First, the bad news: The job crunch continues, with unemployment hovering in the 10% range and roughly six job seekers for every available opening. Now, some good news: With the right approach, you can jumpstart your job search and position yourself to outshine the competition.
Dawn Fay, district president for New York and New Jersey for staffing firm Robert Half International, offered these simple and practical tips based on the feedback she hears from employers and recruiters on a daily basis.
Put on a happy face — and mean it!
This first bit of advice is also the most important: While it may seem like a clich, there’s no substitute for a positive attitude. “After you’ve been job hunting for a while, it’s easy to get tired of the process, but it’s important not to let your frustration show through,” Fay says. “As difficult as it may be, you need to bring as much enthusiasm and positive energy to your 100th interview as you did to your first.”
As more companies adopt a cross-departmental management style, jobseekers may even be asked to return for multiple interviews — each with a different manager — for the same job. If you are called back, consider each additional interview a good sign rather than a road block, and make the most of the opportunity to meet more people in the organization and learn more about the position.
Show some flexibility.
Companies are doing more with less, so be sure your resume includes specific examples of projects you’ve been involved in beyond your core job function, and be ready to speak about them in detail in an interview. “Regardless of discipline, employers are looking for individuals with the ability to multitask,” says Fay, who works with employers across a range of industries.
Show them the money!
In rough economic times, and even as the economy begins to recover, the easiest hires for companies to justify are those with a direct impact on the bottom line. Show prospective employers how you’ve helped to cut costs or drive revenue in the past, and be ready to discuss how you will help your new department be more cost-efficient.
Say what you mean to say.
“Even before the downturn, companies were looking for individuals with strong communication skills,” Fay says. Be sure to put your best foot forward at every point of interaction with a potential employer, be it on your resume, in an online profile, or in an interview.
Have a professional create or review your resume if you can afford it, and prepare thoroughly for every phone or in-person interview. Research your prospective employer and review your own resume so you’re ready to answer questions about your work history. Subscribe to a few free trade publications in your field and read what the bosses read. You’ll be ready to speak intelligently about new developments in your industry, and your confidence will shine through in your voice and your body language.
Think before you send.
Email and social applications such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter make networking easier than ever — just remember that the “Can you believe I’m still looking?” email you send to a good friend could end up being the first impression you make with a potential employer.
“By all means, reach out to your social network, but as you cast a wide net looking for job prospects, be conscious of every email you send,” Fay suggests. “A busy friend may give your message just a quick glance, then pass it along with all the best intentions, so be cognizant of how you’re presenting yourself, and be sure to keep a professional tone.” Bottom line: If you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see it, don’t put it in an email, a tweet, or a Facebook status.
Think long-term … but don’t overlook the short-term.
While your ultimate goal may be a permanent full-time position, don’t rule out opportunities for contract work, which can provide — at worst — an interim solution, and which can often lead to the steady gig you’ve been searching for. “Treat project work as you would your real job,” Fay advises. “As the economy begins to recover, many companies will hire the project worker without ever advertising the job opening.”
Mind your manners.
“Always follow up to say thank you,” Fay advises. This common courtesy is good practice in any job market, yet it’s overlooked by a surprising number of job seekers. Send a note promptly after every interview — even a phone interview — and don’t forget to thank anyone who helped you along the way, including references and the contact who referred you to the job opening. Thank the recipient for his or her time, mention a memorable conversation topic from your interview, and clarify any issues that you may not have addressed in your meeting.