Explain Like I'm Five: How to Job Search
November 18, 2020 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I want a new job, and I’m realizing I don’t know how to search very well. Please help.

I’m closing in on forty, and I’m itching to get out of my current field of higher education where I’ve been for the past ten-plus years. I landed here by accident: someone I knew recommended adjuncting and, not knowing anything about it on top of having trouble finding a job at the time, I applied to one of the schools she taught at. Fast forward to now, and the bulk of my work experience has been in teaching and tutoring. Pandemic nonsense aside, I'm over that scene.

Outside of academia, I've never held a long-term professional job. My previous jobs were retail and food service stopgaps, which I only took because I needed money and because I knew people who worked there. It wasn’t so much that I think they got me the job as it was a case of “If it’s good enough for them, it’s probably good enough for me.” So I don’t have much experience hunting for jobs. And by dint of spending so much time in academia, I know lots of fellow teachers, which isn’t helpful networking-wise since I want to be in another field entirely.

My question isn’t about what jobs someone with too many humanities degrees is qualified for. My question is about how to job hunt, the logistics of the process. How to search through pages upon pages of results on job boards. How to understand what job titles (which feel so esoteric) actually mean. How to find a good fit between your skills and any job’s duties.

What I’m asking essentially is this: What you would tell a new college graduate, whatever their field, about how to find a job? Because that’s who I feel like, and I never got the memo about job hunting effectively. (I know there is no memo.)

Thanks in advance!
posted by xenization to Work & Money (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Just a couple thoughts:
Think about whether there are any aspects of your job that you do like, that you would want to continue doing. For example, if you like some aspect of teaching/coaching, you can search for terms like "training" or "onboarding". Even something as basic as "I'd like to continue to work in higher ed" is a good starting point (especially since it can often be easier to pivot into something new if you're already part of the org).

Personally I do not target job boards outside of LinkedIn. I try to pick the places I'm interesting in working at -- like a mission I support or I've read good things about their work-life balance -- and comb through their listings. Identifying what is important to you in an employer is also pretty important.

Note: This is how I'd start going about carefully searching for a job where my goal is a long-ish term fit. If you're trying to jump ship as quickly as possible, this advice is maybe not as useful.
posted by sm1tten at 9:03 AM on November 18, 2020

There are a lot of job boards out there, and sites to help you apply easily and quickly, (linkedin, indeed) but sometimes those sites miss things, and so here is my process that works well for me.

Step 1: Define what jobs you are willing to apply for. Of course you have your dream job (candy bar designer), but are you willing to do an adjacent job? (candy bar accountant).

Step 2: Define your geographic region you are willing to consider, including relocation being paid for, if that is a possibility within your field.

Step 3: In Microsoft Excel (or google sheets) try to list EVERY potential employer that has employees that fit step 1, and locations that are in step 2. In excel, list the location, a link to the company's job posting site, and the last time you checked it.

Step 4: Build a template resume, that is way too long, that has all your qualifications and what you have achieved. Have your resume peer reviewed by friends/family/colleagues.

Step 5: Go down your excel list every week. I prefer to manually load all of the correct websites, rather than rely on email notifications. Every time you see a job that might fulfill steps 1 and 2, tailor your template resume for that job, by adding keywords and adjusting your achievements to closely match the job posting. Submit the application, and pat yourself on the back!

Step 6: Repeat every week as often as you can stand. If nothing comes up, well, that's the waiting game. Maybe most of the companies only hire in July, and that's when you need to refresh the page. If you don't get a job with this method in a year, then you need to re-evaluate your choices in step 1 and 2 - maybe there just aren't any candy bar designer/accountant jobs in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

The above process can take a long time and be very demotivating. It's not false that you should expect to wait a full year for non-entry level job hunting. When you get that offer, though, no matter how desperate you are, don't forget to negotiate for 10% more salary and a few extra vacation days or signing bonus.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:07 AM on November 18, 2020 [9 favorites]

You might also look at careers that are adjacent to your current position, and look there. There is a great deal of online learning / educational software in use and being sold today, and your educational experience is a benefit there. It may not be the largest step, but it is a step away, and I know adjuncts who have had success in doing this to working in support / sales / grant writing for items like this.
posted by nickggully at 9:13 AM on November 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, even if your network is not in the field you want to move into, don't write off networking. People know other people and they like to be helpful. If you ask them "hey I'm interested in moving into this field do you know of any openings or people I could talk to" they will have relatives, friends, or colleagues who moved out of academia that may be able to help you. It feels a bit unnatural but it gives you a different channel to looking through the boards.
posted by crocomancer at 9:30 AM on November 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Department of Labor has a site for job exploring here: https://www.onetonline.org. You can start on the 'Find Occupations' section and browse jobs by zone, industry, keyword or interests. This type of search can take a while so a little patience will help. Good luck!
posted by cowlick at 9:35 AM on November 18, 2020

I like this old MathBabe blog post about how to figure out what skills correspond to what jobs. The precise system might not work for you, but I think it does a nice job of explaining how researching what jobs even exist fits into a broader job search.
posted by yarntheory at 9:56 AM on November 18, 2020

One way would be pretty passive: do as much as you can to make your resume eye-catching (by which I guess I mean key words, since it isn't actual human eyes) and put it on Indeed and see what comes to you. I recently did this and have gotten a steady stream of recruiters emailing me, some with jobs of interest and some with stuff where I'm like "how on earth did THIS match get made? I did this as a casual "maybe I could find a job I like better than my current job" thing and just the same did several phone interviews, so I'm thinking if someone were more motivated and active about it, it could be pretty fruitful.

If you have the money, having a professional polish your resume could be helpful for this.

(You may also want a LinkedIn account if you don't have one. They are beyond useless in my field but my understanding is they're not elsewhere.)
posted by less of course at 9:58 AM on November 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

So, as sm1tten notes, there really isn't one job search process. There are a bunch of different processes, depending on your situation. Looking for a job when you're unemployed is a lot different than looking for a job when you're already employed but looking for something better, and looking for a job when you're just out of college and/or recently relocated is different than looking for a job when you've been in the same city and industry for 30 years.

The best advice I can give to someone who's fairly inexperienced is informational interviewing, which is a fancy way of saying "talking to people about their job". Sometimes these are people you know, sometimes not, but the general idea is that you approach them and ask them about the industry, their company, and maybe their background. If you google "informational interviewing", there's a lot of stuff about how to turn informational interviewees into recommendations, but I find that a little skeevy, and I've been fortunate that I've never had to actually do that. For me, it's been more helpful to just get an idea of how different industries work, and who the players are in any proverbial game.

That said, the single best way to get a job offer is to be referred/recommended by someone who already works for the company you're applying to. Your first step, even before doing informational interviews, probably ought to be reaching out to the people you know to let them know you're looking for a job and to see if their companies have jobs that you might be good at. The beauty of this is that you don't really need to understand job titles or whether your skills fit. Your acquaintance is already doing that screening for you. This makes it sound much easier than it really is; the likelihood of this happening is not actually very high. In 15 years, I've only recommended a few people, and only one has made it to the interview stage. More often, my friends are looking for jobs in other industries, or they're looking in my industry but don't have much experience, or sometimes I have someone in mind for an opening at my company but that person isn't looking at the time. It's worth a try, though, and it can lead to second-degree referrals if, for example, a friend of a friend has an open position.

If this doesn't work, that's when you move to searching job boards. Other people have mentioned searching individual companies' job sites directly, and that's a great suggestion if you have an idea of what companies you'd like to work for. If you don't, which is most people, it's kind of a waste of time. I've never found a job this way. Generally, for a beginner, you're better off on a big board like LinkedIn or Indeed. (Or, if you're in a specific industry with a lot of little companies, industry-specific boards like Dice or, in my industry, GreatInsuranceJobs, but that will come later for you.)

The paradox of job searching is that once you get good at it, you no longer need to do it. When you first start, there's no way around the crap. You're going to have a hard time finding jobs that you're interested in, and an even harder time finding jobs that you're interested in who are also interested in you. No way around it. Part of the trick is to just keep plugging, and part of the trick is to keep using the previous tricks throughout the process.

Job titles are industry-specific, so it's hard to give any generalizations, and the titles are generally as unhelpful as possible, but after you've been searching for a while, you'll start seeing the same ones and get a feel for what they mean. My title, business analyst, sounds pretty meaningless - who doesn't analyze business, right? - but after you look at some IT job listings, you start to understand that it's actually a pretty widely used term for a fairly standard set of duties. Anything ending in the word "executive" (e.g., account executive, development executive) is code for sales. Likewise anything referring to "area" or "territory" - that's sales too. Titles with the word "manager" probably require a little more experience than ones that don't. Also be on the lookout for industry-specific terms that can narrow down your results. To use my experience again, searching for "insurance" returns a lot of results, because delivery driver listings generally include a line saying that candidates must provide proof of auto insurance. Consequently, I found it more useful to use terms like "property and casualty" or "personal lines" to find jobs in the actual insurance industry. If you're a computer programmer, it's generally easier to find relevant listings by searching for your preferred programming language rather than just searching for "programmer" or "developer". And so on. These are just things you pick up over time; I don't think there's a shortcut.

As for searching through pages and pages of listings, this is a problem that solves itself if you're diligent. There will be pages and pages the first time you look, but most boards include filters to search only postings within the previous x days. As long as you look at the boards every x days, you'll only see new jobs. If you're not desperate to find a new job immediately, this is honestly probably the best method to watch job boards - just look at the new jobs each day.

The easiest way to determine whether there's a fit between your skills and the duties in the posting is to try writing a cover letter. Your cover letter generally includes a paragraph along the lines of "I'm an excellent candidate for this position because...", and if you can finish that sentence convincingly, it's probably a pretty good match.

If you have an inkling of what you might like to do, it's helpful to work with a recruiter in that field. You're basically deputizing that person to do the job hunt for you. If you can't find any recruiters, it's pretty common to have them contact you on LinkedIn. I got a job once this way. LinkedIn sucks and feels super depressing, but it actually can be useful.

Keep doing the informational interviewing/networking thing even after you start to have success getting callbacks. If a company requests an interview, try to find someone who works in that department on LinkedIn and reach out to them for an informational interview. Like I said, I think trying to get them to be an internal referrer for you is gross, but where it has really helped me is to prepare me for interviews, and I think showing up prepared for interviews has been what has gotten me most of the jobs I've had. I can tailor my answers to emphasize certain parts of my experience or to display my understanding of the position.

The last thing is just to be patient and optimistic. Job hunting isn't a short-term thing. If you're not particularly desperate, you could go months without getting an interview. Just be persistent. Don't give up, even if someone tells you know. I've gotten two jobs (including my current one) because interviewers told me they'd keep me in mind for future openings. Most people, including here on Metafilter, regard that as a blow-off, but I reached back out when I saw new positions posted (in both cases, nearly a year later), and it worked. I got another job at a place I'd interviewed with a few months before but turned down; they reached back out to me when they had an unexpected opening with a better off than before. Even without those sorts of things, though, it's just a matter of time. I use a lot of sports analogies, so think about it like this: Even the best quarterback doesn't throw touchdowns on every pass attempt. Sometimes your pass will be a little off-target. Sometimes you'll throw a perfect pass but the receiver drops the ball. Sometimes your receiver catches the ball but is tackled short of the end zone. Sometimes you intentionally throw a short pass instead of trying to score. (That one's a bit of a stretch, but there are situations in which the analogy still works, e.g. your retail experience.) There are a lot of reasons why any particular throw won't score, but if you keep playing, you'll eventually get it.

If you'd like some specific advice, I've mentioned a few times here that I think the best thing an entry-level applicant can do is to get a job doing software support and work their way up the non-technical side of the software industry. That's basically what I did, only with industry-specific software, and it's easily replicable. There are plenty of points of entry and not much in terms of background requirements.

Best of luck!
posted by kevinbelt at 10:30 AM on November 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

As an introvert, I hate saying this, but it is really all about networking. I personally hate both the term and activity of networking, but in reality a very high number of interviews and positions are filled via word of mouth and referrals. I mean, look at how you ended up in your current job! And, you mentioned advice tailored for a college hire, but you have a big advantage over many new college hires since you already have a professional network from your current position.

So, how to 'network' when job hunting? Identify people who you know outside of your company, including those who may work at places that you think you aren't interested in or qualified for. Send them a short, friendly, message (this can be via email, text, or LinkedIn) expressing interest in their organization or professional expertise. Something along the lines of "Hi Barb, It's been awhile. We missed you on the bowling team last season! I'm thinking about moving on from University Job, and would love to learn more about the Widget Industry. Do you have 10 minutes for a phone call to talk about your experiences at WidgetCorp? Look forward to hearing from you." Then if it sounds like WidgetCorp could be a good fit, ask if there is way that she can submit your resume, or refer you.

For your situation, you probably want to start with casting as wide a net as possible. It doesn't hurt to mention an interest a new job to your friends and family as well. If you truly have no idea what you want to want in your next job, it may be helpful to start with your minimum requirements for a new job. For example, a salary requirement, vacation requirement, working hours requirement, no desk jobs, or specific industries. When you talk to people or 'network', you should have some ability to articulate what you are seeking, even if it is at very high level.
posted by Abacus Bean at 6:43 PM on November 18, 2020

Askamanager.org is a godsend for job hunting and interviewing advice. I have a very weird resume so cover letters were key. Reading through the advice and conversations there helped me turn down one red flagged job and negotiate for better pay and WFH with the job I accepted.

The best advice I got from several people was to treat job hunting as a (part-time) job. Get up in the morning, spend 3-4 hours writing cover letters, looking for job matches and reaching out to people. Track who you've applied to on a spreadsheet. Then close all that and go back to enjoying the last days of no job. If you have a job, do it for an hour a day or every weekend for a couple of hours. Make it regular and within firm boundaries so you're not constantly stressing about it.

I just interviewed an intern this morning and will hopefully hire her although she was very nervous. The pay rate posted is negotiable and she never brought it up despite my prompting her for questions. State that you're a good fit and want the job during the interview and ask about working conditions and pay!

If you are female, you will need to dress office professional and wear make-up for an edge in interviews. It sucks, but unless you are going to a place that is unusually casual, looking corporate helps. My current boss remarked that I looked quite different from my interview when I turned up in (confirmed that they were casual okay) jeans, t-shirt, sneakers and no make-up on my first day like the men working there. I just smiled and changed the subject.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:44 PM on November 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

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