It will soon be one year since I started my current job and I’ve been thinking about the process I went through to find my job. Also, since I’ve been with my company I’ve seen several people leave (some by choice and others have been let go) and I always think about how terrible I’ve found the job hunting process. I think “hunt” is an appropriate word to use when looking for a job. Hunt is an aggressive term that truly reflects the pursuit that often takes place when in search of a new job. Now, some people are in fields where they are the ones being pursued and the employer is the hunter. I’ve heard and read stories where people have had multiple job offers and were able to use offers from multiple employers to work out the best compensation and benefits package. While I wish that was the case for me and my career, I’ve always been the hunter and not the hunted when it comes to the job search. Also, some of you have put yourselves in great positions where you are self-employed, semi-retired, or completely retired. I yearn to be in a similar situation as Mr. Money Mustache. However, because of my personal situation, past debt accumulation, and my ongoing struggle to improve my Mustachism, I still need a consistent paycheck with benefits to support my family.
So, if you’re like me and need to work for a company then you’ve probably been through the pain and agony of job hunting. Everyone is different and most of you will or have had different job hunting experiences. I’ll detail what worked for me and hopefully there is something here you can take away and use on your own job hunt.
1. Build Your Résumé
There are many websites out there that will provide you with résumé examples. I think I eventually chose an example from Monster that I liked. I recommend searching for a template or sample résumé that you find visually appealing. The way I look at it, if it catches my eye then hopefully it will be eye-catching to an employer. I prefer a clean format that is easy to read and quickly highlights your strong points at the top of the résumé. There is varying advice on whether your résumé should be one or two pages long but I chose one page. Again, my opinion is that if I had to sift through a stack of résumés, I wouldn’t want to read two pages. You should be able to capture your most important strengths and experiences on one page. Also, my career field looks for certain certifications so I list those at the top. Sometimes, showing that you have the proper credentials will at least get your foot in the door for an interview. Another point on résumé layout is choosing chronological-based or experience-based format when detailing your previous work experience. I chose a hybrid where I chronologically listed my most relevant work experiences for the position for which I was applying. One final note, once I built my résumé I considered it my baseline résume. Later, as I applied for certain positions I would make minor tweaks to it as necessary based on the job opening.
2. Search for a Job
After putting together a baseline résumé, it is time to search for a job. I remember the days when I would have to actually walk into a business and ask for a job application and provide a printed résumé. I also remember going to the classified ads section of the local newspaper to see who was hiring. In today’s world of job hunting, the internet is the place to go. The internet makes job searching convenient and can even expand your search location if you’re willing to move. However, the convenience of the internet is a double-edged sword. While it makes job searching as easy a few clicks of the keyboard for you, it also makes it just as easy for potential competition. This leads to an increased number of applicants for jobs which increases the chances of your application and résumé being lost in a sea of applications. To improve your odds and not waste your time, I recommend only searching and applying for jobs in which you meet at least some of the minimum qualifications. Usually, a job listing will have a section of minimum qualifications in it. If you have none of the minimum qualifications, then you might want to move on with your search. If you know nothing about computer programming but decide you’d love to have a job as a software developer with Google, then go for it but you’re probably wasting your time.
My job search tool of choice is Indeed. It is the Google of job searching. There are other sites such as CareerBuilder, Dice, and Monster available but Indeed has most of the same jobs you’ll find at these other sites. My preferred method was to search Indeed and then save or email myself all of the jobs that I was interested in and felt I had a reasonable chance of obtaining. This is probably the easiest part of the job hunting process. If you can use Google, you can search jobs. It is all the work that goes into the résumé, job application, and interview process that will make you suffer. While Indeed is a handy tool, I also recommend going directly to the websites of companies you’d like to apply to and see if they have any listings that might not be on Indeed. Indeed is not the be-all and end-all job search tool. Also, keep in mind that many job listings are not really openings. Many companies continuously list jobs so they can keep a fresh pile of applications ready at all times. This is frustrating as a job hunter but it is part of the game.
4. Apply for a Job
Once you have searched potential job openings, it is time to apply. This step of the job hunt is not necessarily difficult but it can be tedious. Most companies have an online application process where you’ll fill out your information (name, address, email, etc), list your work experience and education, and attach your résumé and cover letter. Before submitting your résumé, I recommend changing your baseline résumé to match the job description as much as possible. Some online application sites are easier than others. Sometimes I felt that maybe the employer purposefully used a difficult application site to weed out applicants that were easily frustrated. I didn’t record my time spent on applications, but this was probably the most time consuming step while I was job hunting. There is a lot of advice out there on the internet about this but I would just say be sure to take care of the obvious issues such as spelling. I’m sure there is an article on the web that just talks about the importance of spelling and grammar when applying for jobs. I guess some people need to be told this but hopefully most people applying for jobs have figured this out.
4. Hope and Pray
Now is where you hope and pray that your application and résumé catches the interest of an employer. Many companies have a Human Resources department that will sift through applications before the hiring manager even sees them. If HR is the first line of review, it is even more important that your application and résumé have been tailored to fit the job description. HR doesn’t always understand the specific details of the position and will look at the minimum qualifications and credentials. If all goes well, HR will see you as a potential fit for the position and contact you for additional pain and suffering.
For many people, including myself, this is worst part of the job hunt. If the employer is interested in your application they will contact you for an interview. I had three rounds of interviews for my current job. The first interview was with my supervisor, the second interview was with two of my coworkers, and the third interview was with HR and my supervisor. This isn’t the typical order. Usually, the first interview will be with HR or a recruiter with some basic questions. If all goes well with the first interview, often times there will be follow-on interviews.
Early on in my job hunt, I really underestimated the importance of preparing for an interview. I thought I could handle an interview by not rehearsing answers because I didn’t want to come across as some robot with canned responses to interview questions. After some of my first interviews, I realized that I really needed to seriously prepare for them. I should note that all of my interviews were over the phone because I was working overseas and was applying for jobs back in the U.S. One benefit of a phone interview is that you can have your notes ready in case you blank out on a response. However, one disadvantage is that you can’t read the interviewer’s body language which makes it difficult to interpret whether they like your responses or not. Once it clicked with me that I wasn’t the best interviewee, I put some work into my interview preparation. I searched online for the top questions asked and then wrote down and practiced my answers. When I practiced my responses, I would work off of some key points to form my responses so that my answers sounded somewhat natural. I also went on YouTube and watched a lot of cheesy videos on answering interview questions. I have to say practicing for an interview was torture, but it did help me in the end. Most seasoned interviewers know that applicants practice their responses so they’ll be looking for sincerity. Also, some jobs (particularly technical jobs) are really looking at your technical expertise but will ask the fluff questions to make sure you get along with others and won’t be a troublesome employee. With several interviews (but no job) under my belt, I could tell that I was getting better with my interviews. After interviews, I would write down the questions that gave me difficulty and then practice my responses for my next opportunity. A lot of interviewers will ask the same crap such as your three strengths/weaknesses, tell me about a time you…, and blah blah blah. The interview sucks but unless you’re a natural at interviews, I recommend you practice for them as much as possible.
6. Land a Job
Because I was applying for jobs while I was overseas, it added to the difficulty of finding a job. I was working long hours, had crappy internet service, and was not available for in-person interviews. After countless applications, a handful of interviews, and no job offers, I finally struck gold. In fact, the hunt was heating up with two employers inviting me back for follow-up interviews. If you’re asked for a follow-up interview, this means the employer is interested but you really need to step up your game because chances are you’re not the only job seeker in the follow-up interview rounds. With the job I eventually landed, I had a good feeling after the first interview with my supervisor. Most of his questions were focused on my work experience and there weren’t too many fluff questions. Based on his feedback, I felt like I had a good chance at receiving a job offer as long as I gave my best in the next two interviews. After two phone interviews and one Skype video interview, I was offered a position. I was excited to receive the offer because I really liked the conversations I had with my soon-to-be supervisor and coworkers. They seemed like good people that liked their jobs. HR called me with the offer and this is where I really have a weak spot. I had a salary range in mind and their offer was within that range. Instead of making a counteroffer, I accepted the employer’s first offer. Perhaps I could have asked for more but I’m really bad at the counteroffer process. When it comes to a job offer, I’ll have a range in mind and if they are below the range, then I’ll ask for more. I wish I was better at asking for more but I’m not. In the end, I was happy with the salary offer so I took it. You can research salary ranges online to give you an idea of what to expect. Ultimately, make sure the pay is something you can live with because it will be hard to focus on your job if you’re upset with what your employer is paying you. Also, sometimes it is difficult to ask for a raise once you’ve started working and your best opportunity for more money might be with your first salary negotiation during the hiring process.
I’ve learned a few things about the employer’s perspective when hiring applicants. I haven’t hired anyone yet but I’ve been part of conversations with supervisors that are hiring. Here are some tidbits I can pass along for you job seekers.
You’ll find a ton of articles online about what I think of as obvious job hunting advice: brush your teeth, comb your hair, take a shower, and use your manners. Now, most people do all of these but some people are just weird in my opinion. I’m not perfect, but a lot of people lack basic social skills and can come across as strange, rude, or not too bright in interviews. Amazingly, some of these people make it through the gauntlet and still find jobs. Once you get through the labyrinth of the application process and receive an interview invitation, if you can hold a conversation, be friendly and polite, and prove that you’re a decent person, then you have a good chance as long as you’re qualified for the position.
You don’t have to be afraid (like me) to counter an employer’s offer. Just be reasonable. Do your research beforehand and if you think the employer is low on their offer you can counteroffer. I do caution that you don’t have an outrageous counteroffer. Unless you can walk on water or the employer is desperate for your skills, this could be a sticking point. Every case is different but I will just share one example I’ve seen. A director has narrowed their search to two or three candidates. They have similar skills, experience and seem to be good potential employees. The employer makes an offer to one of the candidates who comes back with an extremely high counteroffer and won’t budge. Guess who didn’t get the job. I realize some people are able to ask for more because they are in highly sought after fields. If that’s you, then more power to you. If that’s not you, really think through the counteroffer.
Another point I’d like to add is that I’ve heard of applicants losing out on jobs because they can’t start when an employer needs them. Usually, a job vacancy needs to be filled rather quickly if an employee quit or was fired because now other employees are picking up the workload from the former employee. If you’re trying to fill that void, you may need to be available within a reasonable time frame. Most employers expect you’ll need to give a two-week termination notice if you’re currently employed, but if you can’t start soon after that you might lose out on the job. Again, this can vary with each situation.
Remember, every experience is different. This was my latest experience. Every employer is different and might have different hiring processes. We all have unique backgrounds and some of us might have easier times finding jobs than others. If you’re struggling to find a job, keep plugging away and try to improve your weaknesses (résumé, interview skills, etc). I hate the job hunting process but it is a necessary evil if you need employment. The internet has a plethora of advice. Some of the advice is good. Some of it is bad. Hopefully, my experience shared here can help you in some way. Good luck and don’t get discouraged.