Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Four Tips to Help You Stay Sane on Your Job Hunt

by Anya Weber

I’ve applied for 70 jobs over the last five months, and honestly, it’s been kind of a nightmare. The hardest part for me has been maintaining my cheerful attitude. In that spirit, here are a few tricks that seem to be helping me land interviews and (just as important) feel like I’m approaching my job safari with style, grace, and finesse, rather than abject desperation.

1. If you see a job posting, that interests you, apply within 24 hours.

It’s just so competitive out there! One position I applied for, at a high-profile nonprofit in Boston, received 200+ applications within 48 hours of being posted. The hiring managers took down the job listing at that point, figuring that they had more than enough fodder for their search already and that taking on more resumes would be self-defeating.

So don’t put it off while you work your connections at the company, hone your cover letter, or perfect your resume. Don’t rush your job app out there, but give it an hour or two of concerted effort and then send it.

2. Make sure the position’s still open before you apply for it.

Sounds obvious, but we’re talking about some surreally tight turnaround times here. One position, at a big-name university, was posted on a Tuesday. I applied on a Wednesday — or tried to. When I clicked the “send resume” button on the job-search website, an error message came up: the job was no longer open.

There could be several reasons for this. The school might have had an internal candidate and just posted the position publicly for legal reasons. Or they, too, might have received 200+ applications within the first 24 hours of posting the position.

Moral of the story: If you’re applying for a job off a site such as Monster, Idealist, or (especially) an aggregator site such as Indeed, make sure the job still exists. To do this, go to the source (for me, this would have been the university’s online job board) before doing your research and writing your application. In my case, I wasted an hour or so researching one specific branch of this university — time I could have saved if I’d gone directly to the school’s job page and made sure the position was still posted.

3. Dodge the trap of perfection.

My resume isn’t perfect. None of the four versions of it that I’m customizing for different types of jobs are flawless. But they’re all solid. My cover letters aren’t perfect, either, but they’re pretty good. I try to employ the 80/20 rule in my job apps: often, 20% of the effort will yield 80% of the results, and a lot of the time that’s enough.

For example, spending 20 minutes on a company’s website jotting down notes and key phrases is just as effective as spending three hours on there researching every morsel of their mission, branding, and business plan.

4. Work your network, but don’t let the network slow you down.

My usual technique when I see a job posting that interests me is this:
I look on LinkedIn to see if I have any secondary connections there (that is, people I know who know someone at the company). If so, I drop my friend a line asking if they’d be comfortable e-introducing me to their contact at Company X, so that I can learn more about what it’s like to work there.

While I wait for their reply, I do my due diligence, researching the company, the open position, and anything from their branding that I can hijack in my application.

If the friend-in-law writes to me immediately, saying something like, “Don’t go through HR — just send me your cover letter and resume and I’ll pass them on,” I do that promptly.

If I don’t hear back from the friend-in-law within 24 hours, I send in my application through the usual channels. If I do wind up talking to the contact later, I can always ask her if she’d be OK with passing my resume and cover letter up the channels unofficially, or with dropping my name to someone in HR. It’s a good way to do an end run around HR purgatory.
I hope these ideas are helpful to my fellow job seekers! Good hunting, and let me know how it goes.

Anya Weber is a writer and editor looking for work at an innovative, socially responsible company. You can find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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