Last Updated Sep 22, 2010 10:23 AM EDT
It now takes almost as long to get a job in the U.S. — seven and a half months — as it does to produce your next of kin. That's the longest slog since the Labor Department began tracking job search duration in 1948. Looked at another way, there are currently an average of six people vying for every job that you are, each of them doing exactly the same things — combing job boards, networking, prepping for interviews — as you. Is there a way to speed up the job search and stand out from your competition?
Recruiters and other experts say that the only way is to put in the extra work to present yourself so that employers realize they absolutely need you, and that they need you right now.
Mary Berman managed to do it. After interviewing last fall for a job she really wanted in event management and marketing, the 56-year-old Berman decided to ditch the typical thank-you note and instead spent the whole night after the interview creating a detailed action plan for her first 30, 60, and 90 days in the job. She described to her future boss how she would learn the job, build rapport with employees and customers, contribute to the company’s bottom line, and fulfill every function outlined in the job description. And it didn’t hurt that she had already sent the person she first interviewed with, as well as the office receptionist, a chocolate-dipped apple to go with her thank-you note. Three days later, Berman heard back with an offer — just two months after she started her job search.
Here’s how to copy Berman’s success and stop wasting valuable time:
1. Forget Monster.com
In fact, forget CareerBuilder, HotJobs, and all the other mass job sites. While these boards seem like a good place to start, how many people do you know who actually found a job that way? Even hiring managers don’t want to sort through the hundreds and hundreds of resumes they get for each position they list on these sites, so they’re increasingly turning to industry-specific job portals, says Debra Yergen, author of Creating Job Security. So if you’re looking for a job in the food and beverage industry, you’d likely be better off searching CareersInFood.com or ProduceCareers.com. You can find these more focused job portals by simply Googling the name of your industry and the phrase “job boards;” industry associations also often have job boards on their Web sites.
Another tip for making your job searching more efficient is to sign up for alerts for specific positions at sites like SimplyHired and Indeed.com that aggregate job listings from a variety of good sources. “You set it and forget it; you never have to go to another major job board again,” says David Perry, managing partner of recruitment firm Perry Martel International and co-author of Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0.
2. Borrow from Headhunters’ Tricks
Headhunters use a variety of ploys to get information and find candidates, and you can learn from them. One trick that Perry uses to get intel about a company’s vulnerabilities and hiring needs is to target people who have recently left a given company by using a smart Google search. These folks are usually more willing to talk about the company than people who are still working there and don’t want to jeopardize their jobs. The search that Perry does is “[name of company] + resume + experience -apply”. The “-apply” at the end weeds out most of the employment ads, Perry says. You can also find former employees of a given company by searching for that company on LinkedIn; you’ll get a list of current and former employees there that are within two degrees of you.
Once you find people, call them. This might sound like the type of thing that will get you mostly angry hang-ups, but it works, says Perry. “You say, ‘I’m doing research on XYZ company and I’d like to ask you a few questions.’” Or be less cagey and simply tell them you’re applying for a job at XYZ and want to ask them a couple of quick questions. In this economy, many people are willing to help others if they can.
That was Jeff Kruzich’s experience. Now a district sales manager for an industrial supply distributor in Chicago, Kruzich, 44, used Google searches and LinkedIn to search for former employees of companies he was targeting, then called and told them he was trying to get a job there. “I asked about their experience at the company where I wanted to work, and if they could connect me with anyone else that might be able to tell me more. Most people were really good about it,” he says.
Sure, this advice might force you outside of your comfort zone. But if you want a leg up on the other five [or 55] people just like you who are applying for that job, you’re going to have to stretch.
3. Dump the Timeline on Your Resume
One crucial thing Steven Hirchak did to get a job quickly was change his resume. Hirchak, 42, lost his job at an online retailer in November and was having limited success in his job search. He knew from experience that hiring managers are most concerned with return on investment these days, so he made sure his resume was focused on what he would bring to the bottom line, as opposed to the standard chronological job history, which had a lot of redundant information. He sifted through his performance reviews from the four years he had spent at his previous job, pulling out every project he led that generated revenue for the company.
“I highlighted some big ones I thought would impress prospective employers and also wove those into my talking points during interviews,” Hirchak says. As soon as he changed the format, he started getting more calls back from companies. And in January, he landed a job at an online education provider in Utah.
4. Get Ready for Your Close-Up
More than anything else, an interview is an audition, so you had better rehearse. In fact Shira Furman, 23, now a paralegal working for the federal government, had been looking for a job for months and getting plenty of interviews — but no offers — when she did a mock interview with the help of career coach Christine Bolzan of Graduate Career Coaching. Bolzan says one reason it often takes so long to get a job even if you’re getting interviews is that many people don’t know how to hone and articulate their message in an interview setting. “They aren’t aware of problems like using filler words, distracting hand gestures, and poor posture,” she says.
Furman did a mock interview with Bolzan, who videotaped it, and was shocked that she came across like she was chatting with a friend, her posture too relaxed and her answers too vague. Furman began preparing for her next interview by writing out specific and detailed answers to every conceivable question she might be asked, and also changed things like her posture, intonation, and amount of eye contact. “I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first interview I had after the mock session, I was offered the job,” says Furman.
You don’t need to hire a coach to do this, just a helpful friend or two and a Flip cam or digital camera. Have one of them ask you questions you’re likely to be asked during your interview and the other tape the whole exchange. Afterwards, all of you can watch the interview and critique it. Yes, it can be a somewhat humiliating experience, but consider the options: You can embarrass yourself in front of your closest confidantes, or in front of a hiring manager who has the power to hand you thousands of dollars every two weeks. It’s a fairly easy choice.
5. Push the Envelope
What these success stories have in common is that the job applicant went above and beyond the usual pavement pounding to land a new gig. For Bill McCausland, a former national sales manager at an auto finance company in Dearborn, Michigan, it was detective work that did the trick. McCausland, 39, had been nonstop networking since he lost his job last June, and although he was getting interviews, there were no offers. So in September, after landing an interview with a marketing communications company he liked, McCausland decided that he would show up prepared to discuss concrete ways to improve the firm’s customer experience.
To do this, McCausland went to competitors’ Web sites to find their customer lists. He called, gave his name, and said he was doing some independent research about their service provider (which, in fact, he was). He let them know his questions would take less than five minutes to answer, then asked why they had chosen that particular provider. He also canvassed current customers of his target firm to find out what was being done right. During his interview, McCausland discussed what he had learned and made recommendations for improvement. “I knew the company’s strengths and that of their competitors, and they were very interested in what was being said about them,” McCausland. “This was actionable information they could use. I think they thought if I approached the interview this way, imagine how I would approach the job.” Two days later, McCausland had an offer.
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