7. Job Search Strategies

Tara Bond

Introduction

Plan, Process and Strategize

The job search process can be overwhelming and difficult. Fear not! This chapter will help guide you step-by-step through the process. The process of job searching is ever-evolving, and staying up-to-date and relevant with your job search techniques will help you remain competitive in the job market. There is more to a job search than simply applying for online postings, though many job seekers confine their job search to exactly that. Successful job seekers employ various job search strategies to stand out from the crowd and find suitable jobs for themselves.

The first step to a successful job search is creating a plan with a process, and completing the plan with various job search strategies. These strategies will help expedite the job search process by identifying new connections, insuring companies notice you, securing an interview, and ending with a job offer. After you assess your skills, values and personal traits (refer to the Self-Assessment chapter), you will find it easier to:

  • Explore your fit to careers of interest;
  • Read job descriptions;
  • Note required and preferred personal traits and skills;
  • Review a company’s mission and value statements;
  • Evaluate the jobs that fit the parameters you have identified; and
  • Identify skills or areas needing improvement, and determine if you can strengthen them.

Job postings are not the number one method employers use to recruit. A good job search strategy includes several job search techniques and approaches, including utilizing your network. Networking provides information on different industries, careers, and organizations. It can provide exceptional insight into a changing labour market, enhance your professional reputation, and discover unadvertised positions. In the following chapter, elements of a well-defined job search strategy are discussed through three main sections: Research, Contact, and Decode.

Learning Objectives

After carefully reading this chapter, completing the exercises within it, and answering the questions at the end, you should be able to:

  • Explain what effective job search strategies are.
  • Expand a job search approach beyond traditional methods and search for job opportunities.
  • Create a Job Leads List and Job Search Action Plan.
  • Identify strategies regarding the arrangement and completion of informational interviewing.
  • Understand how to decode job postings.

Job Search: Research

The job market can be divided into two main categories: visible and hidden. The visible job market encompasses jobs posted publicly for all job seekers to see. Competition for those positions is typically higher, as they are easier to find by the public.

The hidden job market encompasses jobs that are not posted publicly for all job seekers, but are found through networking with your contacts (Camosun College, 2019). It is up to the job seeker to locate the companies they wish to work for, research these companies, and contact them to find out if they have any upcoming vacancies. When conducting your research on employment options, you will begin to unravel the “hidden job market.” Not all jobs are advertised, which leaves many employment opportunities to be discovered. Locating the hidden job market through research is necessary to determine where the employment opportunities are, as it encompasses jobs that have not yet been posted publicly. To learn how to uncover opportunities, you must educate yourself on using a variety of job search strategies, in addition to searching online postings. Accessing the hidden job market requires networking effectively to build your connections and learn about unseen opportunities (Indeed, 2022). You should still apply for positions posted online, but it should not be your only strategy.

Research is often undervalued in the job search process, although it should precede tapping into the hidden job market.  Job seekers need to research information about specific jobs, organizations, and the industry they are interested in. The information you gather enables you to confirm your job targets and tailor your marketing or branding (see the Social Shadow chapter) to match the jobs, organizations, and industries where you want to work.  Begin with brainstorming your personal network.

A network is a group of people from all parts of your life who can help you with your job search and career planning. “Networking doesn’t need to be uncomfortable. It’s all about building lasting and mutually beneficial professional relationships that will help you get connected, discover opportunities, and get ahead” (University of British Columbia, n.d., para 1). Networks are important, as many job leads can come from networking — it helps you gain access to unadvertised jobs and the hidden job market. Networking does not only occur at planned professional events, it also occurs in your daily interactions with classmates, faculty, family, friends, neighbours, acquaintances, supervisors, and co-workers. Examples of networking include:

  • Having a cup of coffee with a friend to learn more about where they work;
  • Attending job fairs and trade shows to talk to companies that are new to you;
  • Joining industry associations and attending professional meetings; and
  • Conducting informational interviews with key decision-makers in your chosen field (see the Interviews chapter).

Networking uncovers hidden job market resources and allows you to connect with people who are “in the know.” You should not build your network only when you are seeking a new job.  Building a network takes time, so it should be an ongoing process.  When networking, talk about your career-related goals and see if anyone in your network can connect you to others. Networking builds lasting and mutually-beneficial professional relationships that will help you get connected, discover opportunities, and get ahead.

Brainstorm your personal network. Start with the people you already know. Take a few minutes to fill out the names of people you know and trust in each of the categories in Exercise 7.1 As part of an active job search, you will want to reach out personally to each of these people recorded in your personal network. Inform them you are job hunting and ask them for their support. Start by explaining your career interests and asking for introductions to people in their networks. Again, networking should be mutually beneficial, so offering support and helping others is recommended as well.

Networking is building and maintaining relationships with the people around us. The more people one knows directly and through friends, family, and colleagues, the more powerful is one’s network. Remember to not only maintain your current network, but also strive to regularly add new contacts — especially those who work at prospective future employers.

Exercise 7.1 Current Network

Use the diagram in Figure 7.1 to record and organize the people in your existing network to whom you can reach out for advice and referrals.

Figure 7.1

Determine your Current Network

Web diagram showing how to organize your professional contacts. "your network" are: work and volunteering contacts, relatives and family friends, academic contacts, and friends and other.

Network Diagram Fillable PDF version

Once you have completed some introductory research and brainstormed your personal network, the next step will be to organize your network. It is imperative to conduct your research before making contact for informational interviews and job fairs. Many job seekers see informational interviews as a shortcut to research. There are several reasons why it is important to conduct your own research before conducting an informational interview. The most productive informational interviews are two-way exchanges of information, rather than asking questions that could be answered through previous research. Conducting research prior to an informational interview shows the interviewee that you have taken the time and effort to learn about their company and positions. It allows you to ask more informative questions based on specific positions you are interested in, and you can contribute to the conversation in a meaningful context. Conducting research strengthens your knowledge of industries, companies, departments, and roles. It can help clarify which industries and companies to target for further job searches. 

Researching Critical Job Information

Job seekers should research information about specific jobs, organizations, and industries. For example:

Research enables you to confirm that a company matches your job targets, and tailors your marketing to match the jobs, organizations, and industries you are seeking. Any research gathered about contacts and potential companies helps you create the beginning of your jobs leads list.

There are many possible resources to find information about jobs, organizations, and industries. The following subsection will discuss researching through informational interviews with someone experienced in a job, company, or sector. Before an informational interview, familiarize yourself with a job using the following resources:

Job Search Action Plan

Once you complete your research and your network is organized, your next impulse may be to surf the web for job advertisements (ads), but your job search will be more effective if you first take the time to create a plan. Develop your own schedule by committing to some of the following activities:

  • Take some self-assessments to identify your skills, interests, and values (see the Self-Assessment chapter).
  • Prepare your resume (see the Application Documents chapter).
  • Get in touch with your networking contacts.
  • Set up informational interviews.
  • Research potential employers.
  • Attend job fairs and trade shows.

Tables 7.1A, 7.1B, and 7.1C encompass a Sample Job Search Action Plan, which consists of three goals, the steps or tasks required to reach each goal, the estimated completion time, and the due date for each step.

Table 7.1A – Goal #1: Update Resume.

Steps/Tasks Estimated Time to Complete Due Date
Make changes to resume 1 hour Week of 05/17
Bring into Career and Experiential Learning Department for review 1 hour Week of 05/17
Edit changes 1 hour Week of 05/17
Tailor to companies of interest 1 hour 05/24

Table 7.1B – Goal #2: Apply to 5-7 Jobs in the Field.

Steps/Tasks Estimate Time to Complete Due Date
Search online databases for positions 1-3 hours 05/24
Find specific organizations of interest 1-2 hours 05/25
Create a tailored cover letter 30 minutes – 1 hour 05/26
Have someone review cover letter 30 minutes 05/27
Make changes to cover letter 1 hour 05/27
Send tailored resumes and cover letters to positions 2-3 days 05/28

Table 7.1C – Goal #3: Build and Maintain your Network.

Steps/Tasks Estimated Time to Complete Due Date
Set up/update LinkedIn account 1-3 hours 06/01
Search LinkedIn alumni group for contacts 1 hour 06/02
Make list of current connections 30 minutes 06/02
Contact Career Services 15-30 minutes 06/03
Send emails to contacts to update on search/set up meeting 1 hour 06/04
Reach out to new contacts 1 hour 06/05

 You will likely apply to several different positions over a short period of time. Use the Job Search Log (Table 7.2) to track the positions you apply for, and the Follow-Up Notes section to record your follow-up phone calls, emails, and meetings with employers. This plan will help keep you on track during your job search.

Table 7.2: Job Search Log (Career Development Manitoba, n.d.).

Date Position Contact Information Follow up Notes
05/24/23 Customer Service Representative at Service Canada Ms. Jane Smith Resume and cover letter submitted on 05/24/23. Received email from Ms. Jane Smith for an interview on 05/30/23.
Job Number: 025540SC

For ongoing and up-to-date news about specific jobs, companies and organizations, you can set a Google Alert (https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/4815696?hl=en) for keywords, phrases, and specific names. Google Alert will conduct the search and send back the results to you, either daily or weekly. Conducting in-depth research is critical to all stages of your job search. The information you learn about your desired jobs, companies, and industries helps to better position your marketing and enables you to land and conduct strong informational interviews.

Exercise 7.2 Research

Begin creating your Job Leads List and Job Search Action Plan.

  • Identify and record sources of job leads, including networking contacts, friends, and family.
  • Create a sample Job Search Action Plan.
  • Conduct research on at least one company for which you are interested in working.

Job Search: Contact

Research can drive your job search forward to the next stage through networking and informational interviews. A job seeker can connect with an employer through personal connections or professional networks. Connecting with others is one of the most important aspects of your career development — for researching potential careers, networking with people in fields you’re interested in, seeking out or creating career opportunities, and looking for a job. All your connections are valuable, whether they are friends, family members, fellow students, employers, teammates, professors, roommates, or neighbours. For the purposes of beginning and furthering your own career, it is important that you value all the connections you have and continue to make new connections, particularly in the career you are interested in.

In this section, networking is discussed in two subsections:

  1. Networking through job fairs, trade shows, industry associations; and
  2. Networking through Informational Interviewing.

In the previous subsection, Research, you brainstormed and recorded your personal network in Exercise 7.1, and created a Job Leads List, and Job Search Action Plan in Exercise 7.2. You also conducted research on a company in which you are interested. You will now expand your network through job fairs, trade shows and industry associates, and specifically through informational interviews.

Networking Through Job Fairs, Trade Shows, and Industry Associations

Networking through job fairs, trade shows, and industry associations provides you with in-person opportunities to arrange informational interviews or gather contact information for possible interviewees. You can learn about networking opportunities through your professors and Career and Experiential Learning team. They can also give you leads on job openings, internships, and research possibilities.

Networking events, such as job fairs and trade shows, are opportunities for professional networking. You can find them listed in community calendars, newspapers, journals, and on the websites of companies, organizations, and through Thompson Rivers University. These opportunities enable you to market yourself and learn about companies who may be hiring for positions you might be interested in.

The YouTube video below, Job Fair do’s and don’ts by Thompson Rivers University (2019), highlights some common tips related to job fairs and employment opportunities.

Prior to Job Fairs and Trade Shows:

  • Do your homework and research the companies in advance! You will make a much better impression if you can demonstrate that you have done your research on the company.
  • If you are looking for a summer job, know what date you will be available, and have a resume ready.
  • Develop a short list of companies that you would like to target at the job fair. This will allow you to use your time wisely.
  • Make sure you understand the skills and qualifications you have to offer an employer.
  • Anticipate questions that employers may ask you.
  • Put together a list of questions you want to ask.
  • Prepare your resume and print it on quality paper. Have enough copies to give to the organizations you are targeting.
  • Bring a portfolio to carry your materials, including pens and extra paper to record notes.
  • Practice how to present yourself! First impressions are lasting impressions — you should look and act professionally when meeting recruiters. If possible, dress in business attire. Offer a firm, friendly handshake, and be sure to make eye contact to establish rapport.

During Job Fairs and Trade Shows:

  • Convey interest, enthusiasm and confidence.
  • Offer a firm handshake, your name, major, and graduation date. Smile.
  • Offer your resume.
  • Convey the knowledge you have of the organization.
  • Be able to summarize your experiences and skills.
  • Ask about the application process.
  • Ask for a business card (and after the Job Fair, follow up with a thank-you card).
  • Listen to what the representatives are saying.
  • Be aware if there are others waiting behind you.
  • Keep an open mind and consider all organizations as potential employers.
  • Ask questions and increase your knowledge.
  • Save your questions on salary and benefits until the company has expressed a clear interest in you.

Follow up with recruiters after job fairs and trade shows. Use the business cards you collect, and send them a quick email letting them know that you appreciate the opportunity to talk with them. You can mention what you learned during your conversation and what excites you about their company (Thompson Rivers University, Career & Experiential Learning, n.d.).

Every year, the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Career & Experiential Learning Department hosts the largest job fair at a post-secondary institution in the BC Interior, with typically 80 employer booths and 1,500 students attending each year. Organizations recruit students and graduates from every program area of TRU — Arts, Business, Education, Fine Arts, Health, Journalism, Science, Social Work, Tourism, and Trades. Students are recruited for volunteer opportunities, part-time work, summer employment and graduate jobs. Whether you are a first-year or fourth-year student, attending TRU’s Job Fair (https://www.tru.ca/cel/events/jobfair.html) will help develop your networking skills while you connect with professionals to explore your career options.

The YouTube video below, titled TRU Job Fair – Thompson Rivers University (2015), shows some highlights from TRU’s 2015 Job Fair.

Joining industry associations enables you to meet many influential people at local meetings and events of professional and volunteer organizations. Learn about these associations and organizations, especially in regard to memberships and discounts for students. Once you are a member, you may have access to membership lists, which can give you access to network with many new people.

Networking Through Informational Interviewing

The primary goals of informational interviewing are to investigate a specific career field, uncover career options, assist in narrowing down (or expanding) your options, obtain advice on where your skills might be applied, learn about important issues in a career field, and expand your own network of contacts for future reference. Networking through informational interviewing includes identifying your current network and the way it could be helpful to you.

Networking through job fairs, trade shows, and industry associations can provide you with many opportunities to meet and speak with industry-specific employers (Ryerson Career & Co-op Centre, 2018). Conversing with industry-specific employers provides a natural opening for inquiry about informational interviews. In requesting an informational interview, common rules of etiquette apply. You may approach your interviewee by email, phone, or in person. Regardless of your approach, the content of your approach should remain the same. Make your introduction compelling, but brief. Mention how you know the interviewee or who referred you to the interviewee, establish who you are, and what you are asking for. Be clear, concise, and specific with your request. Indicate the time commitment you are requesting, and identify your goals pertaining to the informational interview. Remember, informational interviewing is for information gathering and evaluating — it is not a direct job-seeking method.

The questions you may ask during an informational interview should be well-thought-out prior to the informational interview. There are many sample informational questions available through Career Services handbooks, online, and some are available at the end of this subsection.  It is important to understand the reason behind each question that you ask. Some questions may help you to get to know your interviewee and gather information about the industry, career-related information, and company organization. Questions can be based on work environment, required prerequisites or education, occupation and company information, personal qualities suited for this occupation and company job search, career-building advice, and closing questions (Florida State Career Center, 2019). Target your questions accordingly. Update your resume (see the Application Documents chapter) and bring it to the interview. It is important to note that while informational interviews are not a direct job-seeking method, they can provide insight into the preferred style of resume and information that should be included for that specific field of work.

Informational Interview Questions

Be prepared with a list of focused questions that will highlight your seriousness about the position and professionalism, as well as help you gather useful information for eventually gaining employment. You can use this opportunity to ask questions you might not want to ask in a job interview. Ask detailed questions so that you have a good idea of what it would be like to work in a particular company or industry. Ask them to show you examples of the type of work they do. Find out what qualifications are needed to excel in the types of positions they have. You can even ask questions you would not normally ask in a first job interview related to salary and benefits. Practice your relationship-building through informational interviews. Ask open-ended questions, such as the questions categorized and listed below.

Sample Informational Interview Questions

At the end of the informational interview, verbally thank the interviewee for taking the time to offer advice and career information. Ask the interviewee for referrals to other individuals for additional informational interviews. A follow-up handwritten thank you card, or an email update and/or words of thanks is appropriate. Record information you have obtained from your informational interview, including names, comments and new referrals for future reference, in your Job Leads List and Job Search Action Plan, which you started in Exercise 7.2.

Follow-up

Keep the interviewer informed of your progress. Keep them “in the loop” by e-mailing them after you have met with one of their referrals or after you have secured a job. By meeting with you, they have invested time in you and want that time to pay off by seeing you succeed.

Following up after the meeting is just as important as the meeting:

  • Keep records. Write down what you learned, what more you would like to know, and what your next steps should be.
  • Send a thank-you note (see examples in Figure 7.2) within 1-2 days to express your appreciation for the time and information given. Based on whether the informational interview was relatively informal or more businesslike, this may be a brief handwritten note, an email, or a business letter.
  • Keep in touch with the person, especially if you had a particularly nice interaction. Let them know that you followed up on their advice and the outcome. This person could become an important part of your network.
  • If you cannot afford the ticket to any conferences they may have suggested, you could volunteer instead.

Figure 7.2

Sample Thank You and Follow-Up Letter

Note. Adapted from (Doyle, 2019).

Your network must be built consistently and on a daily basis. For job searches and career advancement, networking enables you to hear about unadvertised jobs. To create and maintain a strong network, you will need to maintain a balance between the quantity and quality of professional contacts. A strong network is built over time and with deliberate attention, with quality playing a more significant role than quantity. Build a strong network of professional contacts that you can strategize with and build relationships from.

Exercise 7.3 Preparing for Informational Interviews and Building Contacts

To prepare for your informational interviews and build contacts:

  • Research and record the dates of TRU’s Job Fair and any industry-specific trade shows that are offered locally.
  • Record five questions that you can use in your informational interview, based on your research to date.
  • Do you have some ideas for people you can interview now? Try to practice with family and friends before your first informational interview.

Job Search: Decode

The structure for job postings tends to be fairly consistent. By carefully reviewing the write-up of a job, you can save time by applying to relevant jobs, writing more persuasive cover letters, and feeling better prepared for job interviews. Most job postings have similar formats and characteristics, and are typically broken down into several parts. Although the names of these sections can slightly differ, you can expect to see the following:

  • Job title and possibly job number,
  • Job description including information about the company,
  • Some description of the responsibilities in the role, and
  • Details on the desired qualifications of applicants.

The most common sections in job postings include job title, job description, responsibilities, and qualifications. As you review any section of a job posting, remember that the most important items are typically listed toward the top. If you can match four out of five bullet points listed under qualifications, that is a cause for celebration, not despair.

Job Title

The job title, including the job number, should be used in customized resumes, and in summary statements and profiles (see the Application Documents chapter).  Job titles can have different meanings across companies. Look at the job title for clues about the required experience in this position, the level of responsibility involved, the salary, and the nature of the work. Some companies have very generic job titles, while other companies make job titles very specific. Read and decode the job description to gather more information and get a clearer idea of the position. Always include company job numbers as part of the job title.

Job Description

To extract the most important pieces of information from a job description, deconstruct or decode the text. Look at the company’s website to learn more about its specific goals. You can conduct research on the company and tailor your job search to match the jobs, organizations, and companies you’d like to work in.

Responsibilities

The responsibilities section describes what is expected of the employee in the position. The employer will lay out five to ten responsibilities, or tasks, in the responsibilities section of the posting.  Some job postings phrase the responsibilities in sprawling terms (e.g., “lead the team in generating…”), while others will provide more granular details (e.g., “create weekly report…”). Use the responsibilities information to customize your resume, focusing on your experience, results, and accomplishments that best match the tasks outlined in the responsibilities section. If some job responsibilities are not familiar to you, it does not necessarily mean you should not apply. Do internet searches of the terminology used to familiarize yourself with the company’s jargon. Ask yourself if they list a skill that you can learn.

Qualifications

Qualifications are sometimes called requirements or experience. The qualifications section provides insight into the experience, skills, and education the hiring manager has in mind for the person they feel is capable of excelling in the role. You may see notes like, “prior experience in…”. This is where you find details about the background that applicants should have, including prior experience and accomplishments at other jobs, education, and soft and hard skills. If you meet the qualifications, you should directly state so in the summary section at the top of your resume. If you do not meet all the qualifications, but have other strengths that qualify you to excel, mention them in your summary section on your resume (see Application Documents).

Understand the Jargon

Think of the job posting as a map to getting the position. Read the description several times, carefully, and be on the lookout for repeating themes.

For example, you may notice the qualifications lists “self-starters,” or the responsibilities section specifies that the applicant will “independently develop a project.” These are good indications that the employer wants someone who is comfortable working without supervision and in a leadership role.

Taking the time to analyze and decode job postings and customizing your resume based on their job titles, job descriptions, responsibilities, and qualifications could be the difference between receiving interviews and being screened out of the recruiting process. Remember, with many job postings, it will be impossible for any one person to be a perfect match.

Exercise 7.4 Decoding Job Postings

Decode three job postings with the same job title, in a field of work you may be interested in:

  • Identify the key responsibilities within each job posting.
  • Identify the key qualifications within each job posting.
  • Research the companies who posted the jobs. Will they be of interest to you?

References

Camosun College. (2019). Trades access common core: Line B – Employability skills competency B-2: describe expectations and responsibilities of employers and employees.LBC Campus. https://open.bccampus.ca/browse-our-collection/find-open-textbooks/?uuid=c9bcd8df-17a3-4cf8-8400-426f395b3a62 CC BY 4.0

Career Development Manitoba. (n.d.). A guide to conducting an effective job search [pdf]. Government of Manitoba. http://www.manitobacareerdevelopment.ca/cdi/docs/job_search.pdf

Doyle, A. (2019, July 8). Informational interview: Thank-you letter with tips.  The Balance Careers. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/informational-interview-thank-you-letter-example-2063970

Florida State Career Center. (2018). 2018–2019 Career guide. Florida State University. https://career.fsu.edu/resources/career-guides

Google Search Help. (n.d.). Create an alert. Google. https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/4815696?hl=en

Indeed Editorial Team. (2021, January 29). What is the hidden job market? Plus tips on accessing it. Indeed. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/hidden-job-market (Updated February 16, 2023.)

Ryerson Career & Co-op Centre. (2018). Graduate career compass: Your career & job search guide. Ryerson University. https://www.ryerson.ca/career-coop/students-alumni/career-resources/

Thompson Rivers University. (2019, February 11). Job fair do’s & don’ts. YouTube. https://youtu.be/-ptcNGviK5M

Thompson Rivers University. (2015, November 25). TRU job fair – Thompson Rivers University. YouTube. https://youtu.be/dA82-s6Cpzc

Thompson Rivers University, Career & Experiential Learning. (n.d.). How to prepare [pdf].  https://www.tru.ca/__shared/assets/How_to_prepare37480.pdf

University of British Columbia, Student Services. (n.d.). Networking.  https://students.ubc.ca/career/career-resources/networking

Media Attributions

  • Figure 7.1 Determine your Current Network, by author and Sarah Brydges, Co-op Student.
  • Figure 7.2 Sample Thank You and Follow Up Letter, by author, adapted from Informational interview: Thank-you letter with tips (Doyle, 2019)
  • Table 7.1A Goal #1 Update Resume, by author.
  • Table 7.1B Goal #2 Apply to 5-7 Jobs in the Field, by author.
  • Table 7.1C Goal #3 Build and Maintain your Network, by author.
  • Table 7.2 Job Search Log, by author.

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