Back to Basics: 7 Essentials for a Successful Job Search

by Pollak, Lindsey Thursday, February 02, 2012
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I’m excited to announce that my book, Getting from College to Career: Your Essential Guide to Succeeding in the Real World, will be published in a brand new, fully revised second edition on January 31st!

In honor of the launch, this month I’ll be writing series of “back to basics” blog posts on the essentials of getting from college to career. Today I’m starting with the basics of getting yourself set up with what I consider to be the 7 absolute basics you’ll need for a successful job search:

1. Time. You’ve probably heard it said that job hunting is a fulltime job. I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case, but it is an activity that needs serious commitment. You’ll likely fail if you’re job hunting in your spare time, only on weekends or “when you get to it.” To get serious, schedule specific blocks of time in your calendar that are dedicated to your job hunt. I’d recommend starting with 30 uninterrupted minutes a day and adding time from there.

2. A Really Big List. A lot of people tell me this is their favorite tip from Getting from College to Career. A Really Big List is a collection of every idea you have that’s related to your job search — companies you’d love to work for, internships to apply for, people you’ve been meaning to talk to, blogs to subscribe to and anything and everything else. Start a list in a notebook, an Excel doc or in a file on your phone and keep it with you at all times. Your list will provide the assignments for the job search sessions you’ve now made the time for: employers to research, people to invite for informational interviews, events to attend, etc. It’s like a journal and assignment book all in one.

3. Friends. Notice I said “friends” instead of “a network.” This is so you don’t get scared. The reality is that your friends are your network, and a network is absolutely critical to landing a job. Your friends are the first people you should tell about your job search. Your friends are the people who can offer advice, ideas and connections to their friends who might also be helpful. Your friends are the people you should connect with on LinkedIn before anyone else (see #6 below). A job search doesn’t require reaching out to dozens of strangers. You’ll be more successful if you reach out to your friends first and grow your network organically from those relationships.

4. Business cards. A lot of people feel weird having business cards without a title or company name on them. Don’t. Business cards are the currency of the professional world, so you absolutely must have them to engage in a successful job hunt. I’m especially impressed when I meet a student or recent grad with cards. It shows maturity, foresight, and an eagerness to have the appropriate tools for the working world. Design a simple card with a simple font and the highest quality card stock you can afford at DesignYourOwnCard.com, VistaPrint, FedEx Kinko’s or your local print shop. Include your name, phone number and email. If you’d like, you can also include your university, major and year of graduation; a professional website if you have one; and your LinkedIn profile URL.

5. The Best Resume You Can Possibly Have. Chris Russell’s recent post reminded me of the importance of having a professionally written resume. Although the economy is getting better, it’s still an incredibly competitive job market, so your resume has to be the very best it can be. Don’t wing it! If you can afford a professional resume writer, hire one. If you’re in college or are a recent grad, get a resume rewrite from your college career center. If you can’t do either of these things, then ask your smartest, most successful friend (ideally someone who works or has worked in your industry) for help. No matter how you improve your resume, I promise that the time, effort and/or money spent will be well worth it.

6. 100% Complete LinkedIn Profile. Now take that professionally edited resume and turn it into a LinkedIn profile. With more than 135 million members and counting, LinkedIn has become the professional Yellow Pages: no matter what your field, professional level or geographic location, you simply must have a presence if you want to be found by employers and taken seriously by networking contacts. For comprehensive tips on setting up a great profile, watch my short LinkedIn how-to videos for students or register for one of my upcoming 60-minute LinkedIn for Job Seekers webinars. Both of these resources are totally free and open to all.

7. Two Professional Outfits. While it’s great to have a closet full of clothes, you can make it through a job search with two main outfits (sorry – my husband always tells me that men don’t call their clothes “outfits”) or sets of clothes. First, you need a professional suit. When in doubt, go with a basic black suit (skirt suits or pant suits are both okay for women) and black shoes. Make sure the suit is always dry-cleaned and the shoes are polished and not too worn. You can make a black suit look totally different for different events by changing the shirt you wear underneath.

Second, you need a go-to business casual outfit. This is harder than it sounds — depending on your industry, business casual could mean ripped jeans or it could mean neatly pressed khakis and a cardigan sweater. Research what’s appropriate in your industry and, when in doubt, err on the side of a bit more conservative just to be safe. Whatever you determine, always have your business casual option at the ready for networking meetings and other casual encounters with employers.