Here's how every job seeker secretly hopes his or her search will go:
8:00 a.m. You see an ad for the job of your dreams: close to home, makes use of your skills, offers the right pay.
8:05 a.m. You apply for the job.
8:07 a.m. The hiring manager, out of breath, calls you. "We must have you. The CEO said to pay whatever you ask for -- we need you on our team ASAP!"
8:10 a.m. After you give your demands (a high salary and access to the company jet), you're faxed the job offer.
8:15 a.m. You head out the door to your first day of work.
In reality, the process takes a few weeks or months longer, and you probably won't get every single perk you want. Along the way, you don't hear back from the companies you think are perfect matches for you, and it takes weeks to get an interview after sending in your application.
You probably spend a few days (at least) wringing your hands over whether or not you'll ever find a job. No matter who you are and what industry you're in, anxiety is just part of the process. But everyone has a different breaking point, and after so many résumés, you're bound to start asking, "I've sent out hundreds of applications -- why isn't anyone hiring me?"
Here's a checklist for you to review so you can either put your mind at ease ("It's not me; it's them") or revamp your searching technique ("Well, it might be me"). Maybe the factors slowing down your job hunt are not under your control. But it doesn't hurt to double-check.
Before you start blaming yourself for not getting any leads, take a look at your surrounding area. Not all cities have the same job market. A dearth of construction jobs in a northeastern suburb might be the polar opposite of the situation in a southwestern boomtown. Whether or not you want to or can relocate for your job is a personal matter, but you should consider the unemployment rate of your region when assessing how your hunt is going.
2. Which jobs
When you look at how many applications you've sent out and how many you've heard back from, you might want to divide the list into two columns: jobs you expected to get and jobs you applied for on a whim.
Many job seekers decide to send out applications for jobs they know they're not qualified for, whether they just want a paycheck or they think it would be fun to try a completely unrelated field -- even though they know the odds of getting a call are slim. These Hail Mary passes are perfectly acceptable, but don't consider their failures to be, well, failures. The jobs that align with your experience, education and skills are the ones that should be the gauge of your success.
3. The résumé
Here's where a lot of things go wrong. That one piece of paper, digital or hard copy, causes a lot of problems. Here's a quick rundown of what you should check:
· Is your contact information (including your name) listed so the employer can call or e-mail you?
· Did you target the content to the job posting? Use the same phrasing, list experience that correlates to the requirements and give specific examples of achievements that will intrigue the employer.
· Did you attach the résumé as a document in an e-mail? For security reasons, many employers won't open attachments, so your résumé might go unread. In addition to the attachment, paste it in the body of the e-mail to be safe.
· Was there a cover letter attached to it? No cover letter can mean no consideration for some hiring managers.
4. The interview
If you've been called in for interviews already, then you're doing something right. Not getting a job after interviewing doesn't mean you blew it -- it means you made the shortlist, but someone else might have been a better fit. But it never hurts to review your performance.
An interview is often a chance for the employer to see if you fit into the company culture. Are you too rigid for a casual environment? Are your verbal communication skills good enough for your position? Hiring managers also use this opportunity to learn about you in a way they can't through a résumé. They want you to elaborate on your experience and answer any questions they still have.
To make a good impression, preparation is key. You don't want to sound rehearsed, but practicing your answers to questions, your handshake, how you'll sit in the chair and anything else you're likely to encounter will help you. If you can avoid being the deer in the headlights, you'll be able to focus on the quality of your answers.
Not to be superficial, but presentation means a lot. From the layout of your résumé to the wrinkles in your interview attire, your professionalism is being judged. How are you presenting yourself to employers?
Don't start your cover letter with, "Hey!" and don't end it with a smiley-face emoticon. Your résumé shouldn't be full of ClipArt butterflies and smiley faces. And you should leave some white space between sections so that the entire page isn't a single paragraph of text. The hiring manager needs to see a job candidate who takes the job seriously, even before you're called in for an interview.
During an interview, you should dress appropriately. That doesn't mean trying too hard -- say, a tuxedo for an administrative assistant's job -- but it does mean dress for the environment and look like you spent time preparing. If you're told the environment is business casual, then you don't need a suit, but you still need to iron your pants.
Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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