Once you decide to look for a new job, it seems natural to start applying for open positions right away. However, taking the time to prepare for the screening and selection process before hitting “apply” can make landing your dream job a whole lot easier. 

Why is proactive preparation so important? “Employers used to do a lot of vetting on the back end to confirm that candidates possess the skills and experience they claim,” explained Mark Anthony Dyson, founder of The Voice of Job Seekers. “In today’s environment however, employers do most of their vetting on the front end to determine who gets to interview.” 

Use this checklist to get your proverbial “ducks in a row” before you start applying. 

Set Your Strategic Targets

Some technologists labor under the belief that they should apply to any job that vaguely matches their skills and experience. Given how it can take an hour or more to complete a single online application for a position, however, you can actually spare yourself wasted effort by focusing intensely on what you really want, then applying for just a few positions. 

With that in mind, sit down and identify the roles, industries and specific companies you’d like to pursue. This will ultimately save you time by ensuring that every task or evaluation you undertake during the job search moves you toward your end goal.  

Start with self-exploration to understand your values, interests, preferences and strengths. Then research the market to find your “sweet spot,” that place where the things you do well separate you from the pack of fellow job-seekers.  

Understanding what matters to you, as well as your market value, can not only help you hone your target list. It’ll also help you prepare answers to commonly-asked interview questions such as: What are you looking for in your next job? Or what are your salary expectations? 

While researching the needs of employers, make a list of the most commonly requested technical and soft skills, experience and cultural attributes. Having a list of “keywords” and differentiators will make it easier to craft your brand and ultimately apply for jobs in pretty much any industry.   

Create and Market a Strong Brand

What’s the secret to landing your dream job? Think and act like a marketer. For example, to promote your talents to prospective employers, create a strong, authentic personal branding statement and value proposition that summarizes what you can do and what makes you unique. To make sure your message resonates, always address the unmet needs or problems that managers are trying to solve.

From there, establish brand visibility and awareness with recruiters and hiring managers by regularly sharing content, work samples or opinions with a few strategically selected platforms, social networks and online communities that support your objectives and interests.

“You don’t need to be everywhere online to create a digital presence,” noted Mollie Khine, director of coaching for Flatiron School. “But you do need to engage early on in your search because it takes time to build credibility and contacts.” 

For instance, if you claim to be a source code documentation expert, a hiring manager will likely look at your posts and repositories to evaluate your writing skills and ability to explain complex workflows. Not delivering your claimed skills will quickly remove you from consideration. 

Providing social proof to highlight and validate the application of knowledge is critical, Dyson noted: “Even if you’re still working toward a certification, show your journey because prospective employers will continue to check back to see how you’re progressing.”

Clean Up and Reconnect

A job hunt is the perfect time to clean up your social profiles and touch base with the people in your network, especially those connected to your target companies. Plus, running your goals past your network may generate job leads, referrals and additional contacts.

Did you know that you can negotiate what a previous employer might say about you? By mending your fences with your old boss, you can boost the chances they’ll say good things about you if a prospective employer calls for a reference or background check. On a related note, it’s always worth Googling your name before you apply for jobs, just so you can get a better sense of your online reputation. 

Create Complementary Résumés, Profiles and Interview Stories

Once you’ve done your research and cleaned up your online profiles, you’re ready to create a customized, keyword-optimized résumé for each role you want to pursue. 

The most effective brands convey a consistent marketing message across all channels and platforms. Take some inspiration from that, and devote your résumé to the work experience, skills, and accomplishments that a specific employer wants and needs; tailor those details for different employers, always with an eye toward relevancy. 

Also, make sure that your listed accomplishments, work experience, and skills extend across your online profiles, cover letters, and any work portfolios in addition to your résumé.

Prepare and Practice for Interviews

If you wait until the interview is scheduled, you won’t have enough time to study and prepare answers to technical and behavioral questions or polish your delivery skills. Remember, when it comes to persuasion, substance matters… but so does style.

Come up with a few compelling stories or anecdotes about a project or situation you encountered that clearly illustrates your ability to succeed in the role, using the skills in your résumé. “Rather than a mirror, hone your storytelling skills by participating in mock interviews with family and friends well before the big event,” Khine advised.