Your Guide to Job Hunting

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Updated on May 24, 2023
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The job search process can be drawn-out and demanding. You will likely need to spend many hours reviewing job listings, writing customized cover letters, attending networking events, and following up on referrals and leads. You may apply to dozens of job openings before even getting an interview. But if you are prepared, organized, and dedicated, you will ultimately succeed in finding a job that meets your requirements.

This guide will help you adopt a strategic approach to searching and applying for jobs. It begins with an overview of job search best practices, including how to prepare for the application process. Next, the guide provides reviews of various online job search platforms, describing the unique value each site offers candidates. Finally, it describes the process of working with recruiters, the ideal times to look for a job, and the importance of tapping into your personal and professional networks to find new opportunities.

While this guide includes information relevant to job seekers at all levels, its primary audience is recent graduates and young professionals in the early stages of their careers.

Job Search Best Practices

Before you start applying to jobs, take time to get organized. This may include defining goals for your search, reaching out to potential references, cleaning up public profiles and social media accounts, and creating a system for tracking your applications.

Define Goals

Begin by articulating exactly what you hope to gain from the job search process. For example, do you want a position that pays more or one that gives you the flexibility to set your own hours and work from home? Do you want a job that relies on an existing skill set or one that challenges you to develop expertise in a new area?

Understanding what you want will help focus your search and provide guidance when considering whether to accept a job offer.

Update References

Seek out new references and update existing ones. Identify individuals who can attest that you possess skills and knowledge relevant to the jobs for which you are applying. Ask former professors, supervisors, or community leaders to serve as references, but refrain from including friends or family members.

Most job listings request three references. Confirm that you have the correct contact information for everyone on your reference list and keep them apprised when you share their details.

Build Your Professional Brand

Your professional brand consists of all information you make available to recruiters and potential employers, including your resume, cover letter, writing or work samples, and your LinkedIn or other social media profiles. Build a consistive narrative across all these materials, highlighting your strengths and qualifications while addressing any weaknesses such as lack of experience. Ultimately, you will customize your application materials for each job, but this step creates a baseline for representing your value to employers.

Stay Organized

Organization is an integral part of the job search process. Create a spreadsheet that includes information on all positions of interest, including links to job descriptions, deadlines and other important dates in the hiring process, and contact information for human resource officers and hiring managers at each organization.

You can also create a spreadsheet specifically for your networking contacts, using it to keep track of personal details and follow-up communications.

Clean Up Your Online Presence

Before applying to any job opening, make sure your online presence does not include embarrassing, incorrect, or otherwise disqualifying information. If you do not need your personal social media accounts for networking purposes, consider making them private during your job search.

You may also search for yourself online to identify issues that recruiters might discover during a background check. If you cannot remove or resolve negative information, you may need to address these issues in your application materials.

Leverage and Grow Your Network

Your professional network can facilitate connections on your behalf, help you secure an interview, and, through referrals and recommendations, give you a competitive edge over other candidates. You may also discover interesting new opportunities through your network.

Remember to let friends and family know you will soon begin a job search. Contact managers and other leaders in your industry to arrange informational interviews. Attend networking events to meet new contacts.

This guide provides more information on building and leveraging your professional network.

Job Search Platforms

You should use multiple avenues to look for a job, including reviewing listings on online job sites, working with reputable recruiters, and tapping into your personal and professional networks. The more ways you promote yourself, the greater the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Don't be afraid of applying to positions that seem slightly beyond your abilities. Many companies

expect new hires to learn and grow within their roles. Even if an organization decides you are not qualified for a particular job, your skills and experience may more closely align with another open position or help fill a future need.

Job Search Sites

Dozens of websites host job listings. Some, like Indeed, cater to employers and job seekers across all industries, while others serve people in a particular discipline or sector. Idealist, for example, exclusively advertises job openings at nonprofit and community service organizations. Ten of the most common job search sites are profiled below.

With over 200 million users, LinkedIn is one of the most popular professional networking sites in the world. Request recommendations from your connections to display as part of your profile. Update your information regularly.

In addition to providing job listings, Glassdoor offers salary information and reviews for specific companies. You can use this data to determine your potential fit at an organization and as a resource during salary negotiations.

Indeed boasts that it has helped more than 10 million people find jobs. The site hosts job listings across all industries and allows users to upload their resumes for recruiter review.

CareerBuilder similarly hosts job listings and job seeker resumes and features a collection of resources on career development topics like self-marketing, explaining gaps in work history, and following up on interviews.

One of the first online job search sites, Monster advertises job openings and provides free tools like resume assessments and a job fit scoring meter. Monster also offers career development resources and company reviews.

Idealist serves social welfare entities, government agencies, and other nonprofit organizations. Alongside its job listings, Idealist promotes internship and volunteer opportunities and hosts public service career fairs across the country.

USA Jobs is the federal government's portal for sharing civil service employment opportunities at federal agencies. To apply for these jobs, you typically must be a U.S. citizen or national.

FlexJobs primarily caters to freelancers, consultants, and other part-time job seekers. The subscription-based service also hosts remote job opportunities, making it an ideal resource for professionals who need to balance their work and family responsibilities.

ZipRecruiter uses artificial intelligence to match members of its talent network with open positions. Members can also rate job opportunities and use saved application materials to quickly apply to new openings.

LinkUp indexes job listings exclusively from company websites, often providing a more accurate picture of current opportunities. LinkUp also sends relevant listings to its users in either a daily or weekly digest.


Recruiters actively search for candidates for open positions and often work for search agencies that help multiple companies manage their hiring processes. Recruiters may receive a flat fee for their services or a percentage of the new employee's first-year salary. In either case, recruiters should be paid by the hiring company, not the job seeker.

While recruiters can make the job search process easier, they benefit from placing you in a job as quickly as possible. As a result, they may not always be motivated to find a position that aligns with your interests and needs.

To identify reputable recruiters, ask colleagues and friends for recommendations. Screen potential recruiters by asking about their placement rates for individuals working in your industry and with backgrounds similar to your own. You may also request references from past clients.

When working with recruiters, give them a clear idea of your goals and set a schedule for follow-up meetings or calls. To maintain a positive working relationship for the future, be sure to thank recruiters who place you in a job.

The Hidden Job Market

By some expert estimates, roughly 80% of job vacancies are not listed online. To access opportunities in this "hidden job market," you must have a connection in the organization that is hiring. As you search for and apply to jobs, grow your professional network at the same time to extend your reach for these unadvertised opportunities.

Best Times to Job Search

The best time to search for a job is when you want or need one, but data provides insight into when the highest number of openings will be available.

According to a study conducted by SmartRecruiters, Tuesday is the most popular day for companies to post jobs. That same study also indicates that roughly 60% of candidates apply to an open position within one week of its posting, thus being prompt is important.

Executives Online examined ten years of data to determine what months have the highest number of new job listings. According to the analysis, February, March, May, June, October, and November exceed the monthly average. December, by contrast, has the fewest new jobs.


Finding a new job may seem overwhelming, but you can make the process more manageable by breaking it down into smaller parts and addressing one at a time. Start by preparing your application materials and updating your references. Next, work on growing your professional network by attending events and reaching out to family, friends, and colleagues. Then, search job listings and, when appropriate, work with a recruiter to identify promising opportunities. Finally, stay organized throughout this process, and make sure to thank those who offer you assistance.

If you prepare, put in the necessary work, and remain committed to your goal, you will find the right job.

Related Resources is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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