If you’ve recently started looking for a job after years out of practice, you’re probably having that “uh oh” moment where you don’t quite remember where—or how—to begin.
It’s OK, we’ve all been there. So, to help you get over that “I’m feeling so overwhelmed” state, I’m going to refresh your memory on all the basics: from tailoring your resume to writing a cover letter to the terrifying feat of actually applying for a job.
After I’ve covered it all, the job search will quickly transform from something scary to something you can totally handle. Trust me, we’ve got your back.
1. Customize Your Resume for Each Job
If you’ve been out of college for a while and your resume still lists your first internships, you’re probably better off creating one from scratch. Once it’s up to speed, you’re going to want to tailor it, quantify your bullet points, and cut it down to one page. And yes, you will have to go through this process for each new position you find. Mostly because the hiring manager’s only giving you six seconds—unless you give him or her a reason to stick around longer.
2. Customize Your Cover Letter, Too
3. Update Your LinkedIn Profile—and Then Actually Use It
LinkedIn is your new favorite form of social media when it comes to finding a job. You probably have a profile, but now you want to craft a great summary that sums up who you are, your professional experiences, and your future ambitions. You also want to personalize your headline, connect with people you know (and don’t know, but admire), and even attach some of your own work, such as published articles, ads, or press releases.
And yes, you can even make it stand out more with an eye-catching background photo.
After all your materials are in order, you now have the opportunity to chat with fellow LinkedIn members. When reaching out to a stranger, personalize your message while keeping it short and to the point. And remember, even though you’re on the internet, you still need to keep it professional.
4. Get Your Online Presence in Order
As soon as a hiring manager looks at your resume, he or she immediately Googles you (OK, maybe not immediately, but if he or she’s interested, it will happen at some point). Which means that everything on your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Pinterest is instantly a part of your application.
So how do you manage your social media for career success? Step one is making sure that all public platforms are professional. That doesn’t mean you only share the latest from Forbes. But it does mean there’s nothing (nothing!) that could be interpreted badly. When in doubt, change your settings and make them private.
Step two is the fun part—the part where you get to impress anyone searching for your online presence. While we recommend building your own personal portfolio (which isn’t as hard as it sounds), we also advise you to make sure your bios send the right message —from your LinkedIn summary to those 160 characters on your Twitter profile.
5. Network (and Then Network Some More)
The rumors are true: The more people you know, the easier it will be to get a job. So you’re going to have to get out and do some networking. I saw you shudder—but fear not, networking comes in all forms, so no matter if you’re introverted or extroverted, there’s always a way for you to connect with the right people. Emphasis on the right way.
You’ll want to start by reaching out to your own network and letting them know you’re looking for a new job (here’s a great template for that email). Then, the more uncomfortable part, asking strangers for help. It’s easier than you would imagine! For example, this email template will get you a meeting with almost anyone you ask. The goal here is to set up informational interviews (a.k.a., coffee dates) to not only get your foot in the door, but also learn more about companie you’re interested in and find the right fit.
If there’s someone you met at a party (or through a friend of a friend of a cousin) who you think could help you out, there’s nothing wrong with politely following up and asking for his or her advice. No matter who you know, almost anyone can become a valuable career connection with some genuine effort.
6. Be Deliberate When Applying to Jobs
One common misconception about the search is that you should apply to as many jobs as possible, but this is definitely not the case. Instead, you want to spend time doing your research, filling out your applications, and only applying for positions you’re actually qualified for and interested in. (Though there are ways to get in the door if you’re only slightly under-qualified, or even a little too over-qualified.)
Note: A big reason it’s better to target your search rather than apply aimlessly is because your application has to get through an ATS first—meaning a robot will read through your materials before a human does. There’s a way to past that stupid bot, but it takes some effort on your end.
And if you’re in a unique position—such as changing careers, returning to work after taking time off to raise kids, or rebounding from being laid-off—know that you’re going to have to take a few extra steps.
7. Prepare for the Interview
If you land an interview, congrats! Now, before you walk into that meeting, you should practice how you’ll answer some common questions. You also want to have in your repertoire a collection of stories you can tell about your past experiences and how you overcame obstacles. And when the interviewer goes to ask you if you have any questions, you’ll want to come prepared with several good ones. Basically, this is your chance to show the hiring manager who you are and why you’d be a great fit for the company.
When that’s over, you’re down to the final steps. Such as sending a thank you note. No, really, those few lines could make all the difference. And if you still haven’t heard back after two or three weeks, try following up with the hiring manager to show you’re still interested in the position.
8. Remember That This Process Takes Time
You’ll probably start your search super-excited to get started. Then it’ll drag on and on—and you’ll find excuses to quit. Don’t!
This is a long process—especially if you know exactly what you want (which is good!). Your application has to get the attention of busy recruiters, hiring managers, and yes, some robots. Trust me, I know it’s exhausting. But the more effort you put in, the greater your chances of getting that interview.
My advice to you? Keep your head up, and remember that it’s not a race—nothing worthwhile happens overnight. And on the days when you really feel like throwing in the towel, do. Not forever, but for that night. You’re working hard and you deserve a break. So put your feet up, put Netflix on, and treat yourself to a relaxing evening. The listings will all still be there in the morning.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author