Finding a Job

See also: Applying for Jobs

Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that, sooner or later, most of us need to find a job, or perhaps a new job. The first step in this process is to establish your key skills—and our pages on Transferable Skills and section on Personal Development may be helpful here, as well as some of our self-assessment tools like the Interpersonal Skills Self-Assessment and the What Sort of Leader are You? Quiz.

Once you have identified your key skills, the next step is to identify a job for which you have the necessary skills and which does not require too many skills that you have not yet developed. This means identifying a vacancy within an organisation. This page discusses that process.

When There Is a Vacancy…

Some jobs are advertised, often in the trade press (including online) or via recruitment websites or the company’s own website.

It is relatively easy to find these jobs.

The most difficult bit is probably to identify the ‘right’ journals or websites to search for jobs that are right for you.

The first step is to identify the sectors in which you are interested.

You can then use a Google search for ‘jobs in [x] sector/industry’ to identify likely websites.

It is probably helpful to supplement this by contacting anyone you know who is working in that sector, then ask them where jobs are advertised. If you do not know anyone working in that sector, then try to make contact with human resources leads in suitable companies and ask them.

Keeping Up with Developments

It is also worth reading standard industry news journals and websites to ensure that you are aware of developments in the sector. This will ensure that you sound informed when you make contact with companies within the sector. You will also be more aware of the challenges facing the sector, and can focus your application on how you can help to address these.

Jobs That Are Not Advertised

A large proportion of jobs are never advertised, especially in the private sector.

The public sector is generally required to advertise posts, especially if they are permanent, for the purposes of ensuring fairness and diversity in recruitment. However, this requirement is often not met, with organisations using temporary, consultancy, or other short-term contracts to get round the rules.

Non-advertised jobs may therefore be filled by:

  • An internal appointment. That is, they go to someone who already works for the organisation, and has been identified as being suitable for promotion or a sideways move;

  • A candidate found by ‘head-hunters’, also known as executive search or recruitment companies. These are companies that specialise in finding suitable candidates for particular jobs, often senior executive roles;

  • A temporary appointment or consultant found through a marketplace or skills platform, who may then go on to be made permanent;

  • A person known to someone within the company, who was suitable for the job; or

  • A candidate who has approached the company speculatively at just the right moment, and shown that they could do a particular job.

You cannot do anything about jobs filled by internal candidates. You never stood a chance there. However, you can do something about all the others.

Executive Search and Recruitment Companies (‘Head-Hunters’)

Executive search companies are unlikely to be very useful for new graduates. They tend to be used to recruit for more senior posts, because employing these companies can be quite expensive.

However, recruitment companies are also used by many employers to handle recruitment for more junior posts, because they will filter out unsuitable applications and save a lot of time.

It is therefore worth making contact with recruitment firms that operate in the sector(s) in which you are interested. You can generally identify these firms by using job advertisements on industry and recruitment websites.


Identify a job advertised by a recruitment firm that is reasonably close to your ‘ideal’ job (for example, right company, but wrong level, or right level, but not a company that you really want to work for).

Most advertisements will include contact details for further information, usually a name and phone number at the recruitment company. Call the consultant and explain that you saw the advertisement for that post, and that it is not quite what you are after, but you would appreciate the chance to chat with them or with one of their colleagues to discuss your situation. Ask their advice about how to go ahead.

Most recruitment consultants are quite happy to hold CVs on their books against a suitable job and, once you are registered with them, they are likely to put your name forward for jobs that are a reasonable match.

Temporary Appointments or Consultancy Contracts

One of the big changes in recruitment and staffing over the last ten years or so has been the rise in marketplaces or platforms.

These are recruitment sites—but not like the old-style recruitment agencies or head-hunters. These sites do not actively look for suitable candidates for a job. Instead, they simply act as a platform to bring together those who need work with those who want to hire someone with suitable skills.

The other key difference is that most of those using the sites are not looking for a long-term employment relationship. Most of the jobs are short-term, and most of the people seeking work are self-employed (contractors, consultants or freelancers). Many of the contracts are expected to be delivered remotely, without any face-to-face contact between those involved.

There are now large numbers of these marketplaces around the world. Some are very general. Sites like People Per Hour, Fiverr or Upwork, for example, are aimed at ‘freelancers’ in general, and the work advertised ranges from writing and editing through to web and mobile development, marketing, accounting and administrative support. Other platforms, however, are focused on particular industries such as construction—and some may even be company-specific.

It can be a challenge to identify the best site for your job or skillset. The best advice is probably to look at several, ask around about your industry, and register with as many as possible, and be as active as possible on those sites.

Networking to Find a Job

Networking is the process of building and maintaining a network—your contacts, including friends, family and former and current colleagues.

For many people, it is also an essential part in finding a new job. Many jobs are filled by someone known to a person in the organisation.

Case study: Networking in Action

Lara was looking for a change in direction in her career. She had been working for a government department for 10 years but had just finished an MBA and felt ready to try something different. On the other hand, she also liked the security of her job and was not anxious to ‘jump ship’. She mentioned this dilemma casually to Stephen, a friend from her course. He worked in an industry that had close links with her department, so they had often discussed work matters.

Why don’t you send me your CV?” he suggested. “I know a couple of people who might be interested in finding you a short-term post.

A few weeks later, Lara received a phone call.

Hi, I’m Richard. Stephen passed me your CV. It looks really interesting, and I think I have a job that might suit you. Would you like to come and have a chat about it?

The conversation went very well. The job was interesting, Lara was a good fit. The only problem was that the work required travel. Lara had small children, and had to juggle work and childcare. Travel was a problem. They agreed that it wouldn’t work, but both were reluctant to abandon the idea altogether. Richard offered to pass Lara’s CV on to a colleague, which she gratefully accepted.

A month or so later, Lara was talking to another friend, Kate, about work. Kate was bored with work, and wanted a new challenge. She had a very similar background and skills to Lara, but was single and loved travelling, including for work. Lara happily reached out to Richard and said that she thought she might just have found him the ideal candidate for his job…

Unfortunately, networking is a long-term process. You cannot do it only when you want a job. However, if you have been careful to build and maintain relationships with colleagues and former colleagues over time, your network could be the ideal way to find a suitable job.

You can read more about this process in our page on Networking.

Speculative applications

Speculative applications are a difficult issue. They need careful tailoring—it is no good sending a standard letter and expecting to get anything except a standard rejection. They are also something of a lottery (see box).

Case Study: The Lottery of Speculative Applications

After a period of maternity leave, Jenny felt ready for a change. Her employer, a large government department, indicated that it would support a secondment out to a more operational post. She decided to target health service organisations in her local area and identified six possible organisations.

Jenny used the internet to identify the chief executive of each organisation, and sent a similar letter to each, enclosing her CV. In each letter, she set out her situation and asked if she could come and talk to the CEO to discuss how best to go about finding a secondment.

Within a month, she had received telephone calls from three of the organisations and visited each of them to discuss jobs:

  • One organisation offered her a job that had been advertised, but not filled. It was a lower level than she had targeted, and was not an ideal match for her skills, although she knew she could do the job.
  • The second sounded interesting, but although Jenny felt the discussion had gone well, the director concerned never provided a job description, and in the end advised her to look elsewhere.
  • The third was a job that would never have been advertised, or even have existed had she not got in touch. She liked the sound of the project and accepted it, even though she had some concerns about the nature of the job, which turned out to be well-founded.

And the other three organisations? Two never replied, and the third sent a standard rejection letter, unsigned.

Speculative applications, however well-targeted, are something of a lottery.

Speculative applications can be worthwhile, if you believe that your ideal job is ‘out there’ but unlikely to be advertised—or just to make contacts and network in your chosen industry.

There is more about making a speculative application in our page on Applying for a Job.

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Develop the skills you need to get that job.

This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.

A final word

Finding a suitable job for which to apply is only the first step.

However, it is a very important one. If you identify the right job—one for which your skills are a good match, in an organisation in which you will fit comfortably—you will have a far better chance of getting that job when you apply. Time spent here will save considerable amounts of time and heartache on applications.