Job hunting advice: Tips for how to be effective today
Experts weigh in on refining your search and getting your profiles right
Whether you're a recent college graduate looking to start your career, or a seasoned employee hoping to make a career change, searching for a new job (let alone your dream job) can seem daunting. Truthfully, job hunting can feel like a job in itself. It takes a considerable amount of effort, persistence and self-reflection to not only find the job you want but to market yourself for it, ace the interview and land the position.
From creating your personal branding to following up after an interview here's what you need to consider to successfully find —and land — a job in the digital age.
Consider your values and your reality before beginning in earnest
Before the job hunt begins you need to decide on what your dream job is. But, if you're not even sure what that looks like, career coach, writer and founder of Brand Editor, Rebecca Perrin, says you need to do some self-reflection. "The number one thing that I advise clients who are in the dark about what to do next is to get in touch with their core values," says Perrin. "If you don't know what you care about then you don't really have a foundation to build on." She says these core values can mean a number of different things to individuals — from working for a company with the potential for innovation, entrepreneurship opportunities and environmental missions. She suggests zeroing in on three to five values, this will help guide you to the type of company you want to work within. That being said, it's important to be realistic. "Regardless of the industry, it is important to fully understand the qualifications and demands of a prospective career in advance," says Michael Contento, CEO of IT service company Blue Umbrella. Before applying he suggests finding guidance from professionals or people you know in the field to ensure you have all the imperative information before diving in.
Job posting red flags
Wondering whether a job post is worth applying to? When you read the description it should get you excited to join the company, if it doesn't then move on to the next one. "The posting should tell a story and you should know exactly what the company is about," says Randy Quarin, senior partner at IQ Partners, an executive search and recruitment firm based in Toronto. He says not to get caught up on job titles but you should be wary if the posting is light on details about what the job is. Another thing to watch out for is if you see a job that's been posted for a long time — or re-posted. It could simply mean the company has lots of similar jobs to fill that are typically high-turnover positions (such as seasonal retail work) or it could be a sign that the company has a high-turnover for reasons that might raise concerns about an unhealthy workplace environment.
LinkedIn profile tips
Do you need a LinkedIn profile? In short, yes. Recruiters and employers both use LinkedIn to source candidates for employment. First of all, having an account also means that you can use the site to research companies. Quarin suggests using LinkedIn to find and connect with the hiring managers rather than the HR manager. "Hiring managers need to fill a role and they want to get it filled quickly with the right person," he says. Once you've found the hiring manager do some research on the company and send them a custom LinkedIn invite noting the current news. "A few days after they accept your invite send them an email as a follow-up, showing your interest in their company and seeing if they have time for a five-minute phone call or meet in person," he says.
Further, if used correctly, LinkedIn can help hiring managers, clients and collaborators find you — and understand you. "Your LinkedIn is a snapshot of your career brand — your personal brand within a professional context," says Perrin. Your 'about' section should read as an online reflection of who you are. Not just you as a professional but as an individual. "It should include what you care about, why you're ambitious in a certain field and why you're pressing a career move," says Perrin. This is especially important if you are a recent graduate and fresh on the job hunt. "It's really important to flesh out all the other things you did during your four years of university or high school," says Quarin. Include charity work, internships and sports because these things show dedication, discipline and responsibility.
An easy way to make your profile stand out is to use a background image. If you're open for business, it's the sign above the door, says Perrin. "It could be a simple stock image, something nice, that's complementary to your profile picture," she says, adding that writing a LinkedIn headline requires special attention too, because it's the most heavily weighted pieces of your profile for keywords, according to LinkedIn's search algorithm. Don't just make it your job title, "it should actually be more of a shorthand snapshot of who you are, what you do, and some of your key skills," she says. Try and fit between five to seven keywords in this section. Finally, if you are on LinkedIn because you want to be found, try and update your profile at least once every 3 months.
Your social media channels absolutely matter
Despite what you might think, most employers aren't scouring the internet looking for reasons not to hire you, they're looking for reasons to hire someone. In other words, your professional digital snapshot doesn't just stop with your LinkedIn page. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70 per cent of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process. "Your skills and experience are important but most of those things are flexible, they can be learned and shaped. What it really comes down to for companies is your personality and how much of a fit you are with the team," says Perrin.
Tips for making sure your application is read
Once you've crafted your perfect resume it's time to send it out in the world. When you're applying for a job via LinkedIn's application process never send it in a PDF format. LinkedIn and large-scale employers use automated application tracking systems (ATS) to pre-screen candidates and PDF resumes don't get read by many of these programs, says Perrin. She recommends a .DOCX file (Microsoft Word) as the best means of submitting your resume. However, if you apply directly to a hiring manager or through a company's website Quarin prefers PDF formatting because the document can't be changed or altered.
Other best practices for applying for a job is making the subject line crystal clear, says Quarin. For example, state the role, title or job number. Another piece of advice to note is to only attach your resume in the email and not your cover letter. Instead, have your cover letter in the body of the email, unless stated otherwise in the posting. "The hiring manager will open up a resume because they have to, it shows what this person is doing right now but they're not going to open up a cover letter. It takes too long," says Quarin. To make things efficient he tells his candidates that the profile statements (a brief summary of an applicant's skills, experiences and goals related to a specific job opening) on their resume should read like a condensed cover letter.
Consider getting in touch with a recruiter
"Recruiters are generally really happy when they hear from somebody who proactively reaches out to them," says Perrin. Quarin agrees. Whether you're new to Canada and looking for a job or you're looking for a location or industry change as long as you're clear on what's motivating you it makes sense to work with a recruiter. An in-house recruiter or HR manager acquires talent for their organization and an agency recruiter helps a multitude of companies find talented candidates. Working with a recruiter can provide you with a clear path to a hiring manager's inbox. In addition, a recruiter can give you resume writing advice, a street-level perspective and insight into what companies are looking to hire followed by what they are looking for from a candidate.
A simple Google search is a good way to help you find a recruiter in your area who is looking for candidates in your field of employment. Even better is to get a referral from a friend in a similar industry.
Get both your stories and your questions ready before your interview
You made it through the pre-screening software, perhaps had a phone call with an HR manager and now you got yourself an in-person interview. Good for you, but before you walk in there you should be armed with two things; some well-crafted stories and thoughtful questions.
"Your skills and strengths have taken you this far. Now, demonstrate to an employer how you will apply your knowledge and leverage your extensive experience," says Contento. Share your knowledge in the form of stories. "When we use the word story, it means to have examples of situations you were put in and how you work yourself out of it," says Quarin. Come up with concrete examples from your past that you can point to as supporting evidence that you'd be great at the job; have three good ones at the ready (this way you can repeat the same stories in any interview) and make sure they have a clear and concise outcome. "Practice out loud because your delivery is just as important as the content of the story itself," says Perrin.
Secondly, have a list of prepared questions on hand. Don't focus on the basic questions like salary or start date, be more strategic. Perrin suggests asking about leadership opportunities for instance. "If you ask questions that show that you're interviewing the company that will help garner you some respect from the interviewer," she says.
Always follow up, quickly
The experts agree. Post-interview, the standard protocol is to find out the contact information for every person who interviewed you and send them a personalized thank you. This applies whether your interview was for an internship, retail job or an executive level position; every candidate can benefit from sending thank you notes which convey both gratitude and professionalism. Send them via email the following day — or even better, the same day.
Julia McEwen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @juliapjmcewen