Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/28/2010 7:31:03 PM ET 2010-03-01T00:31:03

Stephen Cobain was laid off from his executive position at a major Pittsburgh financial services company in December of 2008 and spent nearly a year looking for a job with little to show for it.

“I was doing all the things everyone tells you to do,” he said. “I prepared my résumé, wrote letters, contacted recruiters, looked on all the job boards, responded to 400 positions and maybe sent out 1,500 résumés.”

It all led to no job, just frustration.

Until this past Thanksgiving, when his always-supportive wife stunned him by saying: “You must accept the fact that you’re doing something wrong.”

“My reaction was to say, ‘I think I’m doing everything right. The right thing will come along,’ ” Cobain recalled. “And her response to me was, ‘It hasn’t come along yet.’ ”

It’s hard to hear this type of criticism, especially when you feel you’re doing everything in your power to land a job. And clearly, most job seekers have a great excuse right now — a crummy economy.

But if you’ve been job searching for months with few tangible results, it may be time to take a hard look at yourself in the job-hunter’s mirror.

A change of strategy
That’s just what Cobain did.

Instead of wearing pajamas, he started dressing in a suit every day to go to his home office. He stopped searching the job boards. He hired a financial services placement firm and a career coach.

The placement firm led to just one phone call back from an employer. However, he said the career coach he found through Guerrilla Job Search International helped him focus his search. The coach aided him in revamping his résumé, taking it from three and a half pages to one page, and ditching the job-chronology format for a list of his major career accomplishments. The coach also advised him to target an assortment of companies he would like to work for even if they had no advertised job openings.

“I mailed out 10 résumés, got eight interviews and got three job offers,” he said.

Today, he starts his new job as senior vice president for a financial services firm in Pittsburgh.

New networking approach
Valentina Janek has been looking for work for nine months since she was laid off from her job as chief marketing officer for an investment company on Long Island.

Janek is a consummate networker, and even started a networking group for the unemployed called the Long Island Breakfast Club, which now has more than 800 members. But she recently realized she needed to start networking with top executives of companies, not just hiring managers or administrative people.

“My newest strategy is to meet every president I can. Go from the top down,” she said, with a goal of meeting five company executives a month.

She’s gotten herself invited to corporate functions and political events where business leaders are in attendance. “I went to an awards event where a president was the honoree,” she said. “I bought him a book and gave it to him there and got his business card.” As a result, she landed several interviews at the company.

While she didn’t get the job and is still looking for one, she said the new approach reignited her job search.

Knowing what’s not working
There isn’t a cookie-cutter, job-search strategy that fits everyone, but the key is knowing when the old techniques aren’t working.

“Trying something new is a matter of being able to persevere and not give up, stick to the job search and keep active,” said Tim Schoonover, chairman of outplacement company OI Partners in Cincinnati. “It's when the job search starts becoming inactive, and you begin to lose interest in it, that you need to try something different.”

He provided some warning signs that you may be in a job-hunting slump:

  • You aren't landing job interviews or informational interviews.
  • You aren't learning anything new about possible employers and job opportunities.
  • Your enthusiasm for the job hunt is waning.
  • You haven't been outside for three days.

Another reason to drastically change your job-hunt strategy is “if you realize that there aren’t any available positions within your field that you qualify for,” said Paul Klein, director of the Career Services Center at Cleveland State University.

It may also come down to mistakes you’re making during the application process.

“Approximately 60 percent of the people that apply for government jobs fill out the application incorrectly,” he said. “By alternating their strategy, even by simply buying a book or going on a Web site that instructs people how to successfully apply for a government job, it can make a huge difference.”

Target 20 companies
David Perry, co-founder of Guerrilla Job Search and author of “Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0,” advised job seekers to create their own private job market by making a list of 20 companies they’d like to work for. “Or Google phrases such as, ‘best companies for minorities’ or ‘most admired employers in Texas’ to help refine your search.”

In addition, he suggested that job seekers:

  • Get each company’s mailing address and phone number — they’re often on the Web site — and the name, title and contact information of the person who can offer you a job.
  • Send that person your résumé and a cover letter, which should be tailored to the company specifically, and include a postscript at the bottom.
  • Send your résumé through UPS, FedEx or two-day mail, and ask to be notified by e-mail when it’s been signed for.
  • Once you get that e-mail, wait about 30 minutes. Then, pick up the phone and call the person. Whether you get them personally, or a voicemail recording, say, “Hi, this is so-and-so. I see you just received my package. I’d like to meet with you for coffee to talk about how I can help your company achieve X, Y, and Z.”

And if you still haven’t joined to cyber networking world, it may be time.

“LinkedIn is an important site for job hunters. So, create a profile if you don’t have one, and use it to post your résumé, articles you’ve written, key PowerPoint presentations you’ve created and so on,” Perry said.

A creative approach
Mary Berman, one of Perry’s clients, was laid off in February 2009 after 12 years in the publishing industry. She tried different tactics to get a foot in the door, including creating baseball cards with her picture on the front and a résumé  on the back.

Alas, nothing worked.

“By August I was starting to feel beaten up because I wasn’t getting anywhere,” she said. Then she decided to try something new.

Perry suggested she send a Starbucks paper cup with her résumé and cover letter rolled inside to a company she was interested in working for and deliver it personally. She included a note that said, “I’d like to discuss what I can bring to you over a cup of coffee.”

Within two hours, she got a call. “She told me she didn’t have a position but wanted to thank me for being so creative,” Berman said.

Her second attempt with the cup at another company scored her an interview. After the interview, she sent the hiring manager a 60-day plan of what she’d do for the company if she were hired.

In November, she was offered a job and is now a marketing executive assistant for InStar Services in Detroit, a disaster recovery company.

“If you want to stand out, you have to get creative,” she said. “You have to use a new approach.”

Eve Tahmincioglu writes the weekly "Your Career" column for msnbc.com and chronicles workplace issues in her blog, CareerDiva.net.

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