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The Basics of an Effective Job Search

You've come to a critical decision: It's time to look for a new job, something you haven't done in a few years. But where do you begin? Before you do, follow our five basic steps to launching a job search.

1. Take a Personal Inventory

Write a list of what you have accomplished in the workplace over the last 10 to 15 years, along with the skills you have that an employer would want. Since you last wrote a resume, have you accomplished or learned anything new, especially technology skills? Did you improve your "soft" skills, such as interpersonal communication and management or leadership?

How do those skills and accomplishments support the value you would bring to an employer? To be sure, review several job descriptions for the type of job you want. See what words and phrases they have in common. Then, figure out which of your skills most closely match the job you’re seeking.

2. Put the Web to Work for You

Most major online job boards let you set up automatic search agents, which send you email alerts when new jobs are posted that fit your specified keywords and geographical profile.

In addition, there are sites that search all online job boards (and other employment resources) for you, and post timely updates of all the listings. Put these online searchers to work for you while you’re ramping up your job search.

Do you have an online profile on a networking site? Make sure it’s complete and up to date. The online profile, if it’s accurate and explains your value proposition and experience, can serve in place of a resume until you complete one.

3. Write Your Basic Resume

Start with a basic resume that contains all your important information in a complete and well-written manner. In some cases, the basic resume will be the one you send out. In other cases, you will want to edit the wording a bit to match a particular employer’s terminology or emphasize certain skills over others.

Make sure your Objective or Professional Summary, which is placed right under your contact information, reflects your value proposition and promotes your skills and background to employers.

Then, detail your most recent job experience (if you’re a recent graduate and don’t have much experience, lead with your education). Make sure your accomplishments in those roles help support your Objective or Professional Summary.

4. Write Your Basic Cover Letter

Once you have your basic resume, craft a basic cover letter that can serve as a template for each customized cover letter you will send to employers. In your basic cover letter, list your most relevant and impressive skills or experiences.

Once you have a particular job in mind, you can just edit the wording to match the employer’s terminology and highlight the skills you want the reader to focus on most.

5. Update Your References

Be sure you have three references that can back up the information on your resume. Contact them to make sure they’re willing to offer glowing references, and double-check their contact information to ensure it's current. If you have an online profile, it’s also a good idea to provide them with its address so they can refresh their memories about your background, and perhaps even write an online recommendation.

When You’re Ready

Your resume is your ticket to a new job or career, and can serve as a blueprint for your personal career marketing strategy. Following these five steps will help make your job search less stressful once you have a strong command of what you can offer an employer, what employers are looking for, and how you can bring those two worlds together. In short, you should be prepared to answer an employer’s all-important question: Why should I hire you?

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