Job Search Tips from the Front Line

March 27, 2012

My sister, Nancy, graduated from Virginia Tech with a Masters degree in bio-systems engineering this winter. Naturally, she came to her big brother for job-hunting tips. At first navigating the market was a struggle, but eventually, and with her own strategies in play, my sister landed several highly sought after interviews.  — Breaking news! Nancy just accepted a position with CH2MHill. —

Job searching is not fun. It is not glamorous. I can think of a thousand things I would rather be doing. When people say that searching for a job is a full time job, they are not kidding. I have been looking for several months now and have been through it all: career fairs, email tag, phone calls, Skype sessions, and the all-important on-site interview. Along the way I have received a lot of advice and have learned a variety of skills in an effort to land that job offer.

First and foremost, make an Excel spreadsheet to track your progress. Succeeding in this job market will mean applying at dozens of firms. Include in your list: the company name, position applied for, location, website, date you applied, date the advertisement closes (if known), and a position description.

With my degree in Biological Systems Engineering, I could apply for a wide variety of positions, including water resources engineer, environmental scientist, and agriculture specialist. My list helped me to remember what exactly I applied for when a company called. On the phone, you want to be confident. Refer to your spreadsheet so you know about the company on the line and what position you applied for. It is embarrassing and unprofessional to ask, “who are you again?”

Knowing what previous positions and companies you applied for may help narrow the search. You definitely do not wan to waste time applying for the same position twice. If you have not found that perfect job in a month or two, go back to the companies you have previously applied to and see if something new has come up. Let you spreadsheet be your guide.

Once you have created a spreadsheet, you are ready to begin your search. There are many different ways to learn about open positions.

Over and over again I’ve heard about the importance of networking. Finding someone to get you a foot in the door is key. Even though I’ve never considered networking my cup of tea, I have benefited from connections with former classmates [and her well connected brother J ].

Online search engines such as Indeed.com, SimplyHired.com, Monster.com, etc. are a great start. These sites list a lot of the same jobs, so often only looking at one is necessary. Job boards provided by professional societies can be great, because then you know that every position is in your field. I also found smaller search engines geared toward my field very beneficial. Specialized jobs are often not listed on popular job sites. CyberSierra.com is a great resource for the environmental field. Lastly, if you are just looking in a particular locale, do not be afraid to Google or use YellowPages.com to search for companies. Smaller companies are not as likely to list their positions on job sites, but they will still list job openings on their website.

Career fairs are tricky because all of your peers give their resume to the same handful of companies. Therefore you must make yourself stand out – in a good way. One easy way to stand out is to read the company’s poster before stepping up. Find one thing that you are interested in – maybe it’s one step outside your curriculum. Your interest in the details of that company will differentiate your interview. For example, while speaking with one environmental engineering company, I mentioned that I was interested in the policy behind the environmental sampling techniques. Once I said that, the recruiter was very interested. The next day I got the call for a second interview.

Here’s some nontraditional advice you might not pick up elsewhere.  Let your phone go to voicemail if you don’t know the number. A company recruiter will typically leave their name and the position you applied for. Before calling back, refer to your jobs spreadsheet. Do a little research, and then call the company back. Do not assume that they are calling you up JUST to set up an interview.  Sometimes companies will ask you questions right away. Every time you speak with someone, it is an interview. In my opinion, it is better to be fully prepared than to pick up the phone at first contact. That said… you should get back with the company the same day.

I hope my tips – a little outside of the regular ‘be professional and always talk with a smile’ obviousness – will be useful for everyone seeking a career in this unsteady job market. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “when you are asked if you can do a job, tell ‘em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”

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1 Comment
  • “Here’s some nontraditional advice you might not pick up elsewhere. Let your phone go to voicemail if you don’t know the number. A company recruiter will typically leave their name and the position you applied for. Before calling back, refer to your jobs spreadsheet. Do a little research, and then call the company back. Do not assume that they are calling you up JUST to set up an interview. Sometimes companies will ask you questions right away. Every time you speak with someone, it is an interview. In my opinion, it is better to be fully prepared than to pick up the phone at first contact. That said… you should get back with the company the same day.”

    GREAT advice! Every contact is part of the interview process. And I would also add – be proactive and send short emails to thank people for their time/assistance throughout the process.

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