by Ursula Townsend

As I walk to Montgomery St in San Francisco standing at the changing light, I wonder what I will learn about looking for a job this night. I am going to The Job Forum, a forum of volunteer panelists made of hiring managers who give job searchers help on their job search tactics. With different volunteers on the panel every week, the advice given will vary. All of this takes place at the Russ Building, at 235 Montgomery, in the Mezzanine Conference room. As a free service, any job hunter could walk in.

When I arrive, I sign in at the clipboard, and settle into a spot around the table in the middle of the rather small conference room, between a graying woman and a man in his 30s. He is filling out a form with his personal information and previous work history, so the volunteers on the panel will have a place to begin their discussion and help him with his job search. 3 or 4 others are at the table so far. There are three volunteers on the panels at the front, each from a different SF Bay Area company, talking to one another before we get started.

As the clock reaches 6:30, the panelist in the middle begins the meeting. Background Information Forms are passed up to the panel. Going in the order of the sign in sheet, we will share where we stand in our searching process – changing careers, moving to the Bay Area for the first time, or just having trouble finding work.

What I learn this Wednesday evening breaks into 3 broad categories – initial preparation, growing a network, and refining the resume.

Category 1 – Initial preparation to find a focus.

Lesson 1 – At the start of their search, job seekers should determine who are the leading companies in their field and with which companies they may have the most connections.

If you have no ideas about where to start, you can talk to a reference librarian at the SF Main Library. They have access to more information and can direct you.

Additionally beyond what a library has to offer, using the Book of Lists from the SF Business Times is a place to find the largest, medium, and small companies in your target field.

Networking with companies is a good way to get a referral for a job and finding one with connections (like suppliers to the companies) gives job searchers a way to discover and learn about companies that may be too small to be on any database or in newspapers yet.

Lesson 2 – When ‘pivoting’ industries or specialization be specific.

Job searchers should have a narrow focus of what industry, type of company, and what kind of work they want, tying them together along a logical path. Using LinkedIn, searchers can look at what others in their field are doing and what titles they hold.

Look for a natural career path where your skills can be transferred.

Connect with people who have made the same career change as you.

In the short term, such focus streamlines applications. In the long term, more desirable skills for the position can be learned especially if developing those skills will be useful for more than one job.

Category 2 – How to grow a network.

Lesson 1 – Informational interviews are a place to not only gather knowledge of the industry, the company, or work, but for searchers to increase their number of helpful contacts.

Reach out to the people who will become your peers.

Get to know them and let them get to know you.

By building a human-to-human connection, a job searcher will be more memorable. The interviewee will be more willing to send job opportunities, make referrals, or send other information your way.

Lesson 2 – Growing a network also means going to networking events or reaching out to local chapters, where searchers will find others who are in the same industry, position, or similar background. The SF Chamber of Commerce has many events job hunters can attend for free or a low fee.

Go to networking events that specialize in your industry, either as a member of the public or as part of a professional association.

Use alumni groups – your school may have one in the area. Searchers who come from an international background can also look around for organizations that support their demographic.

Going to these events gives searchers a space to network with possible peers, as well as the hiring managers. If the searcher comes from an international background, reaching to an organization with a specialty in immigrants is another place to start. Members have faced the same challenges as the job searcher, and they can give insight into possible solutions.

Category 3 – Individualize and customize the resume.

Lesson 1 – By clarifying previous positions and impacts, a resume allows managers to easily determine if a candidate is a good fit for the position.

Quantify it as much as you can to show impact at the organization.

If you are not used to the US job market, clarify the industry of the companies you have worked for. Hiring managers are unlikely to recognize the name of a company not based in either the US or the Bay Area.

Ensure that each sentence serves to keep the volume of words on the page from being overwhelming.

Improving readability allows managers to know the job searcher’s experience. If the hiring manager does decide to interview, they can focus on the searcher meshing with the rest of the group and organization, rather than clarifying experience and skills.

Lesson 2 – To help stand out from the competition, job searchers should always tailor the resume to fit either the position or the industry they are applying for, highlighting their most relevant experiences.

Have a master resume you can pull different positions from rather than trying to rewrite the same bullets for each application.

Use the terminology the job description uses.

Refining each application to match what the company is looking for is a sign of investment on the searcher’s part. They care enough to put in the time and work to show they value the company and its product or services.

As people start packing up, I reflect on how the research, networking, and resume took center stage in the discussion of how to do a job search nowadays. Job searchers need do some research on what kind of work they want to do, thus focusing on what jobs they will apply for determining if there are any gaps or other obstacles to the desired position such as unknown skills, a lack of experience, or others. After finding a target, searchers should network with people or groups to create a personal connection, finding to more insights about the job search process. When it is time for the application itself, making a resume more distinct to the individual presents them as someone who can and is willing to be a part of the company. I start the journey home among the city’s nightlife, with the Job Forum swirling in my mind, wondering when I would put this new information to use. It seemed my next steps were to revise my own resume and to look for more contacts within my target companies.

The Job Forum is sponsored by the SF Chamber of Commerce and LinkedIn. The Job Forum meets at 235 Montgomery, in the Mezzanine Conference Room. The Job Forum is from 6:30-8:30 pm every Wednesday evening, with exceptions for the holidays.