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"Initiative among job seekers is breathtakingly rare."

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This comment, made by a recruiter at a conference I attended a couple of years ago, points to the need for educators to engage in best practices in all aspects of their job search. If you are to stand out in a candidate pool that might number in the hundreds of applicants, you simply must do more than only what is required by the application process.

What does initiative look like in the job search?

Seek knowledge about the district and school you are applying to. Spend at least 30 minutes browsing the website of the district you are applying to. You need to know what their mission is, what their challenges are, and how you can contribute to those objectives. And while you're at it, look at the website of the specific school if they have one. It doesn't hurt to recognize the names and faces of key players in the hiring process, and you'll often find them on a district or school website.

Stay in touch with others in the field. Written thank you notes or follow up with employers is an under-practiced skill. Personal follow up shows that you paid attention to the names of the people you've had contact with; that you appreciate their time; and most importantly, that you want to work for them. In addition, stay in contact with others who have been instrumental in your educational preparation. Take the time to thank them in writing or give them a phone call. It will make you stand out and leave a favorable impression.

Join a professional association and participate in it. If you become actively involved, you'll gain access to colleagues, information about education best practices, and job leads. Launching your professional life starts now, whether or not you're currently employed. Many professional associations allow students to maintain their memberships even after graduation.

There is no room for "average" in a job search. You send the wrong message to a prospective employer if you only do what is required, even if you do it well. Meet the employer's expectations for applicants, and then exceed them. Move your grade from "C" to "A" by bringing innovation and thoroughness to your job search strategy.

Diann Lloyd-Dennis
Assistant Director of Programs and Training
Center for Calling & Career
Northwestern College, St. Paul, MN

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