In the past, finding a job was much different than it is today – in that you could actually find one. That’s not to say it was easy, but a modicum of effort was likely to land you a position that paid the bills and offered a respectable benefits package – maybe even a pension.
These days, things are a little more competitive.
The job market in 2017 isn’t for the faint of heart, and you have to be willing to slog through the muck to find something worthwhile. A quick scan on Craigslist or any other help wanted publications highlights a depressing reality – scams, multi-level marketing schemes and sketchy under-the-table labor opportunities are the norm.
But the truth is, you can find a job if you’re willing to put in the work. It may be difficult, but there are tried-and-true techniques to make your applications more noticeable, your networking more effective and your interviews more impressive. Here are some of the best.
Find college contacts
Reconnecting with your old classmates isn’t just good for your social life, it can also lead to new opportunities. Your alumni group will often have notices about job openings, because people want to hire other people they know or are connected to.
Try contacting your local college alumni group. You’ll probably have to pay a membership fee to join, but it shouldn’t be more than $50-$100 a year, which will more than pay for itself if it helps you secure a gig. Even your old high school might have information about jobs if you live in the same city you grew up in.
Contact people from your college, especially if you’re a recent graduate. This should include old professors, advisors, club leaders and anyone else you knew. You never know who will have the skinny on a new job they can personally recommend you for.
If someone does recommend a job to you, remember to mention your alma mater in a cover letter. That will only strengthen the connection between you and a potential employer.
Once you’ve reached out to someone, remember to stay in touch. It’s not enough to email a contact once and expect them to remember you when they hear about an opening. You have to stay in people’s minds if you want them to refer you work.
The best way to do this is to take them out for lunch or coffee once a month. Try not to talk about job during the entire time, but mention it casually at the end.
- Again, most people are happy to help someone they know, but not if they think that person is just using them to get a gig.
Join local and niche groups
The internet has simplified so much of our lives, including job hunting. Nowadays, you can find a site for any interest you may have. As a self-employed writer, I’m part of several Facebook groups dedicated to my field where people often post jobs. I also regularly visit forums and sites where I share my questions and opinions with other writers.
No matter what you do, you can find a group full of people just like you. If you’re a lawyer in Boston, see if there’s a lawyers of Massachusetts site or group where you can then ask about job opportunities.
The key with strangers is to always be mindful of how much you’re asking and what you’re providing in return. Don’t post every week that you’re still looking for a gig because you’ll quickly be banned or ignored. Try to respond to other people who are asking for help; you’re more likely to get help if you help others.
- The key to many of these networking techniques is to be genuine. If you’re clearly reaching out for entirely selfish reasons, people pick up on that.
- You need to engage in a humble, sincere way that makes people actually want to help you, and not treat every club or community as a means to an end.
Don’t get psyched out
Have you ever looked at a job description that sounded perfect for you, except you didn’t have all the required degrees and experience? What did you do? Did you apply anyway or did you ignore it?
Many people assume they shouldn’t apply if they don’t have all the skills mentioned in the job listing, but here’s the thing – the listing is only a wish list for the employer. If they can find someone with everything they’re looking for, great. If they find someone who doesn’t, but is eager to learn, that’s great too.
Many times the company just cares that you have a degree and a consistent work history. Sometimes they won’t even care if the bulk of your experience is in a completely different industry.
- It’s natural to avoid applying if you feel unqualified, but consider this: it’s better to apply and get rejected than pass up what could be a great job. Don’t let your insecurity hinder you from trying new things.
Focus on quality, not quantity
When I graduated from journalism school, I started sending out job applications to every newspaper and magazine that was hiring. I sent out almost 200 applications before I finally landed my first full-time gig in Northwest Indiana. I felt so proud of how many jobs I had applied to, wearing that number as a badge of honor.
It wasn’t until months later that I realized I had probably sabotaged myself by applying to so many jobs. By focusing on the amount, I was more concerned with finishing an application than doing it well.
When I looked for my next job, I tried to personalize each cover letter and only apply to the jobs I really wanted or thought I was qualified for. I took my time with each application, carefully reviewing it for errors. I didn’t want anyone to read it and think I used a template or that I didn’t really care about the position.
It can also help to have a friend or professional look over your cover letter for you. Humans are bad at picking up errors on something we’ve written ourselves, and a fresh pair of eyes can be useful.
- Pick a friend who’s detail-oriented or has experience in the industry you’re applying for. They’ll have more useful feedback than asking your retired mother.
Treat interviews carefully
Once you’ve reached the interview stage, you’re only one or two steps away from that dream gig. That’s why it’s important to treat the interview portion carefully. Arrive early, dress in business attire and practice your answers beforehand.
The more research you do about the position, the industry and even the person you’ll be interviewing with, the more confident you’ll feel when you walk in the room.
Prepare to be your best self mentally, whether that means exercising beforehand, eating a full breakfast or taking a quick 10 minutes to meditate before your appointment. The key is to be in a relaxed, mindful state. An impressive resume can only get you so far – the interview is where you show a potential employer that you’re more than just the sum of your training and experience.
After the interview is over, immediately send a handwritten note to the interviewer. A concise, gracious version of “thank you for your time” is just fine, so don’t feel the need to pile on the pleasantries. You’re just aiming to give them a quick reminder that you exist, and show them that you’re a grateful person who pays attention to detail.
An old boss once told me that the little gesture of sending a thank you note is what set me apart from other people he was interviewing – and the reason I got the job.
- Put simply, the more grateful you seem, the more likely it is you’ll get a position.
Find a recruiter
People in many industries rely on recruiters to find their next gig. The recruiter gets a cut of your salary from the employer, so there’s no risk to you.
Finding the best recruiter can be difficult, so ask other people in your circle if they have a person or company they recommend.
- Read the contract carefully so you understand if you’re prohibited from doing your own soliciting. You don’t want to end up in hot water with a potential employer because you tried to skip over the recruiter.
The bottom line
If you’re having trouble landing a position, don’t get discouraged. It’s easy to feel like unemployment if your fate after a slew of rejections, but job hunting is a game of numbers. If you put enough smart, thoughtful effort into the process you’re bound to succeed eventually.
Rather than riding the highs and lows of every rejection letter or positive response from a potential employer, try to take a more detached approach to the process. You can’t control which HR person pulls your resume or whether or not an interviewer likes your personality.
It’s better to worry about what you can control – improving the quality of your resume and applications, strengthening your professional network and learning the skills you’ll need to move forward in whatever industry you choose.