Navigating the Job Hunt

Note: This article was originally published in The Weekly, a newsletter for UW–Madison students. It has been edited slightly for a new audience.

Whether students are looking at full-time jobs for after graduation or just trying to land a jumpstarting internship while in school, they may find the job search to be a bit overwhelming. But that doesn’t have to be the case, say UW–Madison career specialists who know the ins and outs of the job search process.

The Spring Career and Internship Fair, pictured here in 2012, allows students to network with employers, share resumes, and research different career paths. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW–Madison.)

Below is some advice for students on how to get a head start on a job search while dealing with midterms, papers, and all of the activities that the spring semester brings.

Where should your student begin?

Sometimes getting started is the most difficult part of finding a job.

“You have to break it down into small projects that are a lot more attainable. Like, this week I’m going to get my resume reviewed. Next week I’m going to work on cover letters,” says Megan O’Rourke, the associate director of career services for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “Having that to-do list makes it a little bit easier and less stressful.”

Marie Koko, a senior career consultant for SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science , suggests that students try Handshake as a starting place for the job search. Handshake is a password-protected site available through L&S Career Services and other units that connects students and employers. Among other resources, it features openings for internships and full-time jobs and allows students to post resumes and sign up for on-campus interviews.

More general websites like or are also great places for students to start, Koko says. For those looking for a more personal connection than these online tools, career fairs offer a chance to network with a variety of companies. Additionally, career services within students’ individual schools or colleges can offer one-on-one advising and resume reviews.


The old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is a key part of the job search. John Mleziva, an internship coordinator for Letters & Science Career Initiative and Career Services, says students need to take advantage of their networks if they know what they want to do.

“Tell anybody and everybody that you’re looking for a job,” he says. “Students forget that you need to talk to people within your network.”

LinkedIn is an obvious resource to connect with employers and Wisconsin alumni, but Mleziva says students often don’t utilize this tool to its full potential.

“Don’t skip over the summary. You want to make sure it encompasses not only your work goals, but also what’s important to you in life,” Mleziva says. “LinkedIn can be much more holistic than a paper resume.”

Writing cover letters and resumes

Many students dread writing cover letters, but they serve as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate why an applicant is the best person for a job.

“You want to start that cover letter over with every job you apply to. Look at the position description and highlight the key qualifications and tasks that job requires,” O’Rourke says. “Then write that cover letter specifically for that position — ‘Here’s what I’ve been a part of and here’s why it matters.’”

Rather than saying something general about the industry, each cover letter should delve into details about the job itself. That takes time, Koko says.

“If you’re sending out sixty resumes, you’re pretty much wasting both your and the employers’ time, because you couldn’t have possibly tailored sixty resumes to align with the hiring qualifications for each individual job,” Koko says.

Big companies vs. small companies

Many students would love to score a competitive internship or job with a big-time organization, but Mleziva says it’s important to have backup plans and research what is available. That means exploring smaller companies in addition to more prestigious places.

“Many times you can gain as much if not more with a smaller company that gives you a little more latitude to work in many different areas,” he says. “You get to see a lot of aspects of a job to, one, see if this is a career path for you, and two, to strengthen your resume to position yourself for an offer from a larger company.”

Though finding a job is an involved process that requires time and dedication, it’s important to remind your students to stay optimistic throughout the search, even if they aren’t hearing back from employers.

“If [they] don’t have a job by Thanksgiving and some of [their] friends do, that doesn’t mean [they’re] not going to get a job by graduation,” O’Rourke says. “[They should] be patient and know that it takes a little bit of work to land a job [rather than] get discouraged.”

— Jim Dayton