Getting a Job

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While no longitudinal study has yet examined the entire working life of any group of Americans, which would be necessary to compile data that statistically documents how many job changes may be expected during one's work life, many career counselors advise that Americans between 18 and 35 typically change jobs as often as every 18 months, while those over the age of 35 are likely to change jobs, or even career fields, every three years. Each of these job changes requires similar preparation, no matter how similar or different the jobs may be.

The first step in securing a job—whether it is a part-time first job for a 14-year-old, or a midcareer change of fields for a successful business executive—is to research the job market. What jobs are available? What are the educational or experiential requirements needed for employment? Will a move to another part of the country be necessary to secure a job doing a particular kind of work?

A job seeker must become qualified to work in a particular field, whether through education or experience, or a combination of the two. When it is time to seek a first job or a new position, the prospective employee should learn as much as possible about potential employers. Using this background of knowledge and experience, a job seeker should then prepare a good resume. This will be his or her introduction to a prospective employer. Finally, when an effective resume results in an interview, the job seeker should be prepared to meet possible new employers with courteous manners, a good appearance, and sound interview skills.


Personal Contacts

Families and friends can be extremely helpful in providing career information. While they may not always have the information needed, they may know other knowledgeable people and be able to put the job seeker in touch with them. These contacts can lead to an "information interview," which means talking to someone who can provide information about a company or career. This person should have the experience to describe how he or she trained for the job, received promotions, and likes or dislikes the job. Not only can the person advise what to do, he or she can advise what not to do.

Libraries and Career Centers

Libraries offer a great deal of information about careers and job training. Begin with the card catalog or computer listings under "vocations" or "careers" and then look under specific fields of work that match areas of interest. For instance, those who like working with animals can find descriptions about the work of veterinarians and veterinarian assistants, zoologists, animal trainers, breeders, groomers, and others whose occupations involve working with animals. Trade publications and magazines describe and discuss many kinds of work in various fields.

Most school and public libraries will own current editions of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is revised every two years by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. This resource describes about 250 occupations in detail. School career centers often offer individual counseling and testing, guest speakers, field trips, and career days. Information in career guidance materials should be current. It is wise to find a number of sources, since one resource might glamorize the occupation, overstate the earnings, or exaggerate the demand for workers in the field.


Counselors are professionals trained to help their clients discover their strengths and weaknesses, evaluate their goals and values, and determine what they want in a career. Counselors can be found in:

  • High school guidance offices,
  • Placement offices in private vocational/technical schools,
  • College career planning and placement offices,
  • Vocational rehabilitation agencies,
  • Counseling service offices offered by community organizations,
  • Private counseling agencies, and
  • State employment service offices.

The Internet

The Internet provides much of the same job information that is available through libraries, career centers, and guidance offices. However, no single network or resource will contain all the desired information. As in a library search, one must look through various lists by field or discipline or by using particular keywords.

A good place to start an Internet search for career information is at the website of the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, where job seekers can find the most current edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook (


Professional societies, trade associations, labor unions, business firms, and educational institutions offer a variety of free or inexpensive career material. The Guide to American Directories, The Directory of Directories, and The Encyclopedia of Associations, found at local libraries, are useful resources. Trade organizations are particularly useful sources of information if one already has a job and is seeking another or fears being "down-sized" by one's present employer.

Education and Training Information

All jobs require some kind of training, even those that require primarily simple, everyday skills. Many people acquire these most basic job skills during the process of growing up, and additional on-the-job training is often sufficient for success in a first part-time job. Most career jobs, however, require more education and training than can be provided through basic life experience and new employee orientation programs.

Free career training for some fields may be available through vocational courses in public schools, local branches of state employment offices, or apprenticeship programs. Some occupations require a few months of training, while others may take many years of education and be very costly. Physicians, for instance, may spend as many as 15 years and many tens of thousands of dollars to learn a specialty in medicine.

Colleges, schools, and training institutes readily reply to requests for information about their programs. Professional and trade associations have lists of schools that offer career preparation in their fields. Information on financial aid for study or training is available from a variety of sources—high school guidance counselors, college financial aid officers, banks and credit unions, the Internet, and state and federal governments. Directories and guides to sources of student financial aid can be found in guidance offices and public libraries.


Successfully finding a job starts with knowing where and how to look for one. Most job seekers are familiar with the image of a prospective employee poring over the "Help Wanted" advertisements in the local newspaper. However, while hundreds of jobs may be listed in the classified ads, this is not necessarily the most effective resource for job-hunting. Table 7.1 provides a list of sources of job listings; these are discussed in more detail below.

Personal Contacts—Networking

A good place to start collecting information is from family, friends, and acquaintances. One should not be afraid to ask friends or relatives if they know of an available job. Many people get jobs through personal contacts. Often, a friend or family member will not personally know of available jobs, but will be able to provide an introduction to someone else who does. This kind of networking is useful to job-hunters at any stage of career building. A young person's first job often results from a peer connection or a referral from a teacher or parent. Later on, word-of-mouth recommendations from professional peers may open doors to interviews, although they generally do not have significant influence on actual hiring decisions.

Classified Ads

"Help Wanted" advertisements may provide leads to prospective jobs. The listings do not contain all of the job openings available in a particular area, however, and they usually do not provide very much pertinent information about the available positions. Ads generally offer little or no description of the jobs, working conditions, or pay. Some advertisements do not identify the employer. They may instead offer only a post office box to which a resume should be sent, which makes follow-up inquiries very difficult. It also makes it difficult for the job-hunter to learn anything about the company. Furthermore, some advertisements are for employment agencies rather than actual employment opportunities. Here are some helpful reminders about using classified advertisements in a job search:

  • Classified ads can be useful resources, but they should not be the only source of prospective job information.
  • Ads should be answered promptly; openings may be filled even before the ad stops appearing in the paper.
• Personal contacts
• School career planning and placement offices
• Classified ads
• National and local newspapers
• Professional journals
• Trade magazines
• Internet networks and resources
• State employment service offices
• Federal government
• Professional associations
• Labor unions
• Private employment agencies and career consultants
• Community agencies
source: Where to Learn about Job Openings," in Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002–03 Edition, U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, DC [Online] [accessed March 3, 2004]
  • The Sunday edition of a newspaper usually includes the most listings, but some jobs appear only in week-day editions; read the classified ads daily for the best exposure.
  • Ads that emphasize "no experience necessary" are often for jobs characterized by low wages, poor working conditions, or commission work.
  • It is useful to keep track of ads responded to; good records should include both the date of the ad and the date of response to it, and the specific skills, educational background, and personal qualifications required for each advertised position.

Internet Networks and Resources

Many people find that the Internet is a valuable source of job listings and job search resources and techniques. Internet resources are available whenever a job seeker has time to access them. However, no single network or online resource will contain all of the information on employment or career opportunities, so be prepared to search a bit. Job listings may be posted by field or discipline, so begin the search by using keywords.

A good place to start the job search is at America's Job Bank ( America's Job Bank, run by the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, provides information on preparing resumes and using the Internet for job searches. It also discusses trends in the U.S. job market and, as of March 2004, lists more than 1.2 million job openings. Job seekers also can post their resumes on the site for potential employers. As of 2004, Internet job search resources also include such popular Web sites as Monster ( and HotJobs ( These sites provide job listings, resume assistance, links to career advice, and a variety of other tools for job seekers.

Public Employment Services

States operate employment services and workforce agencies, sometimes called the Job Service, in coordination with the U.S. Employment Service of the U.S. Department of Labor. These are local offices with resources to help job-hunters find positions and employers find qualified workers at no cost to themselves. Telephone listings under "Job Service" or "Employment" in the state government telephone listings will provide contact information for the nearest offices. However, as public access to the Internet becomes more widespread, government-funded employment service delivery is increasingly Web-based rather than located in a full-service office building.

Private Employment Agencies

Private employment agencies can be helpful, but they are in business to make money. Most agencies operate on a commission basis, with the fee dependent upon a percentage of the salary paid to a successful applicant. Either the newly hired employee or the hiring company will have to pay a sizable fee. Job seekers should find out the exact cost and who is responsible for paying the fees before using the service.

College Career Planning and Placement Offices

College placement offices assist in job placement for their students and alumni. They set up appointments and provide facilities for interviews with recruiters. Placement offices usually list part-time, temporary, and summer jobs offered on campus. They also list jobs in regional business, nonprofit, and government organizations. Students can receive career counseling, testing, and job search advice and can also use career resource libraries maintained by placement offices. Access to these resources is usually included in tuition fees.

Community Agencies

Many nonprofit organizations, including churches, synagogues, and vocational rehabilitation agencies, offer counseling, career development, and job placement services. These are often targeted to a particular group, such as women, youth, minorities, ex-offenders, or older workers.


It is possible to apply directly to employers without either a referral or a posted job opening. Potential employers can be found in the Yellow Pages, directories of local chambers of commerce, other publications that provide information about employers, and in Internet listings of employers in any given geographic area.


Resumes and Application Forms

Sending a resume (summary of a job applicant's previous employment, education, and skills) and filling out an application form are two ways to provide employers

• Name, address, e-mail address, and telephone number.
• Employment objective. State the type of work or specific job you are seeking.
• Education, including school name and address, dates of attendance, curriculum, and highest grade completed or degree awarded. Consider including any courses or areas of focus that might be relevant to the position.
• Experience, paid and volunteer. For each job, include the job title, name and location of employer, and dates of employment. Briefly describe your job duties.
• Special skills, computer skills, proficiency in foreign languages, achievements, and membership in organizations.
• References, only when requested.
• Keep it short; only one page for less experienced applicants.
• Avoid long paragraphs; use bullets to highlight key skills and accomplishments.
• Have a friend review your resume for any spelling or grammatical errors.
• Print it on high quality paper.
source: What Usually Goes into a Resume," in Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002–03 Edition, U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, DC [Online] [accessed March 3, 2004]

with written evidence of one's qualifications. Some employers prefer that prospective employees present a resume, while others require a completed application form instead of (or in addition to) a resume.

There are many ways to organize a resume. Books on the topic are available in local libraries and bookstores. The Internet is also a good source for finding resume-writing techniques. See Table 7.2 for the basic information that is included in a resume. If a company supplies an application form, it should be filled out completely and correctly.

Cover Letters

A cover letter is sent with a resume or application form as a way to introduce the job seeker to prospective employers. It should capture the employer's attention, follow a business-letter format, and include the following information:

  • The name and address of the specific person to whom the letter is addressed,
  • The reason for the applicant's interest in the company and type of job the applicant is seeking,
  • A brief list of qualifications for the position, including education, job experience, and unpaid experience,
  • Any special skills,
  • References (if requested),
  • A request for an interview, and
  • Home and work phone number.


An interview showcases qualifications to an employer. Table 7.3 provides some helpful hints about interviewing.

• Learn about the organization.
• Have a specific job or jobs in mind.
• Review your qualifications for the job.
• Prepare answers to broad questions about yourself.
• Review your resume.
• Practice an interview with a friend or relative.
• Arrive before the scheduled time of your interview.
Personal appearance:
• Be well groomed.
• Dress appropriately.
• Do not chew gum or smoke.
The interview:
• Relax and answer each question concisely.
• Respond promptly.
• Use good manners. Learn the name of your interviewer and shake hands as you meet.
• Use proper English—avoid slang.
• Be cooperative and enthusiastic.
• Ask questions about the position and the organization.
• Thank the interviewer when you leave and, as a follow up, in writing.
Test (if employer gives one):
• Listen closely to instructions.
• Read each question carefully.
• Write legibly and clearly.
• Budget your time wisely and don't dwell on one question.
Information to bring to an interview:
• Social Security card.
• Government-issued identification (driver's license).
• Resume. Although not all employers require applicants to bring a resume, you should be able to furnish the interviewer information about your education, training, and previous employment.
• References. Employers typically require three references. Get permission before using anyone as a reference. Make sure they will give you a good reference. Try to avoid using relatives.
source: Job Interview Tips," in Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002–03 Edition, U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, DC [Online] [accessed March 3, 2004]

Preparation, personal appearance, and information presented at an interview are all very important, but being prepared is perhaps the most important. Adequate preparation shows that the candidate is knowledgeable and confident and helps the interviewee feel more at ease with answering questions and taking any tests required.

For every interview, a job candidate should be well groomed and appear polished and confident. It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. One rule of thumb offered to potential interviewees is to research the dress policy of a company, and wear an outfit that is at the formal end of the company's usual range of attire. Candidates interviewing for a new position in their present company may be well-served by dressing as if they have achieved their new position. Job candidates should never smoke, chew gum, or accept an alcoholic beverage at an interview.

Whether the position is offered or not, it is important that the job seeker follow through with a brief note of thanks to the interviewer. The note can also be another opportunity for the job candidate to "sell" his or her strong qualities. This is a courtesy that leaves a positive impression on a potential employer. If another job becomes available, the interviewer may remember the gracious gesture and approach the candidate about the position.


Many employers require prospective employees to take skills, drug, alcohol, and/or psychological tests in order to be considered for positions at their companies. Such tests are regulated by state and federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.


When a job is offered, the job seeker needs to evaluate the offer carefully. There are many issues to be considered. Will the organization be a good place to work? Will the job be interesting? Are the people easy to work with? How are opportunities for advancement? Is the salary fair? Does the employer offer good benefits? Rarely will anyone ever find the perfect job, especially the first time out. A person should be open to a number of possibilities, even those not exactly matching his or her skills.