Do you remember looking for your first job when you were a teenager? Do you remember how easy it was? You'd turn to the classified ads in your hometown newspaper, circle a few possibilities, then show up to each of them in person to fill out applications. Or maybe you'd pop into your favorite stores at the mall and inquire there. Possibly, your parents or another family member got you a part-time job in the mailroom where they work. You never had to fuss with résumés, your lack of job experience wasn't a liability and your salary expectations almost always hovered in the minimum-wage range.
If only job hunting could still be so simple.
Now, your job search is trickier, more sophisticated and highly competitive. You have to be imaginative, savvy and smart to be successful. Just responding to advertisements in the classifieds probably won't land you your dream job -- nor will sending out the same stale résumé to each potential employer. So, unless you want to make job searching your new full-time job, follow these search tips to improve your hunt and land a great new gig in no time.
Don't Rely on Just Classified Ads
Picture a well-dressed man in a fedora. He pounds the pavement each day in search of a job. In his hand is a folded-up newspaper listing local firms that are hiring. This might be a good scene for a 1940s movie, but it doesn't represent an effective job search for the 21st century. Most experts believe that very few job openings are advertised through classified ads, so if you're pinning all of your job hopes on the few weekly help-wanted ads in your area, you might be searching a while.
That's not to say that you can't find a job from the classifieds -- which these days include not only local newspaper ads, but also online classified ads (found at places such as Craigslist.org) and entries listed on large, online job search engines (such as Monster.com) -- it's just that it's not the only place you should be searching. Look at it this way: If your job search were equivalent to an Internet connection, a classifieds-only search would be similar to using a dial-up modem -- it might help you get where you want to go, but it won't do so as effectively or quickly as a high-speed connection.
So where else besides classifieds should you be looking? Keep reading to expand your employment hunt beyond the help-wanted ads.
Target Your Industry
Go to any online job search engine, and you'll be able to select employment advertisements by industry or job type. But you should be aware that many companies in your industry don't advertise on these one-size-fits-all job sites. Think of it like this: If you were going to start a home improvement project, you could go to a discount department store like Walmart and find plenty of basic items. However, if you really wanted a wide selection and hard-to-find items for your project, you'd go to a hardware store. Look at industry-specific sites as the hardware stores of your job search. Whether your career is in publishing, information technology, healthcare, human resources, financial services or any other large industry, you can find job search sites specific to it. In addition to searching for jobs on these sites, you often can post your résumé on them as well.
Another way you can target jobs in your industry is to visit the corporate Web sites of companies that you're interested in within your industry. Many will post job openings on the "careers" section of their Web site. If you don't find the specific job opening you're looking for, find out who runs the department you'd like to work in, then send your résumé directly to that person.
One more option is to work with a headhunter or job recruitment specialist. Often, these people will work for companies to bring in stand-out candidates for a job. However, you can hire one yourself to help you find jobs within your industry. Just be sure to ask around before hiring -- you want to make sure you're working with someone effective and legitimate.
On the next page, we'll show you a way to go from targeting an industry to targeting specific employers.
Update Your Resume -- and Customize It
You probably wouldn't wear the same outfit to a job interview that you wore to one 10 years ago, so don't use the same résumé you used back then, either. Sure, you may have added one or two jobs to your "experience" category, but likely left all the other sections just about the same. If you aren't getting results with your current résumé, consider revising it. When updating your résumé, keep the following tips in mind:
- Make sure your descriptions are concise and detailed.
- If you have a long job history (more than 15 years) focus on just the most relevant, significant and recent information.
- Remove any personal pronouns. Save them for your cover letter.
- Keep the résumé length to two pages or less (or just one, if your job history is short).
- Proofread your résumé very carefully for typos and grammatical errors.
Now that you've updated your résumé, you'll want to customize it for each new potential position you apply for. Many companies now use software that searches résumés for keywords specific to the qualifications they're looking for. So if you ensure your résumé addresses the specific skills and experience required for the position, it's much more likely to pass through for further evaluation.
Don't just send a customized résumé; keep reading to learn how to keep a company's attention.
Stay on a Company's Radar
Think of searching for a job as if you're looking for a mate. With each potential match, you want to impress them with your abilities and show them you're interested by calling them. Obviously, a company is not a date. And your interaction with a hiring manager should always be strictly professional. But remember, you are wooing potential employers, in a matter of speaking. And you're definitely trying to show them that you're the one. So, just as you might persistently chase the man or woman of your dreams, you should pursue the job of your dreams with the same intensity.
One of the primary ways to stay on the mind of a potential employer is to follow up with them. You should contact them again by phone or e-mail within a week or two after submitting your résumé or application. If you make it to the interview process, it is also helpful to send a personal thank-you note to the person who interviewed you.
In all interactions with potential employers, always be polite and considerate of their time. And just like with dating, you don't want to wind up in stalker territory. Be sure not to follow up excessively or to the point of harassment. And definitely don't contact a company that specifically requests no follow-ups.
There may be an easier "in" with a company. Check out the next section to learn what that could be.
Network, Network, Network
You've most likely heard the cliché: "It's not what you know; it's who you know." Well, when you're searching for a new job, what you know is pretty important, but who you know -- or who you get to know -- can be just as important, if not more. Career specialists and veteran job seekers alike will probably tell you that networking is one of the best ways to land a job. And, there are myriad ways to do so.
When you start looking for a job, contact friends and trusted professionals in your field to let them know you're on the hunt. Consider giving them your personal business cards or a copy of your résumé in case they run into someone who's searching for a candidate like you. Also ask them to serve as professional references or to let you know if the companies they work for are hiring.
Another excellent way to network is to use an online professional networking site like LinkedIn.com. This way you can not only connect with friends and colleagues, but also former co-workers, local employers and friends of friends.
Some other networking routes you might want to consider include:
- Job fairs
- Alumni groups
- Professional societies and associations
- Social activities
- Local business community events
Our next tip is one you might not have considered.
"You can make $70,000 a year from home just by surfing the Internet!"
Have you come across claims like that in your job search? Fortunately, there's something about such statements that screams fraud to most of us. There are, however, more subtle scams awaiting job hunters. To protect yourself from scam artists preying on eager job hunters, look for these red flags:
- Calls from people posing as employers and asking for your Social Security number so that they can run a background check on you. Companies should not need this information until farther along in the interview process -- never up front.
- Work-at-home proposals, many of which are popping up on Twitter these days, which require you to put up some of your own money in order to get started. Never give out your credit card number or bank account number to gain a job.
- Companies offering instructional materials that will help you land a government job. Often, the materials are phony or don't exist, and they are just a ploy to gain your credit card number. For legitimate information on government jobs, go straight to the source: www.usajobs.opm.gov.
Job scam artists are able to gain much of the information they have on you -- including your employment aspirations, your e-mail address and your home phone number -- from any online résumé you may have posted. This makes it easier for them to trick you into thinking they're a legitimate employer. Fortunately, most job search engines offer security features, such as a confidential e-mail account through which a company can contact you.
Keep reading for more helpful information on how to market yourself.
Think of Yourself as a Brand
Even in the best of economic times, job hunts can be brutally competitive. Skip to a recession with high unemployment rates, and suddenly you're vying for a job against not just other locals, but applicants across the country. To outshine your job opponents, you can't simply cross your fingers and hope for the best, you have to -- as the cliché goes -- set yourself apart from the competition.
You can look at your job search as a way to sell "You" Inc. One effective way to do this is to set up your own Web site highlighting your skills, talents and professional experience. This will provide potential employers with a one-stop location to learn everything about you that they might otherwise have to request and sift through: your references, accomplishments, portfolio and more.
Consider your Web site as sort of a LinkedIn-plus. You'll list your job history and skills, of course. But you should also consider posting recommendations from colleagues, examples from your portfolio, awards you've achieved and links to professional associations to which you belong. Just make sure the site is professional, contemporary and easy to navigate. If you know little to nothing about Web design, consider enlisting a friend's help or hiring a professional. The last thing you want is for your site to look amateurish.
The Web is a powerful job-search tool, but on the next page we'll show you how it can work against you as well.
Imagine for a minute that you're an employer. If you were hiring and had narrowed your search down to two potential candidates, who would you choose: candidate A, who is well-qualified, or candidate B, who is well-qualified and who also had a party shut down by the cops last weekend? Most likely, candidate A, right? Once an employer is aware of unflattering information about a potential hire -- right or wrong -- it can affect how he or she views that person. And in this era of social media, what a person does during his or her personal time can very quickly become known by anyone if it's shared on the Internet. One study suggests that one in 10 employers will reject a job candidate based on information they found about the potential hire online [source: Langfitt].
Here are a few ways to keep damaging information about yourself from damaging your employment prospects:
- Google yourself. Do a simple search that a possible employer might do, and see what pops up. Anything damaging or embarrassing?
- If you're on a social networking site like Facebook, be sure to set your security settings to "private" so that your profile isn't available for viewing by anyone you're not connected to.
- If you're on Twitter or you run a personal blog, consider using an alias so that those who do business with you (now or in the future) will be shielded from any potentially controversial statements you may make.
- Consider hiring the services of a company that helps monitor and clean up a person's online reputation. They say they can create an overview of your online persona and assist you in contacting sources that can remove or alter your information.
A good reputation goes a long way with prospective employers, as does the attribute in the next section.
If you pay attention to the news, you're probably aware of the lengths to which people are going to get hired -- whether it's someone placing a "hire me" billboard ad near a heavily commuted interstate or a college grad wearing a "job wanted" sandwich board through the business district of his or her town. Sometimes, such ploys can backfire and damage a job-seeker's reputation. However, the creativity and enthusiasm required for such attempts can be applied on a smaller scale and actually help you stand out from other job seekers.
So, how can you draw attention to yourself in a creative way without coming across as a desperate kook? One way is to get creative with the company's product or theme. For example, if you're applying for a job with a soft drink company, you could mail your résumé rolled up in an empty, clean soda bottle. When coming up with such ideas, just make sure you never misuse the company's brand or make the mistake of using one of their competitor's products or slogans. You want to market yourself in a way that shows ingenuity, not ignorance.
Another tactic is to show the potential employer what you can do for them. For example, one job hunter wrote a business plan for a product of the company he was pursuing, while another candidate created a full graphics portfolio for a potential employer [source: CareerBuilder].
While you want to gain attention from businesses that are hiring, you don't want that attention to be negative. Rather, always do so in a way that highlights the qualities you can bring to your new job.
Keep reading for our top job-search tip.
Consider Rejection an Ally
This is probably the hardest of all the job search tips because it doesn't detail anything you can actively do to get a job. In fact, it's what you do after you've done everything else you can. It often requires painful character growth and the development of such difficult qualities as patience and persistence. Coping with job rejection is not fun, but it's incredibly useful. How so? Primarily, it steels you so that you can continue your search. If you allow yourself to give up or become discouraged, you won't put the work into your job search that you need to land a job.
Secondly, rejection gives you a chance to reevaluate your job search. If what you're doing isn't effective, perhaps you need to make some changes in your approach. Rejection may be a clue that you need to revamp your résumé or look for jobs in new places.
And consider this: The more job rejections you get, the more likely it is that the job you do find is a good fit. Not every employer is looking for the same thing. You may have skills that are unimportant to the majority of companies you contact, but that jump off the page when they cross the right desk at another company. Past rejections may be necessary for you to get to the job you want.
If you're interested in learning more about improving your job search, keep reading for lots more information.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- CareerBuilder.com. "Employers Share Most Unusual Tactics Job Seekers Have Used to Get Hired in New CareerBuilder.com Survey." October 8, 2008. (July 16, 2010)http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?id=pr464&sd=10%2f8%2f2008&ed=12%2f31%2f2008&siteid=cbpr&sc_cmp1=cb_pr464_
- CareerBuilder.com. "More Employers Seeing Unusual Tactics from Job Seekers in 2010, Finds New CareerBuilder Survey." June 9, 2010. (July 16, 2010)http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?id=pr574&sd=6/9/2010&ed=12/31/2010
- CareerBuilder.com. "Top 10 Online Job Search Tips." August 19, 2008. (July 16, 2010)http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-703-Job-Search-Top-10-Online-Job-Search-Tips/?ArticleID=703&cbRecursionCnt=1&cbsid=0c3b515e6f724b5fa551e7ce6cc17019-332549751-VJ-4&ns_siteid=ns_us_g_job_search_tips
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