Job Searching

Man applying for a job
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A Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Job Search

For most of us, job searching is never easy, whether it’s your first or fifth time looking for a new job. If you feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to start — don’t worry. Job searching is both an art and a science, one that requires time, planning, preparation, and a lot of brain power.

The truth is, job searching can be an exhausting, and daunting experience. However, if you approach it systematically, the process will be significantly more manageable, and you will have much more success in getting the offer you deserve.

Follow these steps for a crash course in how to find a job.

Strategize Your Transition

When it comes to finding a job, everyone starts somewhere, whether you’ve just finished school, you’re planning to resign for a better opportunity or career change, you’ve been fired, or you’ve been laid off. Regardless of your circumstances, plan your approach and take care to address any potential obstacles up front.

When You Are Resigning

Unless you have the financial means to do so, do not resign until you have secured a new position (and prepared an appropriate explanation for your resignation, as you will likely be asked during interviews). In addition, you’ll want to make sure to coordinate the timing of your resignation and the start date of a new job.

When You’ve Been Fired or Laid Off

If you have been fired or laid off, avoid connecting the company that let you go with any potential employers, unless you’re sure your manager will provide a glowing reference. This would likely only apply if you have been laid-off due to budget cuts or company restructuring.

Even in this early stage, start crafting your answer to one of the most challenging interview questions: Why were you fired?

Be Prepared to Share Your Story

No matter why you’re moving on, get your story straight now and learn it by heart. Narrate your background in a way that’s compelling and convincing, so you are ready to explain your reasons for finding a new job, how it relates to your professional goals, and why you are the best fit for any given position.

Determine What Job You Want and Are Eligible For

Before you start looking for a job, you have to figure out what position you want. Have a specific job title in mind, and then do some research to determine the keywords you’ll use when you start looking for jobs.

When you start job searching, the job description, responsibilities, and requirements will tell you more than the title alone, as titles and roles tend to vary between companies. It can also be a helpful exercise to write a sample job description outlining your ideal position.

Although it’s acceptable to apply to several “reach” positions, don’t waste your time searching for or applying to jobs that you are clearly unqualified for. Figure out in advance how you’re going to decide which jobs to apply to, then actively keep these parameters in mind when you’re job hunting.

Define Your Personal and Professional Priorities

Define your priorities before you begin your job search. First, make a list of the “must-haves,” such as the location of the company and your commute time, a desired salary range and benefits selection, and any other factors that are “non-negotiable” to you.

Then, make a list of the “nice-to-haves.” For example, are you looking for a specific type of company culture? Would you prefer to work at an established corporation, or at a start-up or small business?

Do you want to work on a small or large team?

Asking yourself these types of questions (and writing down your answers) before you start to look for a job will help you make a clear and confident decision once you have a job offer.

Clean Up Your Online Presence

It’s more important than ever to brush up on your social media do’s and don’ts when it comes to job searching. Prospective employers may be Googling your name and looking you up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.

It is generally advisable to keep all social media profiles as private as possible while you are job searching. The one exception, however, is LinkedIn. Your LinkedIn profile should include a professional head shot and be up-to-date with your most recent experience and qualifications. Take the time to write an engaging summary that will catch the attention of hiring managers.

Prepare Your Resume and Cover Letter

You should have a “master” version of your resume finalized, formatted, and proofread before you start job searching.

You will be able to tweak it as you job search to highlight and emphasize different experiences or qualifications based on the specifics of the different positions you are applying for.

Hint: Refer to these top resume examples as a starting point to write or refresh your resume.

Although a cover letter is harder to prepare, as it should be personalized for each and every job you apply to, review what to include in a cover letter and figure out what you can write in advance, and what you will need to customize once you start applying to jobs.

Reach Out to References Now

Most jobs you apply for will require you to provide three to four professional references who can testify to your qualifications. You don’t want to have to scramble to reach these people, or worse, have an interviewer catch them by surprise. Instead, contact them in advance and let them know that you would like to use them as a reference.

Explore (and Expand) Your Network

Networking can be a truly powerful way to land a job if done correctly.

Your “network” can include former colleagues, managers, clients, alumni from your alma mater, friends, or friends of friends, family members, neighbors, or anyone from a “community” you belong to.

Although real-life connections are key, browse your Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts to see if you can find anyone working in your industry or at a company you’d be interested in working for.

If you feel like you’ve exhausted your network, take some time to expand it. Because you are more likely to be hired if you have a connection within the company you’re applying to, dedicating an hour or two to expanding it can be much more valuable than using that time to apply to random jobs.

You can expand your network both online by adding friends and connections, and offline by attending industry events such as conferences or trade shows, or going to career networking events.

Start Searching and Applying for Jobs

So you’ve outlined the position you want, and the key search words you’ll use to find it. You scrubbed your online presence. Your references are lined up and expecting to hear from employers. Your resume is ready, and you’ve written some material to integrate into the cover letter you’ll customize once you find some potential job options. Now, it’s time to find and apply to those jobs.

There are many places to search for jobs. Sites like Monster.com, Indeed.com, Dice.com, and CareerBuilder.com are among the best and most utilized job sites. LinkedIn can also be a great place to search for jobs, and can show you if you have any connections at companies that are hiring.

Craigslist is a solid option as well, especially if you’re located in an urban location, though search under “Jobs” and not “Gigs” unless you’re looking for short-term or temporary work. If you live in a smaller or more rural town, it’s likely your local newspaper will also list job opportunities in the surrounding community.

In addition, niche sites that list specific types of jobs are another great resource. There are many types of industry-specific job sites out there; simply Google “[your industry] job listings” to get started.

Finally, if you know you want to work for a certain company, look for job openings directly on their website. You may have to do some digging, but most companies list jobs on a “” or “Opportunities” page that you can find on the footer of the website.

Keep in mind that the vast majority of job applications these days are online applications, so you will need to submit a digital version of your cover letter and resume. Be sure to use a working (and professional) email address for all correspondence related to your job search.

Set Goals and Get Organized

Job searching is a tiring process, and it’s easy to burn-out. Set reasonable, achievable goals for yourself. For example, you might aim to apply to ten jobs per week. Then, be sure to set aside time to complete these goals. You might have to make some sacrifices, such as getting up an extra hour early, or using your lunch break to look for jobs.

Organize your job search progress and note which jobs you applied to, and when, so you can follow up accordingly.

Hint: Use these six simple tips to maximize your job search productivity.

Get Ready to Interview

The next step in landing a job is acing your interview. You may have several rounds of interviews, usually starting with a phone interview, then followed by in-person interviews. You should never risk an interview by “just winging it.” Take your interview preparation seriously, and be sure to:

  • Carefully read the job description, focusing on the responsibilities and requirements. Be prepared to explain, with tangible examples, how you fit the requirements and how you can fulfill the responsibilities.
  • Research the company, including their mission statement and any recent or notable achievements, or changes in strategy or positioning.
  • Practice answering interview questions specific to your desired position and industry.

Prepare for a Phone Interview

For a phone interview, set aside at least 45 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time. Have your resume and cover letter printed or open on your computer for reference. Be sure to take the call somewhere with excellent cell service. If you have one, a landline is preferable for optimal audio quality.

Prepare for an In-Person Interview

For an in-person interview, arrive 10 minutes early with a printed cover letter and resume. Be sure to dress to impress, and express polite and professional enthusiasm about the position and the company.

Take the Time to Say Thanks

Be sure to take the time to follow-up after the interview with a thank you note or email message reiterating your interest in the job and the company.

Evaluating Job Offers

With job offers in hand, it is now time to evaluate your options. Look back to your original “must-have” and “nice-to-have” list and see where the offers fit. Be sure to consider practical factors, such as the salary, benefits, vacation time, corporate culture, your commute, and the attitude and personalities of the people you would be working with.

If you’re stuck, make a list of pros and cons — and be sure to listen to your gut in order to choose the best job for you.

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