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Job Search 101: Landing Your Best Job in Five Steps

Job Search 101

Wherever your path leads you, the Alumni Career Program is here to break down the often overwhelming job search process with this step-by-step catalog of tools, strategies, and resources. For each phase of your job search journey, the Alumni Career Program has everything you need to learn, from how to write a stronger resume to how to negotiate a higher salary.

So don’t wait. Each expandable section below has resources and information to help you navigate your job search journey.

Bookmark this page and let the Alumni Career Program help you get your next job.

Assessment, Reflection, Self-Understanding, and Goal Clarification

Start your job search journey by researching the two most important aspects of any search: one is internal, the other external.

  1. Know yourself
  2. Know the market (i.e., the hiring trends in your target industries or sectors)

By completing a self-assessment, you will identify optimal areas and roles in the marketplace that best suit your skills. Typically, alumni who follow this path interview well and receive job offers.

Detail your interests and strengths, explore your optimal workplace culture and environment, and get to know the career sectors and industries that best match your goals with these tools.

Graphic with You and Target Industry in overlapping circles with an arrow in the middle


In his most pivotal piece, “Managing Oneself,” the famous organizational expert Peter Drucker highlights how the driving factor behind a career of productivity, success, and satisfaction requires cultivating a deep understanding of yourself. 

Many job seekers spend more time researching which coffee maker to purchase than identifying their most valuable strengths when contemplating a career move. However, don’t underestimate the importance of taking the time to research, reflect, and understand yourself, your interests, and your strengths.

Start your job search journey with a great resource, the CareerLeader Self-Assessment tool developed by faculty at the Harvard Business School. Similarly, below is a list of additional resources that can help you answer some of the following questions and, in turn, impact your job search.

  1. What do I enjoy and do well? Review your calendar and take note of how you spend your free time. What you choose to do may indicate your true interests.
  2. What’s important to me? In other words, what are your values?
  3. How would you describe your personality and temperament?
  4. List your key accomplishments. What are you most proud of?
  5. What environments bring out the best in me?
  6. Think back to how you have problem-solved on past projects. What trends and themes can you identify in your work history?
  7. Think about your productivity at work. If you suddenly were not at work, what would not get done?

Additional resources: 

The Market

Once you have done the research to better understand your own strengths, start researching the hiring market to learn which industries and sectors will play best to your skills and how to avoid taking a position in an industry that might be on the downturn.

Researchers are asserting that over 100 million workers may need to switch occupations by 2030 (“The Future of Work After COVID-19,” McKinsey Global Institute). Ask yourself a few of these simple, but important, questions before entering the hiring market.

  • Based on what I have learned from the skills profiles, do I have the skills needed to make a career change at this moment?
  • Is this industry experiencing long-term growth?
    • If the organizations in this industry are publicly traded, what is the financial outlook?
    • If the industry is in the startup realm, is it set for long-term growth with a secure stream of funding? Or are the financials in this industry still mainly “hype” and exaggerated, giving it little chance for mass adoption?

Check out our Market Analysis Guide and get started on your deep dive into market and industry projections.

A brand is simply “a promise of value.” Hiring organizations need to understand your “promise of value” in a resume, a cover letter, and on LinkedIn in order to appreciate how you can benefit their organization. Preparation during this stage also sets you up for mastering the later stages of interviewing and salary negotiation.

Your Resume

Use these two frameworks to improve your resume:

1. YOUR PROFESSIONAL SUMMARY: Summarize your career with tightly written descriptions addressing these three areas: professional identity, your skills and background, and your successful results or your value proposition. This summary is also helpful to hiring managers, as it gives a preview to the interview question, “Tell me about yourself.”

For example:

Analytical operations leader (PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY) who thrives in complex supply chain manufacturing environments (SKILLS/BACKGROUND); consistently improves process performance and profitability (RESULTS/VALUE PROPOSITION) through Lean Six Sigma Black Belt depth and cross-functional MBA breadth.

2. ACTION – CONTEXT – RESULT: Streamline your resume’s bullet points to better communicate information about your current role and work successes. This exercise helps you form concise, short sentences describing your position and job responsibilities that you can later use to quickly respond to tough, wide-ranging behavioral interview questions that typically start with, “Tell me a time when…”

For example:

An ineffective bullet on your resume may read:

  • Liaison between customers and sales management

An effective bullet on your resume would read:

  • Coordinated (ACTION) relationships between customers and sales management team of 12 (CONTEXT), increasing market share of petroleum product line by 25% and return business by 50% (RESULT)

For a full step-by-step guide on how to apply these two frameworks, check out the following resources:

Top LinkedIn Tips

LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network on the internet. With over 750 million members worldwide, having a well-curated LinkedIn profile is more important than ever. Use the tips below to get started on crafting a profile that makes you stand out.

  • A Linkedin profile with a photo is 13x more likely to be viewed than one without. Remember that people hire people (not profiles).
  • Recruiters search LinkedIn by title (using a special LinkedIn Recruiters License): Supply Chain Director, HR Lead, Product Marketing Manager. So make sure that your headline reflects what you want them to discover about you.
  • Use of specific keywords in your summary can make you 40x more likely to be discovered for opportunities.

Not sure what keywords to use? Want to move your LinkedIn profile to a new level?

The Power of a Referral & Referral-Based Job Search

The chance of a job seeker landing a placement through an online application, prior to COVID-19, was less than 2%. Now, with the increase in unemployment numbers, the odds are even lower. As a result, we highly recommend the “referral job search strategy,” a straightforward way to build relationships and referrals via tracking and outreach. With some hard work, it truly is possible to land a job within three months. Just follow these steps: 

  1. Create a target list of organizations where you might like to work. Use this sample to get started.
  2. Review this webinar recording featuring Austin Belcak, the founder of Cultivated Culture, sharing key ways to expand networking in your industry.
  3. Draft approach emails requesting informational interviews. Remember relationship best practices.
  4. Track your outreach and successes.

Referral Networking

Networking for a referral can be approached just like an informational interview. Questions to consider in conversations with potential referrers are best remembered through the “TIARA” model devised by Steve Dalton, author of “The 2-Hour Job Search.” 

  1. Trends (What trends are currently impacting your business?)
  2. Insights (What experiences in your current job have you valued most?)
  3. Advice (What should I be doing right now to prepare myself for a career in this field?)
  4. Resources (What resources would you recommend I look into?) 
  5. Assignments (What projects have been the most important to you?)

Always send a thank you email as a follow-up to an informational interview. This not only gives you the opportunity to thank them for their time and information, but it also allows you to forge a relationship of trust with them. This should make you “top of mind” when an opportunity at the organization opens up.

The Big Three

A vast majority of interviews include some variation of three big questions. So be prepared to answer them!

1. Why YOU? Example: Tell me about yourself.

“I’m a (list professional identity), with expertise in ________, _______, and _______ (list three core skills as identified in description). Most recently with __________, in ___________ role (list current or previous role and company). I’m proud of the fact that ________ (list most recent accomplishments with metrics). A little on my background __________ (list degrees, additional credentials, or experience). I’m really excited for the opportunity to make contributions to ____________ (tie back to prospective employer needs/team).



To help answer questions 2 and 3, use the framework: ASSERTION > PROOF > TIEBACK

For example: Why do you want to work in health care operations improvement?

  • ASSERTION: I have been interested in operations improvement and health care ever since I was a child.
  • PROOF: I still remember trying to speed up the patient intake processes as I watched my mom volunteer as a nurse at a major service conference. I love figuring out the best and most efficient way to do things and provide the best service. My Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification project at the University Hospital (HS) was a highlight that combined my analytical strength and my values. I saw how improved medical services change people’s lives and health for the better.
  • TIEBACK (to the organization’s needs): Finally, I understand that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as well as the aging U.S. population, are creating major changes in the health care industry. In response, I understand HS has some new operations initiatives in the works (including your Emergency Room Initiative and Grand Rounds), and I would be excited to contribute to its success through my Lean Six Sigma expertise.

Bonus question: What should you do when asked about salary range during an interview, especially during the first round? Respond with this sentence, particularly if it is in an early-round interview:

“I would love to proceed with the interview process and truly illustrate my value to X (insert name of the organization) before discussing salary.”

For more information on how to prepare for these questions and behavioral-based questions, which use the ACTION – CONTEXT – RESULT framework, please see our Interview Guide and Strategies for Acing Your Interview webinar.

Negotiate Job Parameters and Choose Job

Your negotiating abilities can make or break your experience with an employer. We encourage you to consider the following advice culled from these books: “The 2-Hour Job Search” by Steve Dalton and “Managing Oneself” by Peter Drucker.

  • Organizations may try to solicit a desired or expected salary from you early on (even in states where it might be illegal). Your response should always be, “I am looking to earn the market rate.” Or, if asked early on in the interview process, respond with, “I would love to proceed with the interview process and truly illustrate my value to the organization before discussing salary.” Alternatively, if asked during the application stage to answer that question on a form, simply enter “zero.” Avoid the temptation to provide a number, especially early on in the interview process.
  • Sometimes offers are not given in writing (only verbally) or don’t include all the pertinent details. For example, they might include salary but no benefits, bonus, or equity information. Avoid the temptation to respond too soon if given incomplete information. Give yourself time, and be patient. Be sure to wait for all the details of the offer before accepting. 
  • Avoid feeling pressured to make a decision due to arbitrary deadlines. Sometimes the deadlines are fictitious, especially if coming from a recruiter (not a hiring manager). In many cases, an additional one or two weeks makes little difference to the hiring manager or team lead. 

What you can do: 

  • Research: Ask for feedback on your interview and get timelines for their desired start date. Gather as much information as you can about the position itself and their understanding of your value.
  • Consider best alternatives: Once you receive an offer from an employer, make sure to compare it to your current employment situation (maybe it’s better than you thought) and any other offers you may have also received. Use these as points of comparison to choose a position for the right reasons. Having a clear understanding of your “best alternative” to an offer strengthens your actual and even mental position in the conversation and provides a mental benchmark for when you might be willing to walk away.
  • Practice: Get an external third party, friend, mentor, or family member to discuss your approach and help you prepare. They can help deal with the emotional aspect of negotiations and the fear of loss. 

For more step-by-step ways to prepare, see our Negotiation Guide.

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