Tuesday, November 17, 2009

8 tips to help you find your way in this tough job market

While I knew there was a good chance the unemployment rate would go up, when I heard the latest figures were 10.2 percent, my reaction on Twitter was automatic: "Double ugh," I wrote. It was exactly how I was feeling at the moment. Then, I did what I always did: I picked up the phone and started asking experts on how job seekers could succeed in this tough market. Here's what I wrote for my Gannett column:

You may not think you have a superpower, but if the only way you’re looking for a job is by applying to companies or job boards on the Web, you’ve just become invisible.

Phil Haynes says it’s these kinds of blunders that can prevent a job seeker from finding a position, but he says a revamped strategy can help bring success.

“Your chances of finding a job by just applying online are about 7 percent,” says Phil Haynes. “You want to make yourself visible to companies, but you’re invisible if you’re applying for jobs that way.”

Haynes is in a unique position to know how companies are hiring. He is the director or of AllianceQ, a group of Fortune 500 companies that have collaborated to build a pool of qualified job candidates to match with job openings. It not only drives down recruitment costs for employers because they are sharing resources, but candidates have access to more opportunities through a job search program known as UnitedWeWork.

As employment rises to more than 10 percent, Haynes says that job seekers need to quit wasting time on strategies that won’t help them find a job. He suggests several ways to improve a job search process. He says some do’s and don’ts include:

  1. Don’t apply for jobs for which you’re not qualified. Employers have to weed through hundreds of resumes for even the most basic jobs, so they immediately discard ones where the skills don’t match their requirements. For example, if you’re not an engineer, don’t apply for a job that requires an engineering degree. “You do a great disservice to yourself when you do something like that,” Haynes says. “It never, never works that way. I have never seen someone picked for a job if they don’t have the qualifications.”
  2. Do take a sales approach to the job search. “Before you sell something, you have to know your product. In this case, you are the product. What can you offer someone?” Haynes advises not trying to “be something you’re not,” but instead looking at how what you know could translate into something positive for an employer.

3. Do your homework. Haynes says you should never approach an employer about a job unless you have researched the key players in the company, what the company does and some of the challenges it faces in its industry. That information can easily be found on the Internet or by visiting a local library, he says.

4. Do walk out the door. “Put on a suit and get out of the house,” Haynes says. “Go knock on doors. Do it the old-fashioned way: Walk into a small or medium-sized business and talk to them.” Haynes says the way you get opportunities is often by selling your skills to a company leader face-to-face. By making that personal connection, you may nab a job before an employer even considers posting it. “They may just see you as someone who can save them from going through stacks of resumes,” he says.

5. Don’t be desperate. Never approach an employer with the attitude that you’re willing to do any kind of work. “Don’t ever tell an employer that you really need the job, but rather that you’d like the job,” Haynes says. “Never say you’re willing to do anything.”

6. Do understand that something is better than nothing. Maybe your pride won’t let you take a certain job, or even apply for a position with less money than you were making. “Listen, you’ll feel better about yourself if you have a job and someplace to go,” Haynes says. “You can keep looking for something better, but take the job for now.”

7. Don’t be ashamed. “This time period is not going to reflect negatively on you in your resume,” he says. “People are taking survival jobs, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

8. Do follow up. Once you’ve had a job interview, don’t let the connection languish. That doesn’t mean you call and bug the person about a decision. Instead, use information gleaned through the interview to make a stronger personal connection, Haynes says. For example, if you know the person went to a certain school and had a favorite professor, find information on the professor’s latest accomplishments, or an article written by the person. Forward this information onto the interviewer, saying something like, “I thought you might find this interesting since I know this professor was a personal favorite.”

Haynes also offers other words of encouragement to job seekers.

“Don’t forget that while some jobs are gone forever, there are a lot of new ones evolving,” he says. “And as soon as the stock market rebounds, a lot of those 6.6 million people who are 65 and older are going to go ahead and retire. That’s a lot of jobs opening up.”

What are some other job search tips?



Anonymous said...

Thanks Anita for the post. I am a workforce professional and couldn't agree more with the comment on getting out the door. So many people are relying solely upon job boards. In my opinion, job boards should be used to see what companies are active and what they are looking for, and that's it.

Anita said...

Part of me wonders if this reliance on job boards online is because people are feeling down about looking for work. But if all they do is look online, that situation becomes worse because they get no feedback and feel as if they're making no progress. Even though it may be harder to make a "cold call" on an employer, I'd think that any interaction would be better than staring at a lifeless computer screen. Just my thought...
Thanks for adding yours.

Jimmy @ The Careerist said...

Very insightful tips, Anita - thanks for posting. I'd like to add one more to the list if I may: Tap into your personal and professional networks for job leads! As you stated in your post, going the old route of submitting your resume via job boards is for the birds in this job market. If you want immediate results, reach out to friends and colleagues and let them know that you're looking for new employment and would greatly appreciate any leads.

Anita said...

I agree...tell everyone you're looking for work from your kid's soccer coach to your cousin. Don't let pride stand in the way of getting a job. It's not worth it.

ElizabethJames said...

Hi Anita,

As a job seeker in the 11th month of my unemployment, I must respectfully disagree with this post, at least based on my experiences.

I am an avid networker (I am the president of my university's alumni association, I volunteer frequently at charitable organizations, and I attend a business networking event about once a week), and yet my networking has yielded exactly 2 job interviews in 11 months. I have had much greater success with cold applying online. Out of about 300 jobs applied to, I have gotten 12 interviews, 10 of which were from online applications and no prior contact with companies.

The notions of getting out of the house and meeting with small to medium companies and calling people within the company to gain an upper hand are good ideas in theory, but in practice, I have found that people are totally unreceptive to those methods. People who are at work are busy, stressed out, and are unwilling to speak to someone they don't know (and sometimes they're unwilling to speak to someone they do know). Also, because all job seekers are reading the same advice articles, they are all calling into companies and are ultimately annoying the heck out of the people who get to field the calls.

What I think would be helpful is an article that addresses what an entry-level job seeker should do, because these are the people for whom no one will stick out their neck. I think that entry-level job seekers are the worst off, because their resumes are the thinnest and they're not qualified to do much of anything (on paper).

Anita said...

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I've always said there's no "holy grail" of workplace advice, and different strategies may work for different people. I appreciate you offering your input.

Rick Saia said...

I absolutely agree with #1, Anita! Anyone who finds himself or herself applying for too many positions and getting no bites should look at their qualifications and target only those jobs that will not be a stretch for them based on their skills and qualifications. The more focused you are, the more successful you'll be.

Anita said...

I admit to having violated No. 1 in the early part of my career -- I cringe at what those employers must have thought! But, I learned from the experience that it was just a waste of my energies that could have been better focused elsewhere. Sometimes swinging a wide net will only get you a sore arm.
Thanks for your comments.

Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers said...

Anita -
Timely tips! I would add my mantra - "Do something different." I think job seekers get into a rut of doing the same thing over and over again and do not realize that there are other approaches and different places to look for opportunities. For example, ramp up your social networking. Use Twitter to expand your loose networking contacts. Optimize that dusty LinkedIn profile. The list goes on and on, but the key factor is to make a change. Doing something new can really infuse a search and give it new life.

Anita said...

Getting out of a rut can not only help you career-wise, but also emotionally. Just breaking a routine can sometimes make you feel better. Great tip!