Starting Your Job Search

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Your Guide to the Job Search:

Are you graduating soon and looking for a full-time position? Your job search typically begins as soon as you select a degree program to pursue, a new career path, or an expanded role within your current realm of expertise. Your job search should encompass a variety of activities, including research and preparation, self-evaluation, networking, and more, until you have a job in hand. Even then, you should continue to grow your professional knowledge and connections to further your career until you reach your ultimate goal. 


Identify Career Paths and Options

Any job search begins with an understanding of what you hope to do professionally in your life. As you make decisions about your future, consider various career paths and options that match your personal and professional goals and personality. Opportunities can range from positions related to your courses of study or not related to your degree but that use the skills you learned in college. You can have one career path in mind, or you might be open to several different options. 


Research Jobs and Companies of Interest

After you have determined the job type you want to pursue, you now want to find out the various job titles that encompass your career path, and you need to identify the companies that offer these roles. In addition, you want to learn about the companies’ expectations, what the job requires of candidates (at a minimum) and what the job would entail, matching it to your preferences. Be sure to get a realistic picture of who the company typically hires for your desired role and how both your background and your personality fit that job. Make informed career decisions based on accurate research you have conducted. 


Create a Targeted Company List

Any job search should be focused (avoid the “I will take anything” approach). One way you can focus your search and help yourself down the road is to develop a targeted company list. The list can be as long or as short as you want, but it should be focused on the companies that offer the job or an iteration of the job you want. Your company list should evolve as you continue through school, find new companies, and gain new interests. Do not be afraid to go outside of your targeted companies to find opportunities, but you should do your due diligence on the company before applying to jobs. 

Prepare Job Search Documentation

Using your resume, cover letter and other documentation, your goal is to prove you can not only do the job but positively impact the company’s bottom line. Focus your resume and cover letter on one job type at a time, customizing the resume using the job description as you apply for positions. Ensure that each part of your resume is focused on highlighting your accomplishments by listing outcomes and results of your experiences (from work to academic projects). Quantify your accomplishments as often as possible using dollar amounts, numbers, and percentages. Avoid using terminology (i.e., fluff) that gives employers no useful information upon which to make a decision about you as a candidate. As always, proper grammar, accurate information, consistency, clean formatting, and ease of reading are all key factors in your job search documents. 


Consider Additional Skills, Trainings and/or Certifications

Going back to the career path research you completed, you should understand what a company expects from their candidates. If you are not sure, check out a variety of job descriptions or ask your professors or people in your network. If you are missing a requirement, take the time to complete it before graduating, if possible. If you must wait to obtain additional skills or trainings, have a timeline for when you hope to accomplish them. 


Gain Relevant Experience and Skills

Relevant experience can come in a variety of forms, including co-op/internship positions, projects, research, summer jobs/part-time positions, on-campus clubs or organizations, volunteer work, conferences, and professional organizations. Through any experience, you should work to further develop your leadership, communication, initiative, analysis, and other skills that apply to any job type (also called transferable skills). 



Networking is an action that you began early in your life. Now it is time to build your network into a more formal support system for your job search and professional growth. You can build relationships in any number of ways, but you want to place yourself in situations where you can make a positive impression on a future employer or future advocate. Brainstorm about ways you can connect with others; your network may fall outside of the job type you are pursuing but keep an open mind about building relationships with people from all professional backgrounds. 


Apply for Positions

Approximately six months to one year before graduation, begin to apply for positions, especially for entry-level candidates. If you start your search a little later, you should expect to begin working a few months after graduation. Some career types are more likely to hire as needed, so you may need to wait closer until you are degree complete to pursue a job. Many companies use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), where the system scans your resume for key words before being viewed by a hiring manager. In these cases, you must integrate key words from the job description and your knowledge of the company into your resume and cover letter. Another important reminder is to keep track of the positions for which you applied. 



Interviewing skills need to be developed and practiced. Prepare for an interview situation by researching the company, understanding the position, having stories to relay during the interview, and giving evidence of how you can help solve the company’s problems. Practice your interview skills by reviewing and answering sample questions, with your program manager or by planning out your answers. Ensure you have questions to ask the employer and always put your most professional self forward, from your dress to how you present yourself. 



After an interview, networking event or other activity where a person helps you, follow up. A thank you note or an email is the way to go; avoid contacting a person too often as they will soon lose their desire to help you, or you may even lose out on the job after an interview if you are too persistent. 


Understand the Salary Process

Once you are offered a job, you will also be extended a salary and benefits package. Typically, you want to avoid talking about salary until you have been offered the job; only if a company requests the information should you provide an expected salary, preferably as a range. Once you have been extended the job with salary, you can decide to accept, negotiate, or decline the offer. Understand that factors such as your negotiation strategies, your worth, the cost of living, the company’s salary standards and more impact your offer. Ensure you understand what you bring to the negotiation table if you decide to ask for more money or benefits and always thoroughly research the typical salary ranges for your industry, for the company and for your job type. 


A job search is a personal journey, but there are some common steps that you should take to put yourself in the best situation for job search success.