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Job Search Strategy and Research

So, you’re ready to make your move, ready for action. Whether you’re looking for an internship or a full-time job after college, the process of looking for the position (and employer!) that’s right for you is pretty much the same and both involve developing a search strategy. A search strategy is a plan or series of steps to help you obtain your goal: getting an off er for a position that fits your interests, skills, values, and personality.

Quick Links:

Job Search Facts
The Bottom Line
Developing Your Search Strategy
Define What You're Looking For
Field Specific Research
Employer Specific Research
Networking
Using Social Media For Networking

Job Search Facts

  • According to information from the U.S. Department of Labor, up to 80% of all positions are filled without employer advertising. Think about it. It saves time, energy, and money for the employer to hire people they know, who have been referred by a trusted source, or who have made contact directly. And not only is this more efficient, it also often means the employer is getting a candidate who is not just looking for a job, but looking for this job.
  • 98% of U.S. employers have fewer than 100 employees. That means these organizations often do not recruit from college campuses. To find these “hidden” employers, you need to have a strategy.
  • Using multiple job search methods will help you find a position faster than people who use only one or two, as data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests. Read on for more about those methods and how you can decide which might work best for you.
  • The average American with a bachelor’s degree has about 10 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 34. Again, this is data from research done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To survive—and advance— you’ll have to become skilled at job hunting. Your first job out of college is just the beginning of a lifelong process.

The Bottom Line

  • The Internet should not be your only means of searching for jobs.
  • Talking to people, asking questions, and being able to quickly and easily describe who you are (your interests, skills, experience) and what you’re looking for may be your best job search method. Conduct informational interviews and don’t be afraid to network!
  • Take advantage of MSU resources like MySpartanCareer.com, career events, the Career Exposure Series, company events, and other opportunities to meet and discover potential employers.

Developing Your Strategy

As you develop your search strategy, you should:

  • Create a list of 5–10 organizations with whom you are most interested in working. These organizations should get most of your attention. Actively work to meet people in the organizations and learn more about their goals.
  • Create a second list of organizations you have some interest in. When you have time, do some basic research to refine the level of your interest and find possible networking or career openings.
  • Keep a log of research and activities, so you know whom you’ve called, when, and next steps. It’s embarrassing to call someone twice because you forgot that you already called, or not to call at all when someone asked.
Define What You’re Looking For

What are your search criteria? Be honest with yourself and the people you talk with about your search (whether it’s your Career Consultant, Career Advisor, or professional contacts you’ve made). Common search criteria are:

  • Geographic location
  • Application of skill set
  • Connection to interest/passion
  • Fit with work values
  • Compatibility with personality

If you find that you’re having a hard time putting parameters around your search, start by going back to the “Choosing a Career and Major” section for tips on resources, tools, and methods for getting some clarity.

Some people think it’s good to be flexible in your job search, and to some extent it is. However, being overly flexible can be a real hurdle. The more you can narrow down what you’re looking for and where, the more likely you’ll be able to uncover viable possibilities. It’s possible that you might have more than one thing you’re looking for though, and that’s fine! If you can describe (to yourself and others) the kinds of opportunities you’re aiming for, you can organize your search appropriately. You may have different methods that you use for diff erent kinds of positions, organizations, fields, or geographic areas.

Field Specific Research

Research can make all the difference in your search. You need to look more like a great potential colleague than a desperate job seeker! There are plenty of desperate job seekers. It’s your job to do the research needed to understand your top employers’ needs and place yourself in situations where you can demonstrate your abilities. Where do you find the people you want to work with?

  • Professional organizations. Nearly every profession you can think of has a professional organization: American Institute of Graphic Arts, American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, Association of American Publishers, American Sociological Association, American Library Association, Society of Illustrators, American Chemical Society, Association of Music Writers and Photographers, just to name a few.

For links to professional organizations that might be of interest to you based on your field of study, check out “What Can I Do With This Major?” and our other resources listed in Exploring Options

Assocation websites usually have info on current trends, salary surveys, job listings, directories of accredited graduate/professional programs and more. Check to see if they offer a discounted rate for student members and join while you’re still in school.

  • Trade publications & journals. What do people in your field read to stay current on industry trends and news? If you don’t know, do some research and ask the professionals you connect with what they read. Some sample trade publications and journals include: The Wall Street Journal, Ad Age, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Variety, Publishers Weekly, and PR Week.

Subscriptions to many of these publications can be costly, so make use of copies or electronic subscriptions available through your academic department, Career Consultant, Career Advisor, the MSU Library, etc.

  • Job listing & professional resource sites. There are online communities dedicated to particular fields where you can often find things such as job seeker resources, career guides, discussion forums, job listings, and more.

Some of our favorite sites are LinkedIn.com/jobsidealist.org, mediabistro.com, makingthedifference.org, usajobs.gov, and publishersmarketplace.com. Conduct additional research to find more sites that fit your interests.

  • Social media. Yes, social media can be a part of your research and job search. See more in Networking.

Employer Specific Research

Some people are completely flexible when it comes to location. In that case, focusing on field specific resources to identify specific employers is a great move. But if you’ve got some particular geographic areas in mind, or are geographically limited, there are resources that can help you to uncover employers by location.

  • Use online career research tools to find accurate, up-to-date information on potential employers and contacts in a wide range of industries nationally and internationally. Explore the industry (or industries) and geographic area(s) you’re interested in, and find employers located there! You can also research salary information and get valuable insider information on industries, career fields, employers, cities, and countries.
  • Find and make use of local resources such as newspapers, networking groups, Chambers of Commerce, regional alumni clubs (check alumni.msu.edu for regional and international groups), etc. in your area of interest. They are a great way to find people who are doing work you find interesting.

Once you have created your list of specific employers, research them! Sources include: 

  • Websites
  • Annual reports
  • Recruiting materials/packets
  • Marketing materials
  • Media articles and coverage (check out press releases on their website too!)
  • Databases and other resources available through the MSU Library for a wealth of information on specific employers
  • And don’t forget social media!

Networking

The Department of Labor estimates that up to 80% of positions are filled without employer advertising. If you are relying on job postings as your primary job search strategy, you’re only seeing approximately 20% of what’s out there.

We’ve given you methods and tools for finding professionals working in your fields of interest. What are you doing right now to create or establish those important professional relationships? Meeting people gives you an opportunity to learn from them. If you are not sure what career path you would like to pursue, talk with many different professionals . . . they can help you narrow your areas of interest. (Read more about the first step to building your own personal network, informational interviewing.) Remember, networking should begin long before your job search and often you don’t even realize that you are doing it.

Networking is usually not a formalized process, it is an informal discussion with people you already know, or have just met. In fact, most students use networking all the time without even realizing it. When scheduling classes, have you ever asked a friend or classmate about their experiences, or to recommend a good class or section? When making a (relatively) large purchase such as a new cell phone, athletic shoes, computer, or even a car, have you asked people you know what they’ve liked or disliked about theirs? Have you posted questions (or answers) to online boards discussing these kinds of topics? Guess what—that’s networking!

Networking takes place whenever you:

  • Meet with faculty or staff —especially a Career Advisor
  • Attend an employer info session or career event (visit “Events” at MySpartanCareer)
  • Meet guest speakers or engage with your peers in class or through a student organization
  • Talk with family, friends, and other acquaintances about their work
  • Post messages on Facebook, LinkedIn, chat rooms, or other websites
  • Volunteer for a community service event

Since networking can happen anywhere, be prepared to introduce yourself and deliver your pitch about who you are and what you want to do. For some students, this oen happens at their part-time job in conversations with customers and clients. “You’re a student at MSU? What are you studying? What do you want to do a er graduation?” You never know when that conversation can lead to a new contact or even an invitation to pass along your resume.

Using Social Media for Networking

Certainly you have used on-line sites to connect with others in order to share ideas or information! Two popular social media sites are Facebook and YouTube; however, there are many other tools that you may choose to use in obtaining or sharing information that can help you develop your career.

Your Career Services Network at Michigan State is prepared to help you understand the fast-changing world of social media and its importance in your career development. Here is a quick overview of several social media webtools you may want to consider using.

  • LinkedIn. Over 100 million professionals use LinkedIn to exchange information, ideas, and opportunities. Learn how to effectively build your profile, connect with contacts, and find opportunities. tip: Search for and join groups based on interests and affinities. Being members of a common group expands your network and gives you more professionals to connect with.
  • Plaxo. A smart, socially connected address book. Tracks feeds from Twitter, Facebook, and dozens of other sites.
  • Twitter. Stay updated with professionals or employers and keep others up to date with this instant information tool. Use Twitter directories like WeFollow.com and Twellow.com to find professionals and organizations related to your interests that you may want to follow. Some organizations have Twitter accounts dedicated to job postings.
  • Facebook. Yes, employers and professionals are on Facebook too. Even if you don’t choose to add professional contacts as friends, be aware that employers (and your future colleagues) are very likely to look you up on Facebook or Google you before you even come in for an interview. If you like the idea of using Facebook for both personal and professional reasons, search pages and groups for field or employer specific info or communities. Also consider using your status updates strategically to help your network of friends help you.

The use of social media in learning about potential career paths, receiving feedback on job search documents (e.g., resumes), connecting with alumni, and networking with professionals in your field of interest is becoming one of the most important avenues for a new generation of successful job seekers.