Final Thoughts: Need a Job?

January 31, 2013

Create a Strong Job Search Strategy

Final-Thoughts-Parker“Why isn’t my job search getting me anywhere?”

As the director of alumni career services for the MSU Alumni Association, I frequently get this question from graduates. Let me give an example.

A recent call came from Kate (not her real name), who is a 2008 MSU College of Education graduate. She secured a position immediately, but found herself on a job hunt in 2012 after an unexpected layoff.

At the time of her call, Kate was three months into her search and frustrated. Not only was she not getting job offers—she wasn’t even getting calls from résumé submissions and applications.

What was wrong with Kate? Nothing. Kate was a great elementary school teacher who happened to be a terrible job seeker. Most professionals are better at doing their life’s work than looking for work; however, the current job market demands that professionals have a strong job search strategy.

Kate had three main trouble spots.

The first was overly-generic content in her cover letters and résumé. With the exception of changing the name and address of the school in her cover letter, all submissions were identical. Though there are many universal similarities among what schools value when it comes to educating children, there are differences. The differences are often what set schools apart.

What Kate was failing to recognize was that she wasn’t selling her background in connection with what was unique about each school in terms of its mission, philosophy, programming, student population, parent involvement, innovation strategy and the like.

By treating each institution as “just another school,” she was being treated as “just another candidate.” Kate solved the problem by:

  • Reading annual welcome letters from principals and superintendents on school websites
  • Studying schools’ mission statements
  • Reviewing Board of Education minutes
  • Researching communities the schools served
  • Absorbing the information found in staff bios and school newsletters

She used the information she found to pinpoint what the schools valued—and tailored each submission accordingly.

The second trouble spot was an impersonal approach when engaging prospective employers. Kate’s cover letters began with: “Dear Hiring Manager.” By using this impersonal label, Kate was missing an easy way to show respect for (and interest in) the person she hoped to work for some day.

In her defense, contact names were not provided in the original postings. Most schools, however, are extremely transparent when it comes to staff directories. She solved the problem by inserting the principal’s name when the primary contact wasn’t clear. If a school has an opening, it’s a safe bet the principal will be involved.

The third—and probably most significant—trouble spot was relying on superficial contact to get herself noticed. While pressing submit on an electronic application, Kate would cross her fingers, hoping that someone on the other end of the digital black hole would 1.) see her,

2.) realize how great she was and 3.) pluck her out of a sea of other qualified applicants.
Today, even with a targeted message and personal approach, getting noticed may not happen. Knowing someone within the inner-workings of an organization greatly increases the odds of success. Kate’s challenge was that she didn’t have any direct contacts in the schools she was approaching. The good news is that individuals who work within education tend to be approachable, visible and enthusiastic about meeting other people who do what they do.

So to build connections where none had existed before, Kate contacted teachers, administrators, parent leaders and board members involved with the schools to build awareness of her interest in joining their community. She even sought out their perspectives on the school’s goals, accomplishments and culture.

Kate also began networking through LinkedIn and other channels to see if any Spartans worked for the school. For the districts near her, Kate made schools aware of her willingness to volunteer and substitute, so they’d have chances to get to know her.

Because of her hard work and willingness to step out of her cookie-cutter job search approach, Kate is closing in on a new opportunity and enjoying the momentum she’s experiencing. She’s discovered she is not only a great teacher—she is a great learner.

Upcoming Events:

March 9
Get a Job event. To volunteer as an interviewer for current interns visit:

April 15
Teacher & Administrator Recruitment Fair