It's 2011 and it's time to take control of your job search. This year, it's no longer up to companies to hire you, it's up to you to get hired. Forget about how the economy is doing. Reflect on last year if you must, but then forget about that, too. This year, your focus will be on finding the right job for you and doing everything you can to be the best candidate for that job. The competition may still be tough, but you're going to be better than the competition.
Here's how to turn the tables in your favor.
1. Narrow your search. Stop applying to jobs that you're not qualified for or don't really want. It's a waste of time. Be honest with yourself when evaluating job postings. If you had to start the job tomorrow, do you have all the skills you'd need to succeed? Or are there areas of the job description that you don't have experience in? While it's always great to be willing to learn, most companies want to hire someone who can jump right in and get started without being trained from scratch. Focus your time on creating great applications for jobs you are well qualified for instead.
2. Know exactly what you want. Narrowing down your job search may force you to ask yourself tough questions like: What kind of job am I really after? And, what skills can I offer an employer? If you're unsure of the answer, make one list of the job skills you excel at and one of the skills you like to use most. Use these skills as search terms in your job search.
3. Reevaluate your skill set. If you feel like you've looked at every job posting on earth and you still can't find one your skills match up with, then it's time to get some new skills. The good news for those who are unemployed is that it's the perfect opportunity to go back to school. You won't have to divide your time with your job obligations, and there's also the possibility that the economy will have recovered a bit by the time you graduate school -- giving you a double leg up. There are even government funding and programs available for out-of-work job-seekers that want to enroll in training or continue their education.
4. Set goals. Yes, your overall goal may be to get a job, but setting short-term, specific job search goals for the year will help you grow and force you to continuously evaluate your progress. Improve your networking skills, for example, by making January's goal to join a professional organization and February's to attend a college alumni event. Holding yourself accountable for achieving these goals will boost your self-esteem and motivate you to continue searching by providing you with new leads and information.
5. Try something new. If you're stuck in a job search rut, add a new strategy to your repertoire. Instead of only job searching online, try working with a recruiter and setting up informational interviews with industry contacts, too. A multi-faceted approach will get the best results.
6. Get a leg up on the competition. If you come across a job that seems perfect for you, do something that will subtly help you stand out from the crowd. When you find a job posting you want to apply to, find out the name of the hiring manager or someone who works in the same department, and send the person an e-mail directly. It's 2011, which means almost anything can be found online, including names and e-mail addresses. A LinkedIn search on the company should turn up a list of employees and their titles, from which you can select the most appropriate person. Then, search the company website or press releases for the company's e-mail format.
7. Get a hold of your online reputation: When an HR manager searches your name online (and they will do it) you can either take control what they see, or you can leave it to the powers of the crawl search gods. Search results that are professional, consistent and that establish you as an expert in your field will be far more impressive than Facebook pictures from Thanksgiving. Things like a Facebook or LinkedIn profile and a Twitter feed will all show up on the first page, so signing up for these sites and populating the accounts with up-to-date, professional content will make a great impression.
8. Start a website: If you want to take your Internet presence one step further, starting a website will showcase your skills and talents in a thorough and interesting way, and it'll add to your professionalism and give you credibility. Plus, it's not as costly or as time-consuming as you might think. Domain names (i.e. YourName.com), can be registered on sites like GoDaddy.com or Bluehost.com for around $10, and web hosting can cost as little as $3 per month. If you're not particularly tech savvy, premade blog templates give you a professional look with minimal hassle. Wordpress.com has tons of template options and also provides great technical support for novices.
9. Stay current: You should always be in the loop, even if you're out of work. Read trade publications, comment on industry blogs, and stay on top of any emerging technologies or policies that may impact your career path. This will not only help you have a great conversation with an interviewer and keep your professional edge, but it may also give you new ideas about where and how to look for a job.
10. Sell yourself: An interview is no time for modesty, especially in times like these. When you land an interview, go prepared with at least five examples that demonstrate your best qualities. That way, when an interviewer asks, "Why should I hire you," you can talk about how you're such a quick learner that you taught yourself Photoshop in a week and how your entrepreneurial spirit lead you to start your first lawn-mowing business at age 16. Be sure to leave the interviewer with the phone numbers of references who will back you up with glowing recommendations.
11. Keep that glass half-full approach, all year: A job search will always have its frustrating moments, because things don't always happen when or how we want them to happen. But instead of letting setbacks ruin motivation, take them as lessons. Your lack of interviews may mean it's time to re-evaluate your career path or skill set, which could lead you to a more fulfilling career. This type of positive attitude will be much more productive in helping you find your next job.
The bottom line is that job searching will be tough this year, but landing a job -- even your dream job -- can still be a reality. A proactive job search is your best bet, so take the necessary steps to ensure you get the job you want.
Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow @Careerbuilder on Twitter.
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