8.1: Starting Your Job Search

The job search is more than finding a job posting for which you fulfill the requirements. This planning phase allows you to gather the information and understand what is the right language  to use in order to be perceived as a strong applicant.

Know Yourself

As you begin the process of applying for employment in your chosen field, it is important to reflect on your education, technical skills, and the experiences and characteristics that make you an ideal employee and co-worker. This self-assessment is the foundation for building a strong application package.

Beyond evaluating your skill set, this is also an opportunity to reflect on the types of environments you will thrive in:

  • Do you work better independently or in groups?
  • Have you always imagined working for a large company, with the structure and perks that offers? Or do you see yourself working on a smaller team, perhaps taking risks for a project you believe in personally?
  • Do you like developing new ideas and planning? Do you like seeing through a complex project to the finish?

Use this information as you search for potential jobs and evaluate employers. Seeking out a work environment and job that suits your strengths and preferences will give you an advantage in the job search and in your career.

Know your Field

Use the resources available to you (such as career services, job websites, networking events) to find positions. Go to career fairs and make connections. Career fairs and networking events — organized each year by our college both for undergraduate students and for students taking graduate certificate programs — are great ways to build your confidence and become comfortable in professional environments.

Keep yourself informed and up-to-date on the projects and initiatives happening within your chosen field and especially of those employers that most interest you. This is not something you only do the night before a career fair or an interview – expose yourself to these ideas and discussions over a long period of time. These types of resources are a great place to get started:

  • Organizations and conferences. Connecting with and simply being aware of any relevant national organizations will expose you to current ideas and developments in your field. Most such organizations host conferences on a regular basis. Even just reading the call for presentations or the titles and abstracts from a recent conference will introduce you to new terms and concepts, laying groundwork for future learning or research.
  • Company blogs or white papers. Most companies “talk to” the public or the industry in some way to manage public perception, promote accomplishments, and (often) recruit employees. These communications might be highly technical or more casual or promotional in tone, depending on the company culture, industry, and their goals – so they can provide valuable insights into all these aspects.
  • Social media. Following both companies and individual professionals will introduce you to their work, concerns, and developments in the industry. It would also help you to develop healthy online habits (more oriented towards professionalization).
  • Local networking or meetup groups. Professionals often hold events at a local level to meet each other and learn about what other companies in the area are doing. These might be purely social or they might include learning opportunities in the form of talks and presentations. On campus, you will also find a variety of discipline-specific groups and students organizations that can also expose you to new ideas and resources, not to mention great professional connections.

Learn your Industry Language

Part of what you are doing as you prepare yourself for your career is learning a language – you are developing vocabulary and learning the language of your profession in addition to developing the required technical skills. Work on building a broad field-related vocabulary so you can impress any prospective employer.

Soft skills

In the process of completing your self-assessment, you probably discovered that you have lots of skills and strengths seemingly unrelated to your field. It’s important to remember that even unrelated experiences have taught you “transferable skills” – skills that may not be strictly related to a specific field but are considered important to any field or profession.

These “soft” skills are consistently ranked high on employer lists of desired attributes and include organizational skills, leadership abilities, teamwork experience, communication skills, problem solving, meeting deadlines, and so on. In the job search process, it is important to be able to describe your previous experiences in language that employers recognize as valuable. Table 4.8.1 lists some common skill attributes and ways to describe them.

Table 8.1.1 Phrasing for common skill attributes

Organization management & leadership Research & planning Communication Interpersonal Other
Initiating new ideas

Coordinating tasks

Being detail‐oriented

Managing or directing teams or groups


Selling ideas or products


Managing conflicts or problems

Managing budgets


Coming up with ideas

Identifying problems

Developing solutions

Solving problems

Imagining alternatives

Gathering information

Analyzing and evaluating information

Setting goals

Defining needs and requirements

Speaking effectively

Writing concisely

Listening attentively

Facilitating group discussion

Providing appropriate feedback

Being tactful





Being sensitive to feelings and moods of others


Developing rapport

Providing support



Sharing credit



Cooperating; working with a team

Managing time effectively

Setting and meeting goals

Being a self‐starter; self‐motivated

Working independently

Enlisting help when needed

Meeting deadlines

Being diligent; tenacity to get the job done; follow‐through  

Being responsible and reliable

Know the Job

Job advertisements typically describe the “perfect” candidate through a long list of every possible skill, attribute, and set of experiences a company wants in a potential employee. However, realistically, very few people possess all those qualifications. Employers will likely have in the backs of their minds the skills they consider transferable or learnable, and it is in your best interest to figure out where the employer may be willing to make skill and/or experiential trade-offs.

When you’ve found a job advertisement, you should read it several times and highlight key words and skills. Note what specific qualifications are required for the position and the language used to describe these qualifications (such as “must have,” “needs,” “should be,” and “ideally”). Compare this to the qualifications you have that are the same or transferable. Consider how you can effectively and specifically describe your qualifications to address the needs and wants outlined in the job description. In your cover letter and resume, try to persuade the employer you should be interviewed (and then hired) based on your qualifications and transferable skills.


This chapter contains material taken from “Preparing job application materials” in A Guide to Technical Communications: Strategies & Applications by L. Hall and L. Wahlin and is used under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 International license.


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Advanced Professional Communication Copyright © 2021 by Melissa Ashman; Arley Cruthers; eCampusOntario; Ontario Business Faculty; and University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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