Job hunting is practically a full-time job itself. You have to find jobs that match your skills and interests, create resumes and cover letters, schedule and prepare for interviews, and follow up with various potential employers.
Although looking for work can be overwhelming, you can make it easier on yourself by mastering the search and application process, which, in turn, will help you find – and ultimately, land – better opportunities. Here are five job hunt strategies that work.
Look in the right places
You can't apply to your dream job if you don't know it's available. Your first step should be to explore and sign up for a variety of job search websites. However, to make the best use of your time, narrow in on ones that list the types of jobs you're looking for. For example, if you want a job in human resources, look at a specialized platform like ihireHR.com, in addition to broader sites like LinkedIn, Indeed and CareerBuilder.
"Focus on the core places that would make most sense for your career and don't get distracted by the others," said Claire Bissot, SPHR, and managing director at CBIZ Human Resources Services.
While the internet provides a wealth of job postings, you can still land your dream position through other means. Many successful job seekers use a variety of search techniques, such as talking with friends, family, and business contacts about different employers, and attending in-person networking events, conferences, and industry gatherings.
"Spread the word that you're job hunting to family and friends," said Bissot. "This offers multiple benefits, including helping you find something that you may not otherwise have known about and having a personal recommendation within the business to move you to the top of the 'stack.'"
Learn more: Best Job Search Apps
Focus on your target job
You might be tempted to flood the job market with applications and resumes, but it's better to be selective with your search. Don't apply to just any company – choose a position with a company you feel passionate or excited about.
"I often find people … don't want to limit their chances of landing an opportunity, and they have varied valuable experience, so when they are networking, they describe multiple jobs that they would consider," said Breuer. "The problem is that it winds up not being memorable to the listener and potential advocate…"
Breuer suggested being clear and simple when describing the job you want. That way, when you speak to a hiring manager, you will be focused on a set position that you are particularly confident in rather than taking a leap of faith with one you aren't as skilled in.
If you express interest in any open position in a company, the hiring manager will likely not take you seriously among other candidates.
Learn more: How to Find the Best Job for You
Promote yourself with a strong application and digital presence
Once you find a position you are interested in, write a personalized cover letter for the specific company. Although hiring managers want to hear about your skills and experience, they care more about what you can do for them and the company than what you want from the job. Focus less on talking about yourself (let your resume do that) and more on how your skills fit the job.
You might also consider starting a blog or personal website focused on your areas of expertise. It not only gives you the opportunity to see an industry from a different perspective, but perhaps more importantly, it gives you the opportunity to showcase your knowledge in a given area while building your social status online.
Learn more: How to Write a Great Cover Letter
Prepare for interviews
After securing an interview, it's critical to spend time preparing specifically for each meeting. You'll want to ensure you've done your homework and are ready to answer any question you're asked.
"Role play with someone who has experience interviewing and see how you do," said Shannon Breuer, president of Wiley Group. "You might be surprised by what you thought you knew but didn't. And, if you really did your homework, it will show. It's a good way to boost your confidence."
Breuer recommended asking around for any connections to the company you're interviewing with. If you find any, you can gain inside information that might help you in the interview.
Next, work on the physical aspects of an interview. Focus on making the best first impression by being personable, well dressed and authentic, said Bissot. You should also focus on other nonverbal signals, like your handshake and maintaining eye contact with your interviewer.
While discussing some personal details about yourself can help a hiring manager get to know you, Bissot advised job seekers to be cautious, as it can quickly become too much.
"Keep the personal conversations limited and focus on neutral topics," she added.
Instead, share new ideas that you have for a company so that you aren't veering off topic. This will help you stand out from other candidates and show exactly how you would fit in the organization.
Remember to listen as well. Your potential employer will have a lot to say about the company and what is expected of you, and you'll want to absorb as much information as possible.
"Bring a notebook and plan to take notes," said Breuer. "It tells the interviewer that you are not only prepared, but that you expect that the interviewer will be saying something important. It starts the interview with the right appearance."
Learn more: Surefire Ways to Impress a Hiring Manager
Send a thank-you note
It may seem like a silly formality, but sending a thank-you note can mean the difference between getting your dream job and losing your spot to another – more grateful – applicant.
According to a CareerBuilder survey, 22 percent of employers are less likely to hire a candidate if he or she doesn't send a thank-you note after a job interview. That may seem like a small percentage, but consider that it also leaves a bad impression for most employers. In fact, 86 percent of employers said not sending a thank-you note shows a lack of follow-through, and 56 percent said not sending one indicates that the candidate isn't serious about the position he or she has interviewed for.
"Send an email thank you note explaining why you think the job is a good fit because of what you learned during the interview," said Breuer.
Both Breuer and Bissot suggested emailing the interviewer later that day or the following morning. Make sure your message conveys your appreciation and that the tone is respectful and not desperate. Sending that one message may be the last step in securing your career.
Learn more: Sample Thank-You Notes for After the Interview
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks, David Mielach and Brittney Morgan. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.