10-Point CheckList – What to do BEFORE You Apply for the Job

“You Must begin to think of yourself as becoming the person you want to be.” -David Viscott

Although it’s tempting to dive right into the job application process, I highly recommend building a solid job seeking foundation first. This will position you to be far more organized, focused, and successful in getting what you want.  

I recently wrote a blog post for the University of Oregon’s Career Service Center (Portland office) with suggestions on what to do before you start applying for jobs. Here is an expanded version with a few more suggestions.

1. Career Coach / Counseling

If you are finding yourself totally lost on where to start with the job search journey, seek out a career coach or career counseling center at a university. Most (if not all) schools have some sort of career advising. Career websites are a fantastic place to start. Try University of Oregon or Portland State University to launch your search.

If you graduated from a university, or attending one, take full advantage of the career counselors. You might as well, you pay for their services in your tuition fees. Even if you feel like you have everything figured out (like I did my first time around), I really encourage you to go for one visit. I can almost guarantee the person you talk with will provide some sort of insight into job seeking tactics you hadn’t considered.

Career coaches often offer a free consultation and different packages to fit your budget. Maybe seeing  someone just once or twice will be the push you need to get going in the right direction. I recently found Vicki Lind, a Portland based career coach. She offers free introductory workshops on how to craft yourself (those useful elevator pitches), the first Friday of every month. I recently attended her workshop with seven other people, and it was really helpful. Not only did it FORCE me to practice my message, but I learned a lot of great tips – all in a comfortable safe setting with fellow job seekers.

I have recently been acquainted with  EcoGrrl Consulting. Aimee is a local Portlander and has been in the recruiting world for years. She is well connected, offers a variety of services and comes well recommended-check out her LinkedIn profile too! 

[If you have a favorite career coach, or career counseling service, please add them to the comment section below- I would love to provide more resources, thanks!] 

2. Figure out what you really want from a job

Begin thinking about what’s most important to you. Are you wanting a position that offers flexibility in hours and days? Maybe office location is important because you hope to bike or take public transportation to work. Is it important that the company’s mission statement aligns with your beliefs? Perhaps salary or potential for promotion is most important to you.

Knowing the answers to these, and making a list of priorities can help you weed through the job postings. At a recent Women’s Roundtable event, I learned knowing your priorities is also helpful during salary revues.

3. Make Yourself Accountable

Upon embarking on my second attempt job search, I wrote a blog post letting everyone know that the long hiatus was finally over. I was ready to try again at finding my first career position. I did this to explain my online absence for the previous year, and share my story; but mostly, I wanted to make myself accountable. Tell your friends and family your goals and intentions, this way they can help rally behind you through the process, and keep you accountable.

4. Brainstorm

Take a few days to brainstorm tactics you plan to apply to the job search, and design a way to keep track of your ideas. I am a huge advocate for lists, so I created several of them to help me flesh out everything I think of. This really helps me stay organized and ensures no possibility goes unexplored. Some of my categories include:

1. People to contact for informational interviews                                    2. Organizations I may enjoy working for                                                 3. Online items that need attention ( blog, LinkedIn etc.)                       4. People I can contact for references                                                          5. Job posting locations (job boards, career service sites etc.)

5. All Things Positive 


You can’t make positive choices for the rest of your life without an environment that makes those choices easy, natural, and enjoyable.”  

-Deepak Chopra

There is no better time than now to surround yourself with positivity. When I started my job hunt, I went to the library and simply browsed the “self-help” section, picking out a dozen different books on finding your true self, and maintaining a positive spirit. These books helped me get in touch with what I really want from my potential career, and continue to provide me with inspiration.

Figure out what makes you feel great, motivated, and uplifted. Maybe a favorite comedian that makes you laugh, or a favorite painting that evokes a sense of peace – surround yourself with these things before you dive into the job search world (and as you travel through the journey). This includes surrounding yourself with positive people and places too!

I always have a favorite quote on my mirror or refrigerator reminding me to keep at it, and stay positive. Here are a few examples:

We can do anything we want to do if we stick to it long enough.”          – Helen Keller

Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base                      and keep your foot on first.”    – Frederick B. Wilcox

The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.” -Anonymous

6. Make a plan and set goals

Before I dove into anything, I took a week to come up with a master plan. Tackling the gigantic “to-do” list without order is overwhelming and leads to inefficiency. My plan included what I needed to do in the first couple of weeks (laying the foundation), and what my weekly goals would be from there.

7. Look Your Best

Money is most likely a little tight during the job search, and I certainly advocate budgeting and being mindful of spending, but now is the time to look your best. When I graduated college, my grandmother gave me money and said, “I want you to buy a nice suit for your interviews, and get your hair done.” This is certainly sage advice. Not only do we need to look great making those first impressions, but looking nice boosts our confidence significantly- which goes a long way in those interviews! 

I always honor inner beauty first and foremost, but most of us enjoy a little something that adds spunk to our walk, and that’s okay too. Maybe it’s getting your nails done, purchasing new dress shoes, or a new tie, whatever your thing is – know you deserve to look your best! Spend a little bit of money, and rest assured it’s a secure investment.

Nothing shouts “powerhouse” like a strut of confidence. And you don’t need to spend a lot of money. I bought one of my favorite interview outfits at the Goodwill. (Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!)  Sometimes salons offer free hair styling for interviews (if you are a client of course). Ask your hair dresser if he or she offers something similar.

8. Clean up your online presence

Make sure your online presence is in tip-top shape before you send out a single resume. (More online presence info to come in a future post.)

9. Affirmations

“Our attitudes control our lives. Attitudes are a secret power working twenty-four hours a day, for good or bad. It is of paramount importance that we know how to harness and control this great force.”

-Tom Blandi                                                         

It’s easy to get discouraged during any endeavor, so it’s imperative you begin with a positive attitude. That doesn’t mean you won’t get down from time to time, we are all human, but it’s much easier to pick yourself back up if you start with a positive frame of mind.

I love having positive affirmations written down that I can turn to. Try reading a few out loud before you go to bed, or when you first get up in the morning, or if you feel yourself struggling through the day or week to accomplish your goals. Here are some I really like:

I have confidence in myself.                                                                          I am skilled and talented.                                                                              I will make an excellent addition to any organization or business.      I make a difference whenever I can.

This site has some great examples, find something that works for you!

10. Make it happen!

I’m a big believer in the power of our thoughts and the ability to manifest what we desire into our lives (hence the positive affirmations above).  After you figure out what you are really wanting in a career, write it down, look at it every day, tape it to your bathroom mirror or other visible space. Don’t limit yourself to anything at this stage, I say dream big. You may not manifest everything you want in that first job, but over the years, you will be amazed how you have the power to mold your life to the shape you most desire. 

Finding a job may not be easy, but believing in yourself and setting a solid foundation to launch the job search from, will make the process a lot more fun, and being successful far more likely.

What are some foundational steps that you apply when embarking on a new journey or challenge, please share below!

Image Sources In Order of Appearance:     #1        #2        #3      #4     #5       #6

2 responses to “10-Point CheckList – What to do BEFORE You Apply for the Job

  1. Heather – thanks for this.

    I already mentioned (on the MACs List version of this article) the Amy Cuddy TED Talk on how posture can affect mood:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html)

    Regarding other tips for the job search — here’s one I’ve used effectively when coaching job seekers.

    1. Create a big timeline of your career on a BIG sheet of paper (11 x 17 or larger)

    2. Mark on it all the ‘big’ events and milestones of your life — career, jobs, marriages, kids, deaths, operations, moves.

    3. As you fill it out, you’ll start to remember (memory is associational) things you’d forgotten — especially STORIES from those prior jobs.

    4. Keep at your elbow a list of standard “Behavioral Interview” questions — the ones that always start “tell me about a time when…” When you disagreed with your boss. When you had to deal with an unreasonable coworker. When you had to discipline a subordinate. Etc.

    5. Between the timeline and the questions, you’ll easily be able to access at least 2-3 good stories from your career, often with a surprising level of detail.

    6. Write these on the timeline, or someplace, for later use.

    7. Later, make up flash cards, one per Behavioral Interview question. Put the question on one side, and some notes on the other that summarize the 1-2 best stories that address the question.

    8. Practice with these. Pick up one, and OUT LOUD give your answer. Then flip it over to see if you hit all the major points. (You must practice out loud, alone or with a friend.)

    This will help you kick major butt during interviews — your stories will be accurate and complete, delivered with freshness and confidence.

    Last client I helped with this, reported that not every flash-card question was asked — but every question they DID ask, she had a flash card for. (She got the job.)

    Cheers.
    -Tom

  2. Thank you Tom for all the detailed info! I especially like the flash card idea. I always used them for study purposes in school and they worked great-obviously the same idea. And yes, the TED Talk you mention is fabulous, especially the second half. I highly recommend it!

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