Regina Job Search Strategies Forum Report

Workin’ Your Job Search

Watch streaming video of Shari Thompson

Shari Thompson, Career Services Officer, Student Employment and Career Centre, University of Saskatchewan

Shari Thompson’s work focuses on helping students move from education to employment, and on helping employers coordinate on-campus recruitment efforts. Thompson told participants that although they might have a disability, their job search does not.

When the job search becomes frustrating, the job seeker should refocus and perform a “job search intervention.” A focused employment search includes assessing the seeker’s interests, values, skills, and personality; researching and understanding possibilities; evaluating options and deciding on best-fit directions; clarifying goals and developing an action plan; transitioning to the world of work; and managing change and growth.

The job search process is a cycle, but a job seeker can enter the cycle at any point, depending on their circumstances. Thompson uses a 10-step model for the search process.

Self-awareness is the first step in an effective job search. Job seekers should know their objectives, and the kind of career path they want to follow. They should know what they have to offer an employer, including their educational background, technical skills, transferable skills, and self-management skills. Relevant hands-on experience like group projects, internships, presentations and essays, and research theses should also be noted.

The next step in the process is learning about the potential employer. Review the company’s website, speak to someone who works for the company, or look for books, reviews, and company literature in the local library, said Thompson.

As a further step, an “occupational interview” involves calling someone who works for the company and asking to sit down and talk to them about their job. The job seeker will often come away from such a meeting with a business card, and possibly an interview.

Maintaining a professional image—especially online—is important. Social networking websites such as Facebook can be easily accessed by employers, allowing them information about an applicant’s lifestyle and personal habits. Be polite and professional when answering the phone. Thompson said job seekers who are living with other people should ensure that all members of the household answer the phone in a professional manner.

A good cover letter and resumé are essential, said Thompson. The University of Saskatchewan offers students an hour-long session to review and advise them on their cover letter and resumé. The Student Employment and Career Centre provides tips about how an employer treats a resumé. For example, because people read from top to bottom and from left to right, positions and places of employment should be listed on the left-hand side, and years should be listed on the right.

The cover letter should have at least one paragraph that demonstrates the applicant’s knowledge of the prospective employer, and a paragraph that describes how their qualifications match the position. “You want to leave them with the impression that they need you as much as you need them,” Thompson said. “If you are sending out a lot of applications, and not getting any interviews, that’s a good indication that there is something wrong with your cover letter and resumé.”

Thompson said job seekers should obtain permission from all of their references, and provide them with resumés. Letters of recommendation should be written on company letterhead. Bring letters of recommendation, career portfolios, and work samples to the interview. A prospective employer might not ask for these things, but having them could be an advantage.

To locate opportunities, job seekers should use both the “visible” and “hidden” job markets. Thompson recommended making use of local employment centres and getting to know the people who work there. The people at these centres talk to employers daily, and are often asked to make recommendations. Stay on top of online job postings, and subscribe to job posting websites that specialize in matching jobs to an applicant’s particular qualifications.

Become active in on-campus activities and job fairs that provide opportunities to meet prospective employers. When meeting a prospective employer, job seekers should introduce themselves, talk about their qualifications, and try to walk away with some contacts. Take advantage of on-campus recruitment guides to find out about employer information sessions, and to get names of potential employers.

Networking is a particularly valuable prospecting tool. Look for the opportunity to connect with someone who might be able to assist with the job search. In any social situation—from shopping to hockey practice—a job seeker should ask, “What do you do, and where do you work?”

Job seekers must make it known that they are looking for work, and the kind of work they are looking for. Quoting from the magazine Career Options, Thompson said, “Networking is the single most successful way to build relationships that ultimately result in career opportunities. If you don’t learn to network, you won’t get the work you want in the industry sector you have chosen.”

The “visible job market” consists of advertisements, Internet sites, employment agencies, and job banks. However, this market represents only 20% of job opportunities, said Thompson. The other 80% are found in the “hidden job market,” which consists of word-of-mouth, directories, professional associations, libraries, and the Yellow Pages.

“Job postings are very expensive for employers,” Thompson said. “If they have a particular opportunity, they let everyone on their staff know. They might send out an email asking if someone can recommend someone for the position. The hidden job market is being in the right place at the right time.” Professional development sessions and conferences like this one are also great places to get to know people.

Employers want to know that a potential employee is an energetic, active person in the community—not just a couch potato. Applicants who lack the particular skills or experience they need to go after the job they want should consider volunteering in related campus or community service activities, and extra-curricular activities.

Many people apply for jobs, but few follow up. Thompson said applicants should follow up about a week after submitting an application to check on its status, and find out if there is a short list or whether a decision has been made. Making such a call might prompt the employer to search through the resumés, and place that application at the top of the pile.

The University of Saskatchewan also has an interview guide that helps job seekers to prepare for the interview process. This guide is online, and is available to the general public. It helps with questions like “tell me about yourself.” Participating in a mock interview will help keep an applicant from becoming nervous during a real interview.

The next step is to set up a tracking process. Thompson said applicants should keep a chart of the jobs they have applied for, when they applied, and when they should follow up. If there is no contact name, phone the general number and ask for the person in charge of hiring for the position.

Once the job search process starts to work, applicants will need to evaluate their job offers. They should ask about the nature of the work, the working conditions, whether accommodations need to be made, and when they will be in place. Find out whether there are opportunities for advancement, and whether the salary and benefits are sufficient. Learn about the corporate or company culture, and its reputation.

Get the job offer in writing so as to avoid any future problems or misunderstandings. If the nature of the work or the supervisor should change, it might be important to have a written record of the original agreement.

Applicants should treat employers with the same respect they want for themselves, so be ethical and professional. Do not accept an offer only to turn it down later.

Thompson summarized her top 10 job search strategies:

  • Know yourself and your objectives
  • Know the employer
  • Prepare your job search tools
  • Locate opportunities
  • Network
  • Identify and implement job search strategies
  • Apply and follow up
  • Prepare and practice presentations and interviews
  • Keep track
  • Evaluate offers

Thompson’s final advice for job seekers is to keep at the process until a job offer is in place.