Your career is a constant march forward. From one year to the next, you consistently learn, grow, and change. As such, it makes sense that the job search tips that work the best for you will change as well depending on where you’re at in your career. The skills recruiters are looking for in an entry-level candidate, for example, are vastly different than the skills they’re looking for in a potential executive. So if you’re really hoping to land the job, you need advice that’s specifically tailored to you.
The good news? We’ve done the heavy lifting. After reaching out to a handful of career experts, we’ve rounded up the best tips for job seekers at each stage in their career. Whether you’ve been in the workforce for one year, ten, thirty, or more, read on below to find out what you need to do in order to find the job that fits your life.
For Entry-Level Employees
1. Do Your Homework
The best way to wow recruiters is by showing them that you’re an informed candidate. So before you head into an interview — and even before you apply — make sure you do your research. Get a feel for the company’s industry, business model, company culture, and more to determine whether or not it’s a good fit for you, then flaunt your knowledge in interviews.
“This will make you seem more experienced than you are, and having knowledge shows your interest, which is super important when you're first breaking into the industry,” says Valerie Streif, Senior Adviser at Mentat.
2. Don’t Assume You’re Unqualified
One of the biggest mistakes entry-level job candidates make? Ruling out applying to certain jobs completely just because they don’t meet every single requirement in the job description. Of course, certain requirements truly do matter (if you’re applying to be a software engineer, for example, you better know how to code!), but often times certain prerequisites are more of a wish list than anything.
"Job postings can be long and intimidating. They very often list requirements that you don’t meet, such as a specific degree or a certain number of years of experience. But, if you can do the job, don’t let the job posting stop you from applying,” says career coach Angela Copeland. “Many managers copy job descriptions or put them together in a rush. If you believe you’re a fit, apply. Let the company decide whether or not to interview you.”
3. Highlight Skills & Personality
At an entry level, you and the other candidates you’re competing against probably don’t have much job experience, so that’s not necessarily what recruiters and hiring managers will be judging you based on. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer,
“Focus on showing what you can provide to the organization/company… Discuss how your skills will benefit the company if you take this position,” Streif advises.
Beyond skills, you should also “highlight your personality strengths: perseverance, willingness/ability to learn new things, getting along and working well with others. You have little or no experience, so the focus needs to be on you — how you will use yourself to be an asset to the organization,” says Laura MacLeod, creator of From The Inside Out Project®.
4. Share Unrelated Experience
On a similar note, don’t shy away from seeking out and then sharing the experiences that highlight your skills and personality, even if you weren’t paid for them at all.
“When you’re starting out, your resume can seem bare. If you want to increase your chance of getting hired, look for opportunities to beef up your resume,” Copeland advises. “Consider participating in leadership programs, internships, or volunteer opportunities. Volunteering your time for a non-profit in your field can help to grow your skills, your network, and your resume.”
“You may have no experience in the job you're applying for, but you probably have done something that is related and/or demonstrates your work ethic,” adds MacLeod. “Volunteer work, school or civic organizations, parenting groups. All these may be applicable.”
5. Look for Great Leadership
It’s rare that your first job will be your dream job, so don’t get too hung up if you can’t find the perfect fit right away. However, one thing you should be looking for specifically is a good boss.
“Your first boss sets an example for you to emulate. Most entry-level bosses are inexperienced in being a good leader or, frankly, [underperformers] themselves so you learn from a bad example,” says Debra Benton, Executive Coach and author of The Leadership Mind Switch: Rethinking How We Lead in the New World of Work. “It’s really important to learn as much about the person you will be working directly for. Obviously, look up the ladder [at] the character, culture, personality, [and] leadership style of anyone else you can research. The people you work for and with is more important than what you work on” at this stage, she says.
For Mid-Level Employees
1. Discover Your Unique Value Proposition
Now that you’ve had spent some time in the workplace, you’ve got the opportunity to take a good look at yourself and decide what sets you apart from the pack.
“Identify how you're unique [from] other candidates that you'll be competing with. How are your experiences ‘better’ or in what ways can you be an asset that others can't? Identify these things, as they will help you immensely once you start applying and going in for interviews,” Streif says.
2. Take Advantage of Information
We live in the age of information, so you might as well take advantage of it!
“One of the very best things about job searching today is the amount of information available online. Use the internet to research salaries, company ratings, and interview questions. Your research will both help to prepare you for interviews — and to ensure you’re paid fairly,” Copeland says.
3. Show Off Your Leadership Skills
The higher up the ladder you climb, the more likely it is that you won’t just be independently executing — you’ll also be expected to lead a team. So “when sharing your previous experience, highlight your willingness and ability to lead others,” MacLeod says. “Mid-level employees need to lead, yet this may be their first real leadership position. Think about ways you led others — even if unofficially — in previous work situations and even outside of work.”
4. Highlight Collaboration
Another thing that becomes more important as you increase in seniority? Playing nice with others. “Mid-level employees are just that — right in the middle. They need to connect with their staff, supervisors and upper management. The ability to work well and collaborate with all is essential," MacLeod says. “Share specific examples of how you get along with others — on all levels in the organization.”
5. Ask: Will This Get Me Closer to My Goal?
Earlier on in your career, when you were less sure of what you wanted to do, you may have just taken any job in order to get a paycheck and explore what you’re interested in. But now that you’ve got some experience under your belt, it’s time to make sure that the jobs you take align with your aspirations.
“By now you have a clearer picture of what you want to do in your career long term, so make every decision around ‘will this get me a step closer to my goal?’ It’s all about the focused learning now,” Benton says.
For Senior-Level Employees
1. Remember: Relationships Are Everything
At this point in your career, odds are that you’ve built quite the list of contacts. Tap your network to see what’s available and whether they’d be willing to provide a recommendation for you.
“Senior-level employees are expensive and must be highly skilled and experienced. Companies would love to have someone referred or see a name they recognize. This limits the risk when hiring. So get out there and meet and build relationships with people who will connect you, refer you and speak highly of you and your work,” MacLeod says.
"At the top, success in business has less to do with raw intelligence and more to do with your ability to network with others,” Copeland agrees. “Look for opportunities to meet your peers. Make time for lunches, golf, or other social activities. You never know where a job opportunity might pop up.”
2. Keep Your Skills Up-to-Date
It’s easy to get mired in your everyday habits, but throughout your career, the skills and tools most important in your industry are undoubtedly going to evolve. So if you want to be competitive, it’s important to stay on top of them.
“As you look for a job, evaluate how up-to-date your skills are. For example, are you up on the latest online scheduling tool, or do you require an assistant to help with meetings? Many of today’s executives are expected to be more independent than in generations past. If you’re searching for a job, be sure your technical skills measure up to the competition,” Copeland says.
3. Always Be Looking
The higher up you are, the longer your job search takes — but you can mitigate that by constantly putting your feelers out for new jobs. You don’t have to maintain full-on job search mode 24/7, but consistently keeping your ear to the ground and staying in touch with your network is always a good idea.
“When you finally make it to the top, one of the most surprising things can be how long it takes to find your second senior-level job. Just remember – there’s just one CEO of every company. The higher up you go, the less jobs exist, and the longer it takes to job search,” Copeland says. “A great solution to this problem is: never stop looking. Even if you’re happy at your job, keep networking. Keep reaching out to others. You never know when you may need to find your next senior level job.”
4. Consider Flying Solo
Entrepreneurship isn’t just a young person’s game. Once you’ve established yourself, made contacts, and mastered your craft, creating your own company could be a great option.
“With the money you’ve saved you can be more particular as to what you do, and you may even start some venture on your own,” Benton, says.
5. Figure Out Where You’re Willing to Compromise
It’s easy to get used to the comforts of your current company once you’ve been there for a while, but it’s important to know that not all organizations have the ability to offer the same perks and paychecks as others do — especially if you’re looking at smaller, less well-established companies. That’s not to say that you have to throw your expectations out the window completely, but you should be realistic about what you can get and how flexible you’re willing to be.
“It can be hard for someone who is used to a certain salary and level of benefits to be willing to negotiate down for a new position. If you find yourself without a job and needing to secure employment quickly as a senior-level job seeker, be willing to take a cut and be flexible when it comes to the numbers,” Streif says. “Don't sell yourself short or take the wrong opportunity, but try to see the bigger picture and not get caught up in the numbers game.”