Once upon a time, there was a girl who needed a job.
I had just finished my first year of university and summer was looming before me. I only had 4 months get some “real” work experience and earn money for the next school year. I needed to find a job yesterday. But I had no idea where to start. I had no idea what to expect, and the entire process seemed overwhelmingly mysterious and difficult.
This Jumpstart Your Career series is going to cover everything I wished I had known when I started looking for jobs. From resumes, to cover letters, to interviews – here are all the helpful tips I’ve picked up in my career journey. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any useful tips!
1. Plan Ahead
First of all, plan ahead if at all possible. I didn’t start applying for summer jobs until the middle of May, when most companies had already finished hiring for the summer. If I had done more research and asked around, I would have known to start looking as early as January or February. Sometimes you don’t have a choice about when to start your job hunt, but if you do, start early!
2. Know What You Want
Before even looking at job postings, it’s important to know what you want. It sounds silly, but it’s so crucial. I naively thought all I wanted out of my job was money and a chance to fill the gaping white space of my resume. This lead me to apply to every job posting I saw that was willing to take on employees with no experience for the summer – over a hundred applications. It would have saved me so much time and effort if I had sat down and reflected about what I actually wanted first.
It doesn’t matter if you just need money ASAP or if you have the luxury of time to search for your dream role. Knowing what you want helps you to spend your time applying for jobs that are more likely to fit your strengths and needs, even if they don’t fit your criteria perfectly. It’s better to do 2-3 really strong applications in a day to jobs that are a great fit than to crank out 7-8 applications to jobs that would make you miserable.
I didn’t know what industry or role or company I wanted to work for. But I still should have considered what kind of work environment and learning experience I wanted. In an ideal world, I wanted my job to have:
- Work experience that was transferable to future jobs
- References for future jobs
- A short commute
- Paid overtime
- More than minimum wage
- No requirement to stand all day
A lot of these were unrealistic. Some factors I didn’t realize I valued until I had some experience, like the company culture, flexible hours, or the size of my team. Your list of things of ideal job features and how you rank them will change as you grow in your career, and that’s okay. But it’s important to take some time to reflect on what you value most so you can find the right fit for you.
Looking for a job is like looking for a life partner – having at least some idea of what you want will help you sort through the possibilities faster. This means fewer horrible blind dates and more time to nurture relationships with the best prospects! For more guidance on how to choose your career path you can check out WaitButWhy and 80000 Hours.
3. Do Your Research
How will you know the company will be a good fit for you? You need to do your homework.
Look up the company’s website, recent news articles, even the company’s annual reports if they’re publicly available. Check out their Glassdoor reviews. See if you know anybody who works at the companies you are considering so you can ask them what it’s like to work there. If you’re still in school you can leverage your school’s career centre, and if you’ve graduated from a college or university there are often alumni services that can provide you with connections.
Don’t know much about the role? Google career profiles, ask your network, and look at descriptions of similar jobs at other companies so you have a better frame of reference to evaluate the opportunity. Again, college or university career centres can be really helpful for connecting you with people in those roles who can share their experience with you.
If there are any red flags, you can take them off your prospective list right away. If they are a great fit, you’ve gotten a head start on the research you need to customize your resume and cover letter so you stand out.
Do you have any other tips for figuring out what the right job is for you? Leave a comment below!