Dream jobs don't just fall out of the sky and land in your lap. To have the best career possible, you need to figure out what you're good at and align those skills with what you want to do. This process takes time, effort, and lots of research. The information in this section can help you navigate the process. Learn more about different careers and industries and get various resources to help you throughout your professional life.
Explore Your Career Options
Whether you're a college student anticipating graduation or a working professional thinking about a career change or advancement, it's important to take your time to really discover what excites and motivates you. Explore the career paths below to learn about different options.
When it comes to choosing the right career, being informed can make all the difference. Before making a decision, explore the resources below - you can find helpful information on a variety of topics, such as niche industry areas, the private and nonprofit space, or landing an internship.
Salary: Figuring Out How Much You're Worth
"What are your salary expectations?" The question is inevitable and it can be difficult to answer. You don't want to ask for too much and price yourself out of the job, but you also don't want to ask for too little and not get what you deserve. Consider the following to determine the proper middle ground:
Research, research, research
Before you start saying numbers out loud, make sure you've done thorough research to find out how much someone in this role - with similar experience and in the given location - would earn. However, you also don't want to ask your peers or potential future colleagues how much they make. Fortunately, there are a number of free online resources that can help you compare salaries such as Salary.com, PayScale, Glassdoor, and MoneyGeek's Cost of Living Calculator. You can use any of these tools to find out the salary range of the job title you're pursuing.
Consider your education and past experience
Do you have relevant formal education and does your education meet or exceed the minimum requirement? How many years of industry experience - paid and unpaid - do you have and do you have applicable skills that are directly relevant to the role you're applying to? If so, this can work in your favor. Take stock of everything you bring to the table and let the hiring manager know why you'd be a valuable asset to the company.
Don't forget about your salary history
If the role you're applying to is similar to previous positions you've held or is a clear next step within the role's career path, salary history can be a significant factor. Special attention should be given to previous skills and responsibilities and how those relate to the new position.
Think about your commute
How will your commute change with this new job? Will it be longer or shorter? Will you have to pay for public transportation or parking? Thinking about how much time you'll spend on the road - as well as how much that will all cost - is important. Some employers may be willing to bump up pay for the right applicant if he or she is faced with a longer, more challenging commute to and from the office.
Factor in the non-salary benefits
Many employers offer benefit packages that include perks beyond annual salary. This can include the usual paid time off, sick days, health insurance, and 401K, but things like flex-time or telecommuting and on-site amenities such as childcare, cafeterias, gyms, and professional development courses may also be included. Annual salary is important, but keep in mind it isn't everything. Assessing the total compensation package is key.
For more comprehensive information on salary, check out the following guides:
Plan Your Career
Before you start sending out resumes and cover letters, take the time to come up with a game plan. Coming up with a plan helps make things less daunting and, most importantly, gives you a clearer picture of what your career goals are. Break the job hunting process up into individual, manageable steps, such as:
What are your skills, interests, personal attributes, and professional experiences? An understanding of what you don't like or want to do can also help.
Conduct career research, gather information on different occupational fields, review industry trends, and study companies to match your personal career interests with actual professional opportunities.
Create a strategic plan for your employment search, develop and refine your resume and cover letter, explore internships and job shadowing opportunities, and network with other professionals to set a career path.
Implement your career strategy by developing a targeted list of positions and employers you wish to apply to. Also, start gathering application materials and brushing up on your interview skills.
Carefully evaluate job offers to make an educated decision on the next step in your career. This includes reviewing job benefits, considering the position's trajectory, and preparing for salary negotiations before accepting and starting your new role.
"Self-assessments," says expert Jennifer Brown, "are a great way to better understand the careers that support your strengths, work style, preferences, and values." Assessments are typically focused on three areas: interests, skills, and values.
Answering questions about personal and professional interests can help highlight the types of careers and job activities that motivate and excite you.
Skills refer to both what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. There are two types of skill sets: soft skill and technical skills. Technical skills refer to tasks related directly to an occupation, such as using computer software. Soft skills are intangible behaviors and attitudes, such as the ability to think critically and communicate effectively. If you're a college student with limited work experience, don't underestimate the skills you've learned during college. "Too often, college students sell themselves short regarding their experience and transferrable skills," said Dr. Jennifer Williamson-Mendez. Valuable experience and skills can be learned in clubs and organizations and even team sports.
Work values describe what is important to you, in both life and professional paths. Are you looking for achievement opportunities? Do you want a career that has a positive impact on society? Do you value independence? Ensuring you find a position that supports your values can help minimize the chances of finding yourself in a dissatisfying career.
"Think about what you enjoy doing, what you're good at, and what opportunities are available. When those three converge, it's a great thing." - Amanda Haddaway
Explore Your Options
In addition to exploring different types of careers, there are several other ways to research professional opportunities. "When you are exploring career options," continues Brown, "it's critical to do a lot of outreach." Below is a list of four strategies to navigate unchartered career areas to find a job you'll really love.
Locate people who are currently in career paths you find interesting and set up informational interviews with them. These interviews can reveal important informational nuggets that provide a real-world glimpse at what the job entails that can't be relayed in a job description. In these interviews, Brown recommends the following:
- Ask what they like and dislike about the job
- What surprised them about the role
- What they wish they would have known before starting
- How to prepare to get the job
- What is most satisfying about their career
"Through informational interviewing, students can learn about projected growth in a field and different paths at a company to develop and grow." - Dr. Jennifer Williamson-Mendez
Job shadowing can be revealing and is a great way to find out if you could see yourself in a particular profession. It typically involves observing a professional while they work, traditionally for a half or full-day. For instance, if you're interested in teaching, seek out opportunities to spend a day in the classroom with a teacher. Beyond recording your experiences and taking notes, try to hold a debriefing session with the individual you shadowed. Remember to send a follow-up "thank you" note.
Although they are most commonly utilized by college students, career changers can also leverage internship positions to explore and learn about specific vocations. Internships are typically associated with an academic field of study or profession. For example, finance majors may complete a summer internship at a bank. Other internships, however, may target individuals with a college degree and industry experience. Internships are also a quick way to build experience on a resume, develop career-specific skills, and network with contacts that can provide assistance during your job search.
Volunteering is another way to get the professional experience you may not have access to otherwise. Interested in community development? Spending a few hours each week at a nonprofit allows you to experience the workday as an insider and ask existing employees questions about their careers and day-to-day responsibilities. Volunteering provides more exposure to everyday responsibilities than job shadowing and is a great way to demonstrate commitment on a resume.
Other ways to explore careers include the following:
- Reading relevant articles, books, or listening to podcasts
- Joining industry groups on LinkedIn to learn about professional paths
- Finding part-time employment in the field
- Reviewing job websites, such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook or Occupational Information Network
- Taking cooperative extension classes at your local university or through MOOCs
Enhance Your Resume and Cover Letter
Your resume and cover letter are two critical pieces of personal marketing that can land an interview. Because employers and recruiters receive hundreds of applications, they may spend no more than 30 seconds reviewing a resume and/or cover letter. The ability to craft a concise and attractive message sets you apart from other candidates.
Here are four tips to help your resume move to the top of the pile:
Show why you're different
Recruiters want to see how your experience and skills fit with their needs. A resume isn't a work history, but rather a document that matches your interpersonal skills and knowledge to a specific job position. Use examples of how your skills translate to their company's goals and mission.
Focus on results
Resumes should highlight your accomplishments to demonstrate the impact of your work with previous employers. Qualifying and quantifying the outcomes of your activities can make a resume stand out. Include concrete facts and figures wherever possible, such as "Organized production processes, resulting in a 56 percent growth over three years."
Use action verbs
Space is limited on a resume and you have to capture the reader's attention quickly. Use dynamic and strong action verbs to describe your professional experience. Examples of eye-catching verbs include generated, created, launched, and allocated.
Be stylistically consistent
An improperly or poorly formatted resume will be instantly discarded when considered against an applicant who thoroughly checked for consistency. Haddaway recommends using consistent font sizing and similar headings to highlight each section of the resume.
Like a resume, cover letters provide an introduction, communicate interest in the position, and highlight skills and abilities that make you an attractive candidate. Here are three strategies for crafting an attention-grabbing cover letter.
Tailor the letter
The cover letter should be specific to each job you are applying to. The letter should frame your skills and work experience in terms of the job description and what the employer is seeking. What are the employer's needs and how do you meet them?
Use the proper format
In the case of paper documents, use the same paper as the resume for your cover letter. Address the letter to the person who is most likely making the hiring decision. Make sure you spell their name and title correctly. If an individual's name is not attached to the job posting, use a general greeting. Examples include: "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Hiring Manager".
Proofread before sending
Be sure to check for spelling and grammatical errors by proofreading the cover letter. If possible, have another person read it to get a better sense of style, content, and readability.
Apply for the Job
When you've found an advertised position that seems like a good match, preparing a solid application is the next step. You might be surprised how often candidates make mistakes, how little they actually know about the company, and how frequently they rush the process of preparing application materials. Employers and recruiters spot errors easily and don't think twice about discarding applications filled with blunders. Use these steps to ensure your application makes it to the desk of someone with hiring responsibilities.
Read the application instructions and follow them
Follow the application instructions precisely. Do not omit sections of information or attach the wrong type of file. Failure to follow application instructions demonstrates an inability to follow instructions, in general.
Show genuine interest
General lines such as "Your products are globally known and I'd love to work for your nationally-recognized company" may sound trite and hollow. Buzz10words don't work. Instead, use the application to demonstrate how you fit in and why you will succeed in that position.
Don't send mass applications
Instead of sending out dozens of applications, send out two to three well-researched, tailored applications to companies where you actually want to work.
The application process may take weeks and, in some cases, months. During the waiting period, Haddaway says it is always acceptable to follow up to express your interest in the position and ask about the hiring timeline. This can be done either via a phone call or an email.
Ace Your Interview
The cover letter and resume have been read and you've been contacted for an interview. What's next? Getting nervous. "It's totally normal and expected," says Haddaway, "to be a little nervous as you go into a job interview. The best way to handle these nerves is to be prepared. Before you arrive at an interview, do your homework."
First impressions count and by completing pre-interview homework, Haddaway notes, "you'll put your best foot forward as soon as you walk into the interview room." Here is a list of interview preparation strategies she suggests.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
Familiarize yourself with the company
Most companies have an online presence, so it should be relatively easy for you to learn about the company. Study the company's background and try to ascertain their culture and common policies - including dress code, work hours, and the amount of travel required. You should also familiarize yourself with the position for which you are interviewing and bring a copy of the job description to the interview.
DURING THE INTERVIEW
Be an active listener
Maintain eye contact with the interviewers and use non-verbal cues to acknowledge that you are listening to them. You don't want to get into a staring contest with the interviewer, but be alert and active in the dialogue. It's perfectly acceptable to formulate your thoughts before answering an interview question. A brief pause before speaking is normal, so don't be put off by short silent periods. Interviewers may pause briefly to take notes during the interview. This is also common and shouldn't put you on edge.
Be ready for behavioral questions
Behavioral interviewing requires the job candidate to provide a situation and then describe the task that comprised the situation, the actions that were taken, and the result or outcome.
Questions may be posed in a format of "tell me about a time when..." or "give me an example of a time when..." This allows you to share previous work - paid or volunteer - or classroom experiences that allow the interviewer to ascertain what you learned from the experience. Many companies prefer to use this interviewing technique because it provides information on a candidate that isn't likely to be included on a resume. Before walking into the interview, try to think of a few scenarios where you had to make a tough decision, resolve conflict, or fill a leadership role.
Show why you're a good fit
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager: why should they hire you and what do you bring to the company? The interviewer needs to have a compelling reason to extend an offer to a candidate. Interviewees should think about their knowledge, skills, and abilities and how these would benefit the hiring organization.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
Ask thoughtful questions
It is common for the interviewer to ask you if you have any additional questions at the end of the interview. Have a few questions prepared in advance. They can be general questions about the work environment or they can be specific to the position for which you are interviewing. Having something prepared is much better than trying to come up with something under pressure and stumbling in front of the interviewer.
Say thank you
Once you get home, either write a thank you note or email the interviewers to thank them for your time. If you're still interested in the position, make sure you express that in your note.
Before leaving the interview, you may want to ask about the next steps and the expected timeline for making a hiring decision. You better able to manage your expectations about when you'll probably hear back with this information in mind.
Accept an Offer
Receiving a job offer is an exciting experience, but be careful not to let that interfere with objectively considering the position and its benefits to make an educated decision. "You will most likely receive a written offer letter," says Haddaway. "That letter should explain the next steps for accepting the position and you'll usually have to sign the letter with the intent to take the job." Here are six tips for reviewing, negotiating, and accepting job offers.
Read the fine print
Although it varies by company, offer letters should have information about the base salary, performance bonuses, stock options, retirement and pension plans, vacation and sick time, and severance packages.
Consider this information carefully before deciding if you need to negotiate for a better package. It may be helpful to ask a handful of in-depth questions about health insurance premiums, employee discounts and reimbursements, and what 401K options and matching may be available to quickly assess the compounding interest you could earn during your time on the job.
Is the position description clear?
Does the description in the offer letter describe clearly what you're being hired to do? Be sure to get clarification on how you'll spend your time to know if that company is truly where you want to be.
Know your value
Before accepting, do your research. According to Brown, you should do market research to see what the industry averages are for the position. This will be important when it comes to negotiations.
Don't be afraid to negotiate
Negotiations over salaries, benefits, and perks are common—don't be afraid to ask for a package that meets your needs and value as an employee. In short, know your minimum requirements and be prepared to walk away if an offer is rejected or the hiring manager won't budge.
Negotiate with the right authority
At some companies, recruiters and hiring managers don't have negotiating power. There is always someone in the organization that can discuss salaries, adjust offers, and develop a compromise, so make sure you're communicating with that person.
Recognize your priorities
"Consider the job fit," says Haddaway. The right job may not be the one that pays the most money if the trade-off is a really long, terrible commute. A lower-paying job may be more interesting and offer greater personal rewards.
Tips for College Students & New Grads
If you're a college student or new grad starting the real-world job hunt for the first time, the process can be both exciting and nerve-racking. In addition to the strategies in the previous section, the following tips can help alleviate some of the stress and get you started on the right foot:
Use your college's career center
Many students make the mistake of only visiting their college's career center when there's a career fair or waiting until their senior year to step foot inside. This convenient - and free - resource is open every day and most offer a range of services, from one-on-one coaching to workshops and networking events to career assessment. And career centers typically have long-term relationships with employers and alumni, explains Dr. Williamson-Mendez. Whether you have a clear idea of what you want to do or have no clue at all, there are trained professionals who want to help you get on the right track for turning your career goals into reality. Don't be afraid to ask them for help.
Join your college's alumni group
The alumni group is another frequently underused, but valuable resource. Most alumni groups offer perks for members, such as discounts at local businesses and restaurants, access to the college's library, and special pricing on college events. But one of the biggest advantages of joining an alumni group is having access to networking opportunities. Whether through a sponsored event or the alumni directory, you'll have access to professionals in various industries who can help you with your job search by referring you for a position, introducing you to a hiring manager, or giving you the inside scoop on a particular career or company.
*Utilize online resources
There are a number of free and affordable online resources available to help with various aspects of the job search. The Ladders, for example, has a blog dedicated to career advice (and also hiring advice, which could help you better understand what goes on in the mind of a hiring manager). The Muse offers Coach Connect, where you can get personalized advice from a mentor or coach via Skype or on the phone.
Make good use of being unemployed
Now that you've graduated (or are about to), it can be tempting to sit around or hang out with friends. A little of that is acceptable, but try making the most of this "in between" time by doing things that can help you grow personally and professionally. In addition to job hunting, participate in activities that increase your marketability and keep your brain sharp, such as:
- Taking a temporary, contract, or part-time job in the industry you want to work in
- Taking a class to enhance or develop a versatile skill
- Build your brand by creating a professional blog or website, which can also be used to supplement your resume and cover letter
- Travel the world, if you can. Traveling opens you up to new experiences and puts you in situations you may not ever be in when you're at home. It also gives you an opportunity to meet all sorts of new people and encounter different perspectives. All of this can help you grow as a person, but it can also translate to some real-world skills, such as being able to speak a different language, the ability to take calculated risks, and experience with people of diverse backgrounds. Dr. Williamson-Mendez also points out that structuring your travels around your job search - for example participating in company tours, networking, or volunteering - may lead to employment offers you never dreamed of before.
Try your local resources
Local libraries, organizations, and colleges sometimes offer workshops and job fairs or provide other career resources to those in the community. This can also be a great way to network with others and learn about potential job openings or volunteer opportunities nearby.
Treat it like a job
To get really serious about your job hunt, treat it like a job. After all, much like a job, it can be stressful and time-consuming. Set aside time - daily or weekly - to regularly check job postings, research potential employers and companies you're interested in, and send out tailored applications. Create daily or weekly goals for yourself, such as sending out five applications every Sunday night or at least one application a day. Searching regularly like this can also help you stay motivated and alleviate some of the stress that naturally comes with the hunt.
FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS
18 Tips for Recent Grads Entering the Workforce<>br/> In recent years, employers have complained that millennials aren't ready for the real world. Transitioning from classroom to career can be tough. There is a new set of rules and very different expectations. This article outlines 18 tips to help new grads build a positive workplace reputation and work ethic.
AfterCollege<>br/> AfterCollege helps college students and recent grads make their career dreams a reality. The site features hundreds of thousands of entry-level jobs and internships from more than 25,000 employers specifically for the college student demographic. Students and grads can explore advertised opportunities and employers can also hunt for potential candidates.
Grad's Guide to Getting Hired<>br/> This comprehensive guide helps college students build and utilize a professional network, offers strategies on how to get an interview, and provides expert advice on landing that first job offer post graduation.
iHipo<>br/> Considering working abroad? This career website is dedicated to helping students and new grads find international internships, jobs, and graduate programs. The site also offers helpful resources, such as CV tips and a new career advice section, to guide students and grads through the entire process.
LinkedIn<>br/> In 2014, LinkedIn acquired Bright.com, an algorithm-based job-matching site. The company now uses the data-driven matching technology to better connect job seekers - college students and otherwise - with the right career. Users can also access a wealth of tips and resources for the hunt, from do's and don'ts to tips on saving money while unemployed.
Pathways<>br/> Part of USAJobs.gov, Pathways is specifically for students and recent college graduates. Visitors can find internship opportunities and government jobs for new grads. Career advice for those new to federal service can also be found on the site.
FOR CURRENT PROFESSIONALS & CAREER CHANGERS
7 Mistakes Career Changers Make<>br/> Discover the most common mistakes career changers make - and avoid them when you start writing the next chapter of your career.
CareerOnestop<>br/> This site is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and helps job seekers of all ages and experience levels explore careers and industries, find job training, search for openings, and get local job search assistance.
CareerRealism<>br/> This job search platform's slogan is Because every job is temporary. Founded by career coach J.T. O'Donnell, CareerRealism helps facilitate the job seeker-recruiter/employer relationship. In addition to browsing job postings, users can sign up for a daily newsletter that deliveries the latest job search news and offers career development tips, search for and reach out to recruiters, access articles to learn more about companies, and get free resume advice.
Good&Co<>br/> Good&Co calls itself a "self-discovery platform and network". This app offers different tools and resources to help users assess how well their skills and personality match up with companies and colleagues for better insight to create workplace happiness for yourself. This resource is ideal for anyone looking for a more meaningful career experience.
LiveCareer<>br/> This site is supported by a team of career experts and has one goal - to help you get the job you want. There's a section dedicated to Career-Changers that features several resources to help you figure out whether you're over your job or the industry you're currently in and advice on where to go from there.
The Muse<>br/> The Muse offers behind-the-scenes job search insight to help you find a job you'll love and be successful at. Users can explore companies, search job openings, read articles for advice, and get one-on-one help from career coaches.
About the Author