As a recruiter, I’ve seen first-hand the difference it makes to really target the role you want. It can take less than a minute to tell when someone has an “open-fire” approach to their job search, going for quantity over quality, and it stands out when a candidate cares about their application. While it’s easy to see the difference when you’re recruiting, it’s even easier to overlook the process when you’re going through the job search process yourself.
I got laid off at the tail end of 2016, and was thankful to have the insider perspective while looking for my next position. It doesn’t matter whether you’re casually looking at new opportunities or aggressively hunting for your next role – if you want the job, it pays to apply like you mean it.
1. Decide What You Want
I’ll be honest with you, this process is an investment. If you’re making the most of your applications, you won’t have time to do this for every job opening. Before you get started, really think about what it is you would like to find. This can be anything involving the actual job description, growth opportunities, stock options, benefits or perks, office culture… you name it, as long as it makes your work life better. When I started looking, I decided these were the five things that mattered to me most:
- Experienced leadership team: While my most recent startup had gone through a rocky period, the leadership team always had a clear vision for the company and strong communication. They were good at offering straight-forward feedback and clarification when needed. I knew that this was critical for me to be happy in my next company.
- Freedom to grow the role: The last thing I need is to become too content and stagnate in a desk job. I wanted to find a position where there wasn’t a lot of red tape, so I could set my own processes, continue growing, and move quickly.
- A company that gets results: Whatever the business does, it has to do it well. I’ve learned that if I don’t believe in the team or the product, I can’t recruit for them.
- Short commute: No amount of audiobooks, radio plays, and podcasts made my former hour and a half commute ok. I set my limit to a half hour from home.
- Fair, competitive salary: It’s not a nice thing to say, but when it comes down to it, the money matters. This isn’t the first time I’ve advocated for knowing and aiming for your market rate, and it won’t be the last. I knew that my next position had to offer a competitive package, or I would find myself looking again.
Decide what your top 3-5 items are, and how important each is. If you decide which are needs instead of wants, you’ll be able to focus on the elements that matter most in your next role.
2. Lay the Ground Work
Unless you’re particularly recognized in your field, you’ll need to share who you are with your potential employer. This means being able to sell yourself and your experience on paper and online.
Now that you’ve decided what you’re really looking for, take the time to update your resume. Give the most important things priority (read: place them at the top of the page) so a recruiter can see the match immediately, and keep everything relevant to the roles you’re targeting – i.e. if you’re going for an engineering role, it may be time to get rid of your RA position from college. Make sure you’re using language that highlights your impacts, rather than just describing your role, and don’t sell yourself short!
Also, while some people consider cover letters a thing of the past, they can really help your application stand out. Write out a paragraph or two that sums up your biggest wins and wants, and keep it on standby. You’ll be able to tweak it for each business.
One more thing – if you think your future employer isn’t going to find your Facebook page, I have a bridge to sell you. Recruiters are basically professional online stalkers, and I can’t tell you how many social profiles I’ve seen with unprofessional (or worse, straight-up racist) content that disqualified otherwise strong candidates. It’s worth going through with a fine-tooth comb, and then on top of that, set your social media profiles to private.
Ok,#NotAllSocialMedia. Industry-specific or thought leadership forums like Quora can be your best friend here. Don’t be afraid to post your own content and start conversations about what you do! If you’re targeting Engineering roles, show off a bit on GitHub and Stack Overflow. Or, if you’re like me and caught the startup bug, start connecting on AngelList. Just be mindful and professional while using these tools.
3. Find the Job(s)
Use every resource at your disposal to find the right position. Put the word out to trusted friends, family, and former coworkers that you’re looking for a new position, and tell them what you want to find. Search online using go-to tools like The Muse, Glassdoor, and Indeed, as well as industry-specific sites (I’m a fan of BuiltIn and AngelList, for fellow startup enthusiasts). Even better, set alerts and stay updated with new opportunities.
Don’t stop there. Search LinkedIn – not just for job openings, but also the companies you’d like to potentially work for, and the people in relevant positions. Use Glassdoor and Comparably to get a sense of what their employees experience. If you feel good about the company and role after all this, then it’s worth applying for.
Overkill? Maybe. But it’ll save you the time and headache in the long run if you do your research now. Also, I admit that I get a bit spreadsheet-happy, but consider keeping a list of the roles that meet your parameters, so you can easily compare and refer back to them as you need.
If it helps, here’s how I keep it all organized.
4. Tailor Your Application, and Send It
I know that you’ve already spent substantial time updating your resume, right guys?
Of course you did. Consider what you’ve created as a starting point. Now that you’ve found and researched the roles you want, put that new-found knowledge to good use. What about the job resonated with you, and which strengths will you bring to it? Use those to create the rest of your cover letter, and emphasize them in your resume.
And please, please, double-check everything before sending it in.
You knocked the application out of the park, so now comes the interview. There are hundreds of ways to prepare for an interview, but these are the big-ticket items:
- Research: Try the company’s product, read through their blog, and learn about the people you’re scheduled to speak with. Take notes, and write down any questions you have while cyber-stalking.
- Plan: Map out your commute in advance, or if it’s a phone interview, make sure you have a private, quiet space with strong reception booked. Plan on being at least 15 minutes early, so you have time to park, get oriented, and decompress before meeting anyone. Set calendar reminders or alarms, and do not be late.
- Pack: Bring a notepad (along with your notes), copies of your resume, and a pen. It also doesn’t hurt to have a water bottle, or whatever else you need to stay comfortable. And don’t forget your zen.
Other than those, just stay confident, and remember to ask questions. This interview is not just a chance to show them why you’re the best candidate for the job, but also the time for you to see whether they’re the right fit for you. Make sure that you fully understand the role, and use the opportunity to set expectations.
6. Follow Up
This is the easiest one to overlook. Regardless of how the interview went, always follow up, at least in email. Sending a quick thank you note or email won’t get you the job by itself, but it will set you apart. Believe it or not, less than 10% of candidates do it.
If it’s not the role for you, let them know, and thank the team for their time. Even better, refer someone who may be a better fit if you have a talented friend in the market. If you think this is the role for you, let them know that you appreciated meeting the team, and follow up on next steps.
7. Clarify and Negotiate
Assuming the interview and reference checks went well, you probably got an offer. Awesome!
But you’re not done yet. Take a step back and make sure that this job satisfies the 3-5 things you set out to find. If it doesn’t, negotiate. Whether it’s more vacation time, higher base pay, company-sponsored learning opportunities, or a remote work schedule, now is the time to ask for it. If they say no, at least you know up front. If they say no and then rescind the offer, you’re probably dodging a bullet and can move on to the next great love of your work life.
As I said, it’s an investment, but it’s worth it. By the end of it you’ll have a job that gets you up in the morning and might even make you happy.