Career 101: The Job Search

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I received some great feedback from last year's Networking for Introverts post and wanted to dig a little deeper into the entire career-planning process. Thankfully, my friend Jenny is an expert who can provide some guidance. Not only is she brilliant, but as the VP of human resources and talent acquisition at a digital interactive agency in Santa Monica, she's been hiring people for nearly a decade and has picked up some valuable knowledge along the way. I asked her to contribute to a four part series that delves deep into the hiring process from job search to resume writing to acing the interview. The last installment of the series will be a Q&A (so leave any questions you have about careers in the comment section of these posts). Check back each Tuesday during the next four weeks for the next installment!

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What Do You Want to Do?

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Looking for a new job is hard. People put so much pressure on themselves to find their dream job at a specific juncture in their life and it can be stressful and emotional. I think the first step of a job search is to allow yourself some time for internal work. Spending some time to determine what you want to do next will help guide your job search so you spend less time spinning your wheels and more time honing in on relevant strategies for landing the ideal gig.

Going into any job search, you should have a pretty good handle on the things you like to do and are good at doing. There are a couple of questions that I recommend that job-seekers answer for themselves with total honesty. Questions like: Why do you want a new job (money, opportunity, company culture, etc.)? What is really important to you? What kind of company culture motivates you? Are you thinking about switching careers? Or industries? Or do you just feel like you've hit a ceiling and want to take the next step? What are the kinds of tasks you enjoy doing at your current job? What are your strengths?

Look outside yourself for input. What do your friends say you’re good at? Oftentimes, your friends can see things that you can’t. Ask people who love their jobs why they do. Talk to people who have had a few different jobs. 

Many successful people have had a career identity crisis at some point. It's ok if finding your dream job is a process: it might be a series of trials and errors until you land at a place that makes you happy. I can vouch for that trajectory. My path has been: take a job, try to be really good at it, take everything I can from it, and then make a move. In doing that, I feel like I've finally landed in the right role, in the right company. But I didn't get there right away. In some ways, finding my career was an accident of sorts by whittling down to the things that make me excited to come into work everyday.

Start a Master List of Dream Companies/Job Titles 

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Once you know why you're looking and have a broad idea of what you might be looking for, it's time to get down to brass tacks. I suggest creating a Google document or Excel spreadsheet with a list of your dream companies going down one column. These might be the companies that rank on lists of "best company cultures," companies that are winning awards for doing interesting campaigns, or being recognized for giving back to their communities. These might be companies with employees who love their jobs and tend to have great tenure. Maybe you like companies that take care of their people, or have great perks. If you don't have a super-specific idea of what you're gearing towards, just write down general industries that interest you. You can get specific later.

Then, in the next column, write down a list of job titles that you think you’d be good at. Different companies call their roles different things, so do some research to build out your list. Look at job boards, LinkedIn profiles, and company job listings. For example, you might want to be an Associate Project Manager at XYZ Digital, but XYZ Digital calls that position an “Associate Digital Producer." You'll want both on your list.

Then cross reference. Search for your dream titles, and see what companies appear to have that role. Do some research on those companies, and consider adding those companies to your company column. Then, do a Google search for the companies. If you look at the LinkedIn profiles of their employees, who has a job that sounds like it might suit you? Do they have any jobs posted that sound interesting to you? You can add these titles to your list. In the beginning, cast a wide net. And keep this list close, you'll use it to find people with your dream job, tailor your professional profiles accordingly, and start applying to jobs / forming connections with relevant people.    

Tailor Your LinkedIn Profile (and resume) to fit the roles you want.

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Now that you have a list of roles that you'd potentially want at your dream company, seek out the people who currently occupy those positions on LinkedIn. Look at their profile and the profile of other people in similar jobs. What do they highlight about their experience? Consider tweaking your profile to highlight the accomplishments that are beneficial for those roles. This is not to say that you should fib about your experiences, rather re-work them to be in line with the goals of the companies and industries you'd like to join. While you're updating your LinkedIn profile, I'd recommend connecting to the people that you know on LinkedIn. This may seem like a no-brainer, but lots of people don't utilize their LinkedIn network to its full potential. Add your best friend, your old colleagues, college buddies, and friends of friends. You never know who they may connected to (and can introduce you to). 

Network

With your professional profiles up to speed, start expanding and leveraging your network. "Networking" can sound forced, or daunting, but you can get creative and employ a variety of strategies for reaching out in a way that feels authentic and comfortable. You can email (more on the content of those emails later), ask friends for introductions, attend industry networking events (I’d ask people who are in the space what they attend / if their company sponsors any great events), or buy coffee for people you know in the space. 

In any case, when you meet or chat with new people, write notes for yourself after the interaction about conversation topics the two of you addressed. When you send a follow up email, ask about those things – as long as they aren’t hyper-personal. There’s a finesse to this type of email for sure, but doing it correctly can help establish a deeper connection and make you more memorable. See: Networking for Introverts.  

Read Industry Publications Everyday

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Doing this is not just to find out about the movers and shakers in your industry, but to have something to speak to. Keep your eyes and ears open for award-winning companies who are landing new clients; they are likely to be hiring. Keep notable awards, clients, and newsworthy clips from your favorite companies in the Google document or Excel sheet you created earlier on in the beginning stages of your job search. 

Set Micro Goals

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If your goal is to “get a new job,” it's easy to get discouraged. So instead of putting that incredible amount of pressure on yourself, try to create daily micro goals instead. If your day's goal is to reach out to 5 different companies, in 5 different ways, 5 days a week, then that's 25 companies a week and 100 in a month. Set metrics for yourself. You can appreciate your progress this way. Here are 5 effective ways that you can reach out: 

1. The HR Cold-Email: I'm a sucker for this approach and I've ended up hiring several great candidates this way. They reach out with a "Hey, I love your company and am interested getting my foot in the door, would you be open to spending some time with me on the phone?" These go-getters often end up being relevant somehow. Even if I don't have an open req for them at the time, I can often introduce them to someone else who does, or when I do have the right role open, they are top of mind. Bear in mind, there is a double opportunity here: it's not only to create a lasting impression a person in the hiring chain, but also to get really solid information and advice from an HR professional. 

2. The Congratulatory E-mail: Remember that master list of award-winning companies? Once you're up on industry news, feel free to reach out to people who have gotten a lot of press. Say, “I wanted to congratulate you on this piece of press or campaign that was influential and inspiring. It’s things this like this that make me want to work at a place like XYZ.” You can send a general email to the company, or more impactful, find a LinkedIn profile for someone involved. (You can purchase InMail via LinkedIn if you're launching a job search for more reach and visibility).

3. The Introduction: You will need to employ some technique for this one. If you see a person on LinkedIn that you'd like to connect to and have a friend in common, ask your friend to introduce you (use the "Get Introduced" feature, or just email your friend directly). For me, when someone comes highly recommended by someone I respect, I'm much more likely to try to find the time to speak with them. This type of reach out tends to be the most effective if you ask people who know you well and can really sing your praises. 

4. The Networker: Reach out to people in your dream job and hiring authorities (so, for that digital producer job, reach out to the executive producer or head of production) and ask to pick their brains. ie: "Hi Jenny, I've been following your company and I'd love to find a home there. Would you be willing to take a few minutes to talk to me about how your got your foot in the door and what kinds of hires are the most successful there?" Not everyone will say yes. And that's ok. Even if a few people do, you'll walk away with an arsenal of helpful tips and a great new contact. These people are in the roles you want to be in and they will be able to give you insight from the trenches. Think about this as relationship building and as an opportunity to target your job search instead of just blindly sending out a bunch of resumes. 

5. The Traditional: Submit your resume to an open job post. This method still works. (Stay tuned for next Tuesday's post where I'll do a deep dive on how to make your resume stand out.) Don't be afraid to send your resume to companies who don't list job openings on their websites. The company that I work for doesn't post all of our open positions online, even if we have openings. 

Optimize Your Search Query

There's the right way to run a query and a wrong way. For instance, on job search engines like Indeed, specific job titles and keywords (again, refer back to that master list) can help narrow down the results. Learn how to run a search, too. This sounds silly, but do a Google search on how to do a Google search. Learn how to use “AND" or "OR" correctly. Use quotes around search terms to seek out specific phrases and weed through internet noise. 

Calendar Your Follow-ups

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Write down what day you reached out, what day you applied, and when you last spoke. Take notes on conversation topics and what they've shared with you. Follow up with interesting information, or ask about their opinion. Remember, half the value comes from absorbing the information from this valuable new contact. Stay tuned for appropriate types of follow-up coming in a Career 101 post in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions about the job search, please leave them in the comments below. Jenny will be answering some of the most pressing ones in the coming weeks.