Get the Gig: 4 Steps to a Better Job Search

Illustration of a man looking through a telescope

Between scouring job boards and writing cover letters, searching for a new job can easily feel like a full-time commitment. Hunting for a new position can also get discouraging, fast. We’ve all been there—you apply for job after job … and crickets. That’s why Mike Schmeckebier, BS’00, MS’05, a career coach and lecturer at the IU Kelley School of Business, wants you to take control of your job search.

“Someone could apply for 200 jobs in a week and feel like they have done a lot. But it’s so ineffective. You give up complete control of your job search when you do that,” he says. “I advise people to take a much more strategic approach.”

Here are Schmeckebier’s tips for a successful job search.


Identify your top companies

Begin by determining 30 companies at which you’d consider working. Add the names to a spreadsheet and give each company a score from zero to five in the following categories:

  • Number of positions posted (doesn’t matter the role).
  • Number of IU alumni who work there, according to LinkedIn.
  • Your level of interest in the company.

“Then, you total up the numbers, and what you end up with is a targeted list of companies,” Schmeckebier says. “Start at the top of your list, pursuing three to five companies at a time.”

Make connections on LinkedIn

A targeted job search hinges on networking with IU alumni who work at the companies on your list. Schmeckebier recommends sending a LinkedIn “connect” request with a note to get the conversation started.

Here’s an example: “Hi John, my name is Mike. I see that you work at Eli Lilly and are also an IU graduate. As a fellow IU alum, I’m interested in learning more about the company and the work you do.”

These connections can be made with anyone—not just an alum who has a similar role to the one you’re seeking.

“You just want to get in with somebody who works at the company. From there, they might pass along your résumé or introduce you to a colleague,” Schmeckebier says. “There’s this thing called the hidden job market. Some companies don’t even post jobs. The hiring manager will just ask, ‘Does anybody know someone that might be interested in this role?’”

Get noticed

On average, hundreds of people apply for a single job posting. So, how do you set yourself apart? Schmeckebier explains that it’s all about bypassing the applicant tracking systems (ATS) employers use to remove résumés that do not meet certain qualifications.

“An ATS is more likely to submit your application to the hiring manager for review if you have tailored your résumé and cover letter for the specific job you are applying for,” he says. “It feels tedious, but it’s worthwhile. The job description is your answer key to the ‘test.’ It gives you all the buzzwords that matter for that job and to that employer.”

Make a list of all the keywords and then weave them into your résumé and cover letter as much as possible.

“A few best practices for doing this include having a ‘Skills’ or ‘Core Competencies’ section on your résumé, [avoiding] acronyms, and only applying for jobs you are most qualified for,” Schmeckebier adds.

Consider your transferable skills

This leads us to Schmeckebier’s final tip: don’t disqualify yourself from jobs that may not seem like the “perfect” fit. Being “qualified” for a job can be determined in one of two ways—you have relevant experience, or you’re able to make a strong case for your transferrable skills.

“The reality is, just like there is no perfect job, there is also no perfect candidate for a job,” Schmeckebier says. “Nobody ever gets a job straight from an application. Is your application good enough to get you an initial interview? That’s the best way to determine if you should apply for a job or not.”

However, there is one caveat to this tip. Schmeckebier warns it’s best to be highly selective when applying for roles at a company you really want to work for.

“Applicant tracking systems allow HR professionals to see your application history, how many jobs you’ve applied for in the past, and how many open applications you currently have with them,” he shares. “Going overboard here doesn’t show passion for the organization, instead it shows desperation.”

Written By
Samantha Stutsman
Samantha Stutsman, BAJ'14, is a Bloomington, Ind., native and a senior content specialist at the IU Alumni Association.