A resume isn't the only tool you need in your arsenal to get a job. In fact, I have known some uber-talented folks who have crummy resumes and who keep landing great jobs because of the strength of their networks, educations, accomplishments, interpersonal skills, and ability to market themselves. Each of these elements is important to job seekers, some more than others depending on the relative strength of some areas of your background. A great resume will help you to get noticed but it is by no means the only thing you need to prepare for a successful job search in an economic downturn.
Based on recent conversations I have had with various job seekers, I have a few tips, thoughts and reality checks you should consider during your job search.
If you do not have a college education it may be harder for you to find a job than someone with an education. If you haven't started or finished your college degree I recommend that you seek out a program that will allow you to get a degree. There are many inexpensive state schools and online programs to choose from these days. Fair or not people with degrees have an advantage. Candidates with advanced degrees or diplomas from prestigious schools have an added advantage particularly when there are many candidates for a particular job.
If you have unexplained periods of unemployment on your resume you may have trouble finding a job. If you chose to take a sabbatical starting in 2007 (pre-economic downturn) and you haven't worked since then it may be difficult for you to land a job right now when competing with people who have worked consistently since then. Sorry, but that is a fact. Come up with a compelling story which explains your time off from work and it may make the search easier.
If you make it through three or four rounds of interviews and you don't land the job, guess what? It's not the resume that caused you to miss the opportunity. It could be your interview skills, fit with the culture, poor references, or maybe, they just plain liked another candidate better. Be honest and reflective when analyzing your interactions with potential employers. You may need some one-on-one interview coaching or to learn to prepare more effectively for interviews. I am always surprised when former clients call me and want to know why they aren't getting hired even though their resume is getting them interviews. A resume gets you an interview and should speak to your accomplishments when you aren't present to do so yourself. But a great resume doesn't guarantee you a job - you have to close that deal yourself.
If you have been a lifelong entrepreneur and your company has gone out of business because of the economy you may have trouble convincing an employer to hire you right now. I have run across several folks recently (most in the real estate industry) who had their own companies that have recently gone under and who are having a hard time landing a job. My theory is that employers are often skeptical of entrepreneurs because they aren't sure if they can work for someone else or they worry that as soon as the economy turns around the former-entrepreneur will quit and start another company. Create a compelling sales pitch for each employer you apply to which also addresses your ability to fit the culture. Also you might consider taking the time to create a 6 week business plan that you would use to hit the ground running in your new job. Actually I give this advice to all of my clients but it's especially true when you are a non-traditional candidate.
If you have uneven social skills or a difficult personality it may be harder for you to find a job in a difficult economy than someone gifted with smooth social graces and a reputation for workplace "niceness." I am sure we have all known odd but gifted technologists, mad scientists, nutty professors, cranky-yet-efficient secretaries, or other folks who may have been difficult to work with but were so talented that management let their quirks slide. In a tough economy employers often tend to hire people they like more than the "most talented" individuals. Play nicely with others, it will pay off. If you have already spent your career developing a reputation as an a-hole you may pay the price in a tough economy and I really have no advice to help you with your current situation. I suppose you will have to take your lumps, learn from your mistakes, and start being nicer to your coworkers when you get some.
If you have never bothered to build a network of friends and colleagues it may be more difficult for you to find a job. I am amazed at all the people who are coming out of the woodwork right now and are just starting to build a network in the hopes they will land a job quickly. Waiting until you are laid off to start building a network is bad timing. The time to begin building and maintaining a network is when you don't need anything from anyone. If, however, you weren't far sighted enough to realize this, the best way to network is to start attending events and meeting people without asking for anything right away. Start your new relationships by offering your help rather than asking for job leads; you will find that your new friends may offer assistance before you even ask. If you need networking tips check out Thom Singer's website www.thomsinger.com. He has some great books, seminars and tips that are effective for everyone. Also Keith Ferrazzi's Book Never Eat Alone and Whose Got Your Back? are very helpful.
Conduct a job search. Don't just dump your resume online and expect to find a great job. Amazingly many people seem to think the internet is magic and that if they post their resumes on Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com and don't do anything else they will find jobs. Probably not going to happen. The internet is a great tool that you can use to research job openings or companies that would be a good fit for your skills but it's not the best way for a hiring manager to find your resume in this economy. Posting your resume online but failing to actually seek jobs is pretty much like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean and hoping someone will rescue you from your deserted island. Research companies, write cover letters, use your social networking profiles wisely, and network. That is how you find a job.
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