There’s a lot of advice out there for job hunters. Finding advice that is relevant to your job search, however, is a different matter entirely.
The best tactics for your job search often depend on how advanced in your career you are. If you’ve been in your industry for seven years, you likely won’t need to talk about extracurricular activities in place of job experience, just as a college student likely won’t have the project management stories that mid-career job seekers should highlight. And once you’ve reached the senior level, hunting for a job is a different experience entirely.
No matter what level you’re at in your career, though, our expert sources have the advice you need to land interviews and impress hiring managers.
Years of experience: Less than 2
Average annual salary: Less than $50,000
Common job titles: Intern, assistant, associate, representative, junior staff
Your biggest challenge: Too many job applicants on the market
With so much of the application process moving to online job boards, more people than ever can apply for any given position. As a result, the requirements for entry-level positions have become more demanding.
“Employers are tightening their search by adding additional qualifications,” warned Brian Weed, CEO of entry-level recruiting firm Avenica, “[such as] technical skills, higher education or experience, [skills] that new college grads may not have had the opportunity to develop yet.”
Your tactic of choice: Show your willingness to work and learn.
“Employers will always value candidates who can provide specific examples of their strong work ethic, resilience [and] ability to collaborate well with others,” said Weed. That means you need to come to an interview prepared with anecdotes that emphasize your willingness to learn new skills, solve problems and work as part of a team. It also helps to show humility and adaptability.
Another tactic for entry-level job hunters is simply being as prepared as possible. “Doing significant research on both the company and the specific role, and then referencing that knowledge in the interview, will make a candidate stand out,” Weed advised.
Years of experience: 2 to 8
Average annual salary: $50,000 to $80,000
Common job titles: Assistant/associate manager, specialist, senior staff
Your biggest challenge: Leaving the entry level
“The best way to move up is by making sure that people – whether it’s your colleagues or, more importantly, those above you – know who you are,” said John Addison, president and CEO of Addison Leadership Group.
But when your co-workers are used to thinking of you as the new kid on the team, it can be difficult to show that you’re ready to take the next step in your career. And if you’re applying to a new company with only entry-level positions on your resume, a new employer might have a hard time picturing you in a job with more responsibility.
Your tactic of choice: Step outside the box.
“If you are looking to step up in your career, you have to show you are working towards it, go that extra mile to stand out and be something different,” said Jay Kent-Hume, founder of staffing services provider Sociable Staffing. “This could be getting certified and expanding your skill set, working on a project outside of your core business, or even volunteering in a leadership capacity.”
If no one is offering these opportunities in your current position, find a volunteer or learning opportunity outside of work. The next hiring manager you talk to will be impressed that you were committed enough to think outside the box and build your skills under your own initiative.
Don’t forget to show that you’re still a team player, even while highlighting your accomplishments. “A go-getter who doesn’t seem personable can be as off-putting as a really humble candidate with a lack of drive or proven results,” said Weed. “Showcasing that you can get things done, while collaborating and being a generally pleasant person to work with, goes a long way.”
Years of experience: 8 to 15
Average annual salary: $80,000 to $150,000
Common job titles: Manager, supervisor, director
Your biggest challenge: Showing you can handle responsibility
To be considered for a midlevel position, you have to demonstrate a history of leadership and strong management skills. You also need to be able to take responsibility for your team, both when they succeed and when things go wrong.
This skill set is hard to demonstrate if you’re relying on job postings and impersonal interviews. “It can be challenging to demonstrate charisma, humility or relational skills in a digital cover letter,” said Weed, who finds that relying on job boards is one of the biggest mistakes midlevel candidates make.
Your tactic of choice: Expand your search and build your network.
Growing your professional network will open doors to positions you would never have heard about otherwise, while developing personal relationships will help others in your industry see firsthand how you handle responsibility and leadership.
Weed advised staying away from job boards as much as possible at this point in your career. “Candidates’ odds will improve if they diversify their search to include networking, leveraging social media, contingent and retained recruiters, industry associations, events, and more.”
Addison added that seeking advice from people in senior positions in your industry is one of the best things midlevel candidates can do to advance their job search. “Talk to someone who is above you to ask them for advice on how to get to that next level. Find someone you admire and respect, and use them as your mentor to help you move forward. Most times, those in senior positions like to be asked for help.”
Years of experience: 15 or more
Average annual salary: More than $150,000
Common job titles: President, vice president, department head, chief (CEO, CFO, COO, etc.)
Your biggest challenge: Getting your name in front of the right people
Once you pass a certain point in your career, it becomes nearly impossible to advance without knowing the right people.
“The majority of executives are placed through word of mouth rather than applying for the roles directly,” said Noelle Williams, the Orlando director of recruiting for staffing firm Kavaliro. If you haven’t spent time becoming part of your industry’s network, you may never hear about senior-level positions in time to apply.
Your tactic of choice: Do lots of networking.
Take advantage of professional opportunities that your company provides, such as conferences or industrywide meetings, that allow you to rub shoulders with senior-level executives. Once you’re there, be proactive about introducing yourself and making connections.
And don’t neglect opportunities outside of work. “If you’re at this level of your career, join networking groups or different community boards of directors to be able to get your name and experience in front of other C-level executives,” advised Williams.
Volunteering, local nonprofits and other forms of community engagement are other ways you can meet power players in your industry.
“[Advancing] is all about building relationships,” Addison said. “The relationships are what will help you move forward. Be proactive, and make sure that when your company starts thinking about advancement, your name comes to mind because they recognize you and know that you’re good at your job.”
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.