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How to Start Your Job Search

by Will Geiger, on Jan 16, 2020 5:58:51 PM

I walked into my office and saw the letter on my desk. My hands immediately clammed up, and my heart started to race. I was not ready to make this decision yet.

When you work in a high school, you’re working on an annual contract. And at my school, I had to accept my contract well before the end of the academic year. For other people, this letter may have been a very good thing—another year of employment! For me, it was nerve-racking, because I knew that working as a guidance counselor was not my long-term dream. Sure, I enjoyed aspects of it and loved my colleagues, but ultimately I wanted to do something different. The issue was identifying exactly what that something different was. And now I had to decide whether to say “yes” to the sure thing or decline my offer of employment and officially begin my job search. The prospect of throwing away something comfortable and safe was a bit terrifying (especially since I didn’t have anything concrete lined up next). It had been years since I had to look for a job. Where should I even begin?

If you’re anything like I was, you might be wondering how to start a successful job search. Whether you are a second-semester senior in college, a seasoned veteran looking for a new challenge, or an entry-level worker planning a pivot, these tips will help make your job search as manageable and constructive as possible.

1. Beware of information overload

In the 21st century when we’ve got a problem, we usually look to technology for a solution. Want Thai for dinner? Yelp it. Wondering what your medical symptoms mean? Google it. Whatever the problem, there’s an app for that—and it can be tempting to treat your job search the same way. Going down the rabbit hole of research may make you feel busy and productive, but in the nascent stages of job seeking, you need to pause and figure out where you’re going. One of the biggest mistakes that job seekers make is firing off dozens of applications to companies that they find online. This strategy is not only unlikely to work, but it can also actively distract you from more productive approaches.

2. Start fresh

Having expertise in a specific field or role doesn’t mean that you have to continue going down the same path. After all, career journeys usually aren’t completely linear. So wipe the slate clean and think back to the specific moments and experiences that are most meaningful to you. If you need help, check out our Career Stories 101 course in StoryBuilder. It’s a great way to identify stories that reveal your skills, experience, and temperament, providing you with a road map for your next step.

3. Set specific goals

People who set specific goals will ultimately be more successful than people who set overly broad or vague goals. For instance, saying that “I want a job” is not a very good goal to set. What type of job? Where? Doing what? What type of work environment? What about compensation and benefits? There are so many considerations and factors at play here. If you take the broadest approach and just start applying to every job you can find online, you’re unlikely to be successful—or, ultimately, happy, if you do manage to land a job this way. Instead, a specific goal, like “I want to find an entry-level marketing job in New York City,” is better. But even this goal could be more specific—what type of industry do you want to be in? What type of work environment? Take it a step further: something like, “I want to find an entry-level marketing job in New York City at a socially-conscious tech startup.” This refined goal will help you navigate the seemingly endless number of marketing jobs available and allow you to focus your job search in a more targeted and efficient way.

4. Make sure your specific goals are attainable

If your goal were to become the CEO of Facebook, it’s safe to say that you’d have quite the uphill battle. This is an extreme example, but the point is that you need to be operating in reality. It’s great to dream big, but it’s equally important to stay realistic and identify opportunities you’re likely to be qualified for. This requires a little bit of honesty and self-awareness, so when in doubt, ask a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor if your goals seem realistic.

5. Take stock of your networks

A successful job search will not be a solo endeavor. You’ll need to rely upon people to ask for suggestions, advice, connections, and references. Spend some time thinking about the various groups you’ve belonged to, both now and in the past. This can include your high school, college, graduate school, previous jobs, nonprofits you’ve volunteered for, friends, family, and religious communities. If you’re feeling stuck, scrolling through LinkedIn can be a fantastic way to start this process. You don’t have to start contacting people right away, but this process will give you a sense of who is in your corner.

If you’re beginning your job search, you’re probably equal parts excited, nervous, and overwhelmed. That’s totally normal—just remember that you’ve got this! Follow these five tips, and you’ll make great progress on your job search. While there may be plenty more work to do, a successful job search starts with the right foundation—which you now have. Want to learn how to connect with prospective employers and reveal who you are in resumes, cover letters, and interviews? Check out HirePower, our storytelling course sequence for job seekers.