we all know how much looking for a job drains you. the endless cover letters and interviews and networking and feeling like it’s a black hole you can’t escape from. it takes a lot of time and can feel like it’s sucking your soul out of your body. it’s a full-time job with no pay and no benefits. and it’s really, really hard.
i began informally looking for a new job a few years ago, ramping up my search at the beginning of 2021 and quitting my previous job to focus on it full-time just over a year ago. even so it took me many months and lots of trial and error to finally land a new job, and today i’d like to share some of the things i learned along the way.
i want to preface this by saying these are the things that i found helpful. searching for a job is extremely personal and also fluctuates depending on your industry, your geography, and your experience. i have worked for nonprofits nearly all of my adult life, and that is what my search was tailored toward, so some of this would need to change to accommodate whatever your field is. some of it, however, i do think is universal.
so without further ado: the tips + tricks that helped me in my most recent job search.
create a master resume and cover letter.
i have long had a master resume that i could copy and paste from to specify it to the role for which i was applying, but early in my search someone made the suggestion of creating a master cover letter as well, and it paid dividends.
cover letters have long been the bane of my existence. i hated having to write them, knowing full well that half the ones i was writing were never going to be read by anyone [i’ll save my thoughts on how we screen candidates for another day]. and then came along the suggestion for a master cover letter, and it seemed so obvious i can’t believe i’d never heard or thought of it before.
similar to my master resume, i wrote and formatted a cover letter with paragraphs for each of the skills i might want to highlight when applying to a position. for me that included program management and facilitation, relationship building, communication, evaluation, process improvement, event logistics and coordination, and youth leadership development. and then, each time i wanted to apply for a position, all i had to do was copy and paste the relevant sections, edit a bit to be sure it included the keywords that specific position was seeking, and submit.
i cannot even begin to calculate the number of hours this saved me and the number of additional positions i was able to apply to once i had this in my back pocket. a huge shoutout to elle for this suggestion.
create an elevator pitch to help identify what you are looking for.
this was a suggestion from aja marsh [i’ll explain more about how she has helped me below] that really propelled my search forward. i knew i needed to focus on networking a lot in this search, especially as i was looking for jobs in new cities, but i was having some trouble figuring out how to begin that. during one of our 1:1 calls, aja asked me to create an elevator pitch for myself: a few sentences or a short paragraph explaining what skills i wanted to continue using, what field or industry i was primarily searching in, and where i was looking. during a different webinar the facilitators noted that people are inherently wired to want to help others but need to know specific ways to help you. having this elevator pitch helped me as i was leveraging my networks, because it was something friends could share as they were connecting me to others.
and speaking of networking…
leverage your networks and conduct as many informational interviews as you can.
in that same webinar it was also mentioned that over 75% of hires come from referrals. that means that 3/4 of jobs happen because someone advocated on behalf of someone else. most often that is an employee, but it can also be a board member, a community partner, and any number of other people with connections to an organization.
upon hearing that, i knew i needed to reach out to my network when i switched over to searching full-time. to begin i made a long list of people i wanted to talk to, for a variety of reasons. some were undergrad or grad school friends working in similar areas. some had also recently switched jobs and had their own tips and tricks to share. within that group there were a few who had also relocated for new jobs, so they had extra insight there. some work in career coaching and were gracious enough to review my resume and linkedin profile for me and provide feedback on both.
once i had my list, i started reaching out to ask who was willing to speak to me about my search. and they all said yes. i slowly started scheduling 30- or 45-minute calls with them to explain my search in further detail, to clarify what i was looking for, and to ask them for help. i asked them to keep me in mind as they heard of roles for which i might be a good fit. i asked them to recommend organizations they knew of that i might find interesting. i asked them to connect me to other people who might be willing to speak to me as well.
these calls can be nerve-wracking, especially with people you don’t know. and that’s where having that elevator pitch came in handy. instead of having to write over and over what i was looking for, i could easily send my resume and my pitch, and that way people knew what i was looking for even before we spoke and could also easily pass it along to their own networks.
each of the calls were helpful in different ways. some people mentioned organizations they thought i would find interesting. others had former colleagues they connected me to. some had similarly non-traditional career paths and reassured me that it spoke to my adaptability and would work to my advantage in the end. one provided very insightful feedback about the type of manager he worked best under, which led me to a lot of introspection on that topic for myself.
i was blown away by the kindnesses i was shown by people i hadn’t spoken to in years and most especially by people i had never before met. what lucy and whitney said is very true: people want to help, but they need to be told how.
find the system that works for you.
i have spent a lot of time thinking about and organizing my job search, and i have tried a number of different platforms. excel, asana, notion, evernote. you name it, i’ve tried it or i’ve thought about trying it. in the end, google drive is what worked best for me so that’s what i stuck with, but i also had pretty good luck with asana in keeping track of my networking calls. but as i noted when i spoke to second-year students at the clinton school, the key is finding what works for you.
have an accountability buddy.
one of the biggest things that kept me motivated throughout this process was having an accountability buddy. maggie’s contract with pbs ended a few months before i left my job, so we went through a large portion of this process together. we decided to have weekly check ins to see how well we were meeting our goals and to encourage one another. our check ins rotated between phone calls and face times and google meet calls depending on where we were and what else was happening, but we rarely missed one.
sometimes our check in lasted 15 minutes, just long enough to share some quick updates and what we were focusing on for the upcoming week, and other times they would last closer to an hour if one or both of us needed some advice or simply a place to vent. the main thing was that it was a safe, judgment-free zone to share how things were going and how we were feeling.
the other thing we did was hold mock interviews for each other, especially ahead of interviews we were particularly excited or anxious about. we would share position descriptions and prepare a few questions ahead of time and then provide each other with notes after. it helped us refine stories we shared and allowed us to find themes in our answers we might not have otherwise. and it provided a space to get out some nerves ahead of an interview.
attend webinars and workshops as you can.
there are innumerable online resources available to job seekers, and i encourage you to attend as many as you can. i’ll share some of the ones i found most helpful below, but i encourage you to research what you think will be most useful for your own search.
- workwell: storytelling for interviews. maggie initially told me about workwell after attending one of their webinars, and then i attended their session during a ladies get paid virtual conference. i loved the information they shared and began following them myself, and when this webinar popped up i knew it would be great for me. i have a tendency to ramble and go off on tangents, and lucy and whitney shared great tips on how to effectively share specific stories in interviews to answer questions while also highlighting skills and experience. this one was incredibly useful.
- aja marsh: simple systems for productivity and efficiency. there’s aja’s name again! i learned about this event through ladies get paid as well and immediately signed up. i am always searching for processes to help me prioritize tasks and improve my productivity, and aja’s workshop was fantastic. she shared a lot of great information about managing your energy to improve your efficiency, and it has helped me immensely. one of my favorite things was an energy audit that she created to gauge when and why your energy fluctuates. conducting that energy audit helped me better organize my schedule while i was still at bridges, and it came in very handy while i was organizing my job search. what i especially appreciated was that aja provided multiple options for people to use to organize their time, knowing that everyone is different and what works for one person might not work for others.
- the glow up: how to create a linkedin profile that gets noticed. i learned about this webinar with portia obeng through creative mornings, and it was incredibly helpful. portia is an energetic and engaging facilitator, and she provided a number of great tips on how to improve your linkedin profile and how to be active on the platform in a way that gets your profile noticed. i definitely recommend following portia on linkedin and attending one of her workshops.
in general i recommend following creative mornings and general assembly; both offer a variety of free and paid workshops and co-working sessions on a wide range of subjects. and keep in mind that just because something doesn’t immediately appear to be in your area, that doesn’t mean it won’t be useful for you. a lot of these webinars highlight transferable skills, and you never know how it might help you in a future role.
have someone review your resume + linkedin profile.
there is only so much time you can spend revising your resume and updating your linkedin profile before it all begins to look the same. getting a fresh pair of eyes – or multiple pairs – will help make sure these pieces are as strong as they can be and that you are putting your best foot forward. but remember: you know yourself best. if a suggested change doesn’t feel like “you”, feel free to ignore it. you want to make sure you are still being true to yourself.
create a way to reflect after each interview.
something i wish i had started sooner but am still glad i did was to create a google doc for each organization that invited me to interview that i then updated after each interview i had. these docs are a hodgepodge of keywords from the position description, notable information about the organization, stories to highlight, questions i was asked that i wanted to have better answers for, questions i asked that seemed to really resonate with interview panels, and initial reflections after each interview round. it really helped to have a place to word vomit all of that and get it out of my head, and it allowed me to pull out a few more commonalities that i hadn’t before seen. this was the method that worked best for me, but again i encourage you to find what works for you.
give yourself a break when you need it.
as i mentioned at the beginning, looking for a job is exhausting and often demoralizing. there are a lot of stops and starts, and sometimes you can get deep into a promising interview process to then find out they decided to hire someone else. it’s okay to take a step back and give yourself a break when you need to; the organizations and jobs will still be there, and you will be in a better frame of mind if you allow yourself that time to process.
i recognize i just threw a lot of information at you. as i said earlier, this is what helped me as i navigated the job market over the last year. feel free to use any, all, or none of this as you see fit; what matters above all is that you find what works best for you.
sending all the good vibes to those of you who are undergoing this process. it eventually gets better.