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8 Unwritten Rules of Job Searching

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You’re ambitious, hardworking and smart. Your resume is polished, your cover letter is relevant and you’re networking.

Yet, you’re still getting rejected from every job you apply for.

Sound familiar? If so, you may be ignoring one of these unwritten rules of job searching.

1. Be organized

Use a label for all job-search-related emails. Use a program like SpringPad or Excel to track all the positions and organizations you’re interested in, all the resources you use and all the people you meet with. You can also get extra fancy and track other data such as date of application, date of interview and related contacts.

If you aren’t speaking with two or three people about your search daily, you aren’t networking enough. Talk with friends, friends of friends, contacts you find on LinkedIn or at an event, recommendations from your school’s career center (even if you graduated long ago) and recommendations of recommendations. Think strategically about each networking request, and keep an organization doc for that, too, if it helps you stay on track.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask—and make it easy to say yes

Make it easy for your contact to qualify your request and help you. Be specific and strategic about the people and/or organizations you want them to connect you with or the advice you’re asking for.

Write introductory emails or talking points they can easily forward along, and make sure you aren’t asking for too many things at once. And if someone is unable to help, don’t hold it against them. People have to preserve their network and reputation. They can’t introduce their powerful contacts to every person they speak with.

3. Don’t apply for jobs you don’t want

We all do it. It’s easy to get excited for any seemingly good, somewhat tangentially related to what you want to do, open position you can find.

But do you really want this job? Will it be a good fit for you? Be honest with yourself about your strengths, work environment preferences and goals, and do your research on what the company and position offer.

Here’s a test: if you’re not willing to put in the effort for a customized resume and cover letter, you probably don’t want the position enough. (And yes, every application needs to be customized. Even inexperienced hiring managers can tell as soon as they open an application when it’s not customized.)

We sometimes think if we apply to as many jobs as possible, we’ll get a job faster. In fact, that’s just a waste of your time and the organizations’ time. Instead, apply smart.

4. Start somewhere

If a good opportunity comes your way and you’re early in your career or moving to a new field, you need to start somewhere.

Say the position isn’t ideal—do you care about the organization’s mission? Is there opportunity for growth? Then treat the position as if it were your dream job, prove you are an asset to the team, gain new skills and be honest about your career goals at the company. Doing so could also introduce you to new interests and goals you didn’t know you had.

5. Be honest

Be honest in interviews about your strengths, weaknesses and what type of position and work environment you’re looking for. Interviewers can tell when you’re being genuine, and they’ll appreciate your honesty. Even if you’re a great actor, your interviewer can detect when you don’t actually want the job, so you’re just sabotaging yourself.

And don’t forget: interviews are rarely about your skills and almost always about fit for the company and the position.

6. Be observant

Interviews are two-way. Not only is the employer seeing whether you’re a good fit for them, you’re also determining whether the company and team are good fits for you.

How does your interviewer treat you? Was the interview process organized, slow or fast? How do they talk about teamwork, your position and their own work? These are all things to consider.

7. Always help others

Just because the job market is competitive doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate. If you find a job that is a better fit for someone else, share it with them.

Whether you are in the midst of a search yourself or settled in a job, it’s important to give back and share… because what goes around, comes around.

8. Learn

We can all learn during the challenging job search process, so take advantage of the opportunity for personal reflection and discovering more about your industry.

After all, learning is a quality that will help you no matter what job you land in.

Hila Mehr is a Social Enterprise Fellow in India and previously worked for a think tank in Washington, D/C. She blogs at http://hilamehr.tumblr.com. Connect on Twitter @HilaMehr.

50 comments

  1. It also helps if you can find ways to get to know (and be known by) people in the department you’re applying for. Being active in the industry outside of your employer (as a volunteer, guest writer or conference attendee) takes extra effort. That eliminates 80% of your competition right there. If people know you, and you’re halfway decent, you’ll be the person they want. Yes, it’s extra work, but it will pay off in spades…

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  3. I really like these “unwritten rules,” Hila. Your tips are unique and very applicable to job seekers. I couldn’t agree more with #3, don’t apply for jobs you don’t want. Too many people – especially recent graduates – accept offers for jobs they know they won’t enjoy merely to have a job…this is so detrimental to both their overall happiness and their career satisfaction. Sometimes your passion can be hard to find, but I would add “do what you love” to this list. If it takes longer to discover that burning fire, take a temporary job for the time being. I offer more advice on this in my recent blog post: http://pastfive.typepad.com/pastfive/2012/05/advice-for-the-class-of-2012-do-what-you-love.html.

    – Tom Gimbel, CEO LaSalle Network.

  4. Not sure how Springpad keeps you organized in a job search…. there are a few good options right now to help with job search organizing, including: http://www.JibberJobber.com (my site), Huntsy (new, by AOL), and a few others. Much better than a spreadsheet or sticky notes, especially if you want to have the contact info and notes available for future transitions (or, the rest of your career).

  5. HR people especially like #3. The DELUGE of résumés that come in from people just hitting the submit button is cringeworthy. Any extra effort at customizing a query to the ad immediately pops out of the stack. Well, for companies that don’t use automated ATSs anyway. But the only reason they use ATSs is applicants don’t do #3. See the vicious cycle forming?

  6. In regards to #1, I used an online tool called Huntsy to track where I had applied, contacts at the company and other pieces of information. It was a huge help and got me away from copy and pasting in Evernote.

  7. A great list and particularly liked #7 “Always help others”.

    We recently published a post “Career Success ► Paying It Forward” (see: http://www.social-hire.com/career–interview-advice/889/career-success–paying-it-forward), the whole premise of which was the way in which social media is now making it far easier to help others. Many professionals are effectively building a network of people they’ve supported who’ll be eager to help and reciprocate in turn when the time comes. A candidate’s best option is to have built up this support network long before actually wanting a change of jobs. As you say, what goes around comes around.

  8. These are all great rules for job searching. A lot of these tips are very important for landing a great job, including the tips about being honest. Honesty is important in a variety of ways. It’s important that you are honest with hiring managers and employers, whether it’s in your resume or your video interview. It’s also important that you are honest with yourself about the kind of company and position you’re looking for. If you take any job, it’s likely you’ll have to start the search again soon if it’s not the right fit. Be honest with yourself about your career goals and you’ll know the right job when it comes along.

  9. Thanks alot for this post! You have given some great suggestions.All the points which you have shared are important for all those who are seeking for a job. I believe to be honest is the key the to success.

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  11. Fantastic Article! I especially like #4 Start Somewhere. I just landed a job at a company that has a great vision for the future. Although I am not making bookoo bucks, I see lots of opportunity for advancement within the firm.

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  13. Those who are unemployed and wants to land a job immediately resorts to “applying all jobs available” even if they don’t like it. The 3rd tip is so true because it is a waste of time and effort. Apply to as many job as possible which you have an interest of, those of your chosen field or you have the passion with.

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  16. Definitely be observant. Sometimes an organization’s mission and potential can be a good fit for you but the workplace environment isn’t. Definitely look for a place where you are comfortable and happy. – Monia Abou Ghali.

  17. I’ve noticed articles on this subject before, but never really paid attention to any of them. What caught my eye on this one was the use of many ideas to form one very strong conclusion!

  18. Y8

    I have read many articles on this subject, but this one is the best I’ve seen. It’s nice to realize that some writers can still write with passion like you.

  19. Only an open-minded person could write this kind of content. I agree with your points and I really enjoyed this article a lot. Great article!

  20. How seldom do I have the honor of quality reading content with which I agree. This excellent article has given me reason to pause and take many factors into consideration.

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