Whether you’re straight out of university or a seasoned professional, job hunting is no walk in the park. Sometimes, you just don’t know where to begin looking, let alone how to persuade an employer that you’re the perfect candidate for the position – and things aren’t made any easier by the hundreds of other jobseekers who are applying for the same roles, either.
In fact, a job search can be a highly complicated, daunting and often soul-crushing process. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You just need to work on your game and break things down into smaller chunks, approaching each step smartly and strategically.
Luckily, we’ve done just that. This comprehensive guide will equip you with all the tips, tricks and nuggets of wisdom you need to succeed, so if you’ve ever wondered how exactly you’re going to go about landing that dream job, read on – it’s all here…
Do Your Research
The first thing you should consider on your quest for employment is what exactly it is you want to do. While some people are set on their career choice from an early age, many others are not, and so it might require some deep thinking on your part about which line of work would be best suited to you. If you’re already working, this may entail a complete change of direction.
Define Your Own Motivation
Either way, a good place to start would be a self-assessment. Ask yourself what you want from your job and what will get you out of bed in the morning. For example:
- Do you want to work in a fast-paced, dynamic environment or a relaxed and laidback one?
- Do you prefer the 9-to-5 grind or shift work?
- Do you want to be part of a larger, more impersonal corporation or a much smaller independent start-up?
- Are you open to travelling or dead set on staying put?
Everybody has different goals and motivations, so identify yours clearly – this will help you focus on the right opportunities for you.
Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for, you need to find out if such opportunities are available and – if so – where. If you have no idea where your career is headed, you can start by making a broad search based on your interests and seeing what comes back.
For example, if your passion is animals, then put ‘jobs working with animals’ or something similar into Google. This will give you a shortlist of possible directions your career could go in, allowing you to research each role more thoroughly; it’s also worth reading through these detailed job profiles to get an idea of what your chosen profession might be like.
There are also countless resources online that, with a bit of initiative, can be of great assistance; for instance, industry-specific online forums are a great place to communicate with people who already do the job and, as long as you are polite and sensible, will be happy to answer your questions. Don’t turn your nose up at more traditional methods, either: there’s still a lot to be said for contacting companies and asking to shadow one of their staff members for a day or two.
Speaking of companies, you need to know with who your potential new career might be with. If it’s your dream to be an accountant, for example, then there are many types of organisations that you can work for and which offer a different range of career opportunities. The key is to be clear about your own goals and identify which companies can help you achieve them.
Additionally, it’s wise to know who the market leaders are in your chosen industry, as well as if they offer a conducive company culture and a good benefits package. It’s also important to know if you are eligible; some companies, for instance, have nationality, age or criminal record restrictions.
Understand the Different Kinds of Jobs
There is a wide variety of job types that may or may not be suitable depending on your personal circumstances or prior experience. As well traditional full-time work, there are also:
Part-time employment is a convenient option for those who want to work less hours, such as parents or students, and is usually a lot more flexible than full-time employment. Due to the limited exposure to the role, a lot of part-time jobs tend to be lower skilled and lower paid.
Temporary and Seasonal Jobs
Some positions have short-term fixed contracts, especially if they are project-based or for seasonal positions such as within the tourism industry or at Christmas. These can be useful for making money quickly, gaining paid experience in a particular sector or even as a stepping stone to a permanent position.
For those just entering the world of work, many companies offer roles designed for graduates or those with little to no experience. This is usually specified in the job description, and the application and interview process will likely focus more on your academic achievements.
Apprenticeships – where you are paid a wage while the company trains you – are experiencing something of a revival currently, with many young people seeking an alternative to costly student debt. Companies are responding in kind, too, with government backing allowing them to invest in training schemes.
Apprenticeships are no longer restricted to the traditional ‘hands-on’ industries (such as engineering, construction and trades) either, with many large corporate firms offering schemes. In fact, global law giant Eversheds even became the first company to offer a 7-year solicitor apprenticeship scheme in 2016.
Internships are aimed more at university students and are usually undertaken during holiday breaks in the academic season. They allow students to gain vital experience in a real-life industry-relevant setting while allowing companies to decide if they’re going to offer the intern a permanent position when they graduate. Internships at the top companies – particularly within the finance world – can be fiercely competitive, with positions sometimes being offered to only one or two candidates.
Conversely, executive (or C-level) roles are advertised somewhat differently. They rely primarily on networking and word of mouth within high-level industry circles and are also advertised in high-brow print publications such as The Economist and The New Statesman. Many large organisations use headhunters to fill these rarely publicised vacancies, so if you’re an established executive with years of experience on the clock, keep an eye on your inbox.
Applying for Jobs
Once you’ve done your research and you’ve figured out the job you want to do, the industry you want to work in, the company (or companies) you want to work for and the most appropriate level to apply at, it’s time to start actually applying.
Where to Find Jobs
Employers publish vacancies via a wide array of platforms, and it’s important to know where you’ll have the best chance of finding opportunities. While the majority are online, you shouldn’t ignore the more traditional methods, too; always consult the following:
As mentioned, many jobs can now be found online. Millennials especially prefer to look through job boards and websites that can tailor positions to individual criteria, such as location, salary and industry. There are also specialised industry-specific job sites that have access to a wider range of niche vacancies, such as for creative people, for example. Most sites are updated hourly and have mobile app versions so you can track things on the move; make sure you keep checking them so you don't miss out on any opportunities.
Recruitment agencies operate as middlemen, hired by companies to recruit staff on their behalf. There are different types of agencies with contacts and expertise in various industries; for example, some agencies primarily work with construction companies and advertise for subcontractor roles, while some look to provide short-term catering and hospitality workers for event organisers. Whatever industry you’re looking to get involved in, there will be an agency that can provide you with a potential job opportunity.
Aimed primarily at graduates, job fairs are a highly useful way of building contacts and meeting company representatives face to face. They are also a great opportunity to put yourself in the shop window and explain to potential employers why you would be a great fit for their team. The key is to research which companies will be attending beforehand and to perfect an elevator pitch that you can deploy on cue.
Increasingly, more and more companies are highlighting vacancies through social media, particularly via paid ads. Although these advertisements don’t necessarily always target the right audience, they can have great reach and be seen by a lot of eyes; keep your own eyes peeled for them.
Undoubtedly, the best way to know if someone is hiring is to go straight to the horse’s mouth – and nearly all businesses now have an online presence. If you’re looking to work for a specific company, check their website (if there are no vacancies, there is usually valuable information about that organisation’s recruiting process and when it will be open next).
If you’re more open and are just looking to work in a particular industry, make a shortlist of the top companies in that sector and check each site individually. It may be more time consuming, but you will get first-hand information and see opportunities that might not have been posted on an external job board.
It’s possible to hire a professional headhunter to improve and accelerate your job search, using their expertise to match you to the right roles and even negotiate you a higher salary. They can also utilise their extensive contacts in the recruitment industry to gain access to unpublished or unadvertised vacancies, widening your net significantly.
Alternatively, it’s possible to be approached and headhunted by an external company; this usually happens when you have a very defined and in-demand skillset that employers highly value. Therefore, you should put the same care and effort into your LinkedIn profile as you would into an application; it is essentially a real-time CV and you never know who could be looking at it.
Job Centres and Newspapers
Although it may sound obsolete, the job centre (as the name would suggest) is still a good place to look for work. As they are government-run, they post a lot of public sector roles and you can also consult face to face with jobs advisors to target your search accordingly.
Companies also continue to post vacancies in local newspapers, despite the format not being as fruitful as it once was. It’s still worth checking, though, with local and national newspapers also publishing weekly job supplements containing vacancies and general career advice.
Networking is probably the best way to get access to job vacancies – especially hidden ones – but it all depends on the strength of your network. Therefore, it’s vital to build up contacts anywhere and everywhere you can; after all, you never know who might approach you with a potential opportunity.
How to Apply
Once you’ve found your ideal position, you need to figure out how you’re going to get yourself an interview. This can be tricky, as it’s difficult to convey an accurate impression of yourself without meeting your potential employer in person – this is why your CV and supporting documents are so important.
It is imperative that your supporting documents are tailored specifically to the role or roles you are applying for. Pay close attention to the following:
When you apply to any job, the first thing your potential employer will see is your CV – and they won’t see it for long. The average time a recruiter spends looking through your life achievements is just 6 seconds, so you’ll need to make every word count!
Many positions also require a short cover letter (or, in some cases, a longer application letter) explaining why you would be suitable for the role. The key here is not to simply repeat what’s already on your CV but rather to discuss how your own interests and achievements align with the responsibilities of the position. Think of it as an elevator pitch – but on paper.
As previously mentioned, your LinkedIn profile is essentially a CV that is accessible to anyone 24/7. Therefore, it is vital to keep it updated and ensure it is professionally written; if you wouldn’t be happy to put it on a job application, for instance, then it shouldn’t go on your LinkedIn.
Aside from the networking potential, it is also a direct source of job openings. There were over 10 million vacancies advertised on the site by mid-2017, while a study by Talent Works found that 87% of recruiters use LinkedIn to scout potential candidates. In other words, if you’re not using LinkedIn, then you’re missing out on an absolute wealth of opportunities.
It can also be useful to have an online portfolio displaying your work and achievements. For corporate professionals, LinkedIn is probably more suited to this, but for designers, architects and any other type of visual artists, a website dedicated to showing off your work is essential. It gives potential employers a chance to judge your work for themselves, and it saves you the time and effort of sending hard copies every time you apply for a position.
Submit Your Application
Depending on the position and the company, there are a multitude of ways that you can formally submit your application for a job vacancy. Here are some of the more traditional methods:
A large majority of online applications are now filtered through an applicant tracking system (ATS), a pre-programmed bot that uses keywords to filter appropriate applicants (in theory, at least). Make sure you scan the job description for these likely keywords and use them in your CV and questionnaire answers.
Make sure all your answers are accurate and honest, too; if the role you are applying for requires keen attention to detail, for instance, but your employment dates are wrong on your application form, it won’t reflect particularly well on your suitability.
Applying in Person
Some roles require you to physically submit your CV in person, so don’t underestimate the importance of your appearance when you do this. Even though you’re not being formally interviewed, you’re still being judged – if you look the part, then you will create a more lasting impression.
Sometimes, it can be appropriate to chance your luck and put yourself forward for a position that may not even exist. If done correctly, it can work to your benefit. If you can sell your skills and demonstrate why they would be a good fit for the company as a whole, then your enthusiasm and suitability may be considered for vacancies when they become available. Indeed, if you’re application is really good, then the company may even create a position for you!
Dealing with Interviews
If you’re deemed to be potentially suitable, then the next step will be an assessment or an interview, depending on the role. At entry level – especially for technical roles – you may be required to sit some tests to demonstrate that you meet basic aptitude criteria; either way, the next stage in the process will see you meeting your potential employers face to face.
Before the Interview
Nobody enjoys interviews, but they will go a whole lot more smoothly if you’re prepared for them. Aside from researching the company and the role, give yourself an idea of the types of questions you might be asked and how you plan on answering them. Don’t be afraid to practise these answers with a friend, colleague or family member, either.
During the Interview
Interviews are all about staying calm, composing yourself and trusting in your skills and abilities to give weight to your answers. It’s also important to be confident (not arrogant), mind your body language and dress the part; don’t forget the basics, either, such as greeting your interviewer with a smile and a firm handshake, and maintaining eye contact throughout.
Also consider that the interview might not be a conventional panel interview; companies are increasingly looking to shake up their recruitment methods, so don’t be surprised if you get invited to any one of the following:
- One-to-one interviews
- Group interviews
- Telephone and Skype interviews
- Coffee interviews
- Peer group interviews
- Speed interviews
- Stress interviews
Finally, don’t forget to ask your own questions at the end. It reflects poorly on you if you don’t, so make sure you have a few prepared!
After the Interview
It’s common courtesy to follow up after an interview and send a brief ’thank you’ letter or email, regardless of how it went; this shows a touch of professionalism on your part. Most interviewers will tell you how and when they will inform you of their decision, but if they don’t – or you don’t hear back from them for a significant period of time – you can follow up with an email or a telephone call to clarify things.
Hopefully, at this stage, the next communication you will receive is an offer of employment, at which point all your hard work, preparation and research strategies will have paid off!
During your search, there are a few additional things you should bear in mind:
- Firstly, organisation is important, especially if you’re applying for several roles. Create an Excel spreadsheet to track dates, statuses and outcomes of applications, and make sure you don’t mix up your tailored CVs and cover letters if you are using a base template.
- Secondly – and perhaps most importantly – always stay positive. Rejection can be difficult to handle sometimes and can affect your self-esteem; this is when it’s vital to grit your teeth, dig your heels in and keep going. Get support from your friends and family and, if necessary, try and take on part-time or freelance work to ease your financial worries and take the pressure off.
- Thirdly, and finally, job hunting can be a challenging and lengthy process. It can be overwhelming even for those of us who have been there and done it all before. But the secret to a successful job search is relatively simple: having the right attitude and following a carefully laid-out plan.
Do you have anything you’d like to add? Join the conversation below!
This article was originally published in November 2016.