January and February are the best months to look for a new job. This timeline is widely agreed upon by various career-building websites and talent acquisition professionals. Popular job search tool Indeed breaks down the reasons for this: The start of the year is usually when company budgets are reevaluated and new positions open up. Additionally, hiring managers are back from vacations and many industries have slower winter months, meaning there’s more time to devote to the hiring process.
Whether you’re a December grad looking to prepare for your next step, or you’ve been out of school for a while and are just looking for a new gig, now is the time to start prepping for the recruitment process. Being well-prepared, organized, and ready for any opportunity will help in any job search, regardless of your major or chosen field.
In order to get a well-rounded perspective, I spoke with three career coaches who specialize in helping young professionals and college students. While the job search process is rarely the same for any two people, they were able to provide advice and steps recent and soon-to-be graduates can take now in order to prepare for the recruiting process. Here is what they had to say.
- Make a list with at least three of your top skills
Beth Hendler-Grunt, president of Next Great Step, a college-to-career coaching company, told me that a simple, actionable step students can take is “to get clarity on your own skills.” Hendler-Grunt reinforces that a skill is not “working hard” — rather, it’s a specific thing you can do such as analyzing, problem-solving, coding, or writing. “Understand what it is that you know how to do,” she says.
Then, find examples that showcase that skill. “If you say you’re a great writer, you have to come up with at least one or two examples that you’d be able to tell someone that show you’re a great writer — maybe you wrote a thesis or you wrote for the school paper — but you have to have examples to back up whatever you want to say.”
Paula Kurtzman, an independent career coach whose career spans over 20 years in corporate recruiting, offered similar advice. If a student has just come out of school with no idea what they want, “make a skills inventory, gauge your interest, and examine where you see yourself,” she says.
From there, students can find jobs or roles that might allow them to use those skills. Searching through job boards, using LinkedIn, or brainstorming with the career services department at your school could be a great way to do this.
Hendler-Grunt says it’s great to break it down further by finding 10 companies you’re interested in, then 10 people you can talk to from the company. These people could be alumni from your school, professionals who have a job you’re interested in, or maybe even a recruiter from the company. Students can then reach out to them and ask for a 15-minute informational interview.
- Prep your resume and cover letter
“If someone is starting from the absolute beginning, create a resume and a cover letter template,” says Judy Panagakos of Early Stage Careers. “I find people either don’t put enough time into being thoughtful about it upfront, or they put in too much time.” Panagakos cautions that it’s easy to get into a vicious cycle of always trying to update and improve your resume. However, it shouldn’t be something you just throw together.
“Most people only read a resume for about six seconds,” Panagakos says, so make it easy for recruiters to see important information quickly and don’t let it run over one page. Additionally, Panagakos recommends staying away from “trendy” formatting or graphics. Many companies — especially large firms — use applicant tracking systems that essentially scan a resume for keywords and phrases before a real person ever reads it. While a more graphic-forward resume might look visually appealing, they can confuse these systems and make it harder for your resume to be seen.
Students can also draft templates for cover letters that they can adjust for various positions. While creating a resume and cover letter are great first steps, they are smaller parts of a much larger job search process. “You want to spend enough time, but not too much time on those entry steps,” Panagakos notes.
- Examine your network
Everyone I spoke to mentioned the importance of networking. “The hardest thing for every person we work with is networking,” says Panagakos. While it might feel unnatural or even uncomfortable, networking is simply a part of this process. “You need to help people and they need to help you,” Panagakos notes.
Still, there are certain resources recent graduates can use to make the experience less daunting. “Put feelers out, friends, family, a former employer — maybe for an internship you had — and use those folks. Let them know that you’re actively looking,” Kurtzman says.
Students can also reach out to alumni from their schools. “I always like fellow alumni,” Hendler-Grunt advises, “and the best way you can do that is on LinkedIn.”
Once you’ve established that connection, ask for an informational interview. Don’t phrase it as “I want a job at your company.” Instead, tell them, “I’m interested in hearing about the things you do.”
- Prep for your interviews as if you’ll work at the company tomorrow
“Ask questions like you need to be doing the job tomorrow,” Panagakos advises while discussing interview prep. That means that once you have an interview — or feel confident you might get one — do as much research as possible about the job, company, competitors, and industry so that the questions you ask while in the interview make it extremely clear you want to work there.
However, so much is different now in terms of the way actual interviews are conducted. Since very few companies are interviewing in person, students can take extra measures to make sure they come off as professional in a virtual setting.“Make sure your computer works. Does your camera work? Does the audio work? Make sure your surroundings and your backdrops are clean and professional,” Kurtzman advises.
Similarly, students can prepare “problems, action, result” talking points, as Kurtzman suggests. Employers want to know how you handle various situations, so Kurtzman encourages students to have a few examples of various problems they’ve encountered, the action they’ve taken to solve them, and the results they achieved. These are great to have in your back pocket before interviews, and they help to keep the conversation moving with examples. Students can keep an ongoing list of these situations before even applying to full-time jobs.
- Stay patient, persistent, and resilient
It’s likely a student will feel discouraged at one point or the other during the job search process. “That’s common,” Hendler-Grunt explains. “You have to remember to be patient. It takes time.” However, you also have to be persistent. “One follow-up is not enough, you have to keep on top of it every five to seven days if you haven’t heard [back].”
Kurtzman also suggests that job-seekers keep a log of their activity. “Then you can see what it is that you’re doing.” That way, if you have a list of various tactics you’ve tried and you’re not seeing the results you want, you can change course easier. “If you’re spending a lot of time sending an email [and you’re not hearing back] stop sending emails!” Kurtzman says. Being able to track what’s working and what’s not will help you achieve your goals much faster.
While the job search and hiring process can feel overwhelming and even daunting, it’s a necessary part of life for most people. Small, actionable steps today will eventually pay off later. So keep the faith, keep applying, and know you’re doing everything you can at this moment to get to where you want to be!