Your Job Search: Advance Preparation Meets Opportunity

Posted June 10, 2013 by
Woman searching for a job in the paper

Woman searching for a job in the paper. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Seneca, a first-century Roman philosopher, allegedly said, “Luck is where the crossroads of opportunity and preparation meet.” When you’re job hunting, this means that the secret to success is laying the groundwork in advance. That way, you will be ready to seize the right opportunity when it comes along.

Step 1: Take Stock of What You Already Know

The standard advice is that your resume shouldn’t exceed one page. But what if you’re having trouble filling even one? “Pizza delivery driver” and “barista” may not sound that impressive if you’re applying for a professional position. On the other hand, you might not have anything else to list.

What you need to do is think of the metacognitive skills behind your success in those positions. You weren’t just driving your car or boiling water. You were following instructions, working in a fast-paced environment, providing a safe and positive customer experience, collaborating with others and more.

Step 2: Write a “Mega-Resume”

Next, ignore that whole “a resume is only one page” advice for a moment. Instead, free write a list of your skills and accomplishments at each position you’ve held. This list should be exhaustive. Aim to fill at least two full pages — more if you can.

The thing about meta-cognitive skills is that they are transferable. They will make you a quick learner in future positions, even if you’re transitioning to a new career field. So try to go beyond simple job descriptions. And whatever you do, don’t delete anything. Save this as a separate document. Now you’ll be better prepared when opportunity strikes rather than scrambling to put together a resume on the fly.

Step 3: Decide Whether You Really Want that Job

Remember that you’re going to be spending 40 hours a week or more at work. You’ll enjoy that time much more if your personality is a good fit for the position. For example, someone interested in being a personal trainer should enjoy developing strong relationships with people and motivating them to complete difficult tasks. If that sounds terrifying to you, you may want to consider jobs more suited to shy types.

No matter how you find out about a job opening, go to the company’s website before applying. Read the “about us” section, including their mission statement and philosophy. If you can, talk to someone who works for that company, even if their job has nothing in common with what you’d be doing. Do they feel valued? Are they able to maintain a decent work-life balance? Ask yourself: Is this a place that is going to challenge and excite you? Or will you be bored, frustrated or overworked?

Step 4: Create Individualized Resumes for Each Position

Here’s where the mega-resume comes back into play. You’re not going to be able to use the same resume for every job application. Having lots of bullet points, skills and accomplishments to choose from means that you can craft an individualized resume that speaks directly to the required skills listed in each job ad.

This is important because according to Forbes magazine, recruiters spend an average of six seconds looking at a resume. You have a very limited time to demonstrate that you have read the job ad carefully, understand the required skills and can contribute to the company’s goals. Pick and choose the bullets from your mega-resume that most closely match what they are looking for.

Step 5: Tailor Your Cover Letter to Your Resume

Your resume should demonstrate that you have the skills necessary to do the job. Your cover letter should help them imagine what you’ll be like as a colleague. It should make them want to meet you. So set your cover letter apart.

Give a specific example of how you implemented a skill listed on your resume to solve a problem. Explain why your leadership skills will help you hit the ground running in the advertised position. Weave the words and phrases used in the job ad or their mission statement into your resume and cover letter (make sure this sounds natural and not forced or artificial).

With a little forethought and advance preparation, you’ll be ready to seize the moment when it comes. Because most of the work happens before you submit the application, you should start today, even if you’re not actively looking for a job at the moment.

About the Author:

Georgie Miller works with graduate students from application through graduation. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Central Florida.

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