Find a Job

Are you ready? You are going to need an updated resume, a winning cover letter, and in some situations a portfolio of samples of work. You will also need to know how to use your contacts to tap into that hidden job market. This step will provide you with information and activities to really make you stand out.

You’ll learn:

Finding and getting a job partially relies on your ability to get an employer’s attention. Employers expect you to know job search strategies and how to represent yourself. To be successful you need to be clear about what you want to do, know what your skills are, and know your job search target.

In the Job Search Target (pdf) worksheet, write down the occupations you are interested in and qualified to do, the industries you are interested in, and any employers that you are interested in working for.

Use the Job Search Checklist (pdf) to keep track of each step. 

Learn about the Hiring Process

Each employer has his or her hiring process. But here are four common steps. It is important for every job seeker to do well at each step.

Here is a summary of the typical hiring steps

1. The employer looks for the right people for their job opening.
  • Many start by looking at their own employees. They may ask for referrals from employees and others they know. This is called networking. You will learn more about networking later in this section.
  • Employers might consider people that they have met or know in the industry.
  • Employers might advertise the job. They may advertise on websites or online job boards.
  • Employers may work with a recruiter or agency. They may go to job fairs.
  • Employers also ask applicants to send resumes and cover letters to the company.
2. The employer screens the applications.
Often times, there are many people who apply for one job. The employer takes out the ones who aren't a good match. People may not have the right skills or experience. Or they don't do a good job describing themselves. Then, the employer may call a candidate on the phone to ask them questions. Or they have people come in for an interview.
3. The employer sets up interviews with people who seem to fit their needs.
At the interview, the employer asks people about their skills and background. They are also looking to see if people will fit with their company. They look for things like a "can do" attitude, and people who can get along with others. They also want people who like to learn and work hard. Interviews give the job seeker an opportunity to interview the employer as well- you want to make sure that this job is a good fit.
4. The employer makes an offer to a selected applicant.
The employer chooses the person they want to hire and offers them the job. If they accept the job then it is time to discuss the salary and benefits. This is called negotiation. This agreement has to benefit both parties. Sometimes the salary and benefits are not negotiable, but other things like the probation period and the work schedule are negotiable. A job seeker can walk away from an offer if it is not good for him or her.  
  • Preparing to Market Yourself and learn how to be effective.
  • Make sure you’re on top of everything you need for a successful job search. Use the Job Search Checklist (pdf) to help you get organized.
  • Using resources that help you get ready for a job search.

Market Yourself

It is very important that you can show that you are a good fit for a job. Sometimes the person who gets a job may not be the most skilled, but they may have been good at promoting themselves. Here are some tips to help you market yourself.

Create your "elevator speech."
An elevator speech is a brief summary of an idea for a product, service, or project. It is called an elevator speech because it can be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride (say, thirty seconds or 100-150 words).

The term is typically used in the context of an entrepreneur pitching an idea to a venture capitalist to receive funding. Venture capitalists often judge the quality of an idea and team on the basis of the quality of its elevator pitch, and will ask entrepreneurs for the elevator pitch to quickly weed out bad ideas. (

A variety of other people, including entrepreneurs, project managers, salespeople, evangelists, job seekers, and speed daters commonly use elevator pitches to get their point across quickly.

Example of an elevator speech:

 Create your own elevator speech by using the Your Elevator Speech (pdf).

Be prepared and organized.

Use the Organization Tools (pdf) to keep yourself organized during your job search.


What to Put in Your Portfolio

A portfolio of your work can show employers your accomplishments. You may include samples of work and school projects. You can put these samples in a binder. Some people like to put their samples online. You can bring your portfolio to job interviews.

What to Put in Your Portfolio
If you are a: You could include:
  • Photographs of your work
Chef or baker
  • Photographs of food or meals you've made
  • Recipes you created
  • Letters of recommendation from past supervisors
Computer programmer or multimedia specialist
  • Screenshots of your programs
  • Printout of the computer code you wrote
  • Letters of recommendation from past supervisors
Dancer, actor, or musician
  • Video of your performances
  • Audio recordings of your work
Fashion designer or tailor
  • Pictures of the clothing you produced
  • Wear your own creations on the job interview
Office support staff
  • Brochures for projects you helped plan
  • Reports
  • Newsletters you organized
  • Spreadsheets
  • Other examples of work that you completed
  • Letters of recommendation from past supervisors
Writer or journalist
  • Copies of published articles
  • Printouts of your writing from websites
  • Video of your news stories

Build Your Network

Did you know that most job openings are not advertised? It's true — most employers have enough applicants without advertising. They often prefer to find employees from people they trust. This network of referrals is the "hidden job market." You can tap into this network by getting to know people who can help you. Use the Networking Memory Jogger (pdf) to organize everyone that is in your network.

Tips for Building Your Network
Ask for information.
  • You can ask about the occupation. You can also ask about industries or employers.
  • You ask about what you want to know.
  • Be polite. Don’t be too pushy or you may turn people off.  
Be prepared to talk about yourself.
  • Make sure you’re clear about your job skills and background for your job target (pdf).
  • Have your resume ready.
Follow good networking habits.
  • Networking is like making friends. It's about building relationships.
  • Think about ways to give something back to those who have helped you.
Find people in your job target.
  • Start with friends, family members, past coworkers, and neighbors. They may know someone in your target job.
  • Tell them about your career goals.
Send thank-you notes when people are helpful to you.
  • Always say thank you for any information or job leads you get.
Find a mentor.
  • This is a person who knows about the occupation you are interested in.
  • Get feedback on your job search ideas and questions.
  • Ask to shadow someone on the job.
Look into professional groups.
  • See if your job target has a professional group. Many members are eager to help job seekers. They may know employers with job openings.
  • Meetup is a great place to find targeted networking groups! You can even start your own group.
Keep your key contacts informed about your efforts in the job search.
  • Your key contacts want to help you.

Connect with People Online

One way to meet contacts using the Internet is through “social networking.” If you use them, be sure to think about your goals. Make sure what you write on these sites is well written by typing your text into a word processor (such as Microsoft Word) first. Get feedback about what you have posted. Use your Elevator Speech (pdf). People sometimes even post their resume on these sites.

Be careful.

  • Never list your address, phone number, or bank accounts. Don’t give anyone your social security number.
  • Be positive. Don’t argue with people online. It is likely that employers will see everything you post.
  • Scammers may try to sell you training or job search assistance that should be free.
Common Social Networking Websites
  • Many professionals use LinkedIn. They connect with others in their career field and learn about events and trends.
  • To start, create your profile. This lists your skills, career goals, and past jobs—like a virtual resume.
  • Next, connect with people you know. You can ask them to post references for you. You can find others in your field by seeing the contacts from people you know. You can ask to add them to your “connections.”
  • Find out how/if you’re connected to the places you want to work. Use this connection as an entry point—ask for an introduction or an informational interview.
  • Research employers and even find current job postings.
  • Search for groups with your career interests. These groups update information often. You can ask questions and get job leads in these groups.
  • Twitter sends very short messages to many people at one time.
  • You can use it to update "followers" on your career or find job leads.
  • Employers use it to tell people about job openings. They also use it to find out more about applicants.
  • Job seekers post their basic information. They may link to their resumes or blogs.
  • You can also use this to find out current news, trends, and information by following experts in your industry or companies you are targeting. 
  • Facebook is a place to connect with your friends and people they know. You make connections with people who share your interests.
  • You can search for people who work at employers you’d like to learn about. You can ask to connect with them about your job search.
  • If you do not plan to use Facebook for professional purposes make sure that you are comfortable with an employer seeing your profile—even if you don’t use it professionally, they may look you up. Make sure that your privacy settings are current and appropriate.

Find Job Openings

Employers look favorably on job seekers who know about them. They also like job seekers who know why they are a good fit. Think about the type of job you really want and go after it.

Now, spend time researching employers. How do you know which employers to research? There are two ways. One is by finding advertised job leads. The other is searching the hidden job market by using the contacts in your network.
Here are some ways to find job leads. Once you find job leads, make sure you research each employer before you apply. Then, contact employers directly.

Find Advertised Jobs:

1. Employer Websites:

2. Job Boards or Job Banks: These are websites that post job openings.

3. Temporary or Placement Agencies:

Research and Contact Employers

Employers prefer to hire employees that already know about their industry and their company. This exercise will help you organize the information you find about your target employers.

Research occupations, industries, and companies (pdf)
Think about your job search target and research each employer you are interested in. You can look at the company's website for this information. You can also go to Google and search on the company's name.

Contact Employers
Once you know a bit about your target employers, you can contact them. Know what you are going to say before you call. Use the tips and questions provided in the section covering Informational Interviewing. If you feel like you have a good connection, offer to send a cover letter and resume.  

Tips for Calling Employers
Write down what you want to say. This is important if you are not used to calling employers. Don't read your script; your conversation should be natural.
Smile while you are talking on the phone. It makes your voice sound cheerful and relaxed.
Your outgoing voicemail message should not have music or jokes on it. Just say your name and ask the caller to leave a message.
Tell your roommates and family that employers will be calling. Ask them to take clear messages and give them to you right away.
Call back all employers who call you, even if you no longer want the job.
Return all phone calls within 24 hours.


How to E-Mail Employers
Use a simple e-mail address with your name or initials for your job search. Don't use inappropriate nicknames or jokes like ""
Start the e-mail with something of interest to the reader. Let them know right away why you are writing and how you can help their business. 
Write the e-mail the same way you would a formal letter. Don't use online acronyms such as IMHO, LOL, etc.
Have a subject line that is clear and interesting.
At the end of your message, tell the employer you plan to follow-up. Give them another way contact you such as your phone number. If you sent the e-mail without them knowing, ask if they want you to keep in touch with them in another way.
Check for the correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
If the employer does not contact you, and you really want an interview, call them.

Apply for Jobs

Employers ask about job seekers in several ways. Pay close attention to what the employer wants from job seekers. Make sure you send them the documents they want. Here are common documents to apply for jobs. This includes applications, resumes, and cover letters.

Job Applications
Employers often use a form to learn about each job seeker. This form is called an application. They compare the job seekers to determine who match their jobs best. Use words from the job description to show that you are a fit.

Job Application Tips

Make a rough draft. Get your references now.
Get a copy of an application. Fill in all of the fields. Make sure you know all of your past employers and the dates you worked. You’ll also need addresses and phone numbers of past employers. Get feedback on how you answer each question. Use your rough draft to fill in all of your applications. 

Follow the directions. Be honest.
Read the entire application before you start it. Pay close attention to what they ask of you. Do not write in sections where they say “do no write below this line." Also, do not write where they say “for office use only.”

Fill out applications neatly and completely.
Answer all of the questions. If one doesn’t apply to you, you can use “n/a”. This means “not applicable.” This shows the employer that you did not overlook anything. 
Always list your "position desired."
This is your job search target or the title from a job lead.
Give a range for your salary.
Employers may use this question to screen out applicants. Use a range or say “negotiable.” This leaves you room to negotiate a higher wage.
Give positive reasons for leaving jobs.
Choose your words carefully with this question. Don't say "Fired", "Quit", "Illness", or "Personal Reasons." Instead think about these reasons. “Quit for a better job.” “Left to work closer to home.“ “Left for a career change.” “Quit to move to a new area.” “Quit to attend school.”

Write Your Resume

A resume is a communication tool. Job seekers use it to list their skills and experience. Employers use resumes to choose who to bring in for an interview.

Resumes are not a list of what you did. They list what you can do. When describing work experience, start with an action verb. Do not say “responsible for.” Good resumes use skill language. List the common skills and experience that employers want. Again, use your occupational research to find out what employers want.

Resume Formats
A chronological resume lists your work history starting with the most recent. This is the most common type. It is used by people who are staying in an occupation.  
A functional resume groups your skills and experience by skill areas. These skill areas are called “functions.” It is used mostly by people who do not have any work history.
A combination resume combines the other two formats. It groups your skills by function. It also lists a work history. It is used by people who are changing occupations or those returning to the workforce after a long break.  


What to Include on Your Resume
Contact information tells the employer how to reach you. It is very important for setting up interviews. Most people list their city, state, email and phone number. 
Start your resume with your career objective. Objectives should state the job applying for with which company and why they should want to hire you.  
A summary statement shows why you are a good fit for your target. You can highlight your skills and traits that make you successful.
Education lists your degrees and classes. Include licenses or certifications.
Your work experience describes where you worked. It also describes your skills and accomplishments at each of your previous jobs.  
Your accomplishments and awards on the job or in school. Also include money that you earned or saved past companies, number of customers you helped, or other outcomes that help a business run well.

Resume Writing Resources

Create Cover Letters

A cover letter is a letter that you often send to the employer with your resume. The cover letter makes your resume more personal, and is targeted to a job lead and employer. This shows the employer that you read and understood the job description and gives the employer key points about why you are the right person for that job.

You can use the Cover Letter Template (pdf) as a sample.

Parts of a Cover Letter
Heading and greeting
Every cover letter needs the date. List your name and how to contact you. Address the letter to a specific person when possible. 
Opening and introduction
Explain who you are and why you are writing. Tell them how you found out about the position.
Sell yourself. Reveal why you are a perfect and unique match for the position. Explain why you have chosen the employer. This should be no more than two short paragraphs.
Assertive closing
Be positive. Tell them that you will contact them and thank them for their time. 

When you apply for jobs, you will likely be asked for references. References are people who can talk about your skills and work history. Choose your references carefully. You want to list about 3 people who will say good things about you.

Here are some rules about getting and listing references.

If possible, talk to your supervisor before you leave a job and ask if he/she will give you a reference. The best possible reference is a recent supervisor. If you don’t have a good one you can use past supervisors, coworkers, supervisees, volunteer managers, teachers, etc. Other nonstandard but acceptable reference providers: current/former clients, counselors, business partners, funders, colleagues at another company/agency, and church leaders. If you have a job and don’t want your current employer to know that you are looking for a new one, ask a colleague that you can trust.

References come in a variety of shapes and sizes. In order from best to worst, they are:

  1. Someone who knows you well, thinks you’re great, is interested in helping you to advance your career, and will respond quickly and cheerfully to a telephoned reference request.
  2. Someone who knows you well, thinks you’re great, is interested in helping you to advance your career, but can’t give details over the phone for legal reasons. Ask him/her to write you a general letter of recommendation.
  3. Someone who will confirm your past employment over the phone.
  4. Someone who says they will do any of the above, and then doesn’t. Feel free to check by having a friend call them and pretend to be a prospective employer!
  5. Always tell your reference that you are listing them. Make sure they have an updated copy of your resume, and a good idea of what kind of jobs you are applying for, so they can be prepared to answer questions well.

Cover Letter and References Resources

Know How to Interview

Your resume and cover letter grabbed the attention of the employer and you have been asked to come in for an interview. Are you prepared to turn those interviews into job offers?

This step provides plenty of information about interviews:

Interview Tips
Setting Up Job Interviews
  • Think about what you are going to say before you pick up the phone to call an employer.
  • You want the employer to think of you as a good future employee.
  • You will have about 20 seconds to make the employer want to meet you. Therefore, what you say has to be brief, to the point, and persuasive.
Prepare for an Interview
  • The day before your interview, think about what types of questions the employer might ask you and prepare answers you can give in less than 2 minutes.
  • On the day of the interview:
    • Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. You might need to fill out paperwork before the interview.
    • Go by yourself. If a friend or relative drives you, have them wait in the car.
    • Wear an outfit that is professional looking. It should fit the type of job for which you are interviewing.
    • Do not wear fragrances in case one of your interviewers has allergies.
What to Bring to an Interview
  • Extra copies of your resume, your reference list, and examples of your work.
  • Papers needed to complete your application. This includes copies of work licenses, your driving record (if required), and your social security or immigration cards.
  • Questions for you to ask during the interview. 
During the Interview
  • Display confidence. Shake hands firmly, but only if a hand is offered to you first.
  • Maintain eye contact with the interviewer.
  • Let the interviewer start the conversation.
  • Listen carefully. Give honest, direct answers.
  • Accept all questions with a smile, even the hard ones.
  • Think about your answers in your head before you talk. If you don't understand a question, ask to hear it again or for it to be reworded. You don't have to rush, but you don't want to appear indecisive.

Interview Preparation Activities

Do these activities before every interview – if possible, go over the questions and answers with a friend (at the very least in the mirror!), and practice your answers until they sound polished and confident (but not rehearsed!).

Questions to Ask THEM in the Interview

  1. How long has this company/organization been open? (remember, never ask anything you can find out on the website!)
  2. Is this a new position? Has it been open long? (optional: Why did the previous person leave?)
  3. What are the main objectives and responsibilities of the position?
  4. What is your definition of success for this position?
  5. What are usually the most challenging aspects of the job?
  6. What are the priorities for this position in the next 2-3 months? The next year?
  7. Who will be my supervisor?
  8. Could you describe the team I’ll be working with?
  9. How would you describe the culture of the office?
  10. How would you describe your perfect candidate for this job?
  11. What’s the normal path & timeframe for advancement within the company?
  12. At what point would you expect me to be ‘up to speed’ with the duties of the job?
  13. What are your company/organization’s goals for the next year?
  14. How do you feel I fit with the qualifications you have defined for this position?
  15. What is your timeline for hiring?
  16. How is this position funded?
  17. What is your favorite part about working here?
  18. Can you clarify what ______ means in the job description?
  19. What is the supervision style here?
  20. What is a typical day like here?

 Preparing for Behavioral Interview Questions
(adapted from

Remember that many behavioral questions try to get at how you responded to negative situations; you'll need to have examples of negative experiences ready, but try to choose negative experiences that you made the best of or -- better yet, those that had positive outcomes.

Here's a good way to prepare for behavior-based interviews:

or Task

Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.
Action you
Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you. Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did -- not the efforts of the team. Don't tell what you might do, tell what you did.
you Achieved
What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?

Use the STAR Interview Worksheet (pdf) to write down your scenarios.

Reasons Why People Don't Get Hired After an Interview

Follow-up After the Interview

The job interview is not over when you leave the meeting. You have one more chance to impress the employer. Follow up the interview with a thank-you letter.

Send a thank-you letter (pdf) or note to each person who interviewed you. Your letter should have these main ideas:

Be sure to check the grammar, spelling, word use and punctuation before sending the thank you not or letter. If you choose to write your letter by hand, check with a friend to verify that your handwriting is legible.

Negotiate a Job Offer

Negotiating your salary is a key part of the job search. Wait until after you get a job offer to talk about pay and benefits. Negotiating is a two-way street. People make these deals differently. Use the tips below that work for you.

Negotiating Tips
Think about the offer
  • Know what salary you can expect for the occupation by researching the average salary.
  • Think about your pay needs based on your household budget activity.
  • Try to find out what the company pays before the interview. Call the human resources office or your networking contacts.
  • Pay is only one part of job compensation. A job with low pay might have good benefits like a flexible schedule or health insurance. Think about the job offer in terms of your needs and long-term career and life goals.
  • Talk over the offer with someone you respect. Make a list of the pros and cons.

Use good communication skills

  • If you can, do not accept a job on the spot. It's common to get a few days to think about it. Even if you know you are going to say "yes," ask for 24 hours.
  • When offered the job, make it clear if you want it. If you are not sure, say there are some items you would like to discuss before you can accept the job.
  • Listen carefully to the offer. If it is different or less than you expected, let them know that. Say you are still interested in the job if they want to reconsider their offer.
  • Ask for basic, practical benefits first. Those requests might include more money, tuition, or training. You might also ask for more vacation time, a flexible schedule, stock options, or parking privileges.
  • Negotiations should never be mean or emotional. This is a business meeting. Use your values and skills to negotiate. Do not use your need for the job to negotiate.
Understand the rules of the game
  • Don't assume the first offer is fixed. Even if the interviewer tells you it is, it rarely is.
  • Did they offer the same pay and benefits a few days later? That's probably the final offer. When this happens, you can ask for a six-month review to look at your performance and pay. You can also turn down the job and ask that they keep you in mind for future openings. But don't burn bridges — you never know what might happen.
  • Don't say "no" as a trick to negotiate for more pay. You could lose the job forever.
  • When you accept their offer, ask them to put the pay and benefits in writing.

Job Search Information for Ex-Offenders

Many people with criminal records have very good careers. It may be difficult to search for a job if you have a felony conviction, but it isn’t impossible.

Part of a successful life after incarceration is getting and keeping a good job. Besides getting paid, having a steady job can also give you:

There are many programs that help people reenter the workforce after a criminal conviction. One great program is the Federal Bonding Program (FBP), a program that guarantees the job honesty of “at-risk” job seekers to encourage employers to hire former offenders. To get in contact with your State Bonding Coordinator and find a One-Stop near you, call1.877.US2.JOBS (1.877.872.5627). Check out the websites below to find programs and articles that can help you with your job search.


Succeed in the Workplace

You've found a good job. Now, how do you live up to your employer's expectations? What can you do to show you deserve a raise or a promotion? Here are some tips to help you keep and succeed in your new job:

Tips to Succeed in the Workplace
Stick to your work schedule
Always be on time to work. Have a backup plan for transportation and child care. If you are running late, call your boss as soon as possible.
Don't take time off in the first few weeks. Let your new boss know you're dependable.
Leave and return from breaks on time. Let your supervisor know when you will be away from your workstation.
Follow the rules at work
Know the company rules and policies. Pay attention to all manuals, orientations, and safety lessons. If you are not sure of a policy, ask your supervisor or human resources.
Follow the proper chain of command if you have a problem at work. Talk to your immediate supervisor first, unless told to do something else.
Dress appropriately
When you start a new job, find out what clothing looks OK and is safe to wear.
Always come to work clean and well groomed. Do not wear heavy perfumes or colognes. Go easy on the makeup.
Look like you take pride in yourself and your job.
Act professionally
Don't make personal phone calls or use company equipment for your own tasks.
Speak in a way that's appropriate for work. Don't use curse words, slang, or speak too casually to customers or your boss.
Never use alcohol or illegal drugs at work. You could get fired if caught. It could also keep you from being hired for other jobs.
Get along with others
Be a team player and help coworkers with projects.
Hang around coworkers who have good attitudes and work hard.
Everyone has different views of politics, religion, and cultures. Most companies have rules supporting diversity.
  • Revisiting all of the exercises you have completed through this process.