Updated: Feb 21, 2022
When I left the company where I'd worked for 28 years, I saw how the hiring landscape had changed dramatically since I was a young person. For much of my career, I hired publications staff. In my next job, I worked closely with my employer's recruiter to amplify the company's brand and write more engaging job postings that attracted more diverse candidates.
Here's what I've learned from extensive years of hiring, job hunting in my 50s, and the recruiting process, and they apply no matter your age or level of experience:
1. LinkedIn is absolutely essential for your job hunt...and for your professional career, too!
I bang that drum every time I speak to anyone looking for a job. Ideally, you'll have your LinkedIn profile in tip-top professional shape BEFORE you need to look for a job. That involves:
A nice photo
A catchy title and a pithy summary, ideally that describe you and not just your position
Concise summaries of your job experience, speaking about your accomplishments and not just your responsibilities
Recommendations from your colleagues past and present
Important LinkedIn tip: If you are in between jobs, keep your last position end date as "present" until you find a new job. Recruiters will find you more attractive if they think you are still employed.
2. Prepare a concise, action-oriented resume
If I could cut my 30 years of experience down into 1 page, you can do it too! Make them want more information. Describe your job experience in terms of what you accomplished, not what your responsibilities were. (Have I said this enough?) For example, mine says "Comanaged 2017 employee giving campaign for Water For People, in which we increased our giving by 16% over the previous year and had more offices around the world participate than ever." Use statistics as much as you can.
3. Tailor your resume to the job
If you are applying for different types of jobs, you might want to have a handful oriented to various fields. I wrote a summary of my skills based on the position requirements. For example, if you're looking for a management position, make sure you highlight your leadership skills. Make it easy for the recruiters.
4. Write a responsive, specific cover letter to give yourself an edge
Yes, some jobs do not require cover letters...but you should never miss a chance to sell yourself. You can use the cover letter to say what you don't have room for in your one-page resume.
I used to scan cover letters quickly and sometimes even before I got to the resume, I would make my yes/no/maybe decision about whether I wanted to start with a phone interview. I still remember the best cover letters I received. They stood out.
You should respond to each job requirement by explaining how you are best qualified. This means that cover letters take time and effort to write. But if you put this effort in, your letter will stand above the crowd and impress the hiring team!
5. Make sure you get that resume AND cover letter edited and reviewed, again and again!
The last thing you want is a typo or other sort of error. Find people who will be honest with you. Request constructive feedback. Ask "would you hire me?" and "what can I do to make my resume and cover letter stronger?"
And understand your audience! In my hiring manager days--in a field comprising mostly women--I received countless cover letters addressed "Dear Sirs" or "Gentlemen." They immediately went into the recycling pile!
6. Sign up for online alerts in your field of choice
Searching for jobs via LinkedIn, GlassDoor, Indeed, and even Google makes job hunting easier than ever. I signed up for LinkedIn Premium to get additional analytics during my job hunt. Sign up for job alerts tailored to your particular field and the position you desire.
7. Clean up your social presence
This might seem obvious, but it bears saying, especially for younger people. If you're the type who posts revealing or drunken photos on Instagram or Facebook, turn on your privacy settings (if you haven't already done so).
Google yourself to see what's out there on the Internet about you. And do not get into political or other arguments on LinkedIn!! Maintain a professional social presence.
8. Use your network!
If you're actively looking for a job, let everyone know. Send your resume to everyone on your contact list--former colleagues, friends, family, and friends of friends. Ask them to pass it along. The more people who see your resume, the better. The best sources of referrals are people inside organizations. Work it!
9. Consider branding yourself
Not literally--that sounds painful. Think about how you want to present yourself to the world. In my case, I came up with three themes about myself and used them in my materials and on my LinkedIn profile. I also had business cards made with those phrases. Let the world know who you are.
Also look at your email address. If you have an unprofessional-sounding email address, change it immediately to a simple gmail with your name.
10. Prepare thoroughly for your interviews
Read the organization's website and everything you can find on the Internet. Talk to people who have the inside scoop. If you are a communicator, prepare a portfolio of work samples. I invested in a binder with plastic pages to display articles I'd written, and I collected the best of my work to take to my interviews. I also had personal business cards made so I could leave the interviewers with something to remember me.
Role play with a friend or colleague so you feel prepared. Think about what types of questions they might ask, and prepare responses in your head. Of course, be on time and be polite to the receptionist!
11. Write thank you cards or emails!
I am a huge believer in this dying art! When it comes to choosing between two candidates, you want to be the one who sent a thank you email or card. Depending on the time involved before a decision is made, it can't hurt to send both.
You can use a thank you email to reiterate what you said in the interview, mention things you forgot to say, or summarize why you are the best candidate.
12. Take good care of yourself
Searching for a new job is hard work, so be good to yourself. Take frequent breaks and affirm yourself. Writing regular affirmations to yourself would be helpful. Do everything you can to stay optimistic and positive.
Learn three easy ways to improve your online presence in my "Sparkle in Your Bio" guide. Contact me if you'd like a killer LinkedIn profile, website, or job application materials. Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business, dedicated to creating a kinder, more sustainable, and just world. With over 30 years of experience in the environmental consulting industry, I am passionate about sustainability and corporate citizenship, equity & inclusion, businesses that use their power for good, and doing everything I can to create a kinder, more compassionate world.