Using the Job Search Process for Learning and Self Reflection

Where to start in the job search process?

Job searching is a tough process, and almost another full-time job. It requires focus, diligence and perseverance. It also means questioning your values and distilling down to the core elements that are important to you. These elements can guide the direction of your decisions, and the types of positions you look for. The motivations for job searching can also help guide your attitude towards the process. If at all possible, you should seek a position of professional growth, which will help to propel you into the next phase of your career.

This gets to the question of jobs versus careers. Often we are forced to take jobs that are offered to us because we have to pay the bills, but they may not be career stepping stones. A temporary setback like this may be OK, as long as it doesn’t go on for too long. On the flip side, every position that we hold can teach us valuable skills as we progress. Ideally, all of our positions should follow a path with a consistent thread running through them, and be stepping stones in our career progression, as a way to build a long-term career in a particular field.

With that said, it can also be the case that sometimes positions that we didn’t think would be significant end up being pivotal moments in our career trajectories, and may open up avenues we hadn’t considered. In that case, taking a risk on a position that we are unsure of may still end up being a growth position if we can challenge ourselves to learn particular skills and gain new capabilities to help us down the road.

So how do you find your next position?

Multiple elements come into play, including:

  • questioning yourself and your values
  • networking with others
  • doing informational interviews to see if particular roles are suitable for you
  • building your brand in the field you want to go into

It’s really important that you market yourself for what you want people to see. Figuring out what you want to emphasize about yourself in job applications can take time, but consistency of image is critical. This also extends to social media, which is being used more and more in job applications today, and can also be a useful networking tool for your next position. The more people you can talk to about your interests and find out about their day to day work, the better informed you will be in terms of applying for the right jobs.

One point to emphasize is that applying for the right job is not the same as applying for any job. Often, if we are on short term contracts for which we know the end date, applying for a position early on in the process is important- but there is also the panic moment of applying for anything and everything just to ensure a position lines up. While this is not the most effective way to proceed, it can provide an idea of the breadth of potential positions that you might be interested in, and also a bit of practice in honing your cover letter and pitch (if you do get an interview) which will ultimately be useful for obtaining the job that you really want.

And if you are lucky enough to interview for your dream job, how do you keep that from making you really nervous? Remember that you are an asset to them and this is a two way street, ultimately coming down to the right person for the job. Perseverance is key, as well as demonstrating how your skills and passions feed into the mission of the group you are interviewing with, how the position will benefit your career growth, and how you will benefit them. Also, it’s really important to always have good questions to ask of them, which will demonstrate that you have put in the time to learn more about the group and are taking this seriously. Another critical point is to follow up with thank you notes from everyone you meet during the interview, as well as to clarify any points you might have missed. It’s easy to get nervous during a job interview and forget some things you want to say, so this is a good opportunity to do that, as well as to reinforce your commitment to the group’s mission by writing a follow-up email.

Tips to help you in the job search process

Job searching can get overwhelming, especially if you are up against a tight deadline and don’t know where your next paycheck will come from. Tips to consider during the process are:

  • Prioritize. Which is the job you have to apply to right now, either because it closes early or you are really interested in it and want to be an early applicant?
  • Take a break. This is just as important as keeping going; often, taking a break to reflect on your accomplishments can recharge you in this process.
  • Figure out what excites you. If a job description is not immediately exciting to you, or if something feels off about the position or the people, it’s likely not the right fit.
  • Trust your gut. Once you make it past the paper section of the application, pay attention to your interactions with the people in the office and ask yourself if you could work with them on a daily basis.
  • Ask trusted friends. When the job search process becomes overwhelming or you are faced with a job offer which you don’t know if you should take, ask a friend you trust to help you talk through it. By voicing out your thoughts in a relaxed situation you will know how you really feel about the job.
  • Keep a positive attitude. Remembering that you are an asset is a good attitude in the face of setbacks, especially when you don’t get offered your dream job. Also remember that every interview can be good practice for the next one, so focus on what you learned from it and keep going.

One really difficult aspect is the question of timing, in that your dream job may not be open at the time when you are looking, but may open up later on, therefore knowing how to navigate this is important. For example, do you take the first job you are offered just because you feel desperate to have something at the end of your current contract, or do you take your time to find the right fit? This is where it is important to try and line up multiple interviews at the same time, in order to cover your bases while applying for other positions.

Never stop applying until you land a job that you are happy with- and this can take various forms. It may never be the ideal job, but if it contains the elements that you are looking for, it will likely be a good fit for you. And depending on your field, a position may be a useful stepping stone for the next one, and you should move on to something else if you no longer feel like you are growing in your current role. And while not ideal, if need be, you can always job search again if your current position doesn’t end up working out for some reason.

Finally, make sure that you surround yourself with people who can provide a good support system when you get stuck and can help you move along in the process, who will be there for you when you don’t get the job, but will also celebrate with you when you do.

*This post and opinions are my own and do not represent the views of my current employer.

Adriana Bankston earned her PhD in Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology from Emory University. She was previously a Policy & Advocacy Fellow at Society for Neuroscience, and is currently a Principal Legislative Analyst at the University of California Office of Federal Governmental Relations in Washington, DC.

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