Week One: Get Focused
Day One: Target your job(s). You can't perform a job search if you don't know what you're looking for, so it's important to narrow your focus down to a few possible job titles. "To get an idea of what a job is like, go to wetfeet.com and bls.gov, and look at the occupational outlook directory. It shows a detailed breakdown of the day-to-day job life of various jobs. Collect half a dozen job titles that are similar to what you want," says Martin Yate, author of Knock 'em Dead 2007, the Ultimate Job Search Guide.
Next, find some ads for those jobs and deconstruct them for the skills and qualities that employers repeatedly mention. Use their terms in your resume and interviews to demonstrate an understanding of the position and work environment.
Day Two: Write your resume. Create at least two resumes-a computer-friendly or electronic version (chockfull of searchable keywords, in a PDF file format, online as a Web page or portfolio, etc.) and an old-school hardcopy. "Send your resume to the employer in both a large envelope and by email," says Yate. "Employers get a lot less postal mail than they once did, so it stands out more." And it's a good idea to mail the letter flat; a paper resume looks neater when it's not folded to fit in a standard letter-size envelope.
Set up a separate email account and voice mail number for your job search. "Not email@example.com, but firstname.lastname@example.org; a profession-related email address that you can use forever," Yate advises. This is also the time to comb the Internet for your name or photo, and remove dubious items that may hurt your chances of getting hired.
Day Three: Visit Web sites of interest. "Statistics tell us that companies increasingly go to specialty job sites for their industry or for entry-level workers," says Yate. To find those sites, go to collegegrad.com and check out their list of entry-level jobs and the employers that often need to fill them.
Post your resume on entry-level job sites, then the specialty job sites, and finally the commercial job sites. "See when they purge their database," suggests Yate. "Usually it's 60 to 90 days. You can even go every two weeks and repost, if you want." That way, your resume comes up first in a search. Fill in job alerts, too, so that when one that meets your criteria is added, you will be notified.
"If there's anything unusual about you, find the sites that relate," says Yate. "Many employers are looking for those qualities that make you unique or a minority."
Day Four: Identify your top 50 employers. Compile a list of prospective employers with the help of your college career services office. "You can go into Hoovers or Standard and Poor's [databases], and you can literally find every civil engineering firm in a given town," says Yate. "Then it's a matter of asking: Who is the campus recruiting contact for this company?" Having the name of a specific person is a big plus when contacting firms on your list.
Day Five: Don't have any contacts? Not a problem. Join an engineering society, or whatever association is made up of people in your field, or those who hire them. For details, go to knockemdead.com, look under Internet resources, the first listing is for professional associations. "Membership is possibly the single best step you can take for your long-term success," says Yate.
You can also take a look at the society's membership directory. If you spot a member who works at a company that's on your list, call and see if they'll help you get in. Say, "I'm a graduating engineer [or whatever title you're aiming for] and I'm hoping to work at your firm. Who would be the best person to send my resume to? I don't want to mail it into the big beyond," he adds. "Because you're a member, they'll give you the time of day when you call."
Day Six: Get the word out. Call your professional contacts first-professors, advisors, mentors and former bosses. "Tell them you're graduating soon, then ask: 'May I use you as a reference?' It's flattering to them, and it tells them you're looking for a job, without putting them on the spot." Most people feel awkward when pressed for a favor they can't provide, such as a job, or a job lead.
Next, tell everyone in your family about your employment goal and ask them for leads. Who do they golf with? Go to church with? Live next door to? Contact those people directly, rather than having relatives do it for you. "To them, you're still five years old so they can't speak effectively on your behalf," says Yate.
Day Seven: Get out! Make plans with a friend and have a fun day away from work.
Week Two: Get Into Gear
Day Eight: Anticipate brisk recruiting. "Employers hired more new college graduates in 2006 to 2007 than they did in 2005 to 2006," says Dorothy A. Kerr, executive manager of employer services at Rutgers University Career Services in the New York City-metro area. "This marks the fourth consecutive year in which the increase in college hiring has reached double digits."
Campus recruiting starts in the fall for many professions. Sign up early for interview slots with your top picks. According to Kerr, the top tech degrees in demand at the bachelor's degree level are:
- Computer science
- Electrical engineering
- Mechanical engineering
- Civil engineering
Day Nine: Attend job fairs and career days. Less formal than campus interviews, job fairs are a great way to learn about a variety of organizations in a short time. (Kind of a corporate version of speed dating.) "Be sure to dress professionally and bring multiple copies of your resume," says Kerr. "To make a strong impression, develop a 60-second personal commercial that summarizes your career interests and several key highlights of your background." Practice your spiel out loud until it sounds natural to your ears. Then have it vetted by your advisors before "going live."
Day Ten: Go to a networking event. A good way to find out about job openings (some experts say 70%+ are never advertised) is to talk to everyone about your search. Where do you find people in the know? A sure bet is at networking events, such as luncheons or dinners held by professional associations. If possible, attend the meetings of many groups related to your job target. Or, seek out gatherings of a general business group (chamber of commerce) or benevolent society (Rotary) that draws people from a variety of fields. If you're not a joiner, you may have good luck at a gym, park, or pub where professionals gather informally.
Day Eleven: Mail smart. Since mass distribution of a resume usually yields little response (one percent is considered good) you need a huge mailing list for even a shot at getting interviews. "The key to a successful mailing campaign is to mail or email your resume and cover letter to targeted employers," says Kerr. "If you are especially interested in an employer, follow up your mailing with a phone call, expressing your strong interest and requesting an interview." Be sure there isn't too long of a gap between the letter and the call. Shoot for a five-week window or less. That's another strike against mass mailing your resume-it's too time-consuming to follow-up with that many companies. Kerr suggests homing in on employers who have attended recent career days.
Day Twelve: Reward yourself. Do something fun! You deserve it. You've been working hard.
Day Thirteen: Sign up with an agency. While you're looking, it doesn't hurt to have someone else beating the bushes, too. Some agencies specialize in a particular industry or geographic area, and so may have scores of contacts. "Employment agencies provide placement services for a fee that is paid either by the employer or the candidate. Be sure to work with an agency where the employer pays the placement fee, not you. Clearly articulate the type of work you want-don't settle for less. Read any contracts carefully," says Kerr.
Temporary employment agencies allow you to "audition" a number of occupations, firms or industries quickly. Plus, some companies give preference to temps when hiring-they're already familiar with you, and vice versa.
Day Fourteen: Seek out other job hunters. They can give you practical advice about who's hiring, when and where. Better yet, they can give you morale support; only they understand exactly what you're going through.
Week Three: Get Organized
Day Fifteen: Designate a career cockpit. "Set up a dedicated space, maybe a corner of a bedroom, with a desk or table, chair and phone for your job search," says Standolyn Robertson, professional organizer and president of Things In Place (thingsinplace.com.) Robertson suggests stocking these items: Paper for resumes, a serious pen, envelopes, postage, 3x5 cards, file folders, a mirror (to encourage a smile when on the phone), access to a dictionary, and a message pad next to each phone.
"Keep that area neat at all times so you can find things when you need them," she advises.
Day Sixteen: Create career folders. Have individual paper files for your resume, correspondence, job leads, postings and contacts list. For those who operate on the run, Robertson suggests an interview binder, or box for the car, with a slot for documents, stamps and thank-you cards. "Before you go out on the interview, have the envelope addressed, write a note right after and mail it off," she says.
Day Seventeen: Use your senses. Play to your strengths and do an end-run around your weaknesses, recommends Robertson. If you're a visual person, use visual cues, such as a paper calendar or cue cards by phone.
Have a hard time speaking extemporaneously? Tape yourself fielding common interview questions.
If your challenge is maintaining focus, make up cards that spell out exactly what needs to get done. Examples: Check messages (electronics, voice mail, message boards); buy a blue business shirt; send thank-you notes. "Lists can be overwhelming, but a stack of cards can go in your pocket. Then when you finish a card, you can toss it or keep it for next time," says Robertson.
Day Eighteen: Slacking off? Watching reruns of Desperate Housewives is easier than going to networking luncheon, but it won't move you any closer to a job. Unplug the tube.
Day Nineteen: Create a contacts database. It can be an old-fashioned Rolodex of business cards or an online job search management tool. Jason Alba created Jibber Jobber (jibberjobber.com) when he was laid off and needed a way to capture all his new networking contacts. He'd lost his old contact lists. Recent contacts were on his ex-employer's system, where he couldn't access them. His MBA contact list vanished five computers back.
"Today, job security is really your own ability to become employed-it's not what your employer offers." Experts predict that students entering the job market will search for a new job every three to five years, and the rule of thumb is that it takes a month of hunting for every $10,000 of salary. "Obviously, the value of Jibber Jobber [or any another contacts system] increases over time as you work with it," adds Alba.
Day Twenty: Curtail administrative time. Though computer time is necessary, try not to tether yourself to your desk. Alba had little success when spending 10 hours a day searching job sites and emailing resumes. Things turned around, though, when he decided to reallocate his time: 17% to online and classified ads and 83% to networking. (Experts say that's how most people actually find work-through conversations, not ads.) "Twenty minutes to 60 minutes of entering things in a database is all that's required in a serious job search," says Alba.
Day Twenty-One: Go shopping for an interview suit. Better yet, see if a relative will give it to you as a graduation gift, advises Yate.
Week Four: Get Going!
Day Twenty-Two: Looking for a job is a job. Expect to put in 25 to 30 hours a week, if you're looking full-time. Implement an organized action plan, rather than doing things haphazardly, says Joan McMahon, a Denver-based job coach (coachjoan.com). "Without a specific daily and weekly plan, you'll be wasting valuable time."
Day Twenty-Three: Good action items are specific and measurable.
- Attend one networking event a week.
- Contact three professors weekly.
- Call one person from membership directory every day.
- Have breakfast, lunch or coffee with a contact a day.
- Go to one job fair a week.
- Write a thank-you note a day.
- Mention job target to acquaintances (barista, etc.) daily.
Day Twenty-Four: Publicly commit to your goals. "Reporting to others can cut your search in half because it makes you feel accountable," says McMahon. Tell your friends, family or job search group: "My goal for the month is to communicate with my network by sending a networking letter and resume. That means you have to have a resume and letter, get your contacts organized, send it out, and follow up within five weeks," she adds.
Day Twenty-Five: Hit the gym, the track or even the club. "When I got laid off, I decided to train for a triathlon," says McMahon. Physical exercise is not only healthy, it also expands your network of contacts.
Day Twenty-Six: Time to assess how you're doing. Because networking is what's most likely to lead to your employment, track those activities closely. "If you were to speak to one person a day in your target field, you'd be getting leads. Go to a monthly association meeting and you can meet 50 people a night," says Yate.
Day Twenty-Seven: Interviews matter most. Many experts estimate that it takes 25 significant conversations with people who have the authority to hire you to get a job, so that's a key number to track, adds Yate.
Day Twenty-Eight: Congratulations! You have done all the hard work necessary to turbocharge your job search. If you get off track, go back to day one and repeat.