With the fall semester arriving, it's natural for recent graduates to feel the pull of transition. This time of year signals the beginning of something new. If you are still job hunting, this shift can be anxiety-producing, as it may feel like you've missed an important milestone; however, now is also a great time to take stock of how the job search is going, revisit your strategies, and refine your process.
Create a Job Application Tracking System
If you've been tracking applications, positions, and levels of success, do a quick roundup of the types of jobs for which you've received responses and how far along in the process you made it. If you haven't been tracking your efforts, now is the time to create a system. This process can take some effort, but it will also prevent you from applying for the same positions and provide you with data to inform your next steps.
Admittedly, no one begins the job-search process thinking they are in it for the long haul, so don't feel bad if you are just now beginning to track job applications. A simple Excel tracker should include things like the job title, a link to the posting, the organization, and the hiring manager's contact information if it's available. I would also recommend copying the text of the job posting, since the job description may not be accessible online when you need to prepare for an interview.
Get Your Foot in the Door
Look at the job application data you are collecting and determine where things aren't working. If no one is biting on your resume, try a new format and have others review it for you. If you are submitting a generic resume to all of the postings or using a website where you click to apply, be more intentional about tailoring your resume to that posting and highlighting the skills and experience the post is seeking.
If your resume needs some serious help, or if you just want to polish it for maximum effect, seek out others' input. If you still have access to campus resources like a career center, take advantage of their expertise. Or, consider hiring a professional who can walk you through the process and guide you more holistically. Just make sure this person has some credentials (e.g., a global career development facilitator certification) that can speak to their qualifications, and look for testimonials and/or references.
One additional thing to consider if your resume isn't gaining traction is whether it is making it past the computer algorithms that some companies are using to filter resumes. These Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) scan your resume and can reduce you to keywords and matches with job postings.
Some of the best advice for creating a resume for federal jobs is to make sure your resume matches the job posting almost word-for-word. This is now becoming true for most jobs with electronic gatekeepers. Some companies like Jobscan exist to help applicants beat the system. Regardless of how you approach it, make sure you are aware of ATS and how it can impact your chances.
Acing the Job Interview
If your resume is getting you a lot of interviews but no offers, you know it's time to focus on how you perform in this setting. Try some mock interviews with people who will offer constructive criticism, or film yourself responding to questions and look for what the interviewer will see. Watch for things like body language, general appearance, clarity of responses, diversity of examples, and how well you can connect your previous experiences to the work of the interviewing company. Below are some tips to help you ace your job interviews.
Tips to Help You Ace Your Job Interviews
1. Dress for Success
Like it or not, we all make snap judgments based on the appearance of others, and this can be especially true in an interview setting. Find an outfit or two that are professional, but still express your identity. Wear clothes that make you feel confident (even for phone interviews), and try power poses before the interview to give your confidence a boost. As basic as it sounds, practice your handshake — a lot of information is conveyed through this contact.
2. Ask Pertinent Questions
One common mistake younger interviewees make is to not have any questions at the end of an interview. Having questions for the interviewer is particularly noteworthy because this is one part of the interview that you can fully prepare for by researching the organization, their mission, trends in the industry, their reputation online, and your potential role.
3. Do Your Research
Always do a deep dive on the company's website for their mission and vision. You can also use sites like Glassdoor for company reviews, check out industry trade journals, and make use of associations to see the bigger picture. Asking questions is your chance to demonstrate initiative, critical thinking, and to determine whether this company would be good right fit for you.
4. Practice Interview Skills
Because interviews can have a number of phases, you may want to review how you perform during phone interviews, in-person first interviews (typically them learning about you), in-person second interviews (typically you learning about them), and any formats more common to your industry. These formats could include interviews where you are presenting original material, responses to a prompt, working through a case, panel interviews, the dreaded lunch interview, or others.
5. Research Average Salaries
It is also important to take the time to understand when and how to negotiate things like salary and benefits. Both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Salary.com can be useful resources for getting a general sense of what you should ask for. Just because you need the position doesn't mean you should accept something that will jeopardize your ability to feed yourself or repay student loan debt.
Ask for Help With Your Job Search
If you aren't getting a job on your own, consider looking to the people around you for connections or advice. As mentioned above, this could mean getting help with your resume. Conducting informational interviews with professionals in your field can also serve several important purposes: networking, career exploration, resume advice, and potential leads on jobs.
If you aren't swayed by the importance of networking, know that upwards of 80% of jobs are never publicly posted. If you've felt the sting of the black hole inbox and are wondering if there is a better way, consider taking some portion of your budgeted time to try networking. It isn't as easy as clicking a button to apply, and the gains may take longer to come to fruition, but personal connections are still more meaningful than a faceless resume among hundreds of others.
If you have someone that you consider to be a mentor, now is a good time to lean on them for general support. You might be feeling more frustration and anxiety than you are even aware of, and sometimes just venting can give you a boost and some clarity.
Lastly, consider sharing your goals with your mentor and have them hold you accountable. Studies on goal-setting have shown that you are most likely to achieve goals that are written down, shared with someone, and subject to accountability. Your goals should also be achievable and measurable, since these are easier to explain to others.
Putting It All Together
If the job search is still a struggle, then it's time to rethink your strategies or develop some. Establish a routine for yourself like you would for any other activity; you are probably keenly aware that job searching is a full-time endeavor. Budget time each day for finding postings, tailoring your resume, and actually applying. Try to be realistic about the process and don't take shortcuts. You could apply for 30 jobs a day, but know those wouldn't be quality applications.
Try to rework some of your materials and techniques. If your resume isn't getting traction, then scrap it and start over. Have friends read your cover letter and see if they start getting sleepy in the middle of it. Try mock interviews and/or record yourself. Another possibility is to record a very short pitch and force yourself to perfect the narrative about who you are and what you want. If you don't have the resources to do these well, consider using the services of career coaches or resume writers.
Most of all, make sure you are taking some time for your own well-being and mental health. Getting burnt out and jaded can lead to cynicism about the process, and this can show during interviews or conversations with other professionals. Know that plenty of students who are excellent candidates nevertheless struggle with the job search process. The skills that make you great in your field might not be the same ones that lend themselves to persuading others to hire you. Take this to heart and learn some of the craft of presenting yourself as career ready and eminently employable.