Career Advice

The Complete Job Search Guide Checklist

To get hired, you need to be number one on a recruiter’s shortlist and it helps to ask for the job directly. Here’s how to do it – in a nutshell, spend more time preparing than any other candidate. Use the checklist below (like a good surgeon might) and nail every single “little” item.

Recruiters like me are desperate for these simple things you can deliver with a bit of effort. Okay… taken together it’s much more than a little effort, it’s more like a full-time job. And remember, if you screw up these “little” things, the recruiter is thinking something like, “Wow, he didn’t even bother to _______!” as he crosses your name off the list.

The complete job search guide is an important read for anyone who hasn’t had the privilege of running an organization. That’s because when you know how managers think, job-search becomes a little like shooting fish in a barrel. So, read the long version first and then use this checklist to track your progress with every job application:

The starting line

  1. Know yourself. Know what you are good at and what you enjoy. Search out positions that will engage you fully.
  2. Hunt down companies that are thriving in your neighborhood. If willing to relocate, hunt down thriving cities first.
  3. Go off-line and send a value proposition letter. It will get read because they are so rare. Follow up with phone calls.
  4. When you find a company you love, go after it and keep trying. Stay in touch.
  5. Spend about a third of your time on job boards, but no more. Remember that employers make roughly 33% of their hires using job boards, that means 66% come from other sources.

First contact – cover letters and value proposition letters

  1. Talk about the needs of the employer – not what you want.
  2. Keep it short – two or three short paragraphs (6 to 9 sentences total).
  3. Say what you do, how you do it and what the outcome is (what impact you’ve had).
  4. Explain why you are job searching and, if this is an unsolicited value proposition letter, include desired salary range.

Your resume

  1. Use a clean, minimalist format.
  2. Talk about your accomplishments, not your responsibilities. Describe the impact you’ve had.
  3. Make a connection with the recruiter by showing what’s relevant to the position you are applying for. Use keywords from the job description.
  4. Include important details – numbers. How many people did you supervise? How many clients did you manage?
  5. No abbreviations, no industry jargon, and no typos. Read it out loud to yourself to eliminate every last error.


  1. Do informational interviews to build relationships (not to get a job) with people who can help you.
  2. Look for work at companies where you already know someone.
  3. Keep an updated profile on LinkedIn and collect a handful of recommendations.
  4. Volunteer at a trade or professional association in a position that will bring you into contact with speakers.
  5. Write a blog about a professional interest and introduce yourself to other bloggers in your niche.


  1. Research the company, management, and your interviewer. This is critical – take your time and read everything you can find.
  2. Know why you want to work for this company and be ready to explain it.
  3. Write down a couple of high points and low points for every job you’ve ever held. Be ready to tell a story for each that illustrates your strengths, the impact you had or what you learned from a mistake.
  4. Write down a list of questions that emerged from the research you did (but ask about compensation at your own risk).
  5. Ask your interviewer to describe the qualifications of the ideal candidate, early in the interview. You want to confirm what you think you already know about the job before leading the interview in the wrong direction.
  6. Practice answering common interview questions without babbling.
  7. Bring copies of your resume and a notepad.
  8. Proofread all the materials you plan to offer – read them out loud to yourself.
  9. Pay attention to your body language and your interviewers.
  10. Make a connection: Don’t smoke before the interview, be on time, dress well, no perfume or cologne, turn your phone off, shake hands firmly, make eye contact, smile, and use the interviewer’s name.  Treat everyone you meet equally well and remember the name of everyone you meet. Look for mutual friends or shared interests and bring them to the interviewer’s attention. Be confident and positive – don’t badmouth a previous boss.
  11. Ask for feedback in the interview, then ask for the job (the close).
  12. Follow-up quickly with a thank-you e-mail after every phone call or in-person interview and give the recruiter something to remember you by.


  1. Keep in touch with your previous supervisors and coworkers so you can offer them as references.
  2. Know what they will say about you before you offer them. Ask them how they would rate you on a scale of 1 to 10, ask for the reasons, and what it would’ve taken to increase your rating.


  1. Understand that cultural fit is an important factor in every hiring decision and you are being scrutinized for it.
  2. Research the company so you can fit in better by dressing, looking and speaking like the team.
  3. Don’t smoke or use perfume, cologne or anything else that smells.
  4. Get feedback from someone who will tell you the cold hard truth about your clothes, your grooming, your speech, your handshake, your blog/website, and your writing.
  5. Show up ready for battle – upbeat and energetic.  Drive the process.

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.