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9 Secrets to Getting the Job You Really Want

It doesn't matter whether you're pursuing an entry-level position or changing companies after decades in the workforce — job hunting is hard. But before you throw your ambitions out the window and prepare to accept any offer that comes your way, consider changing your approach. These nine secrets to getting the job you want could very well be your ticket to professional bliss.

1. Do Your Research

Benjamin Franklin once said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." The candidates who look most attractive on paper and do well in an interview come across as prepared because they are.

  • Read up on the job you want and the range of job responsibilities typically associated with it.

  • Brush up on current news and trends within the industry.

  • Study the company you're applying with, including its website (pay particular attention to the mission or value statement and press releases so you know what's important to the company), social media, and email list or newsletter if applicable.

  • Practice for your sit-down long before it's even scheduled.

2. Conduct a Few Informational Interviews

Informational interviews are the sit-downs you have with people in your circle or career field who can offer guidance based on their own experiences in your target industry. If you're just leaving school or switching fields, an informational interview is almost like a rapid-fire internship; it's not as advantageous as actual hands-on learning, but the information you cull from these interviews can be a major factor in getting the job you want.

3. Create a Memorable Cover Letter

This is your first impression. Make it count. Learn how to write a cover letter that separates you from the competition and highlights your best attributes. Avoid lengthy letters that regurgitate everything on your resume, and focus on organizing your thoughts into a short (a few paragraphs is usually plenty) but impactful statement infused with your personality.

4. Write a Resume That Resonates

On average, you — via your resume — have just six seconds to impress a recruiter. How will you stack up? Start by working up several resumes, each one targeted to a specific job or industry (assuming you're sending out multiple feelers, of course). Keep your language active and engaging, focus on your most relevant skills and accomplishments, and be ruthless with your editing and revisions. It's also a good idea to look at a few professional resume examples relevant to your industry as you prepare to write your own.

5. Prove That You're Well-Rounded

More than two-thirds of employers say they value experience over education when assessing a potential employee. Showcasing so-called "soft skills" such as motivation and initiative could cast you in a more favorable light than talking up your math degree or English lit coursework. Even among those employers who believe hard and soft skills are equally weighted, only 15 percent believe that hard skills are enough on their own.

The takeaway? List your education and formal training, but don't forget the other bits of non-academic experience that make you who you are.

6. Polish Your Online Presence

Employers have more information at their keyboard-tapping fingertips than ever before, and many develop a preconceived notion of who you are before they ever get to meet you. Comb through your social media accounts, remove any posts that might cause employers to raise their eyebrows, and freshen up professional profiles on sites such as LinkedIn. If you're still looking for the perfect position, pepper your LinkedIn profile with industry terms and keywords that may help interested parties find you instead of the other way around.

7. Work on Your Pitch

Interviews are insanely stressful. Being prepared can help, but where do you even start? The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a comprehensive guide to employment interviewing that discusses the best ways to manage your time leading up to the interview as well as tips for the actual meeting as well.

A few key takeaways that help teach you how to get the job you want:

  • Practice describing your work and educational history, accomplishments, and weaknesses. You want to appear confident in both your answers and your delivery.

  • Questions about hobbies might seem innocuous, but they're actually used to assess your interpersonal skills and help the interviewer glean more insight into who you are as a person and not just as an employee.

  • That old adage "dress for the job you want" still holds water. Show up groomed and attired in a way that keeps the focus on your words rather than your outfit.

8. Close Strong

End your interview as powerfully as you began it. When you feel that things are winding down, feel free to ask the interviewer whether they feel you're a good fit and what the next steps may look like. Bonus points for asking if you can connect via LinkedIn and if it's acceptable to check in as things develop. Leave them with a firm handshake and let them know you appreciate their time.

9. Perfect the Art of the Follow-up

It's safe to assume that you're not the only person being interviewed for a job opening, so how do you stay top-of-mind once you're out of the room? Sending a follow-up indicates you're serious about the position, and it also gives you a chance to remind recruiters of who you are and why you're the best choice. Go for a handwritten thank-you note if possible, but email works as well, and feel free to check in periodically if the hiring process is moving at a snail's pace.

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