Last Updated Dec 7, 2010 10:45 AM EST
How bad is the job market? Statistically, you have a better chance of getting into the University of Pennsylvania than getting an offer of employment. (Six people are currently looking for work for every job opening; there are roughly five applicants for every slot at Penn.) It's no wonder that in addition to the almost 15 million Americans who are officially unemployed, the government says there are 758,000 "discouraged workers" who are out of work but have temporarily halted their job search for lack of results.
But giving up on your job hunt is one of the worst things you can do ― the longer you're unemployed, the harder it is to get hired by sometimes skeptical employers, and the bigger hit you're likely to take to your salary when you do find something. There are, however, much better ways to make contacts and look for jobs than sitting around in your underwear sifting through listings on Monster.com: Here's how to light a match under your stalled job search and get back in the game.
Make Your Online Social Network Work Harder For You
You may not be surprised to learn that companies such as technology powerhouse SalesForce.com use social networking sites to search for job candidates, but even buttoned-down firms such as Allstate have gotten with the program. In fact, 40 percent of Fortune 100 companies use LinkedIn specifically for that purpose. That’s why it’s critical to have a profile on LinkedIn, Twitter,
and Facebook. But what exactly are companies looking for when they look at your profile?
Hiring managers say they’re more impressed by candidates with a smaller number of high-quality connections that they’re deeply engaged with, than by people with a huge number of more casual
connections. This engagement might be shown by having detailed recommendations written by and about someone, as well as activity in answering and asking professional-related questions. “We would rather see a candidate linked to 200 individuals with some substantial context — folks they’ve done business with, managers they’ve worked for, and so on — as opposed to someone who has 500-plus names of folks they don’t really know,” says Scott Morrison, director of Global Recruiting Programs and Technologies for Salesforce.com.
Ironically, a good way to boost the quality of your LinkedIn network is to increase the amount of time you spend on in-person networking. Instead of sending strangers requests to connect via Facebook or LinkedIn, get to know new people by meeting them in person; that face time will make for a stronger connection. From there, you can use online social networks to deepen the relationship.
Ross Dreher, who was laid off from a sales executive job in May, landed a new sales job at a software company by beefing up his online network using old-fashioned methods. After his lay off, he immediately searched on Google for weekly social and networking gatherings near his Atlanta home. One night, he met a manager at a firm where he had recently applied for a job. Later in the week, after the two established a connection on LinkedIn, that sales manager helped Dreher prepare for his job interview by pointing out which parts of Dreher’s career history to emphasize. Armed with that insider knowledge, Dreher aced the interview and he started his new job in August.
Blog Your Way to a Job
The skills listed on your resume might be impressive, but there’s only so much that employers can learn about you from descriptions of your past jobs and experience. Companies are looking for thoughtful and engaged candidates, and blogging regularly about things you find interesting in your industry can help set you apart as an expert. “You want to show managers that you have a capacity for analysis,” says Noah Blumenthal, author of Be the Hero: Three Powerful Ways to Overcome Challenges in Work and Life.
You can set up a blog quickly and for free on sites such as TypePad and WordPress.com. Both sites also let you sync blog entries with your profile on LinkedIn, making it easy for recruiters to find your posts (just use the Applications tab on LinkedIn to set this up). But if the thought of regularly penning a few hundred words gives you flashbacks to frantically scrambling to make term paper deadlines, you can show potential employers you know your stuff in other ways. David Perry, the author of Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0, recommends finding one or two blogs written by experts in your field and commenting intelligently. “The important thing is that you’re sharing your knowledge” with people who can further your career, Perry says. If writing’s not your thing, consider creating podcasts or post videos on YouTube where you interview colleagues or industry experts, and then link them to your profiles, suggests Blumenthal.
Use Technology to Nail Your Best Leads
Learning how to analyze the traffic on your profile pages and websites can help you target your job-hunting efforts more finely and make any
necessary changes. LinkedIn, for example, lets you see who’s spent
time looking at your information via the Who’s Viewed My Profile box
on the home page. While the feature doesn’t always reveal the names
of specific people who have looked at your profile, it does often tell you what
firm they’re with, and their function (what you’ll see
depends on the privacy settings set by the individual). During a recent job search,
Kathleen Erickson, a sales and marketing executive, used the feature to follow
up with recruiters who had checked her profile out. This led to meetings
several hiring managers, including one who gave her tips on how to improve her
profile, and she landed a job a few months later. (Note: Seeing a sample of
people who have viewed your profile on LinkedIn is free, but if you want to
view a complete list, you’ll have to get a business account, which
starts at $24.95 a month.)
If you have your own blog or website, you can also use free
tools like Google Analytics to get more information about who’s
been visiting your site and what they’ve been looking at. Just don’t
become a stalker, says Duane Roberts, a recruiter with executive search firm
IPS. One or two follow-up e-mails to someone who looked at your site or profile
is fine — recruiters have come to expect that — but treat
social networking as you would any other workplace endeavor. “The key
is to be professional, not desperate,” Roberts says.
Get a Job by Giving Back
Volunteering is as good for your resume as it is for your psyche. Job seekers are finding that they’re more likely to get hired if they can show they’ve kept their skills honed while they’re unemployed. And Lisa Jacoba, vice president of HR for Western Union, says that companies are impressed by candidates who volunteer for work that helps them expand their skills. She recently hired an HR director who serves as treasurer for a nonprofit. “In addition to her past experience, that position really speaks to her business acumen,” says Jacoba. Plus, noting volunteer work and accomplishments on your resume shows that you’ve been spending your time between jobs productively.
Volunteering also expands your network, notes Tom Morris, president of Morris Associates, Inc./Lincolnshire International, an outplacement and career management firm. And it can be a particularly good way to catch the attention of local business leaders, who often serve as executives for nonprofits. That’s how Nate Towne, a PR manager, got his new gig at an advertising agency. A transplant to Madison, Wis., Towne joined the local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America to meet new colleagues. When he heard that the organization was looking for volunteers to help with a national awards contest, Towne stepped up, knowing that the group’s president was also the director of PR for one of the city’s largest ad agencies. “I went into those meetings with the intention of impressing her,” says Towne. And he did: During the weeks of work leading up to the event, two positions at her company opened up, which she suggested he apply for. “I would have never gotten this job otherwise,” says Towne.
Finally, there’s the mental boost that comes from giving back. Not only does it give you a sense of purpose, but working with and helping others — especially people in tough situations — gives you a sense of confidence and perspective that can resonate during job interviews. “Confidence can be a great consequence of volunteering and it reminds you of your ability to do constructive things,” says Rachelle Canter, an outplacement consultant. Sites like VolunteerMatch.org and Idealist.org maintain searchable lists of opportunities around the world.
Stay Plugged In to Your Industry
The worst thing you can do during long periods of job hunting is to let your knowledge and skills stagnate. So it’s imperative to stay abreast of industry news, while also following blogs and even the Twitter accounts of companies and managers you want to work for. “Twitter is increasingly a convenient way for companies to share information about things that matter to them, like projects they’re working on,” says Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite, a recruitment software firm. Jason Alba, founder of JibberJobber.com, also recommends joining two or three Yahoo Groups or Google Groups about your industry. “People can get stuck in a rut looking at job boards or tapping the same small group of contacts,” says Finnigan. “Searching for real-time information via Twitter and other online groups can get you out of the apply-and-wait cycle and revive your job search.”
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