Job search tips

How to Make Informed Job Search Decisions

By Erin Wolfram, M.S.

For better or worse, most of the hours of your life are probably going to be spent at work. This means your job plays a huge role in your overall wellbeing. When changing jobs, it is often very difficult to truly know what to expect in a new position, and whether moving to that new job is the best decision for you. Because of this, the more research you can do in advance to find out as much information as possible about the position and the organization, the more likely you will be able to select quality positions to apply for; and ultimately make a decision you are happy with when you are given that next job offer. The following information outlines tips to implement as you start thinking about your next career move.

Evaluate positions

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When considering a job change, it is important to first evaluate why you are seeking a new position, what you are looking for in a new opportunity, and what is most important to you in a new job before starting your search for a new position.

To help you get started, reflect on the following questions:

• What do you like and dislike about your current job and/or organization?

• What values are most important to you (i.e., work/life balance, money, prestige, achievement, integrity, etc.)?

• Are you looking for a lateral or an upward move?

• Are you bound to or interested in a certain location?

• What are your salary requirements?

• If you are looking to move to a new location, how will cost of living impact your salary needs?

• What are your non-negotiable needs and/or wants in terms of a new position?

• What are your long-term career/life goals, and how will this new position help you progress toward those goals?

Next, use your responses to these questions to narrow down the positions and organizations in which you are most interested. Then, once you start searching for jobs, utilize this information to select the opportunities that will be the best fit for you based on what you need and want in a new position. As you find potential jobs to apply for, use this information to evaluate if each position meets your needs and includes several of your wants. If it does not, move on to the next position and continue searching.

Research companies/organizations

After you find opportunities and organizations in which you are interested, conduct as much research as possible to evaluate whether the job and organization will be a good fit for you. You can also use this information in the future to help you tailor your application materials and explain why you are interested in a specific organization.

1. Gather information about the company/organization online 

• Thoroughly read through their website to learn about the size and structure of the organization; the value/mission statement; organizational leadership; other departments; as well as types of facilities, fields, etc.

• Read customer reviews from various sites such as Google and Yelp, if applicable, to gain a better understanding of public perception.

• Read news articles or features about the organization to learn about current events and important news items.

• Find out who their competition is and review information about them for comparison.

• Utilize sites such as Glassdoor.com or Indeed.com to access reviews from current and past employees to gather information on company culture, work environment, and/or potential interview questions.

• Follow the organization on social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc., to stay current on their latest news and events, as well as to observe how they interact with the public.

2. Tap into your network

• Reach out to people in your network who have direct information. If you know anyone who currently works at the organization, worked there in the past, or has another relationship with the organization as a vendor, customer, etc., reach out to them and see if they are willing to have a conversation to learn more about the environment and culture.

• Expand your network. Reach out to others in your network and find out if any of your contacts know anyone who has a connection to the organization either as a current or former employee, vendor, customer, etc. If so, ask if they would be willing to connect you to that person so you can reach out to request information.

• If you are not sure if you have any contacts who may be able to provide valuable information about the organization, utilize LinkedIn to help you. Start by searching for the organization on LinkedIn. You will be able to see if you have any direct first-level connections who work at the organization or second-level connections. If you have a second-level connection, LinkedIn will tell you which first-level connection you and the person have in common. You can then reach out to your first-level connection to see if your direct contact is comfortable making an introduction so you can ask the person some questions.

Here is an example of what that request may look like:

Hi Lucy,

I hope you are doing well! I see you are connected to Tyler Graham who works for St. Charles Parks and Recreation. I am interested in applying for a position there, and was hoping you could introduce me to Tyler so I can see if he would be willing to answer a few questions.

Thank you,
Jeremy

3. Visit the location

• If the organization is a public facility or has an upcoming event and it is close to where you live, consider visiting the location to experience the facility from a visitor’s perspective, but also as a potential employee.

• When you return home, make a list of your positive and negative observations.

Now that you have collected information from your online research, conversations with others, and your own observations, you can continue to make informed decisions. Based on the information you have gathered, ask yourself if you are still interested in the position. If the answer is “yes,” tailor your application materials and apply. If the answer is “no,” continue seeking opportunities that may be a better fit for you and your career goals.

Prepare for interviews.

Preparing to interview is a critical step in the job search process. You will want to use the information you collected while researching organizations to help you prepare for your interview so you can prove your value to the organization and also continue your evaluation process.

1. Brainstorm examples of your accomplishments

Brainstorm examples of your accomplishments that best demonstrate your skills, strengths and qualifications as they relate to the position and organization. The more your stories are directly related to the job and organization, the better. Utilize the information you gathered, as well as information from the job description, to help you.

2. Write or type out these examples and practice delivering them

Think of these examples as stories that have a beginning, middle and end. Remember the acronym STAR. You want to state the Situation you were in, the Task(s) you were assigned, the Actions you took to complete the task(s), and the Result(s) or outcomes(s) of your actions. If you have trouble coming up with examples of accomplishments, seek your colleagues’ or supervisor’s help in generating ideas. In addition, prepare for other common interview questions such as:

• Tell me about yourself.

• What are your greatest strengths related to this position?

• What is you biggest weakness?

• Why should we hire you?

3. Research the interviewer(s)

If possible, try to obtain information on who will be interviewing you to help you anticipate the types of questions they may ask and to help you prepare specific questions for your interviewers. Once you have a list of the individuals who will be conducting the interview, check the company website for a bio or any additional information about them, search for their profile on LinkedIn, and see if they have an active public account on Twitter and/or Facebook. 

4. Prepare interview questions

Remember, you are interviewing the company too. Use this opportunity to further evaluate whether the position and organization are a good fit for you. Make a list of questions you want to ask your interviewer(s); aim to have at least five questions.

Your questions should not be about anything you could have found easily through your own research. They should, however, demonstrate you have done your research and are excited about the opportunity. Avoid questions about salary, benefits, time off, etc.

Here are a few examples of questions to ask during an interview:

• I noticed many of you have worked here for over five years. What do you enjoy most about working here?

• What do you feel should be the top priority for the person stepping into this position?

• What do you think are the current challenges facing the person in this position?

• I have been very active in the Sports Turf Managers Association since I started my career. What opportunities are there for professional development?

• I noticed you started a $2.5 million phased capital improvement project last June. How is that project progressing, and what is the next phase in the plan?

5. Prepare your interview attire

It’s important to dress to impress at an interview. Typically, if you are interviewing for an upper-level management position, you will want to wear something more conservative such as a suit or at least a collared shirt or dress shirt and slacks or skirt. Make sure you are well put together and ready to make a great first impression.

6. Bonus tip

Always send a thank you letter after an interview to each person who interviewed you. Here is an example of what you might include in a thank you letter following an interview.

Dear Mr. Stratten:

Thank you for taking the time to interview me and provide further information about the Head Groundskeeper position. I enjoyed learning more about the job specifications and the facilities at St. Charles Parks and Recreation, especially regarding the next steps in your phased capital improvement project. The information you provided certainly solidified my interest in this great opportunity.

With my 18 years of experience in a variety of organizations, including 10 years at Liberty Parks and Recreation working on a similar project, I know I have the qualifications needed to excel in this position and immediately make a positive impact. If you have any questions or would like any clarification on why I am the best candidate, please do not hesitate to reach out to me via phone or e-mail at 816-555-6987 or JWhiley@turf.com.

It was a pleasure meeting you, and I hope to hear from you soon. I look forward to advancing my career with you and your team. Thank you again for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Jeremy Whiley

Evaluate the offer (accept/decline) 

Hopefully, all your hard work and research has paid off and you are offered the job! It is important, however, to continue the evaluation process even after you have received an offer.

• Ask any clarification questions if you still have any concerns or feel you need further insight. 

• Request an onsite visit to meet others with whom you would be working.

• Make sure to receive the full offer in writing including detailed information regarding salary and benefits.

• If needed, further demonstrate your strengths and value to negotiate salary and benefits.

• Review all the information, make a pros-and-cons list, and make a decision.

• Call the employer to accept or decline the offer over the phone and follow up with an official acceptance or rejection letter in writing as well.

Sample acceptance letter

Dear Mr. Stratten:

It was a pleasure talking to you on the phone this morning. I am delighted to have been offered the Head Groundskeeper position at St. Charles Parks and Recreation. Please acknowledge this letter as my formal acceptance of the position at a salary of $63,000 per year and a start date of May 1, 2021.

As we discussed, I will see you on April 14 when I sign and submit my official paperwork with your Human Resources department. I am excited about this opportunity and look forward to contributing to your team. Please let me know if you need any additional information at this time.

Sincerely,
Jeremy Whiley

Sample rejection letter

Dear Mr. Stratten:

It was a pleasure talking to you on the phone yesterday. I greatly appreciate the offer to serve as the Head Groundskeeper at St. Charles Parks and Recreation. However, after much deliberation, I have decided to decline the offer and stay in my current position, as I feel that is the best decision for me and my family at this time. 

I enjoyed learning more about your facility, and wish you well as you continue the next phase of your capital improvement project. I hope we can stay in touch, and I look forward to seeing you at next year’s industry events.

Sincerely,
Jeremy Whiley

This may seem like an extensive process; however, moving to a new position is often a major decision, and making the wrong decision can lead to dissatisfaction and possibly even another job search in the immediate future. The more you can research and make well-informed decisions, the more likely you will make a decision that is best for you and your career advancement.

Erin Wolfram, M.S., is a career services professional with more than 15 years of experience. She has a specialization in assisting those in the turfgrass management industry, and works with clients to help them recognize their strengths and unique qualities to rise above the competition. She works alongside individuals to make sure they are confident throughout their job search and professional growth, and believes in getting to know clients and their stories to help them reflect their best selves in their application materials and portfolios. She owns and operates Career Advantage and Career Advantage Golf (http://careeradvantagegolf.com), and helps professionals throughout the world. Additionally, Wolfram is an ISSA certified trainer, and runs an online personal training and nutrition consulting business, The Fit Advantage.

Wolfram received a Bachelor of Science in Secondary English Education from Kansas State University, as well as both a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology and a Master of Science in Educational Technology from The University of Kansas. She also earned a professional etiquette certificate in 2012 from The Etiquette Institute in St. Louis, Mo. She can be reached at erin@careeradvantageresumes.com.