Last year, I knew I needed to find a new job but I was tired of settling. The two positions I’d taken after graduate school had been stepping-stone career moves: My first position was in retail (where I learned a lot more than I thought I would) and my second job was much more closely aligned with my degree but left me wanting more.
After a year a half at my second job, it was time to start making moves. I was getting increasingly antsy to actually be doing what I had a degree to do. The problem? Positions in my field don’t open up with great frequency and it’s a popular field to want to be in. When there are openings, there are hundreds of applicants and it can be hard to break through the noise.
I found a posting for a job in my field that was exactly what I was looking for and set my sights on it. Here’s how I managed to get my dream job after five years of searching.
- I never gave up. Tempting as it was, I could never quite give up on getting a job in my field. Over the years I’d sent out dozens of applications, gone to a bunch of interviews (both good and bad), networked, went to regional and national conferences, presented at a conference, got involved in the association relevant to my field, and always reminded myself of why I was going through all of this effort. My motivation had high and low points, but if I’d given up I’d never have gotten my dream job.
- I didn’t over-analyze my cover letter. As a writer and avid reader, I take everything I write seriously. I could spend anywhere from 2-3 hours on one cover letter (because you need to personalize each and every cover letter you write) but I gave myself a time limit and used my lunch hour to write the cover letter. My cover letter formula process:
- Copy the job posting into a blank document and highlight all of the requirements that match your career. I often color code based on area (red for degree, blue for current position, green for skills I’ve mastered, etc.)
- Write your customized-to-the-position cover letter. Click here for my tried and true cover letter template.
- Don’t go over one page, and try to let your personality shine through. Sell yourself and let them know why you want this position.
- I prepared. A lot. I read up on everything I could about the department, the people they serve, how they got started, and looked at LinkedIn profiles of people that currently work there. The more I knew, the more comfortable and confident I felt.
- I reviewed common interview questions and wrote out my answers. There are tons of free resources out there for how to best answer interview questions, and the closer you do this to your interview, the better. You don’t want to get caught off guard and it helps to get introspective and think about what you want to say and why you want to say it.
- I created a portfolio. Portfolios aren’t just for artists — I created a packet of information to leave behind. It was time consuming and intimidating, but it gave me something productive to focus my attention on when I was feeling anxious about the interview. My field is academic advising and my portfolio included my resume, a sample advising syllabus, my philosophy of advising, sample materials I’d use teaching a class as an advisor and signage I have hung in my office that demonstrates my intention and resolve to be mindful and inclusive.
- I went with questions of my own. I always have at least ten questions to ask at the end of a job interview. Again, there are tons of free resources out there for great questions to ask at the end of an interview. Just make sure you aren’t asking any questions with really easy to Google answers. Some of my personal favorites that always give me more insight into the position or office: What do you like about working here? What do you expect someone in this position to accomplish in the first 60-90 days? How would you describe the culture here? What qualities are the most important for doing well and advancing in this position?
- I followed up. That same day, I sent each person on the search committee a personalized note. Whether you do it via email or hand write your notes, a thank you note is a great way to show you paid attention during your interview and it will separate you from the other candidates. Fortune surveyed 50 hiring managers and human resources professionals and found that over 75% of the people surveyed did not receive any kind of thank you note from most of the candidates they interviewed, and for 30% of those surveyed, no follow up meant no further steps for the candidate.
Landing an interview for your dream job can be nerve wracking, but by doing your homework, paying attention to detail and showing who you are up your odds of getting the job. And if you don’t get the position? It wasn’t for you. Simple as that. There will be more openings and more opportunities to get where you want to go, and you can re-use a lot of the things you prepare for one interview over and over again until you get to where you want to be.