Careers

10 Tips to Jumpstart Your Job Search

Whether you’re looking for your first professional position or a temporary job to build your bank account over the summer, searching for a job can be overwhelming. While it’s tempting to do nothing and hope a job falls in your lap, that is probably not your best course of action. There are many things you can do right now to increase the chances of finding that perfect position. If you’re just getting moving (or wondering where to begin), the suggestions here will help you jumpstart your job search and put you on the path to professional success.

1. Take one bite at a time

The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Make it a priority to spend one hour every day working on your job search. Go someplace where your friends can’t find you, turn your phone off (not just silent), and make real progress on your search. You don’t have to do everything today, but you do have to do some work to accomplish your goal.

2. Refresh your résumé

Your résumé is your single most important professional document. It is your marketing tool, where you present yourself to potential employers in the best possible light. In many cases, it is the first impression a potential employer has of you — but hopefully not the last one. You’ve probably been using the same résumé for a long time, updating it in bits and pieces as your situation changes. Now is the time to take a fresh, critical look at the overall picture.

  • Verify that everything is up-to-date and absolutely current. Are all of your most recent and most relevant skills included?
  • Look at the overall impression your résumé gives. Now is the time to remove some of your extracurricular activities from high school, especially ones that aren’t relevant to your career path.
  • Make sure your strongest selling points are up front, and quantify accomplishments where possible. You may need to reorganize the sections, update the headers, and re-write points about your experience to more accurately reflect your recent accomplishments. For example, instead of “Experience with HPLC,” say “Analyzed 25 samples per week using HPLC, including performing routine maintenance and upgrades to equipment”.
  • Create the best possible basic résumé, then customize it for each position. Your résumé will be one, or at most two, pages, so make every line count.

3. Update your LinkedIn profile

Take a critical look at your professional profile on LinkedIn. This is the first place most industrial employers go to look for candidates, so if you’re not there, you are invisible to most potential employers. If you don’t have an account yet, sign up (it’s free).

Be sure to:

  • Copy and paste content from your now-awesome résumé in to the appropriate sections of your LinkedIn profile.
  • Include a photo — a nice headshot with a plain background, taken by a friend (no selfies).
  • Include all the professional skills (and keywords) that are relevant to your current job search, and make sure they are consistent with what’s on your résumé. Don’t advertise only your analytical chemistry skills on LinkedIn, then send a résumé selling your organic chemistry knowledge. Employers like a coherent story.
  • Use your LinkedIn profile to go beyond what’s on your résumé. By participating in discussion groups and including links to your own blog and publications, you can expand the reach of your profile.

4. Perfect your intro speech

When you are interviewing for a position, it’s imperative to be prepared. Practice — out loud — your 2- or 3-sentence response to the questions, “Who are you?” and “What kind of a job are you looking for?” Describe not only what you are doing now, but where you want to go. For example, “My name is Alex James, and I am about to graduate from Big State University with a B.S. in chemistry. I especially enjoyed my undergraduate research project conducting HPLC analysis of over 50 steroid analogs, and I’m currently seeking an industrial position that will let me expand my skills in this area.” If you give people enough information so they know what you’re looking for, you can turn your entire network into job search agents (see next tip).

5. Organize your contacts list

Start a database, spreadsheet, text document, Google Doc, or whatever format works for you to track all your networking contacts and job leads.

Meticulously record:

  • Names of people you contact
  • Dates the contacts were made
  • Conversation topics
  • Information gleaned from the conversation
  • New job leads
  • Anything you might have promised to them, and the due date.

Once you have recorded this information, use these documents to follow up with all available leads. This can be especially helpful when your contact Victoria suggests you call her contact James. If you documented the conversation, you can contact Victoria afterwards and let her know how the conversation went and how much you appreciate the lead.

Create another document to track jobs you have applied for, or might want to apply for. Again, keep track of how you heard about the position, who you know at that company, when you applied, which version of your résumé you sent them, and so on. When you meet someone new, you can quickly tell if you’ve applied to their company, and, if so, for what position.

6. Update your references

Keep a references list of the names and contact information for three people who know you well and will speak well of you to potential employers. Make sure to touch base with them regularly. Updating them on your job search progress will force you to make progress, so you’ll have something to tell them. You should also decide if the people you selected are still best suited to talk about your professional skills.

7. Expand your contacts list

Possible sources of new contacts could include:

  • Current and former employers, teachers, co-workers
  • Current and former classmates
  • Speakers who presented on campus and audience members at their presentations
  • Fellow volunteers at science outreach activities
  • Friends from social clubs and other campus activities
  • Scientific recruiters

Think back through your professional history and identify people with whom you’ve lost touch. Use LinkedIn and other tools to reconnect — to rebuild your relationship, not just ask for a job! Ideally, you will have an in-person conversation, and even a short phone call is better than an email exchange, but whatever they have time for is better than nothing. You can ask for ideas for possible career paths, information about organizations, and especially for introductions to other people.

Recruiters and staffing agencies can be a good way for new graduates to get a first position because they use their professional network on your behalf; however, their primary focus is to fill the position, not to find you a job.

8. Research job listing sites

Using “chem” or “scient” will find many openings, often for jobs you’ve never heard of. Ignore the job titles and focus on the descriptions. Learn what skills employers are looking for and identify keywords to use in your résumé and in future searches.

Sites to start searching include:

9. Browse company websites

Study the websites of companies in your local area that hire chemists. Read press releases about new areas of expansion and marketing literature about new products, and sign up for alerts about new information. Will they need people to support their new efforts? Do they sponsor lectures or outreach events where you might meet some of their employees?

You can also inquire about career fairs, where employers come on campus to interview students. The fair may be school-wide or focus on a specific department. If there are none at your school, check nearby schools and ask if you can attend their career fair.

10. Be where the chemists are

Put yourself anywhere that your fellow professional chemists will be. Seminars, student chapter meetings, ACS local section meetings… even science nights at local pubs, science museums, and science cafés can be great places to meet fellow scientists and learn about the job market.

If you’re going to volunteer, why not do it strategically? Find the student chapter or local section near you (webapps.acs.org/lslookup), and ask to help with any of their activities, such as science fairs, tutoring, or outreach events. Volunteering with your fellow professionals showcases your passion for science and your work ethic.

In summary, don’t panic just because you don’t have a position lined up. There are many things you can do to make yourself more visible and attractive to employers. The key is to start now, make a plan, and continue working every day until you reach your goal.

Bonus: Learn a new skill

It’s never too late to learn something new. Look at the skills required for the jobs you’re interested in, determine what you’re missing, and figure out how to get it. Suppose your dream job requires experience collaborating on dynamic teams. You could create a team of students to help each other study for final exams. Assign topics to individual members, arrange meeting times and locations, and find problem sets or sample tests for everyone to work on together. Not only will you be helping yourself, you will be able to add “Organized study team of 10 students” to your résumé!