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For some people, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a guiding principle. During a job search, however, it's hard to tell just what ain't broke and what needs fixing. Looking for work is a time-consuming process that can move -- or at least feel like it's moving -- at a snail's pace.
So how can you tell the difference between a regular, patience-trying job search and an unsuccessful one?
The first sign: No one's calling you for interviews. Not every résumé you send will result in an interview, but some of them should. Another clue is if you are getting called for interviews but you never get called back for a second round or receive an offer.
If you find your job hunt isn't giving you anything but a stress headache, ask yourself the following questions:
Is my résumé targeted?
Just because you're applying for multiple jobs, don't assume the same résumé works for every position. Each job posting will stress different qualities over others, so rework each résumé to highlight the experience and skills that correspond to that particular employer. Your résumé will prove not only that you're qualified for the job but that you also have an attention to detail.
Am I networking?
Think about this: There is only one of you and there are thousands of job openings. The more people know you're looking for a job, the better your chances of finding one are. You can never be sure who will know of an available position.
Networking can also give you a connection to a hiring manager or somebody at a company that puts you ahead of other applicants, says Matthew Grant of Aquent, a marketing staffing firm. With so many job seekers competing for the same position, you have an edge if you are referred by a friend or colleague of the hiring manager.
Do I know something about the companies I'm applying to?
"Tell me what you know about the company" or "Why would you fit in well here?" have become staple interview questions, so don't be caught off guard. Shrugging your shoulders and saying, "I don't know" isn't going to score you points. Look at the company's Web site and read press releases and newspaper articles to see what's going on with your prospective future boss. In addition to preparing for the interview, you'll also learn whether or not the company and its culture are a right fit for you.
Am I targeting my job search?
Sending out several applications is key to finding a job, but you also need to be selective about the jobs to which you're applying.
"We see job seekers apply for every job posted -- a real red flag that they do not know what it is they are good at," says Eliot Burdett of Peak Sales Recruiting. While you don't need to possess every single skill listed on a posting, you should at least be qualified for the position and prove that you have transferable skills. Your targeted résumé will help prove you're a serious candidate if you have some qualifications for the position.
If you're spending time applying for jobs you're not qualified for, you're wasting valuable time you could be devoting to a position that's a better fit. If you recognize where your strengths lay and what transferable skills you possess, you'll see better results than if you apply to any posting you come across.
Has someone else looked over my résumé and interview technique?
Feedback is critical to job hunting. Ask someone else to read your résumé and provide feedback, suggests Kevin Donlin of TheSimpleJobSearch.com. "Ask them three questions: Does this résumé clearly tell you what I can do? Does it prove I can do it? Does it make you want to call to find out more?" Friends or colleagues can provide objective points of view that help you revise your résumé.
Your interview skills need the same attention. Are your answers succinct or too short? Thorough or rambling? What you think you're saying isn't necessarily what others hear, so find this out now rather than in the interview. If you don't think that a colleague or friend can offer constructive feedback, make an appointment with an interview coach.
How am I presenting myself?
Employers are assessing your presentation before you even show up for an interview. The e-mail address you put on your résumé and other correspondences should be professional, not descriptive. So avoid addresses like BingeDrinker@beerguzzlers.net. Opt for something as simple as your name.
Your e-mails and phone conversations with hiring managers or recruiters should also send a professional message. Don't send e-mails written in all capital letters and/or using three exclamation points -- it's bad netiquette in personal correspondence, but it's even worse in business.
Put the same thought into your outgoing voicemail message. Don't try to be funny by playing thirty seconds of your favorite song or talk with a mouthful of food. Hiring managers might hang up instead of ask you to call them back. Give a normal, casual greeting, or use one of the preprogrammed options that come with most accounts.
If a recruiter calls you, don't try to hold a conversation with your TV blaring in the background or your child screaming on your lap. If you're asked whether it's a good time to talk, you can be honest and say you're in the middle of something. Then ask if he or she can call you back in 15 minutes or find another day that's convenient for both of you. You'll be prepared to answer all the recruiter's questions and won't be distracted. E-mail to a friend
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