Part 5: Message types

5.8 Starting your job search

The job search is more than finding a job posting for which you fulfill the requirements. This planning phase allows you to gather the information and language that you need to make yourself a strong applicant.

Know yourself

As you begin the process of finding and applying for employment in your chosen field, it is important to take stock of your education, technical skills, and the experiences and characteristics that make you an ideal employee and co-worker. This self-assessment is the foundation for building strong job materials.

Beyond evaluating your skill set, this is also an opportunity to take stock of the types of environments you will thrive in:

  • Do you work better independently or in groups?
  • Have you always imagined working for a large company, with the structure and perks that offers? Or do you see yourself working on a smaller team, perhaps taking risks for a project you believe in personally?
  • Do you like developing new ideas and planning? Do you like seeing through a complex project to the finish?

Use this information as you search for potential jobs and evaluate employers. Seeking out a work environment and job that suits your strengths and preferences will give you an advantage in the job search and in your career.

Know your field

Use the resources available to you (such as career services, job websites, networking events) to find positions. Go to career fairs and make connections. Even before you are truly “on the market,” career fairs and networking events are great ways to build your confidence and become comfortable in professional environments.

Keep yourself informed and up-to-date on the projects and initiatives happening within your chosen field and especially of those employers that most interest you. This is not something you only do the night before a career fair or an interview – expose yourself to these ideas and discussions over a long period of time. These types of resources are a great place to get started:

  • Organizations and conferences. Connecting with and simply being aware of the national organizations will expose you to current ideas and developments in the field. Most host conferences on a regular basis and even just reading the call for presentations or the titles and abstracts from a recent conference will introduce you to new terms and concepts, laying groundwork for future learning or research.
  • Company blogs or white papers. Most companies “talk to” the public or the industry in some way to manage public perception, promote accomplishments, and (often) recruit employees. These might be highly technical or more casual or promotional in tone, depending on the company culture, industry, and their goals – any of these provide valuable insights.
  • Social media. Following both companies and individual professionals will introduce you to their work, concerns, and developments in the industry. It also might make it easy for you to get exposed to these ideas as part of your regular online habits.
  • Local networking or meetup groups. Professionals often hold events at a local level to meet each other and learn about what other companies in the area are doing. These might be purely social or they might include learning opportunities in the form of talks and presentations. On campus, you will also find a variety of discipline-specific groups and students organizations that can also expose you to new ideas and resources, not to mention great professional connections.

Learn your industry language

Build a vocabulary! Part of what you are doing as you prepare yourself for your career is learning a language – you are developing vocabulary and learning the language of your profession in addition to developing the required technical technical skills.

Soft skills

In the process of completing your self-assessment, you probably discovered that you have lots of skills and strengths seemingly unrelated to your field. It’s important to remember that even unrelated experiences have taught you “transferable skills” – skills that may not be technically related, but are considered important to any field.

These “soft” skills are consistently ranked high on employer lists of desired attributes and include organizational skills, leadership abilities, teamwork experience, communication skills, problem solving, meeting deadlines, and so on. In the job search process, it is important to be able to describe your previous experiences in language that employers recognize as valuable. Table 4.8.1 lists some common skill attributes and ways to describe them.

Table 4.8.1 Phrasing for common skill attributes

Organization management & leadership Research & planning Communication Interpersonal Other
Initiating new ideasCoordinating tasks

Being detail‐oriented

Managing or directing teams or groups


Selling ideas or products


Managing conflicts or problems

Managing budgets

ForecastingComing up with ideas

Identifying problems

Developing solutions

Solving problems

Imagining alternatives

Gathering information

Analyzing and evaluating information

Setting goals

Defining needs and requirements

Speaking effectivelyWriting concisely

Listening attentively

Facilitating group discussion

Providing appropriate feedback

Being tactful





Being sensitive to feelings and moods of othersListening

Developing rapport

Providing support



Sharing credit



Cooperating; working with a team

Managing time effectivelySetting and meeting goals

Being a self‐starter; self‐motivated

Working independently

Enlisting help when needed

Meeting deadlines

Being diligent; tenacity to get the job done; follow‐through  

Being responsible and reliable

Know the job

Oftentimes, a job description describes the a “perfect” candidate. The advertisements are a long list of every possible skill, attribute, and set of experiences a company wants in a potential employee. However, realistically, very few people may have all the qualifications listed. Employers will likely have in the backs of their minds the skills they consider transferable or learnable, and it is in your best interest to figure out where the employer may be willing to make skill and/or experiential trade-offs.

When you’ve found a job advertisement, you should read it several times and highlight key words and skills. Note what specific qualifications are required for the position and the language used to describe these qualifications (such as “must have,” “needs,” “should be,” and “ideally”). Compare this to the qualifications you have that are the same or transferable and note how you can effectively and specifically describe your qualifications to address the needs and wants outlined in the job description. In your cover letter and resume, it then becomes your mission to persuade the employer you should be interviewed (and then hired) based on your qualifications and transferable skills.


This chapter contains material taken from “Preparing job application materials” in A Guide to Technical Communications: Strategies & Applications by L. Hall and L. Wahlin and is used under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 International license.


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Introduction to Professional Communications Copyright © 2018 by Melissa Ashman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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