The key to successful job hunting is to do your research, look in the right places and to be organised. In this article we examine the broad range of vacancy sources and also discuss speculative applications and the ‘hidden job market’.
So where should you look for vacancies? Jobs are advertised in all sorts of different places and media, but not all employers use all sources, so it makes sense to use a range. Where you should look can depend on a number of factors including:
- The sector in which you want to work – find out where employers in your chosen sector tend to advertise
- How clear you are about your career ambitions
- The stage you are at in life – you may be just starting out after leaving school or college, looking for graduate-level work or changing careers
- Whether you want to work locally or whether you are prepared to travel or even relocate.
1. Job searching on the web
Job vacancies can be found on all sorts of websites, the most obvious being specialist recruitment sites; just a few well-known ones are Indeed, CV Library, Totaljobs and Monster. Recruitment agencies (see below) also often have vacancy sites. There’s also the Government’s 'Find a job' service.
Many employers – especially the large ones – advertise vacancies for jobs, graduate training schemes, apprenticeships etc on their own sites.
If you’re interested in working in the public sector, depending on where your interests lie, you could try the Civil Service jobs site, NHS Jobs for careers in the NHS and other organisations supplying healthcare, and Jobsgopublic for vacancies in local government, charities, education and housing.
If you’re looking for an apprenticeship, there are various websites you could use including the national apprenticeship sites, such as the National Apprenticeship Service for England. Those seeking graduate vacancies can also focus in on specialist sites such as Prospects and Milkround.
The great thing about vacancy sites is that you can quickly search for opportunities based on various criteria. You can often register for job alerts so that you receive a message or email if suitable vacancies crop up. You may also be able to upload your CV or complete a short initial application, but be careful when giving out your personal information online; make sure that the site is reputable.
2. Job searching on social media
In recent years, more and more recruitment activity has been via social media.
- Employers may use social media platforms to advertise available positions. Some have dedicated career pages.
- Agencies and employers may make direct approaches to individuals who, from their social media profiles, seem appropriate for certain vacancies. This is sometimes called ‘headhunting’.
- To assist with your job search and applications, you can keep tabs on organisations of interest by following their social media posts.
Social media can be particularly useful for those who want to showcase their creative talents as they can write blogs or produce videos for potential employers to see.
If you are likely to use your social media for job hunting, make sure that you don’t post anything that might be considered unprofessional and/or have control of your privacy settings. Some people use particular platforms or accounts for social networking with friends and others for professional purposes.
Although you can use most social media platforms for job search purposes, professional networking sites – such as LinkedIn – allow you to create a profile to promote yourself and connect with people who work in sectors that interest you. However, these sites are often geared towards those with professional experience and the self-employed, so it may be more appropriate for younger people to use sites they are more familiar with, such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
No matter which site you use, if possible, make it clear that you’re looking for work and state the type of jobs that interest you. Keep your profile and/or posts professional, relevant and up to date.
3. Job searching in newspapers and journals
Although newspapers and journals now advertise jobs on their associated websites or through other digital formats, some still carry vacancy listings in their printed publications.
If you’re looking for jobs anywhere in the country and have some experience to offer, you’ll find that national newspapers often advertise positions for specific career areas on certain days of the week. For more local positions, check the job vacancy columns of local and regional papers.
If you have a particular career in mind, find out whether the professional or trade body for that sector produces a journal. Most will also have websites that include job vacancies, but sometimes you have to be a member of the body to access these.
Many libraries have reference sections where you can read newspapers and the more popular journals, so you don’t necessarily have to subscribe or buy them from newsagents.
4. Job searching with employment agencies
You can register with an agency in the hope that they will contact you if suitable positions crop up. Agencies vary in size, reach and focus. Not all have a high-street presence and small agencies may only cover local and regional jobs. Other agencies – such as Reed, Hays and Pertemps – are part of large chains. Some focus on particular sectors, such as engineering, teaching or catering. They may deal with permanent and/or temporary positions. If you become a ‘temp’, your employment contract may be with the agency rather than the employer/s you work for.
In order to put you forward for the most appropriate jobs, an agency will want to know all about your background – your qualifications and experience – as well as your career aspirations. They may ask you to sit a range of tests to assess your skills and aptitudes. They are not allowed to charge you a fee.
Look for agencies through online directories or search for relevant agencies based on industry, employment type and location through Agency Central.
Although the agency should look out for suitable positions for you, keep in regular contact with them to remind them you are available for work. Also check out their websites where they may advertise the latest opportunities.
5. Job searching using career services
If you live in an area where there are careers offices, you may find that they can tell you about vacancies or have notice boards where they are displayed. Career services may also advertise vacancies on their websites.
Your school or college may promote certain opportunities, particularly if you are taking a vocational course. And there may be a careers library where vacancies are posted.
The JobCentre Plus can also be a source of information about job vacancies, and training or work experience opportunities that could lead to employment.
6. Job searching leveraging your network
Some jobs are not advertised, but are filled by people who have heard about vacancies from elsewhere or who have applied on-spec (see below). This is sometimes known as the ‘hidden job market’.
When you are looking for work, it’s a good idea to let as many people as possible know that you are seeking employment. Ask your family members, friends, neighbours and so on to let you know if they hear of any suitable vacancies. And, of course, you could do the same through your online social network.
One way to build up a network of contacts is to attend career fairs. Potential employers are available to talk to you, hand out brochures and take your name and contact details so that they can keep in touch with you. Sometimes career fairs cover a wide range of industries, but others are more sector specific.
7. Applying on-spec
Rather than just applying for advertised vacancies, you could try approaching selected employers that offer the kinds of opportunities you are seeking. If they are impressed by your CV, there’s a chance they will let you know about any suitable openings they have or may have in the future. Employers usually view on-spec applications favourably as it shows initiative and determination. Bear in mind that you are likely to still have to follow their usual recruitment procedures.
Start by researching suitable employers. Most have their own websites and there may be information about them in trade directories, through professional associations and so on. Check that they offer the sort of work you are seeking and that opportunities are available locally, unless you are prepared to relocate.
You’ll need to accompany your CV with a covering letter or email. Send this to the most relevant person you can find. This might be a department head or human resources manager. Avoid repeating everything that is in your CV, but pull out your main skills and qualifications that make you suitable for the type of position they may be able to offer. Be clear about why you want to work for the particular organisation you are contacting. It’s essential to tailor your letter or email to each employer and demonstrate your enthusiasm to work for them.
You can find more advice on searching for jobs through some of the main specialist recruitment sites and your national careers service:
- The National Careers Service in England
- Careers Wales
- My World of Work for those in Scotland
- The Careers Service for Northern Ireland
Don’t forget to cast your net wide so that you don’t miss that perfect opportunity!
Debbie Steel, Updated May 2023
With a background working with apprentices and teaching in further education, Debbie was employed as an in-house careers author before establishing herself as a freelancer. As well as co-authoring numerous careers books, Debbie has produced resources and web content for a range of high-profile clients. She is an enthusiastic proponent of impartial and reliable careers information.