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Professional Skills

Find, Apply, and Prepare for a Job or Project

Applying for a job seems on the surface to be straightforward, but there are actually ways to go about it that can make you stand out from the rest.

Below we cover some of the basics that can help to lift your resume above the crowd, and we also explain the rules and regulations that some potential employers are bound by when considering applicants, so that you are better informed about the entire hiring process!

Understanding, Finding and Applying to Job Ads

Before you dive into finding job ads, pause for a second to consider what exactly that job ad is going to contain. You’ll want to re-use the language in the ad to personalize your resume and cover letter to that exact job.

Job Description

This will be a general summary that may segue into a list of the job responsibilities (the day-to-day tasks). You may also see some elements that  describe the person who would be in the role, rather than the responsibilities or job itself (e.g., “The project manager thinks critically, quickly, and creatively to plan logistics...”) Take note of these descriptors so you can highlight those qualities in yourself when it comes time to writing your cover letter and resume (further down this page!).

Company/Organization Description

Brief summary highlighting the best qualities of the company/organization. Good to take note of, but it’s better to research them on your own to gain a more neutral outlook. Check out the strategies further down this page under “Do Your Research.”

Job Qualifications/Requirements (Minimum vs. Preferred)

Depending on the field or who is posting the ad, this section may be phrased a few different ways. Pay attention to this wording, as the meaning behind the words can be very different.

What is common: These sections provide a list of qualities, skills, knowledge, etc. that the company thinks is most suitable, and perhaps required, for this job. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THESE so you can duplicate the wording in your resume and cover letter.

What is different:

Job Qualifications: Merely a list of those qualities, skills, knowledge, etc. There is absolutely no indication that these items are REQUIRED of the candidates. Think of these lists as the “ideal candidate will have...” — they may be asking for the moon, when they know they won’t get it. So, take these lists with a grain of salt. If you feel you could handle the job responsibilities, and have at least some of the qualifications (e.g., maybe all but the number of years of experience), don’t be discouraged — just APPLY.

Minimum Requirements: On the other hand, items listed under this heading are likely to be hard requirements — if you don’t have what’s listed, you will likely not be considered. Some fields may be flexible on this, but for government (federal, state, local) and academic jobs, these requirements are strictly followed. The first thing HR or the search committee will do is check your resume for the qualifications — if nothing matches up, you will be chucked out of the pile.

Preferred Requirements: Ads that list minimum requirements will pair these with a list of Preferred Requirements. These are similar to Job Qualifications lists above — think of these as the ideal qualifications. You also want to think of these as a hierarchy: the items listed at the top are likely more preferred than those listed at the bottom. This may not always be the case, but it’s good to consider them as such.


Depending on what profession you work in, there can be good job sites and great job sites to keep an eye on.  The table below lists several recommended websites to consult when your are job hunting, irregardless of your chosen profession.


General GIS Business
Indeed GIS Jobs Clearinghouse  


There are so many associations out there that there is no way we could list them all.  This website for the Directory of Associations offers a list of thousands of associations, and is searchable and has useful filters for you to use to narrow down what you are looking for.  

* Note:  If you are looking for the subject ‘Geography’, you will not find it under G, you need to scroll down to ‘Science - Geography’ to get the appropriate link!

Once you find one that fits your needs, see if they have a job search portal available to non-members. Keep in mind that some may restrict access to members only.

Resumes and Cover Letters

Business Administration sample resume (from SU's Career Services)

Economics (sample resume from SU's Career Services)

Finance (sample resume from SU's Career Services)

Information Systems (sample resume from SU's Career Services)

Management (sample resume from SU's Career Services)

Marketing (sample resume from SU's Career Services)

Business Administration (sample cover letter for an M.B.A. graduate)

Geography/Geosciences (sample resume from SU's Career Services)

GIS Management (sample cover letter for a M.S. graduate)

Coming Soon!

Do Your Research: Employers, Salaries, and More

Company Culture

​No matter how motivated you are to land a job (and land one immediately), don’t forget to do your research. When desperate times roll around, you may think that you don’t care where you work, or who you work for, so long as you are paid. Researching your prospective employer in advance not only helps you better craft your application materials and prepare for your interview, but it brings to light the company or organizational culture. What are their values — both in terms of their employees and the organization as a whole? Are there opportunities for advancement? Is management generally well-liked and respected?

More Resources
  • The company/organization’s website (biased, but showcases their purported values)

  • The company/organization’s social media (knowing how they craft their image is important, even if it is skewed for marketing purposes)

Salary negotiations are daunting, but you can prepare for them. Research the areas on the next few tabs and you will have a better idea of how to approach a negotiation and what to consider when accepting an offer.

Salary Comparisons

The salary may be stated in the job description, but it isn't guaranteed. Use these resources and strategies to put together a portfolio of comparable salaries so you know what to expect prior to an offer. This tab covers the following:

  • Salaries within the company
  • Salaries for comparable positions in the same (or similar) city/region
  • Salary range in the profession as a whole

Salaries within the Company

Salaries for Comparable Positions (in the same city/area)

  1. Use the resources in the Finding Jobs box further up on this page.
  2. Search by job title and limit the search to the city/area/state you are interested in working.
  3. Attempt to find 3-5 (more, if you can stand to) stated salaries for jobs that sound similar in nature to the one you're eyeing
    • Keep in mind the required years of experience, any supervisory responsibilities, as well as the type of institution (public corporation, government, law firm, non-profit, etc.). Each of these factors can affect the hiring range.

If the position you are considering would require relocation, the first thing you should assess is the area’s cost of living. Questions to think about include:

  • How does the cost of living compare to your current area?
  • Does the salary make sense when considering the cost of living?
    • If you do not know the salary, use the cost of living to assess what a reasonable salary would look like for the area.

Another area you may be able to research upfront is the benefits package. When receiving an offer, think past the salary figure to the benefits listed below. Some of these may be more flexible than the actual salary and may be equally important to you, depending on your lifestyle and career goals.

Benefits may be disclosed on the Human Resources page of the company or organization's website. If you can't readily locate that page through navigation, try using the search interface within the website, or even Google. (e.g., try keywords like human resources, benefits, career services, etc. If using Google, include the name of the company/organization).

  • vacation, personal, and/or sick leave
  • salary increase structure
    • is it by merit, or only cost of living adjustments (COLA)? how often do increases become available?
    • when and how often do you go up for promotion?
  • moving expenses
  • retirement benefits
    • are you vested 100% from day 1, or is there a vesting period?
    • does the employer match contributions, and to what extent?
    • what kind of accounts are available?
  • health benefits
  • professional development opportunities, allowances
  • professional association memberships
    • does the employer sponsor the fee, or are memberships up to you to support?

Once you have done your research, you are ready to receive and negotiate an offer.

  • If the salary is not what you were expecting (remember, you've researched comparable salaries in the area), negotiate. Ask for the reason behind the number. Use the salaries of similar positions in the city/state as bargaining power.
  • If the employer cannot match your salary expectations, think beyond the figure and remember your research:
    • Ask about the promotion/salary increase structures so you know when to expect a raise.
    • Ask about benefits. Which are most important to you? Will their value compensate for the lower annual salary?

Helpful Resources