1. Represent skills, knowledge, and experience realistically for employment purposes.
2. Identify and assess individual skills, strengths, and experiences to identify career and professional development goals.
Today both job seekers and recruiters have more ways than ever to connect with one another. Though the traditional means of in-person networking are still necessary, online networking has also become the norm. As in the world of dating, technology can certainly help connect people according to compatible interests and preferences; from there, however, the relationship depends entirely on how things go in person. This chapter section examines the spectrum of job search tools and techniques available to the modern job seeker. It provides guidance on how you can prepare a résumé and cover letter that will increase your chances of getting an interview and hence a job.
- 9.1.1: Assess Your Skills and Qualifications
- 9.1.2: Find Job Postings
- 9.1.3: Traditional Job Search Techniques
The first step to putting together a winning résumé is to list your employable skills and qualifications. Which of your qualities make you hireable? If these don’t come immediately to mind or the wording eludes you, a good place to start is the vocational learning outcomes of your current academic program. These describe the skills that industry employers have said graduates must have to be considered for hire. Find these on the program webpage for your academic institution. Though they are quite general, you can find more specific learning outcomes on the syllabus for each course in the program. Every Algonquin College course outline, for instance, lists Course Learning Requirements (CLRs) and a more detailed list of Embedded Knowledge and Skills under each CLR. If you did well in these courses, these general and specific learning outcomes describe what you are now able to do.
Of course, you can’t possibly put all of these on a résumé because the full list would include too many, be too detailed, and would be worded in a manner unsuitable for a résumé. At this point, however, what’s important is that you begin a master list of such skills that you can tailor for the résumé when you see what skills and duties employers list in their job postings. Matching the skills you have with those employers want is the key to a successful application.
In addition to program-specific skills, you can also add a range of other skills. Get started by asking yourself the following questions:
- What specific computer programs am I good at? Do I have examples of work I can show an employer of how I’ve used them at an intermediate or advanced level?
- Do I work well with others? Have I demonstrated this with my employment experience or with volunteer or extracurricular activities such as league sports or clubs?
- Am I better at following instructions or giving them? Am I destined for leadership roles? What proof can I offer up either way?
- Can I read, write, and converse in another language besides English? At what level of proficiency?
- Am I a quick learner? Am I a creative thinker? Can I think of specific instances as proof of my answers to these questions if asked in a job interview?
- Am I a good communicator in both written and spoken situations? What evidence can I offer employers of my proficiency in both? (Guffey, Loewy, & Almonte, 2016, pp. 377-378)
Not only will a few pages of notes in answer to these questions help you prepare résumés and cover letters, but they will also help you prepare for the job interview later.
Though the major job search engines like Monster and Indeed are good places to start, they should be only a part of a broader job-search strategy. Both job seekers and employers have their objections to these sites. To seekers, applying through them can be frustrating for the following reasons:
- Some will strip out the formatting you’ve meticulously assembled for your résumé and cover letter
- Submitting confidential information about yourself to them feels risky
- They can feel like vast abysses into which you send dozens of applications you’ve laboured over for hours, but without ever receiving a response back
To employers and recruiters, the big job sites attract a flood of poor-quality applicants from around the world, leaving the hiring manager or committee with the time-intensive job of sorting out the wheat from the chaff—i.e., the applicants worth seriously considering from the droves of under-qualified applicants taking shots in the dark with what amounts to spam applications. With such a demanding selection process, employers simply don’t have time to respond to them all.
Nonetheless, ignoring these sites altogether would be a mistake because too many employers use them to advertise positions. When your full-time job is just to find a full-time job, you can’t leave any stone unturned. The following are sites worth searching for job postings and other information they offer on the job market:
- Job Bank
- Charity Village for non-profit and volunteer positions
A search for the jobs available in the career you’re training for may yield depressingly few hits if you use just one or two of the above sites. If so, be prepared to use all of them and widen your search area to neighbouring towns, large urban centres, and even other provinces and countries. Even if you aren’t seriously considering moving for a job—if your strategy is just to wait until relevant jobs arise closer to home—at least getting a sense of what’s out there elsewhere is an important exercise for now. Beyond the above sites, also seek out the following:
- Job search engines specific to your sector or field
- Professional association sites specific to your field
- Company/organization websites (look for their Careers page)
- Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook
Your goal is to collect as many job leads as possible to a get a full sense of what’s available before focusing on those worth devoting significant time to.
Once you’ve collected some job postings for positions you can pursue seriously, your next step is to compile a set of notes that will furnish all the necessary information for a cover letter and résumé. For each position you find a posting for, list the following:
1. Job title exactly as given in the job posting
- Use this in the subject line for both your cover letter and in the Objective statement in your résumé proper.
- Also copy and paste the reference number if the position has one. Larger organizations that have a dedicated human resources (HR) department will catalogue their hiring competitions, so giving the reference number for the position you’re applying for provides the organization with the information they need to process your application properly. That will put you in their good graces.
2. Required skills, competencies, and qualifications
- Every job posting worth applying to lists skills the employer is looking for in the ideal employee for that position. These may also take the form of job duties. Copy and paste these into your notes to ensure accuracy of transcription.
- Use this list as a guide for what to include in the Skills and Qualifications Summary section of your résumé, as well as under entries in the Employment and/or Education sections as proof that you’ve developed the skills the employer requires of applicants. If the employer or their third-party recruiter agents use an electronic filter to dispose of applications that don’t match enough of the key words present in the posting, basing your résumé on the posting’s list of skills will increase your chances of success. Copy the exact wording.
- Don’t let the fact that you don’t have everything the employer asks for be a reason to shoot yourself down for them. Some employers may ask for too much when listing required educational credentials and experience to see if the unicorn they seek actually exists. If not, they’ll select from among the next-best applicants. If you have reasonably equivalent experience or potential instead of the exact credential required by the employer, find opportunities in your résumé, cover letter, and interview to explain how you can nonetheless deliver on what they want.
3. Company name, mailing address, and website
- Find the mailing address on the company website’s Contact page
- Use the company name in your targeted résumé’s Objective statement and both the name and mailing address in your cover letter. This will clarify to the hiring manager that your application is specific to the location where you intend to work.
- Use the website to research the company (see below).
4. Company background
- Search the company website, especially its About Us page, for basic details about its size, history, and mission or vision statement.
- Extend this research to an online search for news about the company beyond what they present themselves. Look especially for recent news items that might offer clues as to why they’re hiring and what problems they need to solve. Knowing this informs how you persuasively pitch yourself as part of the solution to those problems.
- Use this information to inform your cover letter and prepare your interview talking points (see 11.6 below). Paraphrasing the employer’s mission or vision statement to make it your own in both the cover letter and interview will help convince the employer that your priorities align with theirs and you’ll fit the company culture.
5. Services and products
- Sketch out a list of the company’s products and/or services; if these number in the dozens, hundreds, or thousands, just give some major categories relevant to the job you’d do for them.
- Use this knowledge to prepare for parts of the cover letter and interview.
- Identify demographic and other information about the company’s customer base or clientele. Since the first rule of business is to know the customer, what they want, and how to provide it, proving your understanding of these will help convince the employer that you share their priorities.
- Use this to prepare your cover letter and for your interview.
7. Hiring manager name and contact information
- When the manager responsible for filling a position sees their name as the addressee in the cover letter, this usually reflects well on the applicant. As opposed to addressing the letter generically “To whom it may concern,” the targeted cover letter shows that the applicant is resourceful in discovering who exactly to direct their pitch to and would be similarly resourceful in networking on the company’s behalf in the position they’re applying to.
- Search out the company Contact and About pages to determine who would likely be in charge of hiring.
- Some job postings will name whom to send applications to, in which case this is easy, but usually you have to dig for this, perhaps using LinkedIn.
- If it’s a larger company, look for head personnel in HR (human resources), recruiting, or operations.
- If it’s a small business, the hiring manager is more likely to be the CEO, director, or owner.
- If this information is not available on the job posting and you can’t find it on the website, try calling the company and ask to whom you can address your cover letter for the job application (Guffey et al., 2016, p. 398).
- Calling the company shows that you are proactive and resourceful in getting the information necessary to succeed, shows that you care about what the company wants, and is a good networking play.
- Calling also provides you with an opportunity to ask about their preferences for cover letters (do they want them or not?) and résumés (one page or two? reverse-chronological, functional, or combination résumé? what else do they like to see in them?) so you can tailor yours accordingly.
- If they refuse to divulge this information, respect that they want to protect the identity of the hiring manager so that applicants can’t influenced them outside of the standard hiring process. If this is the case, “Dear Hiring Manager” is an acceptable alternative salutation in the cover letter.
- Use this information for your cover letter and preparing for your interview; also consider if this person is worth working for by examining their LinkedIn profile and whatever else you can find online. After all, a hiring process is a two-way street where both employer and applicant assess each other for compatibility.
8. Job posting URL and screenshot
- Copy and paste the web address (URL) for the job posting into your notes and, to retrieve it easily, hyperlink the address by positioning your cursor at the end of it and hitting the spacebar (or highlight, type ctrl + k, and paste in the URL into the web address field).
- Just to keep a record of the job posting for future reference, especially if the posting is taken down after the application window expires and you need to review it ahead of the interview, insert a screenshot (Take-a-screenshot.org, 2014) of the job posting below the URL. You may need two or three screenshots to cover the full scroll-down length of the posting webpage.
Making a habit of keeping such a record of the jobs you’re serious about and that you have a good chance of hearing back from will set you up for success. Applications that don’t address what the posting asks for because the applicant didn’t strategically note what that was, however, will likely be disposed of electronically before a human even sets eyes on them.
Despite the convenience of online job searches and applications, they aren’t nearly as effective on their own as traditional in-person networking. Much of the daily operations of a business involve employees being present in a workplace or going into the field and working with or for others, not secluded entirely in a technology bubble. With its emphasis on soft skills, only traditional networking can give employers the convincing first impression that a job candidate would be productive in such interactions. Since the majority of hiring happens as the result of networking in its various forms, begin cultivating a professional network in the following ways:
1. Be friendly, outgoing, and supportive of your peers in your college classes. Though it’s partly true that you’ll be competing with your classmates for jobs when you graduate, you may also rely on them for recruiting opportunities. Say a classmate you know quite well landed their dream job with a reputable company soon after graduation. Six months later, that company is hiring again. Who’s going to alert you to the opportunity? Who’s going to coach you on what the employer prefers to see in résumés, cover letters, and interviews? Who’s going to put in a good word for you with the hiring manager? If you can count on an inside friend or colleague being supportive because they are familiar with you and know you will perform well in that position, your path into that job is so much easier than without that guide.
If you spend your college years passing through like a ghost, however, focusing exclusively on your academic performance and shunning all social activities, you will miss valuable opportunities to connect with the people that may be your coworkers and even managers in your future workplaces. If they are in positions to help you but recall that you just kept to yourself in your old college days, they probably won’t want to recommend you to the company because they recognize that your lone-wolf attitude will set you up to fail in that organization.
2. Ask your instructors and program coordinators for advice. Some instructors and program coordinators are highly invested in the success of their students and are eager to recommend them to their industry contacts as a way of assisting their recruitment efforts. This only works, however, if the student has the courage to ask for those connections and recommendations.
3. Attend industry conferences and network with participants. Joining a professional association and attending its meetings and conferences will give you ample opportunities to network with employers and their recruiting agents. As in the previous scenarios, this only works if you are friendly and outgoing. Conference participants who merely soak in others’ presentations and discussions without networking are effectively invisible to the recruiters.
4. Attend career fairs and sign up for interviews with visiting recruiters. Colleges have tight connections with industry partners because they are a greenhouse for the emerging labour pool. When company recruiters come around, be there to ask them about the opportunities they bring. Recruiters aren’t interested in students who aren’t interested in them. Attending career fairs and talking to recruiters is a great way of showing interest. (Guffey, Loewy, & Almonte, 2016, pp. 383)
Preparing a winning cover letter and résumé begins with assessing your skills and researching what employers are looking for, what jobs are available, and how to find and apply to them.
1. Use several of the job search engines listed in §9.1.3 above to collect about half a dozen job postings that you would be interested in applying to if they were available upon graduation. If you can’t find any in your local region, look further afield in neighbouring cities or even other provinces or countries you’d be interested in moving to. Compare the various postings. Identify common terms used in the lists of required skills and job duties. What are the common work experience and educational qualifications identified as required or as assets?
2. For one of the postings you collected for Exercise #1 above, the one you would be most interested in applying to, write a set of notes organized around the eight points listed in §9.1.3 above.
Guffey, M., Loewy, D, & Almonte, R. (2016). Essentials of business communication (8th Can. ed.). Toronto: Nelson.
Take-a-screenshot.org. (2014, July 18). How do I take a screenshot? Retrieved from https://www.take-a-screenshot.org/