Stop whining about corporate downsizing, the recent recession, and the "jobless recovery" from it. Sure, all of the above have made good jobs difficult to find. But most job seekers suffer more from poor job hunting skills than from lack of opportunity, according to Terry Mullins, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Business Administration at the University of Evansville in Indiana. Here are his ten tips for improving your odds of finding a job quickly:
1. Discover your strengths and learn to talk about them. Since employers estimate future successes by past accomplishments, learn to think of your experience in terms of goals achieved, abilities developed, lessons learned. A cares study of your accomplishments will reveal the best of your skills.
Most people are uncomfortable promoting themselves or revealing their ambitions because as children many of us are taught not to brag. But though self-congratulating may be rude at a dinner party, it's expected at an interview. So get comfortable telling your "story" by sharing it with a sympathetic friend, because overcoming an ingrained reluctance to speak highly of yourself is essential if you hope to convince an employer to hire you.
2. Prepare a resume that is compatible with electronic data bases. Many firms rely on computerized resume data bases to generate potential job applicants. Instead of being screened by a person, your resume may be scanned into an electronic data base. The data base uses applicant-tracking software to match key words from a job description with key words in the resume.
To make your resume compatible, you should use a common typeface, such as Courier, which is readily recognized by optical scanning programs. Since some scanning programs have trouble reading italic and boldface type, use these sparingly.
3. Plan your interview story carefully. Most successful interviews follow a three-scene script. Cooperate with the script and you increase your chances of being hired. Fight it or ignore it and your interview may run aground.
Scene One: Lasting about three minutes, this scene consists of small talk and is really a compatibility contest. As you shake hands, make eye contact and smile. Show that you are courteous, friendly, and at ease with yourself and the situation. These "small" points are not trivial.
Scene Two: Lasting about 15 minutes to an hour or more, this scene is mainly you telling your story. You need to explain your skills, abilities, accomplishments, and ambitions. Emphasize your ability to add value to the employer. If you can claim credit for increasing sales, reducing costs, or improving quality, now is the time to do so. If you have any holes in your experience or blemishes on your record, handle them now. As you conclude this scene, stress your ability and willingness to perform at a high level.
Scene Three: Lasting only a minute or two, this scene closes the interview and sets up the next steps. Do not allow the interviewer to close with the usual, "We'll be in touch with you when we decide something." This statement leaves you powerless to influence the decision. Instead, you should end the interview by saying, "I'll keep you posted about developments in my job search." This comment keeps you in control, allowing you to follow up with additional information that may improve your chance of being hired.
4. Create a network of friendly contacts who can hire you or recommend you to others who can. Developing a network of contacts is the single most important task of a job seeker. You need to tell your story to people who have the power to hire you. In other words, you want a network filled with potential bosses. This contact can be made in a letter detailing your interest in the field and your respect for the person's stature within it. Follow up with a phone call.
When you go in for the appointment, don't ask for a job. If you do, the person you are networking with may feel tricked. The visit is a chance to learn from his or her expertise and make an ally in your job search. If impressed you might end up with some interviews. Remember, before you leave, ask for the names of others who might be able to help you out.
Forty or 50 networking interviews should produce several job offers. If not, you should polish your interviewing skills and begin the process again.
Don't limit your search to larger firms. Today, small- and medium-sized firms create the most new jobs. With a small company, it is easier to get hired and you are likely to receive greater responsibility sooner. True, small firms traditionally pay less and provide fewer benefits, but not always. Finally, solid accomplishments at a small firm can translate into a better job at a larger company.
6. Make job hunting a full-time commitment. Stories abound of well-qualified people who have been unemployed for a year or more. Is the problem a poor economy or something else? Frequently, it is something else--minimal job-hunting efforts, perhaps. Surveys have shown that most people who have been unemployed for lengthy periods spend fewer than five hours a week actively searching for work. They manage to land only one or two interviews each month. If you are unemployed, you should spend a minimum of 40 hours a week actively searching for work. As a full-time job seeker, your goal should be at least one interview a day with someone who has the power to hire you. For lower-level jobs, even more interviews a day are possible. You've heard the saying, "Looking for a job is a full-time job," Consider putting in some overtime as well.
7. Be willing to move. Many people limit their prospects by refusing to look for jobs outside their hometown. Unemployment remains high in the Northeast and in California, in part, because many job seekers will not move to find a job. In many companies, and in some occupations, moving is the only way to advance.
8. Be flexible. You should know your skills and seek jobs consistent with those skills. However, in today's economy, you need to be responsive to employers' needs. Most of us will hold many jobs in several careers during our working life. The nimble and flexible survive.
9. Do not forget the government. For the past 25 years, the growth of government jobs has outpaced the growth of private-sector jobs. State and local employment has grown even more rapidly than federal employment. Many government jobs demand high skill and offer high pay. Although being employed by the government may create some frustration, many people have found meaningful and rewarding careers as public employees.
10. Don't give up. Job hunting is psychologically challenging. You will face obstacles, setbacks, and rejections. Some people you encounter in your search will be unfeeling; a few will be cruel. You will get discouraged and you will be tempted to quit looking. However, the economy is creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs every month. General Motors, for example, will likely hire another 200,000 workers by the turn of the century. Many jobs being created are challenging and pay well. One can be yours, but only if you don't give up wanting it.
PHOTO: Applicant leaving an Employment Dept.