Getting on the Right Track for Employment


When it comes to finding the right job, it’s hard to know where to begin. Between references and resumes, there’s a lot to keep in mind. But with the right tools—and the right attitude—you may find that big opportunity waiting just around the corner. Here are some reminders about the process that job seekers need to know.

Refine Your Search

Kick things off by setting clear goals and finding the best resources. Think about your interests, skills, training and experience. Do you like working with people? Are you good with computers? Research jobs that interest you, and determine what additional education or training you might need for those positions.

Through workforce services at the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, you can research specific occupations, learn about what career best suits you, and explore the current job market where you want to work.

At, you can read about featured jobs, search for jobs in your area, post or create a resume, get job alerts using the “Virtual Recruiter,” and find employers near you.

You may also find a listing of hiring events. If you know the name of a company where you want to work, visit its website and look for current job openings.

Build a Network

Start by contacting former teachers or employers who may be able to point you toward new opportunities. And because these contacts know you and understand your strengths, they may be willing to provide a personal or professional reference. Programs such as Job Corps and AmeriCorps can provide valuable experience and training.

The Tennessee American Job Center System was created to provide a way for people to connect with jobs. Tennessee has a network of centers across the state where employers can go to find the workers they need and where job seekers can get assistance and career information. Each center offers computerized labor market information, Internet access, workshops and an online talent bank, in addition to job placement, recruitment and training referrals. To find a center near you, go to the Tennessee American Job Centers page.

Additional help is available for young people with disabilities. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal and state-funded program providing services to help individuals with disabilities enter or return to employment. It is designed to assist individuals of work age to gain employment in integrated settings. Through counseling and guidance provided by a vocational rehabilitation counselor, individuals are assisted in choosing appropriate vocational goals. Services are then provided to assist those individuals in obtaining and maintaining employment.

One such service is the Transition School to Work Program, designed to assist students with disabilities with the transition from school to the world of work. A Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor can provide consultant services in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings as early as age fourteen (14).

Learn more about the Vocational Rehabilitation Program and Transition School to Work.

Applying for a Job

In many cases, you will apply for jobs online—either through career sites or directly through a company’s website. Other times, you may fill out an application in person. In those situations, it’s important to dress professionally, and to be prepared in case the employer wants to conduct a brief interview. Always bring the following items with you when applying for a job in person:

  • Basic identification, such as a driver’s license/picture ID, Social Security card and proof of residency
  • A list of previous employers, with contact information
  • A list of your last three residences (Make sure you’ve got addresses handy.)
  • A list of at least three references, with contact information; these are people who know your talents and skills well, who know you personally, and who would recommend you for a job (Before you cite someone as a reference, it’s a good idea to ask them first, so they can be prepared to talk about you to a potential employer.)
  • A resume, if you have one


resume is simply a list of work experiences and education. This may include paid/unpaid positions, internships and volunteer work. You may also list unique skills or qualifications. For example, if you are applying with a day care center, you might mention any safety training you have received, such as Red Cross certification, etc.

A resume starts with your name and contact information at the top. No nicknames, please! Then it generally lists your education and work experience starting with the most recent. It often contains an objective at the top; this is where you describe the type of job you want. You can also list any extracurricular activities, volunteer or community service, and special skills or training (e.g., language skills, computer skills, cooking skills, artistic skills).

Here are some tips for writing your resume:

Make sure to have your contact information at the top. Your name, address, phone number and email address are musts. And double-check to make sure all of them are correct.

Know your audience. Use vocabulary that is relevant to the company. For instance, if you are applying for a job in the health care field, use appropriate medical terminology.

Use action words. For example, words such as “managed,” “led,” “trained,” “won” and “built” help show companies that you take the initiative and get results. Words such as “was responsible for” sound passive and lack power.

Highlight accomplishments in your previous experience instead of just listing a description of duties. Employers want examples of standout performance, not just a list of your daily activities. So mention any achievements, awards, statistics or other examples that make you stand out.

Make sure it doesn’t look too busy. Using too many different kinds of fonts and font sizes can make your resume look like a mess.

Check for spelling and grammatical errors. Word processing software, such as Microsoft Word, can do this easily and catch mistakes. Remember: Your resume is a reflection of who you are, so you want your resume to look polished and professional. Spelling mistakes make you look sloppy and careless.

Have someone read it when you’re done. Even though you’ve already checked for spelling and grammar, have someone who’s experienced at reading resumes review yours. They can probably help make it better and help you avoid mistakes that a computer might not catch.

Cover Letter

Along with your resume, you should create a cover letter: a one-page formal letter that allows you to introduce yourself, highlighting skills and career goals and explaining why you want the job. Take time to customize this letter to fit the job you want, pulling keywords and phrases from the job listing. Read everything over carefully, checking for spelling and grammar. And make sure your contact information is accurate and up-to-date.

The employer uses the cover letter to assess how well you write and communicate. There is more than one way to write a cover letter, but be sure to talk about these things:

  • The job you are applying for
  • Why you are interested in this job
  • Your most relevant work experience and skills
  • Why you are the best person for this job
  • Your interest in an interview

Many of the job search sites above have sample cover letters you can review. Here are a few more cover letter tips:

Focus on what the company wants and needs. You want an employer to come away thinking that you can perform the duties of the job, so make sure your letter relays how your talents will mesh perfectly with what they’re looking for. Research the company beforehand, and look for facts you can drop in that will show an employer that you’ve done your homework on them.

Avoid sounding too informal or arrogant. You want the letter to show a little of your personality, and you want it to sound conversational, but you still want it to sound professional. And you don’t want to exaggerate your experience; that can put off a lot of employers.

Don’t repeat the resume. The letter gives you a chance to make your case to an employer, so don’t say the same things about your experience that they’ll read about later.

Keep it short. You’ve got an employer’s attention, but that time is fleeting—they don’t have time to read a lengthy letter.

Review Your Social Media Pages

Before you send your cover letter and resume, this is a good time to review your presence online, cleaning up social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Inappropriate comments, photos and profanity give the wrong impression to potential employers.

Interview Tips

Follow these tips to make a good impression on interview day:

Practice interviewing beforehand. Going through a “mock” interview will give you a chance to polish answers and become more comfortable. Ask a career center if you can schedule time to practice.

Think about possible answers. Think about how you might talk about yourself and explain why you want the job.

Be prompt. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive, allowing extra time for traffic and unexpected delays.

Do your homework. Review the original job listing, and spend time researching the company and the position online.

Bring extra copies of your resume. You might be asked to give a copy to other company officials.

Dress professionally. This is not the time for jeans, T-shirts, tennis shoes or flip-flops. Dress conservatively, avoiding flashy outfits and short hemlines. Be sure clothes are clean and pressed.

Be aware of body language. Smile, offer a firm handshake, make eye contact and avoid fidgeting.

Turn off your phone. Be respectful and avoid distractions by turning your cellphone completely off, and keeping it out of sight throughout the interview.

Ask questions. Show that you’ve done your homework by asking questions. Avoid asking about pay/salary. Instead, questions should show your interest in helping the company/employer.

Follow up. After the interview, follow up with a brief email to say thank you and restate your interest in the job.

Responsibilities and Rights

Once you have accepted a job, it’s important to remember that you have certain obligations to your new employer, including:

  • Reliability – Show up for work as scheduled and always be on time.
  • Honesty – Never lie, cheat or cut corners in any way.
  • Productivity – Follow directions, and work hard and efficiently.
  • Attitude – A positive attitude improves the work environment and shows leadership.

You also have certain rights, such as:

  • Freedom from harassment or discrimination
  • Privacy
  • Fair wages and treatment
  • Safe working environment
  • Medical and family leave

To learn more about your rights and the restrictions on the number of hours and times when children ages 14 through 17 may be allowed to work, visit the state's Labor and Workforce Development site.