Tips for an effective job search

Quick links: 

Most of these tips come from the University of Waterloo’s CareerHub.
  • Know what you are offering.
    • Create and be able to enthusiastically recite a clear description of the benefits someone receives when they hire you.
    • Show what you can do for them.
  • Know what you want.
    • Your search will be more effective if your goal is clear and you map out your strategy in advance.
    • Set daily and weekly objectives and evaluate your progress. Schedule time, each week, to identify target organizations, research industries, network and make contacts, and follow up.
  • Use a variety of approaches.
    • In addition to traditional search methods (e.g., online job banks), invest significant effort uncovering job openings that have not yet been (and may never be) advertised.
    • Since approximately 80% of all jobs are never advertised, concentrate up to 80% of your job search on discovering unadvertised opportunities (i.e., networking, direct marketing to hiring managers).
  • Be an avid reader:
    • Become knowledgeable about your industry by regularly reviewing trade publications, business articles and annual reports.
    • Look for ways you and your skills can be useful to the organizations you read about.
    • And look for new financings and expansions which suggest growth in an industry or organization that may lead to hiring new people.
  • Review classified ads, current and past.
    • A series of ads for a company or industry may reveal a growth trend you can tap into.
    • Past ads (six months old or older) will help you identify organizations with jobs in your field.
    • Contact them to learn if there are any current opportunities for which you might be qualified.
  • Don't overlook small companies (those with fewer than 100 employees).
    • Small companies account for more than 50% of total employment in Canada.
    • They can often be more flexible and may be able to create a new co-op position in response to a convincing presentation of your skills and your potential to help them meet current challenges and improve productivity.
  • Consider contract work.
    • Both large and small organizations may have work they need completed on a project or short-term basis.
    • Although temporary, such work can still provide you with valuable experience.
    • If the work is very short-term, you may be able to secure more than one contract to generate enough work and income for the term.
  • Create and carry a calling card.
    • A calling card, similar to a business card, is an effective, inexpensive way to leave information with anyone who can lead you to job openings.
    • Have cards with you at all times. Your card must include your contact information (name, telephone, e-mail, web site), your program/specialty/ career focus and, if you use the back, your skills/qualifications summary.
    • When you give people your card, you will often receive theirs, in return. Following up with them will increase your network – and your chance of a great referral.
  • Plan to contact hiring managers directly, not HR.
    • You can telephone or drop in.
    • Many job seekers have found the latter to be effective: it’s more difficult to dismiss someone who is standing in front of you, than someone who has called you! (Refer to “Contacting hiring managers,” below.)
  • Record all appointments, activities, and results.
    • Use the Networking Contact Record and Hiring Manager Contact Record (or electronic versions) to track progress.
    • Always keep these with you so you can follow up, no matter where you are.
  • Consider registering with employment agencies or temporary services.
    • These can be found in the Yellow Pages and online.

Uncovering opportunities: networking

Never underestimate the power of networking in your job search. Experts agree that most job leads (perhaps as many as 80%) are found through networking. It is an essential part of a successful job search.

Networking is about:
  • making connections,
  • developing leads, and
  • building relationships with individuals and groups of people.

Building and using your network will be useful now and throughout your career.

Networking for your job search is a planned process of contacting people who can provide information, advice, and referrals. If you’re interested in an organization, an employee who is a part of your network can help you and advise you on timing and the best way to approach the employer. Contacts inside an organization can also refer you to hiring managers and keep your name in people's minds.
Take advantage of opportunities to network whenever they present themselves – and generate additional ones. Don’t be shy. Most people want to be helpful. You have something to offer them: talent on a temporary basis.
It is estimated that we all have 200-700 people in our personal networks. Speak to everyone you can think of. Begin with:
  • parents/family members and friends,
  • professors,
  • acquaintances at the gym,
  • landlord,
  • hairdresser …
  • the list goes on.

Never assume you know everyone in a person’s network, no matter how close they are to you. Remember: every one of them also has a network of 200-700 people who might be able to help.

Attend networking events.
  • Although it’s a good idea to attend events related to your field (often offered through professional associations), any event that allows for “meet and greet” opportunities can yield potential contacts.
  • Consider trade shows or meetings for service clubs your parents or other family members may belong to.
Contact the local Chamber of Commerce, Municipal Development Office, or Board of Trade to learn of any upcoming events you may be eligible to attend.
And there’s always Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Please refer to the Career Development eManual for more information and guidance on networking.

Introducing yourself

During your job search, you will encounter hiring managers, human resources staff and others in your network of contacts. At all times, you must be ready to clearly communicate:
  • who you are,
  • what you have to offer,
  • your knowledge or training,
  • skills, and
  • experience.

To promote yourself effectively, develop and practise a self introduction that you can deliver anywhere, any time.

Practise your introduction until you are confident that you can present it professionally without sounding over rehearsed. Prepare several versions that you can adapt to different situations.

This self introduction should take 30-60 seconds and include:
  • Your name
  • Your program and institution attended
  • Field/position of interest
  • Knowledge, skills, and experience that would be of value in this field/position
  • Your interest in his or her organization (if speaking to a representative from that organization)
Hello, my name is Judy Smith. I'm a first-year student at the University of Waterloo, majoring in Computer Engineering. Besides taking courses in hardware and software engineering, I've worked in a technical position where I was able to gain experience in server networking, testing and debugging codes. Through these experiences, I learned to communicate with clients and handle various technical problems which would be an added value to your team. I'm currently looking for a position from May to August where I can apply my knowledge and skills as a Technical Analyst. [Your company is of particular interest to me because...] What main projects/priorities is your department currently working on? (Are there other managers in your area who might need a co-op student to help out with a special project over the summer?) (Do you have any colleagues who might need to find some extra help to fill in for full-time staff going on vacation?)"

Researching employers

Research is the key to effectively connect your skills, values, knowledge, and experience to organization and industry needs.
Research an organization thoroughly to:
  • Discover what types of positions or work you may be qualified for
  • Prepare for networking or an interview so you can demonstrate industry and company knowledge as well as enthusiasm for the field, position, and organization.
Employers can always tell, and are very impressed, when job seekers have done detailed research and are able to ask knowledgeable questions about the position and the company.
  • Centre for Career Action (print resources and website links)
  • Campus or public libraries (review employer and association directories, trade publications and reports, business articles in newspapers and magazines)
  • uWaterloo’s news database, Factiva
  • Chambers of Commerce; Municipal Development Offices; Boards of Trade
  • Small business centres
  • The company itself
  • Your network!

Contacting hiring managers

You can pursue leads uncovered through your research and networking in a number of ways. Your goal is to meet individuals who have the authority to hire.
  • Initiate contact by sending your résumé and broadcast letter to the hiring manager.
  • Sending the letter first can prepare them for your call – and provide them with detailed information on your qualifications.
  • The best times to call are early in the morning, over the lunch hour, or later in the day, when the manager is more likely to answer his or her own phone.
  • You will often get voicemail so be prepared to leave a brief yet professional message to indicate who you are (your self introduction may be helpful here), when you will call back, and your contact information.
  • If you do reach the manager, anticipate a response of “we are not hiring right now” or a referral to human resources. Don’t give up! Request a meeting to get advice on finding work within the organization.
  • If the manager is still not willing to meet with you, ask when you might check back about new openings (be sure to record any date they give you and remember to follow up) and take the opportunity to ask about other leads that he or she may know of.

Action plan

Knowing the theory and having good intentions is a start. But to achieve your goal (a job!) you must take action. The following will help you to put what you have learned about the process into practice. Additional information and tips about the job search can be found in the Career Development eManual. Begin right now!

Job title/type of position being sought:
Type(s) of organization(s) who might hire for this:
Personal job requirements (skills/knowledge desired/used, etc.)
Personal restrictions (geographic, commuting, etc.):
People from my personal network I could contact right away:
List resources found in the following locations that I will use to identify specific organizations that I can apply to and/or contact for networking interviews:
Career Action: 
Using resources and information uncovered through networking and research, identify 30-50 organizations to contact:
Select three of the above to target first:
Set daily/weekly goals:
  • Number of personal network contacts I will make per day: ______
  • Number of companies I will research each week: ______
  • Number of organizations I will contact each week: ______
  • Number of interviews (job search and networking) I will set up each week: ______

A Work Search Checklist

The work search can feel overwhelming, so it's helpful to break it into manageable steps.
You can receive assistance for every one of these steps through the Centre for Career Action. Start by checking our web site at for lots of links and helpful information.
Step 1: Know yourself.
  • I have identified my personal strengths, skills, interests, and values.
  • I have made a list of possible job titles/fields of interest.
  • I can name two or three jobs I plan to pursue.
Step 2: Know where you want to work.
  • I have researched organizations or companies that might hire someone with my skills, interests, and background.
  • I have updated my skills and geographic preferences in JobMine, to help CE support my work search.
  • I have researched potential career fields: typical entry-level jobs, typical salaries, best geographic location for jobs, etc.
  • I have identified the top three geographic areas where I'd like to live and work.
  • I have identified 10 potential employers for the type of work I'm seeking.
Step 3: Get ready for the search.
  • I have had my résumé and cover letter reviewed by a CCA staff member.
  • I have prepared a portfolio of work samples to highlight my experience, skills, and talent.
  • I have developed my "30-second self-introduction" for short encounters with employers.
  • I have a supply of calling cards.
  • I have analyzed my background and developed my experience stories for employers.
  • I have identified three individuals who will provide enthusiastic references.
  • I have prepared for interviews by practicing my responses to typical questions and/or doing a mock interview.
  • I have interview clothing that is appropriate for the field in which I plan to work.
  • I have a professional-sounding answering machine/voice mail message in case an employer calls.
  • I have a neutral/professional e-mail address to give to employers.
Step 4: Start searching.
  • I have uploaded my résumé(s) to the recruiting site on JobMine.
  • I subscribe to the Centre for Career Action weekly newsletter.
  • I read the appropriate job-search resources for my field(s) of interest.
  • I have a system for keeping track of my contacts, interviews, and other job-search activities.
  • I follow up on every job lead immediately.
  • I have developed a list of potential networking contacts and keep in touch with them.
  • I follow each résumé/letter sent with a phone call or e-mail to the employer requesting a job interview.
  • I send thank you letters or e-mails to every person who has assisted me.

Adapted with permission from Liberal Arts Career Services/UT Austin.