The Continuing, Continual Job Search: Q&A

September 17th, 2007 § 0 comments

Spend way too much time on careerbuilder.com and idealist.org? Getting stircrazy and wondering if you’ll ever find a job? Never fear! Lesley Lundeen, our superhero at CAPS (Career Advising and Planning Services), has done us the great favor of responding to our questions about what to do in this sort of situation. Read on below to get her advice. (Hollaback to this post if you have any advice or strategies of your own!)
Q: Having a lot of time on my hands was really lovely for, say, the first two weeks. I surf job sites, apply to jobs, go on interviews, even–and none have worked out so far. I’m bored out of my mind and I’m kind of anxious about finding a job. It’s been a month plus, and the waitstaff position at my corner diner is starting to look pretty good. Any advice? Strategies for keeping sane as the job search keeps on keeping on? Am I doing something wrong?

A: You are definitely not alone! A job hunt can be stressful, time-consuming and even boring. In fact, the average search takes between 6-10 hours per week over several months. So here are answers to the questions above with some tips to make the process a little easier!

It’s been a month plus — any advice?

First, call CAPS at 702-7040. You can set up an appointment (in person or over the phone) with me or another one of our graduate career counselors at CAPS to discuss your situation. We can help you determine your priorities and design a strategy as well as a schedule for your job search.

Prepare a strong resume and cover letter for each position: Since employers often receive hundreds of resumes for a single position, they only spend between 15 and 30 seconds on each one. Your goal, then, is to make sure that your resume and cover letter immediately indicate that you have what the employer needs. Remember that it’s not about what the employer can do for you; it’s what you can do for the employer than counts. This means that you’ll be tailoring each application to the job that you’re applying for based on the research you’ve done on that organization and industry. Keep in mind that your graduate research, volunteer work, extracurricular activities, part-time work – all these count as experience!
Check out CAPS handouts on resumes and cover letters for graduate students, either at our Career Resource Center or online at caps.uchicago.edu. CAPS counselors can also review your materials before you send them out.

Practice interviewing: The interview is your chance to show the employer that you are perfect for the job. To do this, you’ll need to do research on the organization, prepare to answer a host of interview questions — both standard and company-specific — and draw up a list of questions to ask the employer. After the interview, be sure to send thank you e-mails or notes to all of your interviewers. CAPS offers practice interviews and can advise you on how to prepare for both telephone and in person interviews.

Think about Plan A, Plan B (and even Plan C): When it comes to job hunting, being flexible and open-minded helps. You may have both short-term career goals (like paying bills) and long-term career goals (like finding a position that fits your skills, values and interests). While you may need to take a temporary, part-time or full-time position to accomplish your short-term goals, see if you can find something that will allow you to gain experience and build skills that fulfill your long-term career goals. So be open to new opportunities. You don’t have to stick with the first job that you find out of graduate school, but that job might help you find something that’s a better fit. Or you might end up discovering that you love a field you’d never considered seriously before just because an opportunity suddenly came up! Serendipity plays an important role in just about every job search.

Keep in mind that, even with the master’s degree, you may have to take an entry level position, just to get your foot in the door of a particular field or organization. But many graduate students find that their skills enable them to move up quickly.

I’m bored out of my mind and I’m kind of anxious about finding a job – what can I do?

While you’re waiting to hear about your applications, try the following:
Take Time to “Know Yourself”: The Delphic Oracle’s famous temple inscription is true for job hunting, too. The better you know yourself, the easier it will be to look for jobs that fit your individual skills, interests and values. Don’t just think about the kind of career you want; think about the kind of life you want to have. Writing a resume and cover letter for a job that’s a good fit is far easier to do than trying to make a case for something that’s at odds with who you are, what you can do and what you’re interested in. And if you convince an employer that you’re a good fit, then you if you can show an employer that you’re a good fit, then that employer is more likely to bring you in for an interview. CAPS counselors can guide you through the career exploration process during individual sessions or our Career Exploration seminar.

Do your research: I can’t stress enough how important it is that you research the fields, positions and organizations that are of interest to you. Employers want to know that you understand not only the available position and the industry but also their specific organization and its needs. And this research will help you determine whether or not you actually want to work in this area or for this company. The CAPS Career Resource Center has a wealth of current career and job-related information. It’s also easy to surf the internet for resources like the Occupational Outlook Handbook (http://www.bls.gov/oco/home.htm), organizational web sites, professional associations, and other valuable sources of information. CAPS is happy to send you links and bibliography for any field that you’re interested in!

Networking *is* working: Information interviewing really is key to any job hunt. For one, information interviews are crucial to your research; they allow you to understand a field or organization better, to learn how to break into a field, to practice interview skills and to build a network of contacts. In addition, many job openings are never posted. Instead, people find out about these opportunities through networking.

An information interview is not a job interview. That being said, such connections can often open doors, especially if you’re interested in fields like publishing or museums. You can conduct an information interview with just about anyone who’s doing something that interests you: family, friends and friends of friends, casual acquaintances, university staff, former co-workers, even people you’ve never met but who work at an organization that interests you. You should also take advantage of our Alumni Careers Network and UChicagoTRAK. CAPS can walk through you the informational interviewing process and offers a helpful “Informational Interviewing” handout.

Strategies for Keeping Sane?
Come up with a schedule and commit to doing at least 1 or 2 job hunt related activities a day. Those activities might include self-assessment, industry research, information interviews, job applications or following up on applications or job leads. CAPS can help you set up this schedule and we’re happy to touch base with you regularly on whether or not you’re meeting your deadlines.

Volunteer, do part-time work, temp or intern at a place you’re genuinely interested in. This will get you out of the house and give you something to do that you’re invested in. But it will also give you valuable insight into and actual experience a field, help you make contacts, and provide you with non-academic references.

Take time for yourself: No one can spend all day job hunting and stay sane. Be sure to make time for fun and relaxation. Hang out with friends and family. Trade stories with fellow job hunters. Reward yourself for staying on top of your job search!

Good luck job hunting!

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