The ball has dropped, and you’ve made a promise to yourself that 2014 will be a year to remember when it comes to taking the next step in your career. But if your number one goal for the new year is to land a new job, hopes and wishes aren’t enough; you need to define and execute a plan to ensure your success. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
Finding a new job is both an art and a science, and there are a few tried-and-true guidelines for helping job seekers prepare to land that coveted job in the new year. So if you want to start 2014 off on the right foot career-wise, consider adding one (or more!) of these to your list of resolutions:
1. Create a Plan
You can’t get there if you don’t know where you’re going. Define your goals and a specific plan to achieve them, along with actionable steps. Assess your skills, strengths and interests. Think about the type of work you’ve enjoyed in the past, even it was in internships, part-time jobs or even volunteer experiences.
Document your plan and measure your progress against it. Set weekly goals and hold yourself accountable. Reward yourself by doing something you enjoy once you’ve accomplished your weekly goals.
2. Prepare Your Tools
If you’re planning a trip, you pack your bags and make the appropriate reservations. As you embark on your job search journey, you also need to have the appropriate tools.
Is your resume up-to-date and ready to go? Have someone else proof it for you to ensure it has no typos or grammatical errors. Practice writing customized cover letters and ask for feedback. Consider developing a networking profile to share during networking meetings. Think about who you can use for references, and ensure that you have their current contact information. Having the right tools won’t get you the job, but it can get your foot in the door so you have an opportunity to sell yourself for the job.
3. Develop a Target List
What companies are you most interested in working for? What industries interest you the most? What companies hire for the roles you’re considering? What companies are in your geographic target area?
Start your list and then expand your research. Use online tools to create a robust target list. Research those companies to learn more about them. Use your target list to direct your job search efforts. Prioritize your list based on where you have contacts, alumni connections or LinkedIn connections. Look at recent job posting history to further prioritize your list.
4. Network, Network, Network
This is the single most important thing you can do in your job search. More positions are filled through networking than all other approaches combined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 80% of all jobs are filled through networking. Online postings often receive hundreds of responses.
To stand out and be noticed, you need an internal contact to pass your resume to the hiring manager. Networking helps you build and identify those internal contacts. Networking is not asking for a job, however. It’s meeting with someone at the company to learn more about the company, the industry, the types of roles they offer, the skills they value, the corporate culture and their hiring process.
Networking involves a significant amount of listening. The holiday season can be the perfect time for networking — some businesses are less busy, so managers are more likely to have flexibility for meetings. You’ll also see family and friends at holiday gatherings, and you can ask who they might know in your target companies.
5. Identify New Networking Contacts
Identify all your contacts, and see who they know at your target companies. Think about former work colleagues, former student colleagues, etc. and see who they know. Utilize your alumni database. Search LinkedIn. The true power of LinkedIn can be found in the groups, so identify relevant groups to expand your network.
Work to identify contacts at all your target companies. Do your neighbors or your parents’ friends have contacts in those companies? Ask for 15 – 20 minutes for an informational interview. Come to the discussion well-prepared, and learn as much as you can. Ask each contact for at least three other people you should contact. Always thank them and keep track so you can follow up when you see an opportunity at that company.
Challenge yourself to make at least five networking connections each week. It makes a difference.
6. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
For each informational interview, prepare as if it were a real interview. Research the company. Put together a list of questions. Make a positive impression and demonstrate your interest and passion by coming well-prepared. Practice with friends and family.
7. Always Say “Thank You”
Interviewers remember when candidates send a handwritten thank you note. Stand out from the crowd. Time is a precious commodity, so say “thank you” when someone is willing to share their time with you.
8. Add Value to Your Resume
If you know you’re missing critical skills on your resume, can you volunteer a few hours per week to acquire them? Most nonprofits need the help and would give you an opportunity to develop and enhance your skills. Maybe an unpaid internship is a good investment to add critical skills to your resume. In addition to adding valuable skills, it also shows your initiative and creativity.
9. Protect Your Social Media Presence
Many potential employers check applicants online before making an offer. Be careful what you post, knowing that it may be seen by a potential employer. Put your best foot forward.
10. Sweat the Details
They really do matter! Many cover letters and resumes aren’t moved to the “interview pile” because of a lack of attention to detail.
There should be absolutely no typos or grammatical errors in your cover letter or resume. Don’t cut and paste your cover letters — it’s too easy to send with the wrong company name or job title. Be careful not to brag about your attention to detail when your letter has obvious errors. Don’t exaggerate your experience — two years is not extensive experience in anything.
When it comes to the interview, be sure to be well-prepared. Arrive on time. Know who you’re meeting with. Don’t ask the interviewer what the company does; instead, have some well-thought-out questions already prepared.
11. Remember It Isn’t All About You
A hiring manager has business needs to address. That’s why they received approval to fill the position. There’s a specific job to be done, and they want to find the best-qualified person to fill that job and the best fit for the organization.
Don’t focus your cover letter and/or interview on what this position can do for your career or how much you need particular benefits. The employer really doesn’t care. Focus instead on how you can help the company meet their business needs. What valuable skills do you bring to the table? How can you make a difference?
12. Be Responsive
When employers do start calling you for interviews, be responsive and professional every step of the way. Make a positive impression with every interaction. Dress professionally, arrive a few minutes early, answer your phone professionally and come well-prepared.
13. Differentiate Yourself
There are many candidates for each open position. Use every opportunity throughout the process to differentiate yourself positively. Again, the focus should be on how you can meet the employer’s needs, not what they can do for you.
Don’t leave your career path up to chance; now’s the perfect time to revamp your approach as you resolve to pursue new opportunities in 2014. Develop a plan and execute it flawlessly, and there’s a good chance you’ll be celebrating a new job in the new year.
Which of the above resolutions can you add to your job hunt strategy?
Lynne Sarikas is director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University, where she provides career management and job search advice to students seeking residency and full-time opportunities. She also works closely with Northeastern’s corporate partners to identify their needs and support student hiring. Previously, Lynne was VP of Development at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and held a variety of management positions focusing on corporate relationships and new business development, as well as teaching as an adjunct faculty member at Stonehill College.