The art and science of a successful job search

Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Graduate Center at Northeastern University, offers tips for preparing and setting goals to strategizing and interviewing.

The art and science of a successful job search

Successfully conducting a full-time job search is a combination of art and science. From preparing and setting goals to strategizing and interviewing, it’s just as important to focus on fine-tuning the more subtle points as it is to following generally accepted guidelines. Here are a few suggestions for balancing both in your next job search:

  • Create a plan. Before anything else, you need to define your goals and a specific plan of how you will achieve them. Why? You can’t get where you want to go if you don’t know where you are going! Assess your skills, strengths and interests. Think about the type of work you have enjoyed doing in the past. Document your plan and measure your progress against it. Set weekly goals and hold yourself accountable to stay motivated.
  • Prepare your tools. If you are planning a trip, you pack your bags, right? It’s the same for your job search journey: You need to make sure you have the appropriate tools. Do you have your resume up-to-date and ready to go? Be sure there are no typos or errors. Write customized cover letters and get feedback. Identify your references and compile their contact information. Ask their permission to serve as references, and brief them on the position when you have an employer ready to call. Having the correct tools won’t necessarily get you a job, but it can get your foot in the door and give you the opportunity to sell yourself for the position.
  • Develop a target list. What companies are you most interested in working for? What industries are of greatest interest to you? Identify 40 to 50 of your current preferences and then engage some thorough research to prepare yourself for networking meetings and interviews. Your target list will help you further focus your job search efforts.
  • Network, network, network. This is the single most important thing you can do to be successful in your job search. Online postings often receive hundreds of responses and resumes. To stand out from the noise and be noticed, it’s critical to have an internal contact to pass your resume to the hiring manager. Networking helps you build and identify those internal contacts. But remember: Networking is not asking for a job. It’s meeting someone at the company to learn about the company, the industry, the types of roles they offer, the skills they value and so on. Ask each networking contact for at least three other contacts. Always thank them after each conversation and keep track so you can follow up when you see an opportunity at that company. Challenge yourself to make at least five networking connections each week for the best results.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. When you are invited in for an interview, research the company thoroughly. This means going to the website and familiarizing yourself with the company’s products, people and philosophy, as well as tapping your network to see if you can gain additional insight into their current needs. Prepare questions to ask your interviewers. Demonstrate your interest and passion for the job by coming in prepared.
  • Always say thank you. Interviewers remember which candidates sent a handwritten thank-you note. It’s one of the simplest – yet most effective – ways to stand out from the crowd. If the timeframe is quick, email a thank-you note, but follow it up with a handwritten note after. Don’t discount this final opportunity to reiterate your interest and make a case for your ability to fill the role: It can break the tie between two finalists.

In the end, hiring decisions are based on your ability to do the job, how well you mesh with the team, and your interest in the organization, but take advantage of these tips for putting your best foot forward, and you’ll find the process much more efficient – and even enjoyable. Best of luck in your new job!

This guest post is by Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Graduate Center at Northeastern University, where she provides career management and job search advice to students seeking residency and full-time opportunities. Lynne also serves as the voice of the employer from an internal standpoint, working closely with Northeastern’s corporate partners to identify their needs and support student hiring.