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Getting a job that pays a living wage and is fulfilling can be an overwhelming process. This guide provides resources to help you with each step, including searching for jobs, preparing for an interview, and considering an offer.

To begin searching for jobs right away, try these links: 

Work with a job placement agency in Greater Des Moines:


Employment Plan image


Download the plan

As you review each section of the guide below, use the My Employment Plan document to record helpful information and to check off specific tasks. You can go back to this information as you work through each step of the process.

Local organizations, including IowaWORKS, can assist you with the job search process. Learn more here:

Find assistance with your job search

This guide is provided by Central Iowa Works’ Thriving Workforce Initiative

Central Iowa Works, a part of United Way of Central Iowa, connects workers seeking good jobs with the talent employers are looking for. Our goal is to build a thriving workforce that enables individuals, families, businesses, and our community to thrive. We provide programming for job seekers that meet specific requirements and work with community partners. For individualized assistance with the job search process, please access the  resources here.

Table of Contents

Find out about you

Start by spending time learning about yourself. Identify your strengths and what you want to accomplish. Use the My Employment Plan document to write down your answers so you can refer to the information throughout your process.

Identify your values

Your values are what you believe are important in how you live and work. You have values, whether you recognize them or not, and knowing your values can help you make decisions that honor those values.

Your values often remain over time but can change as your definition of success changes. If you start to feel unbalanced and cannot figure out why, revisit your values. Your personal values are a central part of who you are—and who you want to be.

By becoming more aware of these important factors in your life, you can use them to guide you in making the best choice in any situation. Some of life's decisions are about determining what you value most. When many options seem reasonable, rely on your values as a guiding force to point you in the right direction.

Learn more about values and take a “Defining Your Values” exercise.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses

Strengths are a part of you that influence how you think, feel, and act. They define who you are and what you can bring to the workplace. For instance, wisdom, courage, perseverance, and humility are qualities you might possess. Knowing your natural strengths can help you thoughtfully present yourself to potential employers and decide which jobs are best for you.

Learn more using the links below: 

Identify your purpose

Each of us has unique strengths, skills, and values that can be leveraged in the work we do and the way we interact with others. Knowing what those are and finding opportunities to best use them can be incredibly rewarding. 

While finding your purpose may seem difficult or out of reach, and can change at different points in your life, you can take steps to identify your sense of purpose now to help guide you in your job search process.

Start by answering these questions:

  • Who am I? (your name)
  • What do I do/love to do?
  • Who do I do it for?
  • What do these people need or want?
  • How do these people change or transform as a result of what I give them?

Use the “Find Your Purpose” toolkit on this page.

Find many resources to help you find and live your purpose with United Way's Powered by Purpose project: 

Learn about Powered by Purpose


Write your personal mission statement

As you identify your strengths, values, and what you can bring to an organization, use the My Employment Plan document to draft your personal mission statement that you can reference to determine job options and prepare for interviews.

A good mission statement should include three things:

  1. Your skills and abilities (what you like to do)
  2. Your personality traits (how you operate)
  3. Your values, dreams, and passions (why you want to excel)

Your mission statement should be one or two sentences long and say—in simple terms—exactly what you’re all about.

Learn more about how to write a personal mission statement. 

Find your best career path

The “My Next Move” tool can help you learn more about your interests and how they relate to the world of work.

As you take a career inventory, consider:

  • Your strong interests: What do you like to do?
  • Discover how your strongest interests relate to specific types of work
  • Discover the “Job Zone” or those jobs/careers you're interested in that also meet how far you want to go in preparing for them. 

Find jobs you are interested in

You have many paths to consider on your career journey. Once you narrow down areas you’re interested in and that meet your personal goals and preferences, start learning more about the types of jobs or careers within those fields. Think about the daily responsibilities of jobs in those fields and how you can get into the position you want most.

Learn about the field of work you’re interested in.

Ask yourself:

  • What types of jobs are in that field?
  • Where are the jobs located?
  • Will those jobs be needed in the near future?
  • What kind of education or certification will you need to do that job?
  • How much time will it take to get that training or education?
  • What is the environment or work culture you will work in? Is it something you will enjoy?

Do some research to answer these questions by looking at job descriptions from companies in the field.

Review job descriptions in depth, paying attention to the daily tasks.

Also consider these areas:

  • The hours you’re required to work: Is it days, nights, or weekends?
  • The environment: Will you be working outside, in a cubicle, in a small office, etc.?
  • Career path: Are there opportunities for promotions or to advance? Will you need continuing education to move upward? Does the company offer that training or is it something you need to pursue on your own and pay for?

Do some research on:

  • Pay and benefits of the career field you’re interested in
  • The career pathway in that field to move into higher positions
  • The education and certification requirements to enter that field

Use these resources to help you:

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Search for jobs

Looking for a job can be overwhelming. Between resumes and cover letters, job boards, and social media, it’s hard to know where to start. Find the right strategy by clarifying what you want, figuring out the best way to get what you want, and staying motivated along the way.  Below are four ways to start your career search. Find more job search tips and advice here.

Utilize your network

You still need the skills to perform a specific role, but often “who you know” can get you in the door for an interview. Having someone at a company where you want to work give a recommendation to the hiring manager can sometimes be the deciding factor in choosing you over an equally qualified candidate.

TopResume offers these tips for networking:

  • Be proactive in meeting people.
  • Reach out in a style that is most comfortable to you and fits the relationship, whether it’s having coffee, sending an email, or attending a public event.
  • Use LinkedIn to reach out to people who work at a company or to talk with a recruiter about a position.
  • Volunteer with an organization related to your career field.
  • Help others in your network, which in turn, will make them want to help you.

Search online

A simple search on Google can help connect you with open positions.  By typing in “jobs near me” you will be able to explore thousands of openings in one place. 

Below are five online job search engine tools you can use:

Career Fairs

A career fair is an excellent way to make connections with companies, learn about available job openings, and show off your skills.

Below are five things to do before you attend:

  • Research the career fair to see which employers will be there.
  • Create a strong resume and bring copies with you.
  • Develop and practice your elevator speech. Your elevator speech should include:
    • Your name
    • Overview of your unique experiences, skills, and qualifications
    • A connection between what you can offer and what you know about the employer
    • A question that the employer can respond to, such as:
      • What kind of training programs do you have for new hires?
      • What is the organizational culture like?
      • How do you enjoy working for the organization?
      • What are common career paths within your organization?
  • Prepare your professional attire. Your outfit should be clean and neat, business professional or business casual, and hair and nails neatly done.
  • Practice a strong handshake: Make eye contact and smile!

Learn more:

Career Placement Resources

Use an agency to find a job that is the best fit for your skills and lifestyle.

Here are five job placement agencies in Greater Des Moines:

Company websites

Company websites are a good source for job listings, especially if you know which companies you are interested in working for. At most company sites, you can apply for all level positions online, including part-time hourly jobs and top management positions.

Learn more

Job Search Tips & Advice from Future Ready Iowa

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Apply for jobs

Be prepared to navigate the following areas as you begin to apply for jobs.

Job application

An application form allows employers to pre-screen job applicants. You will likely need to provide your contact information, employment history, educational background, and your strengths and values.

Here are a few tips:

  • Have an email account ready for correspondence. Make sure your email address sounds professional. 
  • Read and follow instructions carefully.
  • Complete the application as neatly and completely as possible, leaving no blank spaces.
  • Tailor your answers to the job you are applying for.
  • Be truthful and focus on positive information.
  • Proofread before you submit.
  • Make sure the job application information and your resume information match.
  • Check other sites an employer may research to know you as an employee, such as your social media accounts, and make sure they represent your best self.
  • Create an account on a job site, such as LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder, and/or Dice.

Learn more:

When possible, apply directly on the company website, even if you find the listing elsewhere. Your application will go directly into the company's applicant tracking system and you'll be able to monitor its progress.



Creating a resume can be challenging when you start thinking about all the information you need to share with prospective employers. Your employment history, educational background, skills, strengths, values, and qualifications need to be presented in a way that will help you get picked for a job interview. Rather than a simple list of the jobs you've had, include information specific to the positions for which you're applying.

Follow these steps:

  • Pick a resume format and layout.
  • Add your contact information.
  • Write a summary statement or objective.
  • List your work experience and achievements.
  • Mention your top soft and hard skills.
  • Optional: include additional sections on items, such as language, hobbies, etc.
  • Tailor your information for the job, such as featuring skills or experience needed for the position.
  • Proofread your resume.

To find out more, follow these links:


Cover Letter

Include a cover letter each time you send your resume. Make sure you customize it for the job you are applying for. This is your opportunity to introduce yourself and make a strong impression.

Find resources to help:

Social Media

Employers will often visit your social media pages to learn about you before deciding to hire you. Make sure your online profiles are professional.

  • Delete inappropriate photos and posts -- anything with alcohol or drugs, profanity, discriminatory comments, or badmouthing.
  • Post about your jobs, your volunteer work, your creativity, or your communications skills.
  • Use privacy settings to limit sharing, but keep in mind a post could still be visible online.
  • Open an incognito window in Google and search your name to see what comes up on the Internet; clean it up if needed.


Hiring managers often contact references to find out what a candidate can truly accomplish and what they’re like to work with. Carefully choose your references before applying for jobs, because employers could change their mind about you based on a reference.

Follow these steps to select references:

  • Select people who know your work ethic, such as coworkers or previous supervisors, an instructor or trainer who knows your skills specific to the job you are applying for, or people you know who work at the company you are applying to.
  • Ask permission from the people you choose to list as references and collect their contact information.
  • Make sure your references are aware of your achievements and how your skills and interests match the job you are applying for.

Find additional help:

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Prepare to interview

Preparing for an interview can help you feel more confident and appear calm. This is also your chance to better understand the job within the organization to make sure it aligns with your career goals and current job preferences.

Tips to prepare for an interview:

  • When someone schedules an interview, learn about the type of interview you will have and ask for the names of who you are meeting with.
  • Research the company and use their product or service if you can.
  • Research the people you are meeting with, especially their position in the company.

How to prepare for interview questions:

  • Practice introducing yourself to the interviewer(s).
  • Spend time thinking carefully about what skills, accomplishments, and interview answers will resonate most during the interview.
  • Prepare an answer for when an interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself.”
  • Don't be thrown off by the question, "What's your biggest weakness?" Think of something that you struggle with but that you’re working to improve. 
  • Find lists of common interview questions, but don’t prepare by writing out your entire answer; instead, write a few notes or bullet points and keep them on hand for the interview.
  • If you can, identify a few numbers that illustrate your accomplishments, such as how much you increased sales or how much you improved the organization’s performance in a specific area.
  • Practice by looking in the mirror and answering questions out loud; do as many mock interviews as you can with a friend.
  • Prepare questions about the job and the company you want to ask the interviewers.

What to pack and wear:

  • Plan the perfect interview outfit to match the work environment and make sure it is clean. Shine your shoes and look your best.
  • Make copies of your resume, one for each of the interviewers and a couple of extras.
  • Bring your resumes, questions for interviewers, paper, and writing utensils.

Get focused ahead of time:  

  • Get directions to the interview site and arrive at least 10 minutes before the time of the interview. If the interview is by phone, confirm that the interviewer will call you at the designated time.
  • Spend time before the interview reflecting on your work experience and skills. When you know your story inside and out, it’s easier to apply examples to just about any interview question.
  • Use an interview cheat sheet to compile all the details you need to remember; jot down notes about what you want to say and ask, and check off all the essentials of what to bring to the interview.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before.


Follow-up after the interview:

Following up after an interview demonstrates that you’re passionate about the opportunity.

Follow these tips for following up:

  • Write a thank you note: Be brief, friendly, and conversational. Restate your interest in the job and any relevant details on why you’re qualified. Thank the potential employer for their time. Add any significant information you may have forgotten to say in the interview. You can send a thank you note by email or mail. Try to send a note within one day of the interview.

  • Check-in: Make contact again after a few weeks of silence. If you approach your follow-up carefully, you can come off as diligent and interested. Don’t jump to the conclusion that you didn’t get the job. 

  • Stay in touch: Even if you don’t get the job, it could be useful to have the employer in your network. Rather than seeing your relationship with the employer as a failed job interview and lost opportunity, treat them as a valuable new colleague and contact.

Find more resources to help:

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Decide which job offer to take

You’ve built the resume, applied for the jobs, nailed the interview, and now all that hard work has paid off and you have been offered a job. Now what?

When weighing a decision on whether to accept a job offer, including whether to switch jobs or deciding between two offers, consider some key factors. Deciding to switch from a current job can be difficult and you’ll never really know if it’s a good decision until you’ve switched jobs, but the information below may help guide you in deciding.

Here are some things to consider:

Wages and benefits

One of the most important considerations to the job offer is, of course, the wages and benefits offered by the organization. Benefits are important to take into consideration as some of them may make up for a small difference in wages.

Financial benefits are those that have a direct impact on your day-to-day income and expenses as well as those that impact your ability to build wealth. These benefits may include health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, retirement plans, transportation cost, etc. Consider all the financial benefits and evaluate if overall the new job improves your family’s financial well-being.

Other benefits, like greater flexibility, could be just as important given your family’s needs. These benefits may include paid time off, a flexible work schedule, stable hours, etc.

Culture fit

Sometimes it’s hard to get a feel for the company’s culture without actually working there, but culture fit is important to consider. During the interview, the company likely was deciding if you would be a good fit for them, but you should also try to determine if the company would be a good fit for you. Think about your ideal work environment and your personality. Are you someone who is very outgoing and loves being around a lot people? If so, a company that is more heads down and has a quieter environment may not be the best fit. After visiting the office, can you see yourself working here?


Thinking longer-term, consider what type of career development opportunities exist within the company and if they align with your goals and interests. Do you believe in the company? Will this new job challenge you? Is there a clear path towards advancement?

Beyond just promotions, companies can also help support your growth by offering educational opportunities. This could include paying for certifications or classes that may make you more valuable to the company and to future employers.

Trust your gut

After your pros and cons list has been made, stop and do a gut check. After evaluating all the considerations above, are you happy with where a decision is leading you? Do you have any concerns: Maybe there was a red flag during the interview, or you didn’t quite jive with your future manager?  Trust your intuition; it is usually right. 

For more information on benefits and other things to consider when choosing a job, use the links below.

When deciding the best job for you, consider these key components of a good job.

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Guidance in specific areas

Finding a job can be a daunting task for anyone. If you have a criminal record, are an older or younger person, have a disability, are LGBTQ, or are a refugee or immigrant, you may face unique challenges in the process. Here are some helpful tools to support you.

Individuals with a criminal record

Information from RED (Rehabilitation Enables Dreams)

As you search for a job after being released from prison, you may hear “no” a lot from employers or never hear back for an interview or a job offer. You are not alone in this challenge. Those who have the most success in finding a job likely have a strong network that can immediately place them in a job, or their record is not a deciding factor for the position.

You still have opportunities to get hired, and once in the door, your opportunities to climb the career ladder become greater. You can even one day make it into management or the corporate headquarters. The first job is often the most difficult hurdle.  

From an employer’s perspective, a resume is a record that predicts how reliable, consistent, and good of a worker you may be if you get hired. Gaps in employment or no past employers to reference make the applicant riskier than an applicant with a consistent employment history.

The best way to get your foot in the door is to take an interview seriously. Dress professionally, be pleasant and smile, show enthusiasm, and impress the interviewer. While the probability of obtaining gainful employment decreases when you reveal you have a record, never lie about it. If you feel you need to lie to gain employment at a company, that probably means the company does not value giving individuals who’ve made a mistake in life a second chance, which could be an uncomfortable place to work. In addition, you will likely experience stress from the threat of being found out.

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Individuals with disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal for employers to ask job candidates about their medical history during a job interview. It also requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to qualified job applicants or employees, which means modifying or adjusting a job or work environment to enable an employee with a disability to perform essential job duties. For example, an employer may modify the height of a desk and equipment or install computer screen magnifiers or telecommunications.

Here are a few tips for managing the hiring process:

  • Share as much as you need to. If you have a disability that doesn’t require an accommodation or doesn’t affect your ability to perform the responsibilities of the job then you do not have to tell a prospective employer.
  • Focus on what you bring to the job. Play up your strengths and how you’ve excelled at previous jobs. If you require an accommodation, frame your request as helping you do a good job for the organization. Dan Ryan, author of the Job Search Handbook for People with Disabilities, says be specific and know what technologies would help you excel on the job.

  • Find resources for people with disabilities: The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers advice on workplace accommodations for a wide range of disabilities. The Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) connects federal and private-sector employers nationwide with college students and recent graduates with disabilities. You may also find networking events for workers with disabilities that can connect you with companies that have excellent facilities and support systems.

Find more resources:

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Older populations

Even with many skills and decades of experience, you still need to convince employers that you are the right person for the job.

Here are some strategies that can help you highlight the qualities you bring and to land a job you want.

  • Showcase your skills and experience. Your work history is something younger workers cannot draw on. Make sure you emphasize this, as well as the skills you’ve gained over time, including transferable skills, such as communication, managerial, and leadership. Make a list of all the skills you’ve gained and match that list with job postings. If there are skills you need for a particular job that you do not have or have not used in a while, take a course.

  • Consider a different kind of job. Especially if you are beginning a second career, look for jobs that you are passionate about, such as working with kids or joining the woodworking trade. Think about where you want to spend your time.

  • Update your resume and cover letter. Include only the most recent jobs you’ve had and make sure you describe your skills and accomplishments using contemporary terms. Leave off dates of when you graduated from school.

  • Pay attention to your professional image. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and dress for an interview in the current style of clothing.

  • Try contract work first. This is an option to test out a job before an employer hires you full time.

Find additional guidance here:

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Young adults (ages 16-24)

From CareerOneStop

If you are just entering the job market or starting your career, here are some tips to get in the door.

Network: Talking to people you know is one of the most common ways to land a job. Your network includes friends, family, teachers, neighbors, former co-workers, volunteer supervisors, and anyone else you know, and the people they know. Start by making a list of who is in your network, and then get in touch with someone on your list every day. When you ask for their help, you could also ask how you could be helpful to them; you are a part of their network.

When you meet with someone, introduce yourself, explain how you got their contact information, and share what kind of work you are looking for and what are some of your skills. Then ask for advice, such as: 

  • Do you have any suggestions for me?
  • What can you tell me about this workplace or type of job?
  • Do you know anyone who might be able to help me find work in this job or this company?
  • May I use your name to contact them?

Social Media: You can use social media to connect with employers, and they can use it to learn about you before deciding to hire you. Make sure you keep your social media professional. Delete inappropriate photos that show alcohol or drug use or any posts or comments that have profanity or badmouth someone. Post about things that showcase your skills and interests and represent you professionally.

Find jobs: Use job bank websites to search and apply for job openings and to post your resume, so employers can match you to their openings. Try visiting a company in person and ask if there are job openings; if there aren’t, leave your resume for the hiring manager. Attend job fairs or seek out high school or college career services.

Find additional guidance on CareerOneStop

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Refugees and Immigrants

Before you start your job search, gather information about your past work experience and education. Plan on attending events and volunteering to widen your professional network.  Here are some steps to follow:

Write your resume: A resume is a paper listing your skills and accomplishments and is the best way to get attention from an employer. Find tips on how to write your resume, what information to include, and a template that shows you what a resume should look like at USAHello.

Gather the following information for your resume and for job applications:

  • Your work history: List what jobs you have done in the past, the job skills you used in those jobs, the company name, where you performed the work, and when you started and ended the job.
  • Your skills: Think of the skills that can be applied to many jobs, such as being on time, working well with others, and learning quickly, as well as the skills that require training, such as operating a forklift or operating software. Think of how skills you’ve gained in one type of work can be applied in other jobs. For example, a mechanic has the skills of measuring accurately and using tools safely that can be used in construction or cooking.
  • Your past education: Include names and locations of schools you attended, start and finish dates, and whether you graduated. The educational system in your native country may be different from the American system—a different number of grades to complete high school, for example. Sometimes you will have to “fit” your information into documents that are designed for native-born job seekers.

  • Your training: Even if you did not finish high school or go to college, you should include any other training you completed when you list your education. For example, many refugees have taken leadership classes or community health training in camp or after resettlement.
  • Your languages: Write down every language you speak besides English; this can be an asset on your application. Do not write down English. Employers will assume you speak English from reading your resume.

  • Your contact information: You will need to know all of your contact information, including how to format your first, middle and last names in applications, your phone number, address, and email address. In your resume, do not include personal information, such as your date of birth, age, or marital status.

Write a cover letter for job applications: A cover letter is a page-long document where you can talk about your skills and experience in more detail. Cover letters give you the chance to explain how you are different than other applications and why you want to work at the company you are applying for. 

Identify professional references: Professional references are people you have worked or volunteered with. Employers will call these people to learn about what you are like. Put together a list of references and their contact information before you start applying for jobs.

Look for job opportunities: Most job opportunities are found online but you can also search through people you know, at employment offices, and places of business. Think about what experience you have that can apply to particular jobs and whether any certifications from another country can be used in the U.S.

Apply for jobs: Submit your information and resume through an online job portal. Make sure you prepare and edit your information carefully before submitting. Some places of business, like most restaurants, still use paper applications for entry-level jobs, so you can apply in person.  

Prepare for a job interview: When employers think they may want to hire you, they invite you for phone, virtual, or in person interviews.  Learn what to wear, how to act, and what to do after an interview.

Proof that you are allowed to work: You will need to prove you are legally allowed to work in the U.S. You must give your social security number to your employer. You may also have to complete a background check and prove to your employer you have not committed any crimes.

Get your degree evaluated: Most employers will not ask for an evaluation, so it is best to wait to learn if this is common for the jobs you are looking for. To have your degree evaluated, submit your credentials to a transcript evaluation company and they will review your past education and say if the degree or certification is valid to use in the U.S.

Find more help with your job search here:

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Here are some tips from The Muse on navigating your job search and to find a workplace that is truly inclusive. 

  • Do your research ahead of time: Review local LGBTQ chamber of commerce websites to see which companies in your area have chosen to align themselves with LGBTQ communities and employees. For companies you’re interested in, review their website, publications and social media, paying attention to any initiatives focused on diversity, value statements, support for community programs and events, and diversity of staff and leadership.

  • Connect with your network: Find someone with your LGBTQ identity in your field of interest or at a company you’re interested in working for and ask to speak with them about their experiences and the culture of their workplace.

  • Decide whether to be open in your application: You do not have to share your sexual or gender identity, but you may want to. If a company is excited to call you in for an interview after reading your materials, they are likely a more inclusive environment.

  • Look for clues: During an interview, keep an eye out for signs about employees’ attitudes and the environment. Are there gender-neutral restrooms or diversity among staff? How strict is the dress code?

  • Determine benefits: Make sure you review a company’s health plan, especially any exclusions policy.  If you are interested in parenting, also review the parental leave policy to make sure adoptive and other non-birth parents are covered.

Find more resources here:

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