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Careers Café

Scripting the job search


If you’ve visited your university’s career centre or read job search columns and books, you already know most of the common steps in the job search process: figure out what you want, determine what employers in your desired career path want, tailor your résumé and cover letter to specific jobs, spend less time applying to job postings, spend more time networking, follow up on leads, and persist.

Within each step, however, there are small, awkward moments that make taking the step a lot less appealing. Awkwardness interferes with getting back in touch with people from our past who might help our career development, following up with new contacts, and thanking people along the way. For this post, I’ll focus on following up with new contacts.

Following up with new contacts feels beyond egotistical. It typically involves making a request of someone you’ve just met or sending updates to people you’ve met recently (and perhaps only once).  Fun stuff.

When you first meet with someone, getting permission to stay in touch makes following up much easier. So, if you went out on a limb and scheduled an information interview with someone you admire, wrap up your conversation by clarifying how you’ll stay in contact. Chances are good that the person you’re interviewing will say something like, “Let me know how things go for you.” Instead of guessing what this looks like, say, “I’d like to stay in touch with you, but I also know you’re busy, and I don’t want to be a pest. How often would you like to hear from me?”

The question will probably take the other person aback – briefly – because s/he hasn’t been asked before. But the answer will save you the guesswork of wondering whether the other person expects to hear from you every few months or next week.

If you’re not convinced that your new contacts want to hear from you, consider how strange it would be to share ideas and advice with someone and then never find out what impact you had. The last institution I worked at had a database of professionals who had signed up for the privilege of being networked with by students and recent alumni. The mentors’ number one complaint was that not enough people contacted them.

Among their other complaints was that they would meet with students, and then never hear from them again. Even after one meeting, the mentors typically felt invested in their mentees’ success. If they never heard from mentees again, they had no way of knowing whether their advice was valued. Just like most of us want to know that our work is meaningful, the mentors wanted to know that their assistance meant something to the people who received it.

My next few posts will focus on other small, awkward parts of the job search that can be made less difficult. If there are other parts of the job search that you’re wondering how to approach, please add a comment, or send me a message at @UniCareers on Twitter.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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