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Stuck in the Job Search Starting Gate? Break Out!

By Amy Feind Reeves

Maybe you are graduating in May, and thinking about what comes next.

Maybe you are a new grad with a few months of work under your belt and ready to move on.

Maybe you are even a not-so-new grad ready for a change.

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You know that you want to start a job search, but there is a lot you don't know:

  • What jobs are there?
  • What would you actually do in those jobs?
  • How do you get one?
  • How long will it take?
  • Who can help you?
  • What will you get paid?

That's just for starters.

In short, a job search can be overwhelming, regardless of where you are in your career.

The Job of Finding a Job

Many people often don't know where to begin, so they don't.

They'll talk about it, get frustrated about it, and generally burn themselves out over the whole idea before they've sent out a single resume.

For others, magical thinking can rear its ugly head:

"Something will come along," or

"Things usually work out for me somehow."

Still others have figured out a few pieces of the puzzle thanks to a helpful college career office, friend, or parent -- but are overwhelmed at the idea of taking it to the next step.

All of these people can be best described in one of two words: (1) unemployed or (2) underemployed. Why? Because the worst thing you can do in a job search is nothing.

In truth, you need to treat getting a job like it's a job. If you've never had a job, treat it like a major academic project.

Set goals, timelines and tasks. Most important of all, accept accountability for your results.

6 Steps to Launching Your Job Search

So how do you get started? How do you take this completely overwhelming, vastly complex goal and break it down into a series of tasks you know that you can do?

1. List the elements.

Create three lists pertaining to your search: (A) everything you know (likely 10% of the total items), (B) everything you think you know (likely 20% of the total items) and (C) everything you don't know (likely 70% of the total items).

For example:

(A) I know I want to…

  • Live in the New York City area.
  • Use my personality in my next job.
  • Not spend my days working with numbers.

(B) I think I want to…

  • Do something related to health care.
  • Travel.
  • Work with people who are very interested in health and exercise.

(C) I don't know

  • What jobs there are in health care in New York City for people at my level.
  • What organizations are hiring.
  • What will get my resume noticed.
  • How to explain why I want health care.
  • Who I can ask for help.
  • Why someone would hire me.

Don't edit yourself. Be honest. Get personal. if you want a job where you don't have to show up until 9:30 because you are not a morning person, add it to your list.

You don't need to -- and shouldn't -- show these lists to prospective employers, or feel you need to justify your lists to anyone.

2. Research.

Devote a few hours a week (or a day, depending on your timeline) to learning what you don't know. Take your list elements one at a time.

Create a plan, and make yourself accountable for answering as many as possible.

Segment your questions according to how you will best be able to get them answered:

  • College or alumni career office.
  • Friends who have conducted successful job searches.
  • People you know (or your parents, friends, or neighbors know) who work in the field.
  • Google.

Then tackle one segment at a time. Expect to add questions as you go.

Don't expect to get all your questions answered. Be sure to thank -- personally and profusely -- any one who helps you (including those that tried but did not help). Cast a wide net.

3. Revisit Your Lists.

Once you've done all you can, make your lists again. Hopefully, after your research, your revised lists (A) and (B) will host the bulk of the items.

Be sure to have a notebook and/or digital file with all of your notes to consult while making this list.

This time focus more on what you think you know than what you don't know. Keep track of everyone you speak to and their contact information. Keep your list of "what you don't know" handy, but accept that you are going to start your job search without knowing everything. Everyone does.

4. Choose Your Targets.

Take what you think you know, and target a couple of industries, organizations and roles.

Don't make your targets too narrow. Pick at least two roles and industries that are interesting to you.

Continuing our example:

  • Maybe you are interested in medical software sales and pharmaceutical sales. Same skill set but different universes. It's ok early in your career to say you would be interested in both.
  • You've learned that you could live in New York City and travel a lot if you go into an entry-level sales role.

Next: Determine which employers meet your criteria, and could become targets for your job search.

Industry associations are a great place to learn about what kinds of jobs there are, who is hiring and what career paths look like. You can learn a lot from their websites.

In our example, you would want to seek out professional associations for software sales and health care technology.

Local employers are often listed on association and industry websites, or can be found easily with a little experimentation on Google.

  • Check out websites of employers in your targeted field that seem interesting.
  • Identify if anyone in management went to your school, is from your hometown, or knows someone you know.
  • Follow the organization on social media, and sign up for job alerts.
  • Keep abreast of any news that comes out of the organization.

Identify the role you want by looking at these websites, but try not to use a single name for it. The appropriate role for you may be called "Sales Associate" at one firm and "Customer Relationship Manager" at another. You can describe what you want as an "entry-level role in the sales organization."

[MORE: Guide to Company Research and Using Google for Job Search.]

5. Build Your Personal Visibility.

Get your digital profile, and draft applications in order. Start preparing for interviews by reading all you can about your field(s) of interest.

Prepare your resume, and draft a cover letter for each role you are targeting.

Update LinkedIn to reflect your updated resume and your goals or expertise. Make sure the information is consistent across all your profiles.

Read as much as you can about your field(s) of interest- newspapers, magazines, books and blogs. Keep a notebook of what you learn- it will come in handy.

6. Start the Job Application Process.

Apply early and often. Repeat as necessary.

Follow two tracks in your job search: one where you are responding to jobs that are posted, and one where you are seeking out jobs that have not yet been posted by seeking informational and networking interviews. Set goals for yourself weekly in each track.

Bottom Line

This is just one example of a way to approach your job search. Do it this way, invent your own way or create something in between. Something, anything, is better than nothing.

More About Job Search for New Grads:


About the author...

Amy Feind Reeves is the Founder and CEO of JobCoachAmy, where she leverages her experience of over 25 years as a senior executive and hiring manager to help new professionals find and keep jobs that make them happy. Her corporate practice focuses on managing millennials. Amy has enjoyed successful careers as a commercial banker, global management consultant, entrepreneur, corporate executive, and non-profit executive. Amy graduated cum laude from Wellesley College and earned an MBA at the Tuck School of Dartmouth College.


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Guide to Job Search for New Grads:

Starting Your Job Search:

Handling Special Situations:

Networking for Your Job Search:

Navigating Job Interviews Successfully:


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The Job Internship Process:

Succeeding with that First Real Job:

Job Search Basics for New Grads:

New Grads Job Search Expert:

Additional Resources:


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