13 Tips for Job Hunters (because I’ve been there)

October 6, 2010

Since sharing some exciting news about my new job, a few friends and readers have asked, “What worked for you in your job hunt?”

There are ways to look for a job, and there are smart and strategic ways to look for a job. In this competitive market, you're far more likely to succeed if you go smart and strategic. Today I'm going to offer some practical tips to help you do that.

Because of my background in journalism, these tips will probably most benefit folks looking for positions in journalism, communications and social media. But I've made an effort to generalize when possible, so hopefully job seekers in all fields will pick up an idea or two about how to set yourself apart from the competition.

Here's what I learned during my job hunt, and how you can make it work for you:

1. Learn to market yourself. It's not about the skills you have – it's about applying those skills to the job you want. Taking six months to backpack through Africa could've been a detriment to my resume. But I turned it into something positive, pointing out how I freelanced for several publications during my trip, learned how to blog and brushed up on my French. Unless you’re a total bum, you're learning something during every period of your life, even if you're not working a traditional job. Spin that experience so it makes you more appealing to an employer. I'm not talking about lying – I'm talking about looking at what you've done and being smart about how you present it.

2. Put social media on your resume. If you know how to use it, that is. Experience with Facebook (more than updating your status), Twitter, foursquare and all the rest makes you more marketable, no matter what profession you're in. Employers in nearly every industry are looking for help with social media, so if you have those skills, you're steps ahead of your competition – so long as they're on your resume. After I added social media to my resume, several employers showed interest in hiring me to help build their online communities rather than the job I'd applied for. I kid you not. The skill is that much in demand. Enough that if you're really good at this stuff, you should consider looking for a social media job instead. At the very least, use it to your advantage.

3. Create an RSS feed for job postings. Rather than pulling up various online job boards every day and looking for new posts, build a feed for yourself in Google Reader. Go to your favorite job board site, run a search that narrows positions down to the location and industry you want, then pull the feed for that search only. Some sites have an RSS button on search pages for this purpose. For other sites, look to the right of your browser URL and click the little orange square. If it's not there, just grab the URL and paste it into your Reader. Now you can look in one place every morning and see all new openings that are specific to your skill set. Need ideas for feeds? I used Mashable, MediaBistro, JournalismJobs and Idealist.

4. Tailor your cover letter. Rather than sending the same generic letter with every application, tailor your cover letter for the job you're applying for. You'd think everyone would know this by now, but they don't. That means you can get a leg up if you apply with a custom letter that explains why you're perfect for that specific job. Yes, it's okay to start with a template that you've created, but tweak it heavily. In my mind, this is the simplest, most effective thing you can do to give yourself a leg up over your competitors. It's one reason why, my new employer told me, she looked at my resume rather than the dozens of others she received. A custom letter not only lets the employer know why you'd be perfect for that job, it also shows you're willing to put extra effort into applying for it.

5. Don't just apply. The job market is so competitive right now that you'll never get a job if you simply send your resume and cover letter. Applying isn't enough. You've got to have a personal connection. If you don't have one, create one. The easiest way to do this is through social media. For tips on creating connections via online networking, check out my post on using social media for your job hunt.

6. Find job-board alternatives. Yes, check the job boards and apply to appropriate positions. But your chances of landing a job are far greater if you find out about openings another way. Sign up for industry newsletters that include job postings. Get on alumni listserves for your university. Follow blogs that offer openings in your field. Network on Twitter with professionals in the industry where you'd like to work. (Journos, check out my journfuture list.) Join industry groups on LinkedIn and browse jobs there. When you apply to jobs listed on popular job boards, you're one of a zillion applicants. When you apply to jobs you've heard about through any of these other means, the pool of applicants is likely to be smaller, at least until that opening is posted on one of the big boards.

7. Use your network. Everyone says networking is the key to a job hunt, and it's totally true. All of the good leads I got on jobs were from people I knew, whether friends, Twitter acquaintances or professional contacts. Your friends want to help you, so let them know you're looking. Even if they don't know of the perfect job for you right now, they'll tell you about open positions when they hear about them – hopefully before those positions are posted on job boards. Best of all, if they know the employer who's hiring, they can pass along your resume and an endorsement. The hardest part about using your network is that it has to be in place when you want to tap in. So network now, rather than waiting until you need a job.

8. Hyperlink your resume. It's 2010, people. Show that you understand the power of the web by adding links to your resume – to your work, to articles about you, to projects you participated in. A non-linked resume is a dead-end. A hyper-linked resume is a portfolio that makes it easy for potential employers to find more information about you if they want to. (Don’t forget to remove hyperlinks if you offer a hard copy of your resume.)

9. Make Google your friend. Speaking of finding information about you, potential employers are sure to Google you. If they're not smart enough to do that, you probably don't want to work for them anyway. So Google yourself to see what comes up. If it's not what you want, make Google work for you. The best way to do this, if you don't want to bother creating a website or blog or Google profile, is to be on LinkedIn. You create your own LinkedIn profile, which means employers see what you want them to see. The more connections you make on LinkedIn, the more active you are on the site, the higher up in Google rankings your profile will move. You doubly benefit from this, because if you're on LinkedIn, you can connect with potential employers there, too.

10. Blog is the new resume. A well-done blog will set you apart. It showcases your expertise, writing ability, professionalism – everything an employer wants to see in you. That means if you blog, do it well. Because the employer will Google you, they will find your blog, and they will judge it as the kind of work you produce. That's a good thing, because it's one more chance for you to prove you're awesome. For writers especially, your blog is your portfolio. If I was an employer, I'd weigh a blog more heavily than writing samples, because it shows how you write without an editor. Blog as though an employer's watching. Because they are.

11. Think outside the box. Your skills are likely broader than you think. Try to be creative about industries that might be a good fit for you. Just because you worked a certain type of position before doesn't mean you have to take that route again. In fact, your job hunt may be an opportunity to broaden your horizons. I began my job search looking strictly at journalism jobs, because that's where I had experience, and that's the type of position I preferred. But after employers showed interest in my social media skills, I realized I was overlooking at least one entire industry. When I really explored that industry, it hit me that – gasp – I could enjoy doing this, too! Thinking outside the box might mean head-butting with yourself – “but I want to say in journalism!” – but if you can open your mind to doing something different, you may find a whole new set of opportunities.

12. Become your own boss. If your search is going nowhere, try taking the entrepreneurial route. Look at your skill set and ask yourself: How can I make money on my own? When I began feeling frustrated with my job hunt, I started helping small businesses with social media as Socialexis. Even though I wasn't sure whether I wanted to work for myself in the long run, serving clients helped me bridge the gap financially, and I learned new skills and gained experience that made me more marketable. Offering your services can also be a great way to network. And who knows, you may find you prefer the freedom of working for yourself and abandon the job search altogether!

13. Be patient. If you can afford it financially, wait for the right job. You don't have to take the first job that comes along, my dad told me, and I'm so glad I heeded his advice. The offer I recently accepted wasn't my first offer, but it was my best offer – the best fit for my skills, ambitions and desires. When there's so much competition for jobs, it can be hard to turn down an offer. But if your gut tells you it's not the right position, be patient. Continue playing your job hunt smart, and another great opportunity will come along.

Want more job-hunting advice? Next week I start my new job as Careers Editor at U.S. News & World Report. Find me at U.S. News’ Careers page.

[UPDATE: I’m also tweeting at @USNewsCareers.]

Now it's your turn. We've all been job-seekers at one time or another. What worked for you?

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    12 Replies to “13 Tips for Job Hunters (because I’ve been there)”

    • Andrea James says:

      I never would’ve known to put social media on my resume if it weren’t for you! =)

    • Valerie Root says:

      Great post Lex! So very helpful, and I’m definitely going to pass this along and keep it as a reference. Good luck with your new job!

    • Angela says:

      Great tip about hyperlinking your resume! #ishouldhaveknownthat

    • Great article Alexis! Please add TweetMyJOBS.com to the list of ideas for feeds. We also send the job openings to job seekers via text message as soon as the job becomes available. Thanks again for your great tips to those looking for employment! Good luck with your new job 🙂

    • Jessie Carty says:

      Fantastic tips! I can’t harp enough on the idea of networking in person and online and trust me, as an introvert, I hate to do it but it is the only way I was able to finally find PT adjunct teaching work. I applied and applied and applied even with a good resume, special cover letters for each school and strong technical skills (including a blog/publications etc) so find some way to get people you know, knowing that you are looking!

    • Doug Mack says:

      Piggybacking on what you said about using your network, make sure that you tell more than just your closest friends and family. EXPAND your network. Contact friends of friends who are in the field you’re interested in and ask if they’d be willing to meet you for coffee to just talk about what’s going on in the field (of course, this is NOT a job interview, so play it cool and don’t specifically ask if they know of job openings). I’ve found that most people are happy to chat if you ask nicely, and I’ve gotten a few great job leads this way. If you’re at a party or other gathering and the subject of What You Do comes up, don’t be afraid to say that you’re looking for work, and then mention your field. (Related: print up some business cards so that you can give them out if someone asks for your contact info. Especially important if you’re a writer and have a web site or blog; don’t make them try to remember it.)

      Those casual acquaintances and weak links can help open doors. . . .

      And, of course, proofread. We all know this, of course, but I do think it’s something that can’t be emphasized enough. Don’t let a misspelling of your potential boss’s name undo all your efforts to follow all of these other tips!

    • Heather Rae says:

      These are great tips! In my own search (for a good paying, temporary position), I’ve found it incredibly helpful to network. I’ve received two offers this way. Along the same lines, it’s so important never to burn bridges. My references from past employers were so important in assisting me to secure these job offers. You just never know when you might need someone to help you. 🙂

    • Megan Hill says:

      Lexi, congrats on the job! So many good, exciting things happening for you. And these tips are great. I’ve passed them on to my sister, who is currently job hunting!

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