4 Steps to Finding the Perfect Job

April 9, 2013

If you’re looking for the perfect position or are unhappy with the one you have, refining your job search process is the place to start. Without a proper strategy, even a senior engineer with a tight resume can find themselves out of luck in today’s network-centered employment marketplace. Read on as we take you from examining your motivations to vetting target companies in the 4 Steps to Finding the Perfect Job.

1. Understand What Motivates You

If you’re eyeing the job market, you’re not satisfied with your current position. Why not? It could be economic pressure or lack of upward mobility. Maybe your work and life are out of balance, or your skills aren’t put to their full and proper use. Before you  apply for identical positions with slightly higher pay, you should ask yourself one very simple, very important question:  What do you want to do instead?

Your training can open a lot of doors, but often we fall into doing what’s in front of us instead of exploring the full range of options. Do you miss being in the field or need to see your work realized? Perhaps you should explore crossover opportunities offered by your discipline. For example: materials engineers can be equally at home doing pure research or putting their training to use in civil engineering applications, while chemical engineers have a lot to offer both in the lab and in industrial settings, or something altogether different, like in a brewery. Don’t be afraid of the lateral move; the additional breadth of experience can make you a better engineer.

There are psychological factors to consider as well. What motivates you? Extrinsically motivated individuals respond well to salary increases, advancement, and other external factors, while the more intrinsically minded supply their motivation internally. Understanding which rough group you fall into is important to selecting the right job for you. A high starting salary is certainly nice, but that’s only worth so much if your satisfaction stems from personal satisfaction with the work itself.

If introspection isn’t for you, try approaching your analysis of these factors through your current employment. Which aspects of the work satisfy and which are merely suffered? Make a list of positive factors to maximize in your next position and use that to inform your job search.

2. Use Targeted Job Search Strategies

Craigslist and big job clearinghouse sites (that shall remain nameless) are like any tools: good for their intended use but not ideal otherwise. Craigslist is a great place to look for free or low-cost furniture but not necessarily for chemical engineers with a background in crystallization process design.  This is less true with general-purpose employment sites, but the signal-to-noise ratio is still against you. In order to maximize your opportunities, you need to use more targeted search strategies.

Once you’ve determined what motivates you and what positions will satisfy that need, start investigating niche interest sites and communities within the field. Employers have the same specific needs you do, and the smartest ones are doing your job search in reverse. This is important to keep in mind as you continue your search:  there’s an employer out there who needs your skills and passions just as much as you need the work. If you can drill down to the same communities and sites they’re investigating, your chances of making a connection are much improved.

Niche interest publications and sites are another resource to consider. At EngineerJobs, our job postings are detailed and carefully curated, so you can refine your search to just postings from serious companies in need of your specific talents. If you’re not sure where to start, follow leads backwards from the articles and topics under discussion on niche interest sites and online communities. Employers in your field of interest will often post very specific job openings in these publications, allowing them to focus on a smaller pool of higher-value applicants.

Related: Sort Engineer Jobs by Experience Level

Finally, consider employment postings offered through trade and professional associations. They may be limited to members or be hosted behind a paywall, but those postings will likely originate from established companies with specific needs to fill. Coming to them by way of a trade association may also establish you in their minds as a more serious applicant, as you’ll borrow credibility from the referring organization.

3. Expand Your Personal Networks

Estimates vary, but a respectable percentage of available positions will never be posted within view of even your more targeted search strategies. Employers select engineers for these jobs through intracompany referrals or personal and online networks. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is a well-worn cliche, but true nonetheless. In order to land those jobs, you must position yourself where the employer expects to find you.

In one sense, this has never been easier. The expansion of social networking and online communities moved professional networking out of exclusive venues and onto your desk, laptop, and phone. By exploring online communities and networks within your area of interest, and more deliberately valorizing your existing personal networks, you will become aware of employers and opportunities advertised nowhere else.

A good first step is to refine your existing networks. Tighten your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles by removing the fluff in favor of professional activities and interests. If you treat these profiles as informal resumes (which is inherent with LinkedIn, but less obvious with other social networking platforms), you can take control of the impression you’ll make as you expand your networks. Once this is done, search your existing connections for people in related fields and slowly increase interaction with them, while discussing links and articles of interest to demonstrate your engagement in your discipline.

Related: How to Optimize your LinkedIn Profile for a Job Search

Once your own house is in order, start working your way through LinkedIn groups and online forums frequented by engineers and employers in your area of interest. (This can include alumni and trade organizations, though each has barriers to entry.) Joining the conversation is a great way to showcase your engineering chops and professionalism; be polite, be informative, and be available. Done correctly, you will quickly cultivate new contacts and resources to aid you in your job search.

Remember:  your prospective employer is searching, just as you are. Establish yourself within high-value networks related to employment in your field, and you’re right where you need to be.

4. Vet Companies Before You Apply

Through your newly expanded personal network and targeted search strategies, you’ll soon hear of a company which needs an engineer with your skills and training. The temptation may be to immediately snap at the opportunity, but it pays to research the employer before you apply. With a better understanding of their operations, you can present yourself and your experience in the best possible light- or decide not to apply at all.

First, determine, as exactly as possible, what the company does. This can involve searching for noteworthy projects and accomplishments, scanning trade publications for profiles, or reading online newspaper articles about their impact on the community and industry as a whole. This strategy may not pay off for smaller firms, however, leaving you to take a more direct approach.

Related: Engineering Resume and Interview Tips (From the Experts)

If you have current employees of the company in your network, there’s no harm in reaching out with a few polite questions. Tell them you’re thinking of applying for a position in the company and are wondering what it’s like to work there. With luck, this could open into a wider conversation with insights into the corporate culture, day-to-day operations, and requisite technical skills you can’t get any other way. This allows you to present yourself in the best possible light, as you’ll know more about what the employer wants than anyone else applying for the position.

Who knows? If you make a positive impression in these informal conversations, you might just network yourself into a job.

What Worked for You?

We’d love to hear about it. Share your own job search strategies with us by tweeting @EngineerJobs or leaving a comment in the form below.

Image credit: Mike Chen