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Searching for a job can feel as exciting as navigating the world of dating-but also as confusing. If you start looking with a plan to stay organized, it can be a more relaxed process.

Know Thyself

Start by figuring out what you’re looking for. Joshua L., a senior at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, says, “I look for something that I’d want to do most of the day.”

Start by picturing yourself at a job. Would you walk to work? What would your workplace environment be like? Would there be a lot of collaboration, or would you work solo? Create an image of what you’d like to be doing.

You’re likely in a major or academic program that’s related to where you see yourself in the future. If you ask yourself, “How would I like to apply the knowledge from my classes?” you’ll be able to select specific positions to match your goals. Keep in mind that if you have skills like public speaking and research, or experience in finance or psychology (among many other topics), you have knowledge that can be applied in many different fields.

Resources & Research

A recent Student Health 101 survey found that more than 25 percent of respondents began their job search only a few days prior to applying for a job. Being rushed can put you at a disadvantage and will certainly raise your stress level.

Career counselors can talk you through available jobs and how to match your skills with them. Adrian Ferrera, a career services counselor at West Virginia University in Morgantown, says, “Start early! It can take three to six months to find a job. Have a vision, but remember that you have to start somewhere.”

Talk to professors, graduate students, and advisors about career opportunities and how they found positions. Your career center may have online resources, such as a networking  system for connecting students and alumni. You can also learn about potential employers and work by shadowing someone who’s currently in a job you’re considering.

Ideas about researching potential fields

Getting a feel for the job market doesn’t have to involve reading the Wall Street Journal from cover to cover. Instead, check out resources online for your specific field or job type. Search for Web sites that focus on your specific area of interest, such higher education, not-for-profits, finance, or design. There are job-search engines and resources for just about every skill area imaginable. LinkedIn is also a great way to connect with people and potential jobs.

Some sites include job postings, but they also provide useful information and tips for students and young professionals. Tailoring a job search by targeting specific industries can be an efficient way to narrow the options and keep them from becoming overwhelming.

Tips about researching employers

Don’t apply for jobs blindly. Highlight appropriate skills in your cover letter and résumé by checking out a company or organization beforehand. Here are some things to look for:
  • Mission Statement: What does the company value?
  • History: How has the mission or size expanded or narrowed in recent years?
  • Press: Use a search engine to see if the organization has been in the news or other publications.
  • Affiliations: Does the organization collaborate with other companies?
  • Supervisors and managers: To whom will the position you’re interested in report? What is his or her history with the company? If you can address application materials directly to this person, your application will stand out.
Ask people in your networks for “insider” information about the company as well.

Stay Organized

All that searching, applying, and networking can introduce a lot of mental-and literal-clutter.Staying organized involves some simple filing, a spreadsheet, and keeping it all in one place-such as in a file on your computer or a binder with sections. Here’s what to include:

Folders for each potential employer or specific field. Include details you want to remember, correspondence, business cards, or other information to refer to later.

Information about potential contacts. Keep track of recruiters, company representatives, and people in your personal network who can support your search. Note where you met these people (e.g., a career fair) and when, and anything that stands out about them.

Original job postings.Online ads may be taken down, so keep your own records.

Being thoughtful and organized with your job search will help you move forward with confidence.

Tips on creating a job-search spreadsheet

Erica D., a senior at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, says that one of her favorite tools in the job search process is a spreadsheet. With rows for each employer, this helps her keep track of what jobs she’s applied for, scheduled interviews, application status, and any other information about the companies. Here’s what to include for each potential position:
  1. Company or organization name and location
  2. Specific job and its basic details
  3. Contact information
  4. Date of application
  5. Date of follow-up
  6. Dates of interviews, in person or via phone or video chat
  7. Places you’ve contacted for information or an informal meeting

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