Planning Your Job-Search Campaign
No matter how terrific they may be, your resume and cover letter alone will not land you a job. You need a comprehensive and well-defined plan to job seek effectively. A plan will help you keep up the vigorous pace of the job-search process and keep you from becoming frustrated or unmotivated. It will also enable you to pace yourself and monitor your progress against predetermined goals. If your plan is not effective, you'll be able to see problems more clearly and tackle them head-on by changing direction or using different techniques.
Your job-search plan should incorporate a number of different job-finding methods, described later in this chapter. Predict how much time you are going to spend pursuing these different avenues and set up a specific weekly schedule for yourself. It's important not to overlook this step; it will help you be more productive and less likely to fall behind.
Do Your Homework
If you're trying to enter a new field, your first order of business is to do a little background research. Find out the current trends in the industry and become familiar with names of the major and up-and-coming players. Your industry's trade journal and informational interviews are two terrific ways to find this kind of “insider” information.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, the following industries will experience the highest growth through the next several years: Education and Health Services, Professional and Business Services, Information, and Leisure and Hospitality.
If you're a veteran of the field in which you're looking, make sure you keep up with industry trends by talking with your associates, attending your professional association's functions, and reading your industry's trade journals.
Consider conducting at least one informational interview, particularly if you're an entry-level job seeker or a career changer. An informational interview is simply a meeting that you arrange in order to talk to someone in a field, industry, or company that interests you. This kind of interview allows you to:
Examine your compatibility with the company by comparing the realities of the field (skills required, working conditions, schedules, and common traits of people you meet) to your own personal interests.
Find out how people in a particular business, industry, or job view their roles and the growth opportunities in their business.
Conduct primary research on companies and industries.
Gain insight into the kinds of topics your potential interviewers will be concerned about and the methods for interviewing.
Get feedback on your relative strengths and weaknesses as a potential job candidate.
Become comfortable talking to people in the industry and learning the industry jargon.
Build your network, which can lead to further valuable information and opportunities.
To set up an informational appointment, request a meeting, either by phone or by letter, with someone who has at least several years' experience working in your field of interest. Your goal is to learn how that person got into the business, what he likes about it, and what advice someone with experience might pass on to someone interested in entering the field. If you don't know who to contact for an informational interview, ask relatives, teachers, and friends if they know someone.
Tell your contact right away that you'd like to learn more about the industry or company and that you will ask all the questions. Most people won't feel threatened (especially if you assure them you're not asking them for a job) and will usually be willing to help you.
If you tell a contact that all you want is advice, make sure you mean it. Never approach an informational interview as though it were a job interview; stick to gathering information and leads and see what happens. Also, unless you're specifically requested to do so, sending your resume to someone you'd like to meet for an informational interview will probably give the wrong impression.
Now that you've scheduled an informational interview, make sure you're prepared to take the lead. After all, you're the one doing the interviewing. Prepare a list of ten to twenty questions, such as:
How did you get started in this business?
What experience helped you to be prepared and qualified for this job?
What do you believe is the ideal education and background for a career in this industry?
What are your primary responsibilities in your current job?
What do you like most about your job, your company, and your industry?
What do you dislike most about them? What's been your greatest challenge?
If you could work with anybody in this field, whom would you want to work with?
Five years out, what are your career goals?
What are typical career path options from here?
If you could change something about your career path, what would you change?
What are the most valuable skills to have in this field?
What specific experiences helped you build these skills?
What opportunities do you see in this business?
Why did you want this job?
What would you say are the current career opportunities for someone with my qualifications in the industry?
If you were in the job market tomorrow, how would you get started? What would you do?
What are the basic requirements for an entry-level position in the industry?
What would be on a must-read list in your field?
Where do you see the industry heading in the near future?
Is there a trade association that might aid me in my job search?
What things impress you when you interview candidates for positions in this field?
What would be turn-offs when you interview candidates?
What critical questions should I expect to be asked in a job interview?
What advice would you give to someone looking for a job in the industry?
Is there anything else I should know about the industry?
Do you know of anyone who might be looking for someone with my qualifications?
Always end by thanking the person for her time. Also promise to follow up on any important leads she has provided and to let her know how things turn out. You should also send a thank-you note within one or two days of the informational interview.
Follow up periodically with everyone in your network — even after you get a job. Once you develop a network, it's important not to lose those contacts. You want to translate your informational network into a support network and maintain it throughout your career.
Setting Your Schedule
The most important detail of your job search is setting up a schedule. Of course, since job searches aren't something most people do regularly, it may be hard to estimate how long each step will take. Nonetheless, it's important to have a plan so you can monitor your progress.
When outlining your job-search schedule, have a realistic time frame in mind. If you are searching full-time, it could take two months or more to find a job. If you can search only part-time, it will probably take at least four months. This time frame depends on what the market is like at the time.
If you're unemployed, remember that job seeking is tough work, both physically and emotionally. It's also intellectually demanding work that requires you to be at your best. So don't tire yourself out by working on your job campaign around the clock. At the same time, be sure to keep at it. The most logical way to manage your time while looking for a job is to keep your regular work hours.
If you're searching full-time using several different contact methods, try dividing up each week, designating some time for each method. By trying several approaches at once, you can evaluate how promising each seems and alter your schedule accordingly. Keep in mind that the majority of openings are filled without being advertised. (This fact will be discussed in more detail in the following sections.)