Thinking about the job search in the singular is a mistake. Of course, you probably only want one job (Yes! Just one job will do!) But the search itself–the job listings, the applications, the interviews–will all be in the plural. And every single one is different so you have to be prepared to conduct multiple searches for a variety of positions.
Here’s what I mean:
1) look for job listings in more than one source. In my field, there’s a listserv that theoretically has all the jobs, but I find most postings of interest to me come through colleagues (networking!) and organizations’ own websites.
2) have more than one resume. The resume is actually the most standard of your documents and therefore the easiest to edit for different applications, but you will probably want to emphasize some things for one job that you’d specifically want to de-emphasize for another.
For example, management experience is great if you’re applying for a job that lists that as a requirement–play it up on your resume. But if you’re applying for something where you will work under a manager, you don’t want to seem like a threat to that person (who is probably involved in the interview process)–so play it down.
3) cover letters are a must-have. You have to include a unique cover letter with each application. I know so many employers who are frustrated with no cover letter at all or a cover letter that basically consists of “attached is my resume”.
This is your one opportunity to show that you have researched the position and thoroughly thought through the rationale for and examples of why you are a good fit–then fit it all into a clear, coherent, articulate single page. Tough! Here’s the recent post I wrote to get you started on the cover letter.
4) be prepared for everything else to vary–there is not a lot of standardization of the application process beyond a resume.
references:some places just want a list of references to contact if you advance far enough as a candidate, some want a letter from each reference, some what your references to fill out a very specific form with answers to specific questions, and some have you fill out an online form and then an email is automatically sent to those people asking them to follow-up in some way.
As the candidate, you have to be prepared for all scenarios–keeping in touch with references as appropriate to make sure you’re ahead of the auto generated requests, that your references know when and where to send a letter–or whether to send a letter at all.
personal statements: the hard part about these is that they have to be different from your cover letter, resume, and letters of recommendation–sometimes you find yourself asking,
“what’s left to say?” You have to find a way to make it a necessary additional piece of that particular application.
samples of your work: you have to pick appropriate one and this should be something that you’ve already done, but be sure to go back over it and polish it.
evaluations of your work: digging these up and formatting them for online submission can be the hard part. It used to be that you had your alma mater send hard copies of your transcripts, but now most applications are online and you have “one shot” to upload these evaluations. Getting legible transcripts in a pdf form can be time consuming! Plan accordingly.