Thursday, September 8, 2011

10 tips for improving your job search

You don't have to know the unemployment numbers to know how difficult it is to find a job today. Anyone in the midst of a job search can see and feel how competitive the job market has become, both here in the U.S. and around the world.

That's the not-so-good news, but here's a bright spot: Philadelphia has a strong health care industry. Health care is one of the few growing industries that's creating jobs in our area. Over the past 12 months, health care employment has seen an addition of 306,000 jobs nationally. Even so, competition for any position in any sector is going to be tough.

Along with the changes in the job market, there's been a transformation in what makes a job search strategy effective. But that shouldn't discourage you. If anything, it should drive you to be more creative.

And to help get those creative juices flowing, I've put together a list of what I think are the most effective strategies for anyone looking for a job today. Put these to work and I am certain you'll increase your chances of hearing from more employers.

  1. Have the credentials you need. The numbers show that unemployment is lowest among people with college degrees (only about 2 percent). I'm not going to be bashful about saying that you should seriously consider going back to school to get the degree you need to be as competitive as possible in the job market. When looking at schools, find an accredited institution that partners with organizations in the field you're interested in. It's worthwhile to do the research and find out which institution is right for you based on the support they provide, both for the job search and any other needs you might have. If you have a degree, consider how to keep your skills relevant and fresh. 

  2. Sometimes sacrifices have to made in the name of the job search. Job searching wasn't that difficult five or more years ago. But today, you might have to make some sacrifices such as continuing your search straight through summer vacation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, under 1 million job seekers were considered discouraged in August. This means they did not look for work because they believed no jobs were available. Instead of taking a vacation from the search during the summer months, you should intensify your hunt when there might be less competition for the job you want.

  3. Make technology work for you. Almost all job postings are now available online or on mobile devices. Websites like CareerBuilder.com and JobCompass.com have mobile apps that allow you to search whenever, wherever. JobFinder's app aggregates positions relevant to your experience and delivers them to your phone. Indeed.com provides a similar service, sending appropriate opportunities from all over the Web right to your inbox. Use all technologies available to you so you're constantly on the hunt. 

  4. Networking is crucial. Working all of your personal contacts (and their contacts) is one of the most important parts of a job search today. Here's how you find out who's a part of your circle of influence. Consider that circle your personal web. Start with a blank piece of paper and write your name in the middle. The people who are the closest to you are your first circle around you -- your parents, siblings, children, and other relatives. If you go another ring beyond that, it's your friends and the people you communicate with. Go beyond that and you have your colleagues and associates. The outer circle is every person that you come in contact with on a day-to-day basis or periodically, like your dentist or beautician. Every single ring around you is an untapped network. When job searching, you can tap into these people to create a ripple effect that puts your hunt on the minds of many more people than you and your immediate family. It's likely that in your extended circle of influence, there's someone who's hiring or knows someone who is. You can leverage these circles on social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook -- just remember to keep your profiles professional and up to date.

  5. Bolster your résumé however possible. The reality is that even if you make a strong commitment to your hunt, you might not find a job as quickly as you'd like. But chances are, you'll find a ton of other opportunities, like internships or volunteer positions. No one wants to work free (we hear you, it's not fun!), but experience has real value. Consider every opportunity, even if unpaid, another line on your resume. If the reward isn't monetary, it's an investment you will cash in on a little later on. If you're interested in a particular organization, see if they're involved in any charities and try to get involved. It's a great way to make your application stand out, and it gives you another discussion point when it comes to interview time.

  6. Send the right résumé. The most common mistake I see among job seekers is that they only have one version of their résumé. You must customize this document to suit the job you're applying to every time. And that doesn't mean just changing a word or two. Many larger companies use automated systems that scan résumés for keywords. So look at the job description, make note of the specific words it uses, and make sure that language is reflected in your résumé. By changing the language, you will ensure your resume is more closely aligned with the role. This will speak not just to humans reviewing it, but search engines too. Also, send your résumé in a word document, not a PDF, for easier access.

  7. Highlight your strengths. Many people who are just starting out or are career-changers moving into a new field are concerned about their lack of experience. But every experience, no matter how minimal, can help reveal your potential to an employer. Did seasonal data entry work for a temp agency and now want to be a medical coder? Then you might have good attention to detail. Spent years in retail but now want to be in sales? You know how to relate to people and make them feel comfortable. Focus on highlighting the transferable skills you do have instead of discussing those you don't.

  8. Focus on accomplishments. Before you step into an interview, take a look at the job description and make sure you have an example of something you've done that aligns with what you'd be asked to do in this position. Focus on the outcomes that you will deliver in your conversation with the interviewer. Show what you have done that is relative to this position and that you have the experience and the ability to take on the job they need to fill. This will help you stand out. Remember: Wanting a job is good, but showing what you can contribute is even better.

  9. Soft skills can't be replaced. It's a given that any person who is chosen for an interview has the technical skills to perform in that position. But most employers are looking for someone with a good attitude who fits well within their company. They want someone who has verbal and written communication skills, the ability to lead, and a collaborative disposition. Even if you're beaten down by a seemingly endless job search, go into every interview with confidence, a smile on your face, lots of energy, and a can-do attitude. Also, sit up straight and give a firm hand shake. 

  10. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. The interview continues well beyond the end of your meetings with the employer on interview day. The minute you leave the interview, take the time to send an individual email to each person you met, thanking them for their time. Make sure there are no typos and that you aren't misspelling their name. The best way to avoid misspellings is get a business card at the end of an interview or check the website. After that, send a handwritten thank you card on clean, professional stationary, again thanking them for the interview. Be sure to reference something you discussed so they know this was written just for them. A handwritten card is the exception, not the rule these days, and it will make you stand out. Even if you don't get the job, send a final handwritten note thanking the interviewers for their time and consideration. If they were impressed with you, they might keep you in mind for future opportunities.
Hopefully these 10 tips will light a fire under your job search. When you're all set to go, be sure to visit CDS for guidance and support. Oh! And if you have a great story to share or additional advice to help others with their job search, we'd love to hear about it!