How can I go about job-seeking effectively?
February 28, 2014 9:11 PM   Subscribe

I am a 25-year-old woman and a recent college graduate (just earned my Master’s in English in December). I’m looking for higher education administrative jobs in the area: basically, to be an admissions counselor, financial aid counselor, academic advisor, and the like. There are a few concerns on my mind about the process.

1). First of all, how much editing do I need to do on my cover letter and resume for each job? I normally put some time into reading the description for each job, switching things around, and adding particular skills and experience to my cover letter and resume in order to match the job at hand as well as possible. Is this a waste of time? I do have some friends who just send the same letter to everyone, (after only changing the name of the job and hiring manager, of course), and since I am applying to jobs which are all in the same field, I’m wondering if I should start doing the same. It would really save a lot of time and energy, but I also wonder if my current method of catering my application materials to the job make me more marketable. (Much of my work experience and education background aligns with the jobs I am applying for, so my application materials remain honest, even after the editing).

2). Following up: How soon after applying is it best to follow up? Should I do so over phone or email? What do I need to say?

3). What are some good ways to network/get my name out there? I do have good references from my professors from graduate school, and a few of my supervisors at the internship I had at a tutoring center in a community college. Also, how does LinkedIn work, exactly? Is it helpful?

4). This question is more emotional than logical: I am feeling very discouraged. I haven’t heard a positive response from a single place: I’m either told months later that they went with someone else, or I don’t get a response at all. One job, which I applied for Sunday, listed my application status as “Not Selected” on Tuesday! Being rejected so quickly really didn’t make me feel good. I just feel like I put so much time and energy into applying, and the results are never positive. I even cut back my hours at my current job to spend more time on applications, so I’m even losing money as I look for a new job. I’m starting to get mentally, emotionally, and physically drained, and on many days, don’t feel like applying at all. The whole process is causing an insane amount of stress. I've gotten more acne over the past two weeks than I did as a teenager. haha. What are some ways to stay motivated and optimistic through all the cold shoulders/rejection?

Thank you all in advance for your answers. I know I asked a lot of questions, but any information you have on ANY of the listed topics (or just job seeking tips in general), would be great and extremely helpful!
posted by summertimesadness1988 to Work & Money (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
From my experience in higher ed (mostly faculty, but also admin/staff): You never follow up, unless there's some weird circumstance. Also, all of these jobs are really competitive. Unless you're only looking in extremely unpopular areas, you're up against dozens of people with more relevant degrees and tons of experience. I assume you have other qualifications and experience, because colleges here would discard an application for those positions in the "paper screening" stage if someone has an MA in English and no other qualifications.

You might try the forums at the Chronicle of Higher Ed for some suggestions about networking, following up, etc. There are career subtopics and also an admin subtopic.

LinkedIn is not very relevant to this kind of job in my experience, but I can't speak to other geographical areas.

Good luck and hang in there. It's hard for all academia-related job seekers right now. :/
posted by wintersweet at 9:36 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

1) You are doing it right! (Your friends are doing it wrong.) Please keep modifying your resume and cover letter heavily for each job you apply for. This is the biggest mistake people make when applying for jobs online (the second problem is applying for jobs online, but we'll get to that in a minute). I used to be a Recruiter, and we hated people who sent in the same resume everywhere.

2) You want to follow up about a week after applying, via email only (though the expectations of if/when to follow-up can vary wildly from place-to-place, my experience is that it doesn't hurt...but usually doesn't help either, unless you know someone there). Keep in mind that the people getting your resume are likely getting somewhere between 50-300 resumes...try to put yourself in their shoes. They may ignore all incoming resumes for a couple of weeks, then finally get around to going through them one afternoon when they have time. Don't expect that your resume will be read or remembered by the people in HR. It's not personal, it's just a logistical issue.

3) Everyone is going to tell you to network (and they're right). But what people don't want to admit is this: you're at a disadvantage if you're a recent college grad - because your peers probably don't form a great network at this point (they're all looking for jobs too). I don't say this to discourage you - just to encourage you to keep a realistic perspective.

Essentially what you want to do in terms of networking is talk to as many people as possible about the types of jobs you're looking for - always tell people what types of things you're looking for, and ask if the person knows anyone in admissions/financial aid/etc. You may get a job through a second-degree or third-degree connection (your friend's dad works at Berkeley or whatever). This probably seems too tangential to get you a job - but the reality is you want any kind of connection. Because even a friend of a friend who works somewhere you're applying could do a little favor* like emailing the person who's hiring to say something like "Hey, could you look for summertimesadness's resume and just give it a look? My friend says they're smart."

The goal here really is to find some sort of personal connection anywhere you apply. So let's say you see a job posted at University of Michigan that you really want - you might want to go to any professors* who like you and see if they know anyone who works there. If so, you can ask if they'd be willing to ask if their friend could forward your resume to the hiring manager. Often getting the job is really just about getting the right person (not the automated system's filter) to look at your qualifications. And networking is the way to make that happen.

3b) Yes, you should join Linkedin. It's essentially a social network that's focused on careers - and on the kind of favors I mentioned above. The great thing about it is that you can (depending on their privacy settings) sometimes see your friend's friends. So it can be a good way to identify that your friend Ben knows somebody at Columbia - and maybe he could put you in touch. This too will probably be more helpful later in your career - it kind of allows you to gather professional contacts as you go and keep up with where people are so you have an ever-growing network.

4) Yes, job searching is one of the worst experiences to go through. Particularly when you go for quite a while without hearing from anywhere. Make sure you seek out social supports, commiserate with friends who are going through the same thing and cut yourself some slack. You need to remind yourself of the logistics at play here: some of the jobs you're applying to get hundreds of applicants, rejections aren't personal, many jobs are posted even though they have someone in mind already....but at the same time, nearly everyone in your position who keeps applying for jobs eventually gets one.

Good luck - nearly all of us were there once upon a time! It will get better - keep the faith.

*I'm anticipating that people may claim this is a bit presumptuous. Of course only do what feels right and makes sense within the context of your relationship to the person in question. But in my experience, people who are willing to ask for these kinds of favors are the people who get jobs.
posted by leitmotif at 9:40 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know more than a few people, myself included, who got into this field through temping. It sounds like you already have a job but you may want to talk to a temp agency about their opportunities.
posted by wannabecounselor at 2:56 AM on March 1, 2014

I'm chiming in to second the temping idea. I currently work as a senior-level administrative assistant at a big university and the way I "got in" was by temping.

My university has a secretary/temp pool. I submitted an application and a few weeks later, a department needed a quick replacement due to someone going on medical leave, and THEY contacted ME about filling in. I worked there for 2 months and then the person on leave decided not to come back to work. They offered me the permanent job and here I am.

In my experience, universities like to promote or hire from within, especially when it comes to admin or advising positions. If you can get in as a temp, you might get lucky.
Good luck!
posted by koinonia at 8:54 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I read an article the other day about how LinkedIn is only designed to connect you to people you know rather than ones you don't, so it's not as great as you think. All I ever did with it is track down former coworkers, so I can't say I am impressed with it otherwise.

I second koinonia's temping because taking a temporary job is what got me in the door once upon a time, though even temping is apparently harder to get into than it used to be.

Where I work, the HR system automatically rejects people (without a human ever seeing your application, I got weeded out immediately after hitting "Submit" once), and "following up" is pretty useless because it'll take a month for your application to even get out of HR--assuming you weren't weeded out--and the people offering the job probably don't even know you applied until then. I wouldn't "follow up" under those circumstances.

"I normally put some time into reading the description for each job, switching things around, and adding particular skills and experience to my cover letter and resume in order to match the job at hand as well as possible. Is this a waste of time?"

No, this is exactly what you should be doing, and it's what helps you not get automatically weeded out by a computer system. Look at everything in the job application and write down exactly, using their words, how you fit their requirements.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:23 AM on March 1, 2014

> 4). This question is more emotional than logical: I am feeling very discouraged.

Job hunting usually means wading through a ton of rejections and it gets very discouraging after a while. Too often it means getting rejected for a great opportunity that you were a perfect fit for and really excited about, which really sucks. I only have a little advice here:

1) This is normal. It's normal to have a ton of rejections, and it's normal to feel worn down by them.

2) Getting picked for a job has a lot of luck in it. Employers hire in strange, secret, arbitrary, and illogical ways. Being a great fit doesn't always mean you get the job, unfortunately. On the other hand, sometimes the luck works in your favor.

3) Keep trying. Don't give up.

I also agree with temping, not just as a foot in the door, but after walking the rejection walk long enough taking some temp work may bring up your morale and make you feel more valuable. (There's only so much self-talk can do.)
posted by mattu at 10:06 AM on March 2, 2014

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