10 Things I Learned in My 3 Month Job Search

One of our wonderful readers, Tom, just got a job. Wuhoo! And he was kind enough to agree to share some of his sage advice after his own long, grueling and often oh-so-frustrating job search. So here, without any changes from me, are his words. And clearly…ahem…he has great taste in recommended source articles:

1.) Searching for a job needs to be a focused and daily task. If you are sitting at work saying “Man, I hate this place” and you truly know that you should be working elsewhere, you need to make finding a job a top priority. As the Work Coach wrote, make your “…job hunt into a job in and of itself.” You can read that article (if you haven’t already) here:

Make Job Hunting a Daily Job. Oh How It Pays Off!

In my search, as outlined below, I found that I heard back from a company once out of every 15 resumes I submitted. Out of those I heard back from, only one out of three offered an interview. That means I had one interview for every 45 times I submitted a resume, or a 2% success rate…hardly awe inspiring. And yes, I tracked this…don’t laugh too hard!

Here’s the thing: You have NO idea what a company really wants when they see an application. You know what the job posting said and you know you tailored your cover letter to the qualifications listed, but you really don’t know what they want to see. This means you need to get as many listings as possible as well as getting in touch with as many recruiters as possible and asking if there are positions open.

2.) Internet search engines like Mon…err well the big, “scary” ones…are generally a waste of time. I worked for a bank as a freshman in college and they used the “scary” engine to place an ad. They received over 500 applications in a DAY. They decided that it was a total waste of time and hired someone off of an employee recommendation.

Realize that no employer will bother going through that many applications by hand to find an applicant. The ones that do use it tend to employ a program that filters cover letters and resumes looking for very specific skills and educational backgrounds. My recommendation is to avoid them altogether, as your time can be better spent targeting more realistic postings/companies.

3.) The single MOST IMPORTANT part of a job search is getting a contact at a company. I cannot stress this enough. Your odds of being interviewed go up tremendously if you have the name/address/phone number of the recruiter in charge of bringing in interviewees.

College job boards and career service centers are great places to get contact names and job postings. Career fairs are also a great way to go. Keep a personal rolodex with business cards you’ve accumulated at these events and you’ll have a plethora of contacts at your fingertips.

While I just stated that job search engines are generally a waste of time, there is an exception: Sometimes a job search engine posting will list a recruiter but no contact information. Fear not gentle reader, the internet search engine again can help. Search their name and the name of the company. Even if you don’t find their exact email address, you can generally find how the company structures their email names and try shooting one off to the name. Worst case scenario is that someone else by that name gets the email or that it gets bounced back to you. Common structures are: joe.smith@abccompany.com, jsmith@abccompany.com, joes@abccompany.com, and joesmith@abccompany.com. This may seem over-the-top, but I heard back from companies that I’m positive I’d never hear back from otherwise with this method.

4.) Work on your cover letter! Read through a bunch of sample cover letters online, write and rewrite your “shell,” and then tailor that shell to each specific posting. Never, ever send a resume without a cover letter. Try and make sure the letter doesn’t sound too “canned,” but keep it professional. Also, have someone help you construct your resume. Make sure it is someone that is familiar with what you do/have done at your current/former job(s). Then, if possible, have an experienced resume writer look it over.

5.) If you don’t hear from a company after submitting your cover letter and resume within a week or so you can write them to follow up. In my experience this almost never helps and at this point the company can be “written off mentally (more on this later).” Just move on to the next company.

If you hear back from someone asking you in for an interview try and schedule the interview as soon to the date of contact as possible. You’d be surprised how often a company will interview someone they get enamored with and then essentially write off (unfairly) all of the interviewees that follow. You want to have the best chance at getting the job. It also shows you are interested.

6.) READ ABOUT THE COMPANY. Read as much as you can about the company’s background. Check finance sites if it is a publicly traded firm and read the “News” section. Did this company recently merge with another firm? Are they developing some new drug that is soon to hit the market? Being armed with this sort of knowledge is

KEY. One interviewer told me “did someone give you a cheat sheet on our company? You know more about it than I do! That’s impressive.” The “tell me what you know about ABC Company” is one of the most common interview questions, I think, and being able to knock it out of the park is a surefire way to be remembered.

Remember: If an interviewer can save five or ten minutes by not having to go over the basic background of what a firm does (because you did your homework), he or she can spend five to ten more minutes talking about the position and about how well you’d fit that position.

7.) This website has a ton of fantastic information about the interviewing process itself (in addition to many other great posts), so I won’t go into a ton of detail there. I will just give some basic, easy (obvious?) tips:

Wear a suit. I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman. Pantsuits look much, much professional than a skirt/skort/slacks and a top, I think. You will never go wrong with a dark suit. Men wear a tie.

Bring a padfolio with a notepad, pens, and copies of your resume and the job description.

Get there ten to fifteen minutes early. If you are even earlier just wait in the car until it is about ten minutes before your interview time. You don’t want the interviewer to feel pressured to get to you simply because you got there too early. You certainly don’t want to be there late. That is a killer.

Ask for a business card at the end of the interview. If they don’t have one on them, ask for their email address. You NEED to send a thank you letter within 24 hours of the interview.

Look your interviewer in the eye when you talk to him or her. Try to stay relaxed but still keep a solid posture.

Answer the questions you are asked and nothing else.

NEVER be negative in any way about a former employer or employees.

If you are thrown for a loop with a crazy question, keep calm and take a minute to think. They are testing your ability to think on your feet and your ability to handle something different in a stressful situation (both keys to many jobs). Work it out and then answer.

8.) Read sample answers to commonly asked interview questions. I’d say 90% of interview questions are the same no matter where you go. Get those down cold and you’ll have a much better chance at acing the interview. You want solid, rehearsed answers. Practicing with someone will help smooth the rehearsed “sound” of your answers and they will seem natural to the interviewer.

9.) After the interview, follow up with an email to everyone you interviewed with and with the recruiter that got you the interview (if applicable). The email should thank them for their time, reiterate some of your positive attributes that were mentioned during the interview, and reiterate your desire for the position.

10.) Write things off mentally. You need to have a short memory when it comes to interviewing, especially if you were turned down by a firm. Few things hurt more than rejection, but being able to put it behind you as quickly as possible is critical. It’s not easy and it will never just “shrug off” right away, but if one job, including that job you were sure was in the bag, is lost you need to keep the process moving. All dwelling will do is hurt your future chances.

I hope this guide helps someone in the future!


Thanks Tom! This is great. I join you in hoping this helps someone else out there.

I have a few of my own thoughts (when don’t I?) that I could have added to the various sections, but this blog already has a ton of my thoughts and my ideas. Tom’s words come fresh from a successful search. And so I felt it important not to comment at all since he put together solid, useful, hard-earned wisdom. (BTW…that clever way to try to find people’s e-mail addresses is something I’ve used for years with some success. Also has helped me find old friends and former co-workers & bosses I’d lost touch with. A handy-dandy trick. I love your determination and resourcefulness, Tom!)

Again…congratulations on a job search well done and the holy grail for all of us…a brand new dream job! And thanks so much for this generous gift.

Readers…your own thoughts? Experiences? Advice? All welcome!

And for a little extra perspective – and hopefully a smile – check out what Tom and I wrote in the June 9, 2008 comments for this post:

They Call to Schedule Interviews and Disappear!

Good luck to all of you!

Ronnie Ann


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Congratulations, Tom. GREAT advice!

  2. I am in a process of looking for the job right now. And my problem that I do not know what kind of job I would like to do. Do you have any advices for that? And of course, congratulations Tom!

  3. Karen: Thanks for the mention on your fabulous blog. A real honor. Or is that an honorable mention?

    Kate: Hi and welcome! Aaaaah…the age old problem. I spent years and years not quite sure what my heart truly wanted, and in the interim, I did all kinds of cool thing anyway.

    Some people are blessed knowing what they want to do from early on. Others take a while.

    I have a few posts on my Hot Topics page under Topic #3: Dreaming of a Job You Love that might help.

    I also recommend What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles and Discover What You’re Best At by Linda Gale (on my Cafe Store page). These help you look at your skills and your interests and should help you focus your search.

    Another thing you can do is get a major newspaper and just sit with the want ads, going through every page and see what pops out off the page at you. You’d be surprised at what you might discover about yourself.

    Also, you can try free flow writing. Just sit down, and without censoring ANY thoughts, let yourself write and write about what you want to do. Don’t stop until you’re exhausted. (This can be repeated as often as needed.)

    Temping and volunteering are also ways to test things out, if you are able to do that. So is willingness to take a risk while you are young and permission to make mistakes. I had one year where I tried a bunch of stuff and friends and family gave me the hairy eyeball…but I learned from each and every one.

    Finally, you might just ask yourself, even if it isn’t perfect, what’s the best thing you can think of now. Then go after that with full determination and see where it leads. For some of us it takes many years to find the perfect job…and over the years what’s perfect for us can also change. But in the meantime you can accumulate a lot of good skills and experiences. For me, it allowed me to become a consultant and coach. As I said…you never know where all those “mistakes” might lead!

    Good luck, Kate!

    Ronnie Ann

  4. Hi again Kate!

    I just visited your site and wanted to leave a comment, but I can only get in with a Google account or an Open ID and I have neither. On other Blogger accounts I can sign in under “Name/URL” which allows more flexibility. Just want you to know I stopped by and really enjoyed the read. Good luck. With ALL. 🙂

    Ronnie Ann

  5. This was a really helpful post! I know someone who has been looking to change jobs and will refer this blog page to him.

    Thanks for sharing this information.

  6. I’m SO guilty of #10. 🙁 I seriously need to shake that habit. Thanks so much for the great list.

  7. Hi Mr. X!

    It’s a habit most of us have I think. 🙂

    Long ago when I learned to make crêpes, I was taught that you have to discard the first few because the pan isn’t evenly hot enough yet. But I was also told the only way to get to the perfect crêpes was to go through those imperfect first ones. So when I have to go through less pleasant things to get to my goal, I always think of it as making crepes. Hmmm…now I’m hungry. 😉

    I really do believe that more times than not we’re spared a lot of unhappiness later by getting those rejections that feel so awful now. But oh how tasty a good offer can be! Hope you get offered a Crêpe Suzette with all the toppings soon!

    Ronnie Ann

  8. Congratulations, Tom! Great advice too. One of the standard interview questions is to ask what your weaknesses are. One way I’ve answered this with some success is to speak of a weakness I’ve overcome—as an example: “Well, I can be something of a perfectionist and have had trouble letting go of projects in the past. But I’ve found that by delegating work to others and truly letting them run with it, they can take projects in directions that might not have even occurred to me. As I help them finesse their work, we both grow and the project is that much the better for it.”

  9. Great answer Terry! Who wouldn’t want to hire you after that?

    Thanks for taking time off from your own delicious blog to stop by. (I actually thought of you and your crêpes when I wrote this. Of course, you managed to get them right the first time, show off. 🙂 )

    If anyone wants more tips on how to handle this and other interview questions, I have a bunch on my Hot Topics page under the first topic.

    Ronnie Ann

  10. Thanks all for the kind words!

  11. One of the things I believe that people overlook in an interview is what they have to offer to the company instead of what the company is offering them. You are your own resume and if you believe that you will have a better job in succeeding in any job search. Great Post!

  12. Great thought GMA. So true. And thanks! 🙂

    Ronnie Ann

  13. Thank you very much! This article was very helpful! I am 18 and moving out, and I have to find a job in 2 months. I am pretty stressed because It is sort of my first job. I feel a lot better after reading this though. Thanks again!

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