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Ten Lessons I Learned from My Job Search

Lately, I have been bombarded with questions on resumes, networking and job application. Then I realized that it’s already September, which means the fall recruiting season is just around the corner. This reminds me of what I went through three years ago as a job applicant. Those days of updating my resume to V52 and having five coffee chats a day are still fresh in my mind. Today, I am sharing with you ten lessons I learned.

1. Take the time to assess yourself, honestly

Self-assessment is an under-appreciated exercise. Before applying any jobs, ask yourself following questions:

  • What are my biggest strengths?

  • What kind of work do I mostly enjoy doing?

  • What skills do I have and what skills do I want to develop?

Be honest with yourself. Your answers will help you decide a general area of focus and map out your career path. It’s also helpful to turn to your family, friends and mentors for their perspectives. In my case, they provided valuable insights that I was previously unaware of.

2. It is a number game

Job hunting is like buying lottery tickets. The more tickets you buy (jobs you apply), the higher is your chance to win a prize (land an offer). Once you identified your area of focus and perfected your resume/cover letter, you should apply to EVERY opportunity that interests you. Spread your net wide and leverage all sources of opportunities (job boards, career section of target companies, recruitment agencies, friends and family, LinkedIn connections etc.)

3. Job hunting is a full-time job

Embrace the fact that job hunting is time-consuming and exhausting, mentally and physically. You should really treat it as a full-time job. Perfecting your resume, customizing your cover letter, completing online application, attending networking events, and preparing for interviews all take time. When they add up, it can be much more demanding than a 9-to-5 job.

4. It is likely to take longer than you thought

Reality check: competition you are facing is fierce and supply/demand mismatch definitely does not help. Hundreds of qualified candidates are also trying to get the job you just applied for. But there is only one opening. It is nearly impossible to land a job on your first application. It took me 2,000+ applications and five months to land the first full-time job offer. So don’t underestimate the competition and be prepared for the challenge.

5. Credentials don’t guarantee you a job

I assumed that I would be a sought-after candidate in the job market because I graduated from University of Toronto, completed two internships at Scotiabank, and passed all levels of CFA and CPA exams. I was wrong. These credentials paled in comparison to one-year full-time work experience in the eyes of most hiring managers. Yep, I was just another kid trying to get in.

6. You can never be too prepared

There is nothing called too prepared. You can always be better, whether it is your resume, cover letter or your networking and interview skills. Rewind time to July 2015, I thought I was prepared when walking into my first investment banking analyst interview, only to find out my answer to the first question “walk-me-through-your-resume” was unsatisfactory. After that, I built a list of interview questions, wrote down my stories in bullet points, and rehearsed them every single day.

7. Stay organized

One thing I am proud of during my job hunting is that I kept everything organized. I first created a main folder in Google Drive called “2015 Full-time Recruiting”. Then I created a tracking sheet with columns including “Company”, “Title”, “Job Link”, and “Date Applied”. For each job I applied for, I also created a sub-folder (see screenshot below), where I saved relevant information such as job description, application materials, company research, interview preparation, and post interview self-reflection. That way, I can easily locate any information whenever I want to.

8. Networking works

I cannot stress enough the importance of networking. Out of all the interviews I got, more than half can be attributed to my networking efforts. Beyond the obvious benefit of landing interviews, I gained tremendous knowledge on different companies and positions by talking to industry professionals. Those conversations also helped me discover the right career and prepare for interviews.

9. Getting rejected is normal

You probably have the expectation that you will get rejected many times before success. But when rejections actually hit, you will still feel frustrated and powerless. That’s totally understandable especially when you gave it your best shot and interviewers seemed to like you. I feel you because I was there. But how do you handle rejections? I have three tips:

  • Understand that the final decision is beyond your control

  • Don’t take it personally because your value is not defined by the result

  • Politely ask for feedback so you can improve (sometimes, asking for feedback will create a positive impression and lead to future opportunities)

10. Be positive