1. Set time for yourself every day to job search (but know it’s OK to take some time off too).
There’s life beyond Monster.com: Try to find websites tailored to your specific career focus, like Mediabistro for people in media, or job boards within college department websites. Set alerts on titles that you like, and set aside 30–60 minutes or so each night to look at the listings and write a special cover letter for each one. It’s OK if you need to take a few days off too — there are few things more stressful than preparing for a job change.
2. Jazz up your résumé.
Your résumé is a potential employer’s first impression of you — it should reflect how you see yourself! And also reflect the job you’re applying for. A short bio at the top can help you make the jump from being a name on a page to a three-dimensional person, especially if you include a couple of fun, memorable facts. Besides that, make sure that the information you include reflects the job you’re applying for, and get rid of excess experience that doesn’t relate. You want it to be readable and not too cluttered — it should all fit on one page.
If you’re still figuring out what kind of career you want, there’s nothing wrong with having a few résumés that each include different applicable experience for multiple jobs that might interest you.
A quick Google search for résumé templates can help you build a simple yet still sharp-looking one if you’re starting from scratch. If you’re lucky enough to have a designer friend, ask them if they might make you a snazzy résumé with InDesign in exchange for some homemade cookies. Or you can splurge and employ a company like Loft Resumes, which can create you a super fab one for $99.
3. Find your cover letter voice.
Employers can spot a template cover letter in a second, and there’s nothing that can kill a job prospect sooner than seeming lazy. For each job, think about the qualities that they’re looking for, and how you possess them, even if it’s in unconventional ways. It’s OK to have a little bit of a sense of humor, too — they want to know that you’re someone who they won’t mind having around every day, and not just a robot who needs a paycheck.
Many employers will just skim a cover letter, so it’s fine to prove in a few brief bullet points why you’re excellent for the job. Don’t drone on — it shouldn’t be longer than about three-fourths of a page.
Show your first few cover letters to no fewer than three smart friends or family members.
4. Make some damn connections.
There might not be a more annoying word in the English language than “networking,” but unfortunately it’s a necessary evil of a job hunt. But that doesn’t mean you have to go about it like everyone else. Find a few people who might be one or two steps above the job you want, and email or tweet at them and tell them you think they’re awesome and would love if you could pick their brain for a few minutes. Unless they’re a superdouche, chances are good they will be down for some flattering chat about how great they are and how they got that great.
And go to a networking event once in awhile. Alone. It won’t kill you, I promise. Having a friend there will only make it easier for you to avoid talking to people, which pretty much defeats the purpose.
5. Always carry business cards.
Even if you don’t have one from your job — or a real job title, for that matter — you can make your own card pretty cheaply at websites like Vistaprint.com.
Having a card with your name, phone number, and email on it instantly ready to pass along to someone you meet will prove to be invaluable (and impressive!).
6. Take advantage of social media.
Facebook Graph Search is a beautiful thing for a job hunt. You can use it to search things like “friends of friends who work at BuzzFeed.” If anyone shows up, ask your friend in common to shoot you both an email to make the connection. The person might not be comfortable recommending you if they don’t know you, but you can learn more about the company and what they’re looking for at the very least. Plus, you look super cool if someone says hi to you while you’re at the office for your interview.
7. Find a job search buddy or mentor.
Pick one of your friends, preferably one who is also searching for a job, and be each other’s all-hours job search moral support. Practice your interview, help each other with the questions you want to ask the potential employer, and share your cover letters. Another set of eyes and ears is only going to make you sound smarter.
Bonus points if the person is someone like an older family member or professor who has years of career experience. Don’t worry about being a burden, it’s rewarding for them to help you!
8. Get yourself psyched up on the day of the interview.
Before the interview, doing some quick exercise or going for a run can help boost your endorphins for the day and keep you upbeat.
Once you’ve printed out multiple copies of your resumé, give yourself loads of time to make sure you feel absolutely bangin’. Figure out the night before what you’re going to wear, so you don’t feel stressed out while you’re getting ready. You should dress a bit nicer than you would have to if you actually worked there – there’s no such thing as being overdressed.
Make sure you give yourself a few minutes to stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself that you’re smart, employable, and are going to make this interview your bitch.
9. Keep your cool, and smile. Be a person they want to spend time with.
Smile a whole lot (especially if you’re on the phone — they can hear it in your voice). Engage everyone you come into contact with, including the receptionist. Sit on the edge of your seat to make you sit up straighter, and shake hands firmly. You’ve got this.
To get a job, you’re going to have to pass the airport test: Would this person be happy to be stuck in an airport with you? If yes, then they’d likely be happy to work with you too. Try to find a common ground with the interviewer that might have nothing to do with the job, just to show you’re a good conversationalist. Even better if you can make them laugh. You’re both a little anxious, and some lighthearted chatter will make the atmosphere more relaxed for everyone.
Your job is to make them feel like you have knowledge or skills that will add value to their company. What can you do for them? If they ask you a hard question, it’s better to take a few seconds to think about it than to answer immediately and sound unconfident.
Be prepared for when they ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” This is the time to show that you’re curious and excited about their company — make sure to have at least five questions prepared. You can ask what kind of person they’re looking for, then use their answer to describe yourself later or in your follow-up letters. Before the interview ends, ask what their timeline is for hiring.
10. Follow up.
Get business cards from everyone you meet, and make sure to send them all emails within 24 hours of the interview to thank them for their time and point out how something you talked about excites you or makes you a great candidate because of that one skill you have. I personally feel iffy about handwritten cards — some employers do appreciate the effort, but I think many see it as overkill. A warm email should suffice at showing your graciousness.
11. Follow up…again.
If you haven’t heard back in a week or two, feel free to check in and ask if they know when they might be making a decision, and reemphasize your excitement for the position. Don’t stop applying to other jobs. You want to make sure you have a back-up plan, and mentioning you have another offer could potentially put a fire under the hiring manager for the job you really want.
12. Know what you’re worth, and be ready to talk about it.
Once a company wants you is the one time that you can really barter for your salary. It’s important to know what you want, and what you’re worth. Take whatever number you want to ask for, and then add 10%. Chances are they’re going to haggle you down, and then you can look at what they ultimately offer and feel good about it.
13. Stay positive.
Trust that there is a great job out there for you, and that you just haven’t found it yet. Visualize yourself in a job that makes you really happy, and try to think about what you might be doing while you’re there. Try to pursue these activities outside of a professional setting, whether it’s making art in your free time, teaching a class, starting a blog, or brewing your own beer.
Keep in mind that there’s a chance you might have to create your dream job for yourself — but experience in whatever field it is (or any field, really) will only help you get closer to being ready to venture out on your own.
14. Try to practice job karma.
While you’re hunting for a job, there’s a good chance you’ll see plenty of listings that you couldn’t be less interested in, but that you know just the perfect person for. It’s a simple gesture, but people will never forget that you were thinking of them.
The same goes for a job interview you go on that isn’t the best fit for you — after you let them down gently, it’s OK to tell them that although you might not be the one, you know just the guy for the job.
And guess what? When those same people you helped out hear about a job that you’re perfect for, they are going to be thrilled to get a chance to return the favor.
15. And know that your dream job could change in a year (or might not exist yet!).
There’s a chance that what you want for your life right now is going to do a complete 180 by this time next year. Be open to the idea that what you want might change, and that that’s totally normal and awesome. Instead of trying to get your dream job, try to seek out your dream-job-for-now.