion for project management), and state why you reiterate why you believe you would be the right fit with the company.
c) Remind the interviewer you’re available if he or she has any additional questions, and you’re looking forward to hearing next steps.
- Send a thank you card
The same day as the interview, make sure you send a physical thank you card to the office of the interviewer. This will follow the same structure as the email, but it makes a huge impact. Sending thank you cards via “snail mail” used to be common practice. Today, 75% of job seekers do not send a thank you card (monster.com), but sending one can make all the difference between you getting the job and getting passed over (themuse.com).
Follow the same three-step format as the thank you email above, but do not copy your email verbatim. Keep the thank you card fresh, pick a new point as to why you believe you’re a great fit for the company, and make sure you include your last name when you sign the card.
- Follow up
If you don’t hear from the hiring manager within the timeframe you both agreed on, email or call him/her to check in. State that you’re excited about moving forward and wanted to know what the next steps are.
Note: If you don’t hear from the hiring manager within the timeframe you both agreed on, that might be a red flag for you. It could indicate the manager is unorganized, doesn’t value other people’s time, or is facing a decision-making bottleneck. That probably isn’t the type of culture you want to integrate with, so notice those nuances and ask yourself if this really is the place for you.
This is absolutely not an exhaustive list for nailing the job search process. But these are the must-do steps I always use when I’m transitioning. And they’ve landed me at the jobs I wanted and needed every time.
What are your job search practices? Share them in the comments below!