How to Get the Job You Want: A Complete Guide

Two women cheer as they look at a laptop together.
Category: Careers

By Matt Rowley
Posted on

After you’ve decided what kind of career you want, what’s next? You may need to start from scratch, or you may only need to clean up your resume and tap into your existing network. In this article, we’ve compiled our favorite resources and tips to help you in your job search. No matter where you are in your job search, you’ll find something helpful here in this complete guide.

Phase 1: Set Yourself Up for Success

The decisions you make regarding your career will impact your life in immeasurable ways. Rather than rushing into these decisions, here are several ways to take some time and set yourself up for success in your job hunt.

Meet the Education Requirements

Many industries require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions. Finishing an academic degree does require a significant investment in time and money, but there are many practical reasons why online degrees are worth it.

Research your industry to determine the education requirements for the kind of position you’re seeking. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook lists education standards for many different industries. It’s also a good idea to browse job postings within your area to see if local organizations in your industry are aligned with national trends for education requirements.

Academic degrees aren’t the only worthwhile education option to consider. Many career fields require continuing education, and certificate programs can give you an edge with focused education on a specific area within your industry.

Build Your Experience, Training and Knowledge

In addition to education, years of experience is another requirement appearing on most job descriptions. One challenge many job seekers face is that, when looking for their first full-time position in a career field, they don’t have the experience required by employers. Finding work as a volunteer, intern or temporary employee is one of the most common ways to overcome this hurdle.

Also, don’t underestimate the value of the skills you built as a student, in previous careers or in other activities. Relevant experience can come from a variety of sources, including the military, and hiring managers may be more flexible about experience requirements than you expect.

If you’re already in your chosen career field but you’re looking for advancement, identify what’s needed to be an attractive candidate for your ideal position. In some industries, ongoing professional development activities like attending conferences or webinars may be the best way to stay on top of trends and best practices. In career fields like occupational safety and health, certifications may be the way for you to stand out compared to other applicants. Research successful professionals in your field to see how they got where they did, and find ways to follow a similar path.

Expand Your Professional Network

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is a cliché for a reason. Meeting the education and experience qualifications for a position is important, but networking also makes a difference in many industries.

When thinking about going after a new job, an important step is considering how all of your previous work relationships may help you. Reach out to your closest allies from previous jobs, and talk to them about your plans. They may be close with someone in your industry, or they may know someone else who knows someone influential.

Try to add new connections to your network as well. Conferences, workshops and other in-person events are great opportunities to meet new people in a career field. You never know who may be preparing to post a job opening.

Growing your professional network online through social media is also a popular option. Professionals in many industries use LinkedIn to connect with colleagues, but research your career field to find the right platform for you. And, while you’re making connections online, type your name into a search engine and review the results. Personal online reputation management is critical, as employers may filter out candidates when they find something concerning about their past through a simple online search.

Phase 2: Applications, Interviews and More

After you’ve finished all of the prep work, it’s time to take action. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re ready to move forward with your job search.

Find the Right Organization

Starting a job search can be overwhelming. Depending on your industry and your priorities, you may want to first narrow down your options by deciding what kind of organization and work culture would be a good fit for your preferences and values. Consider these kinds of questions before diving into a search:

  • Are you comfortable working in a corporate environment?
  • Do you prefer working for or with government entities?
  • Do nonprofit organizations align well with your priorities?

This is also a time to use your professional network. If you find a company you’re interested in working for, search for the company on LinkedIn or make some calls to see if you know anyone who currently works there.

Finally, if you feel strongly about a specific organization, find a way to connect with someone who works there now or worked there in the recent past. Even if an organization doesn’t currently have an opening that’s a good fit for your skills and experience, making that initial contact may result in a job offer months or even years in the future.

Find the Right Position

There are many ways to find job postings. Websites like Indeed are popular spots for employers to advertise openings, but it may be difficult to sort through all of the results. Professional associations often have online job boards, and although these sites will have fewer postings, they will be more closely aligned to your specific industry.

Also, check in with your connections to see if they know about recent or upcoming job postings. Knowing about an opening before it’s advertised can give you an advantage, as you’ll be prepared to be one of the first candidates to officially apply.

Submit Your Application

After you’ve decided to apply for a position, there’s still plenty to do. Carefully review the application instructions, and prepare your materials to meet every requirement. Not following the application instructions perfectly is a quick way to eliminate yourself from consideration.

Most applications require you to submit a resume and cover letter. Update your resume to fit the position to which you are applying, and use the cover letter to tell the story of why you are a strong candidate. For an in-depth look at writing resumes and cover letters, Columbia Southern University Career Services provides various resources for students and alumni, including a comprehensive career services manual.

Before you officially submit an application, double and triple check all of the details. Did you include the required number of professional references? Did you upload your resume in the correct format? Did you check your materials for spelling and grammar errors? Check everything and make sure the application is the best possible representation of you.

Finally, don’t forget to notify your references that you’re applying for a job, especially if you’ve listed them in your materials. You probably don’t know at what point during the process an employer will contact your references, so it’s best to notify them as early as possible. You want them to be ready to sing your praises if they get that call.

Win the Interview

Interviews can be scary, even for the most confident job seekers. Knowing exactly what to expect in an interview is impossible, but here are some quick tips that will help you feel more prepared:

  • Research the employer. You should already know at least something about the organization, but now is the time to become an expert. What is the CEO’s name? When was the company founded? What is the organization’s reputation in the community? Know the answers to questions like these so that you can better understand the interviewer’s perspective.
  • Prepare for the interview setting. Will the interview be a one-on-one meeting onsite? Will it be a phone interview with a group? Will there be a skills test as a part of the interview? Visualize the setting and think about what will be helpful for you in that moment. And, don’t forget to wear the right clothes.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Prepare your answers to common interview questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Also, come prepared with questions you have for the employer. Not having any questions to ask the interviewer may send the message that you’re not interested in the position.
  • Write a thank you letter. Write and send the interviewer a thank you letter within 24 hours of the interview. Traditional mail, email or hand delivery are all viable options, so gauge the employer to determine what’s most appropriate.

For more information about job interviews, review our comprehensive guide Job Interview Tips for Working Adults.

Get the Job You Want

The CSU Career Services team has experience helping students and alumni pursue jobs in many different industries. If you’re ready to get the education you need for the job you want, get started today.

Topics in This Article