Searching for a job is stressful. Scratch that, overwhelming is more like it.

If you're currently employed and on the hunt, or between jobs and on the hunt, it's like having another job … that you're not getting paid for. Hopefully, the big payoff for all your hard work is the job of your dreams, and hopefully, that payoff comes sooner rather than later. But, as we know all too well, there are no guarantees on timing. The key is to make the process as manageable as possible. That's why we've broken down the job search into three stages. Three! That's easy enough, right? Let's dive in.

Infographic: Breaking down the job search into 3 easy steps — prep, search, and close.

Prep

From prepping food to cook a meal to itinerary planning when scheduling a vacation, you'd be hard pressed to find a situation where preparation doesn't pay off … and the job search is no exception. This stage of the search takes effort, don't get us wrong, but put that effort in, and it'll pay off in the long run. 

Job goals

So, where do we start? It all begins with job goals. What are yours? Be clear on what you're looking for and then write it down. This is essential information! If you can visualize what you want, you'll have an easier time targeting employers, prioritizing networking activities … the list of benefits goes on. You'll also have an easier time identifying job opportunities that both meet your needs and that you're qualified to perform. No one wants to land a job only to realize a month later that it's the wrong environment for them. Save yourself the time and aggravation by getting clear on your goals from the get-go.

Resume and cover letter

So, we've established that a set of well-defined job goals equals a more efficient job search. Let's add to the equation. The better your resume and cover letter are tailored to support those goals, the more successful your job search will be. Does your resume include your most relevant work and qualifications? Has it been formatted with both the hiring bots and the hiring managers in mind? Today's job market calls for a resume that is a combination of both art and science. If you know your resume is lacking, there's a good chance your job search will be lacking as well. A resume you can feel confident in can make a huge difference in your job-search success. Add in a cover letter you feel good about and you're golden. But wait, do you really need a cover letter? The answer is simply yes, better safe than sorry.

References

This next part of the prep is simple(ish), but important: references. Do you have a list of people in mind? Have you stayed in touch with them? Are you sure they would provide a positive review? Brainstorm your list of potential references and reach out to each person to make sure they're OK with being a reference, if and when the need arises. These are all things to consider when putting together a list of references. Have it handy — you never know when you may need it!

Online brand

The next and final step in your job-search prep: your online personal brand. In this day and age, a prospective employer is going to Google your name. How often do you Google yourself? Go on, give it a go! And after that, make a list of every social network you're a part of and check them, too. Is there anything you wouldn't want your grandma or employer to see? Best to make those profiles private. You wouldn't want something found online to disqualify you from a job you want. That would just be unfortunate.

Check to make sure your online personal brand is highlighting — not hurting — your value by downloading our free checklist today.

Search

Look at you! Already onto the next phase. See? Hunting for a job doesn't have to be overwhelming. Let's talk “search.” Amassing job leads is the name of the game when you're in active job-search mode, but solely applying for jobs online isn't going to cut it if you want to be successful. Instead, our career expert, Amanda Augustine, suggests what she calls “harnessing the 'power of three.'” Come again? Essentially, the most successful job seekers are those who use multiple methods (the three below) to search for opportunities. Combine their powers, and you'll maximize the number of leads you can pursue, which may very well maximize your success. Learn more:

Applications and follow-up

Searching online, applying online, application after application … it can get exhausting, and it's hard to know if the jobs you're applying to are even worth the effort. And then you find a job listing that seems, for lack of a better word, perfect. You apply. You're excited. And then you wait. And wait. And wait some more. Did your application get lost? Did they already fill the position? Can you reach out to follow up? The answers: maybe, maybe, and yes. So, how exactly do you follow up? The short answer: Wait approximately 7–10 days, and if you're still hearing crickets, turn to the job posting and LinkedIn. Does the job posting have any contact information? If yes, you're golden. If no, check out the company's LinkedIn page and search for someone in HR or recruiting. The long answer: Learn more here.

Utilizing recruiters

Have you worked with recruiters in the past? Or if you haven't, are you interested in going that route this time around? While it's not for everyone, don't forget the “power of three” and explore every avenue! Working with an external recruiter can be a great resource for finding new job leads and gaining company insight. First step: Go back to your online presence and make sure it is as strong as possible so recruiters can find you!

Networking

You knew we'd get to this point, and we know you didn't want us to unless you're a social butterfly. Networking is the part of “search” that could very well (and most likely will) be the way you find your next position. Networking means nurturing existing relationships and leveraging your personal and professional connections. Your next job could come from your roommate's sister's co-worker — you never know! Did you know you're 10 times more likely to land a job with an employee referral? Tap into that network! Reconnect, reach out on LinkedIn, and tell everyone you know you're on the hunt (except your current employer). If you're feeling like your network is lacking, check out online groups, meetup groups, conferences — they're all great ways to expand your network. 

Close

We made it! You have prepped, you have searched — get this next section just right, and you are going to close! C-L-O-S-E, close!

Interviews and follow-up

Your hard work has gotten you here, and you're ready for your interview! Here's a quick checklist of interview to-dos and objectives:

  • Dress for success. Look at the company's website and social media presence to get a sense of how employees dress, and then kick it up a few notches!

  • Have your elevator pitch prepped and ready to go. Just don't over-rehearse, and definitely don't just regurgitate your resume. Keep it short and sweet, and give the interviewer a glimpse of why you're the right candidate while highlighting your achievements and personality. You've got this.

  • Practice answering the questions that make you nervous. You know the ones. The mere thought of them makes your skin crawl. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you'll definitely get asked them. Prepare, prepare some more, and then practice in front of the mirror. Here are five tricky questions you might also want to nail down answers to. If you're still feeling like your delivery could use some ironing out, enlist the help of professional interview coaches at TopInterview

  • Prepare a list of questions to ask your interviewers. On the topic of questions to ask, when they ask you, “Do you have any questions for me?” you'll want to be prepared to give an enthusiastic “Yes!” Have a few of these jotted down in a notebook ahead of time, and you'll look extra prepared, engaged, and genuinely interested in the role. Asking questions also will help you decide if the job and company are right for you. Don't miss this opportunity! 

Think you're done once you exit the interview room? Think again. Next step: follow up. And do so within 24 hours! It doesn't need to be a flashy note — just be sure to thank each interviewer for their time, personalize the message, reiterate your sincere interest, and end it with a question. Something along the lines of, “What do the next steps in this process look like?” will suffice!

Negotiation

One important last step in the process is negotiation. Like any skill, you can learn to be a better negotiator over time — it just takes a little research and a lot of practice. Start with a little online research to make sure the salary you're asking for is backed up by data. Next, be clear on your minimum requirements and have a strategy for dealing with counteroffers. Remember, negotiation shouldn't be a win-lose situation; your goal is to settle on a number that all parties are happy with. In addition, a compensation package isn't just about pay. You can negotiate any number of items, from your job title to your number of vacation days, and much more!

Onboarding

YOU GOT THE JOB! We knew you could do it! Now, let's prepare for success with onboarding; your first few days, weeks, and months at your new job. This is a crucial time, as it can set the tone for how your boss and co-workers see you. Put your best foot forward on day one by:

  • Wearing an outfit that is company-appropriate.

  • Showing up early, if not on time. Map out your commute in advance to be on the safe side.

  • Being friendly to EVERYONE.

  • Remembering some names. We know this one will be hard, especially on your first day.

  • Accepting any lunch invitations. 

Want to learn more about how you can be successful off the bat at your new gig? Click here.

The job search isn't all that scary — especially once it's broken down. But it's OK if you still need a little help. That's where our expert resume writers come in! 

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