Finding a job -- any job -- when first entering the working world probably comes as a relief. Eventually, though, you may want to launch a DIY career search that gets you on a more directed path. Turning to a career coach can be helpful, but it's also pricey, to the tune of $150 an hour.
According to the experts, finding a career path that leads to a coveted job means following a tried-and-true process. Going about the quest systematically, they note, will make you feel better about yourself and prove more productive. We spoke with two coaches, Steve Lesser, managing partner of Delta Advisors, and Jane Weiland, a resume expert and founder of Hire Education, whose suggestions can set your DIY career search on the right track and get you to the finish line for free.
Decide what you want to do.The first step with any new career-searching client, Lesser says, is identifying their interests and what they do well. The two are not always the same. This part of a DIY career search involves thinking about why you have particular interests, which indicates whether they are intellectual pursuits, hobbies, or something you've already acted upon in some way. Assess your accomplishments to date and whether the activities, the settings, and the achievements -- through volunteer work, internships, clubs, etc. -- grab you.
If you're having trouble getting clarity, try a self-assessment test. Most are available for a price, but the Keirsey Temperament Sorter is a free test similar to the one career coaches use to determine how you will react in certain work-related situations. The results may provide a lever to help you define yourself.
Once you have a handle on your "product," (as Lesser notes, a job search is an exercise in marketing), you need to know how your skills transfer to particular jobs. O*Net OnLine offers a skills assessment that returns a list of occupations associated with specific abilities. Browse occupations at Career Infonet, which details the knowledge, education, and skills associated with many occupations, the day-to-day tasks, and the occupational outlook for your state. The Occupational Outlook, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is another invaluable tool for DIY career searches. This data base lays out the number of jobs in any given field and how many there will be seven years out, along with median pay for each job type.
Resumes and Cover Letters.An active social media presence reflecting the professional attitude you want to project is important, but the primary communication tools in a DIY career search remain the resume and cover letter. In addition to the tips we provided in a prior post on resume writing, Weiland stresses the need to include an objective and brief profile. "Think of it as your career tombstone," she says. "Even if you have done very little, there are accomplishments to highlight, and the objective and profile … are a little hors d'oeuvres that will get people to want to talk to you." Unless you have a very long work history, Weiland cautions that a resume should not exceed one page and should reflect the value you brought to each organization.
There's plenty of free and cheap help out there for DIY career (and job) seachers. Bookstores are littered with volumes that can help you fashion the knock-‘em-dead resume. Jobstar.org showcases sample resumes and provides a comprehensive overview of what a resume is supposed to accomplish. Managing Your Career is a resource for cover letters and general job-search correspondence; put together by The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for MBA students, this guide nonetheless contains good advice for any job hunter.
Market Research.Once you have a clear idea about the career you want to enter and have assembled the supporting documents, it's time to network, network, network. "Talk to all sorts of people who do all sorts of things," Lesser advises. This extra bit of research helps crystallize your career ambitions while providing reality testing about the associated jobs.
Create a list of companies you might want to work for and check company websites for openings, but remember that most jobs don't result from job boards or Craigslist. Instead, turn to LinkedIn and Facebook contacts -- shamelessly. If you're interested in a particular company see how you can link up with a current or former employee. Ask for 15 minutes of someone's time and go in with a list of questions. Do not ask for a job. You are on a DIY career search and your task is to collect information and to listen. Odds are you'll be there for more than 15 minutes. While you almost surely won't come away with a job, you'll probably get another contact. It only takes one to land an interview.
The Interview.Your resume and cover letters are marketing brochures that may get you in the door, but once there, you have to sell yourself. This doesn't mean bragging; it does mean showing how you can fill a need or add value.
Research the organization beforehand. If there has been recent news about the company you'll be prepared to comment or to seek additional details. If the interview is with a public company, read the annual report; the president's letter in the front articulates company goals for the coming year. Practice answering common interview questions, and always answer by indicating how your abilities advance organizational objectives.
At the interview, try to learn why the job is open and what the company hopes to achieve with a new employee (you!!). Explain how your particular skills and interests mesh with the organization's goals. Remember that an interview is a two-way street. You are also finding out whether the job is a good fit for you. Having done all your homework, including reaching insights that get you on a career path, you should be able to jump this hurdle with ease.