Image: Jackie Williams
AP
Jackie Williams of Jackson, Miss., updates her resume at the Mississippi Department of Employment Security-WIN Job Center. Experts say job seekers should tailor their resumes to particular openings.
By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/3/2011 10:01:36 AM ET 2011-01-03T15:01:36

Many of you continue to use the same job-search strategies even though they reap few results hoping that you’ll land a gig when the job market gets better in the New Year. Well, 2011 is here and it’s not going to be much better than 2010 when it comes to employment opportunities.

While economists project there will be a gradual pick up in hiring this year, it won’t be enough to put a dent in the high number of jobless Americans. “We’re projecting it will be 2012 before the unemployment rate comes down,” said Marisa Di Natale, an economist with Moody’s Analytics. “Right now, our baseline forecast is for a fairly weak job market. We have the rate rising to above 10 percent.”

Tips for making a
resume stand out

That means it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror and honestly assess what you can change about your job game plan to compete better.

Most job seekers find it hard to change even though they aren’t getting job offers, or even callbacks. But change you must, advised Dan Finnigan, president and CEO of Jobvite. “Only walking down the well-worn, beaten path of job seeking is not going to be enough,” he said. “You have to do new things and more things to stand out.”

If you’ve been looking for six to 12 months, he continued, and you’re not getting many interviews or job offers you like that means “you must change something.”

But where do you begin? Here’s a list of six questions to ask yourself, and advice to get you started on rejiggering your job-hunting approach in the New Year:

1. Am I disorganized?:
A common problem I hear from job-seekers is they become overwhelmed with the process and many don’t even remember how many resumes they’ve sent out, let alone which companies they’ve sent them to.

It’s hard to be strategic when your arsenal is in disarray, and forget about figuring out which tactics have worked and which ones are duds. You need to know what you’re actually doing folks. You need to get organized.

“It's hard to run a good search if your home office is a mess and you don't have a system for keeping things straight,” Jean Baur, a career counselor and author of "Eliminated! Now What? Finding Your Way from Job-Loss Crisis to Career Resilience."

She suggested creating two spreadsheets, one including a list of your networking contacts, and another with job-search activity including the job ads you answered, the resumes you sent, the responses you got back, and all the pertinent dates. For those employers where you’ve gotten phone or in-person interviews, she added, you should create color coded files with all the information and interactions you’ve had with a particular company, and have them handy on your desk so you’re ready if a hiring manager calls back.

2. Does my resume stink?:
One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is not tailoring their resumes to a particular job opening. That’s always been important but it’s even more so with computers scouring resumes for certain key words.

Tina Chen, director of operations at Carlisle Staffing, suggested you “take the job description and incorporate it into your resume. By adding key phrases from the job description to your resume you will increase your exposure in database searches and you will also catch the recruiter’s interest.” And, she added, “when recruiters review resumes they tend to scan quickly and look for key words to qualify the candidate.”

Holly Paul, PwC US Recruiting Leader, likes one page resumes, no grammatical errors, and she even wants to see the unpaid experience you’ve had. (See sidebar for a full list on Paul’s resume likes and dislikes.)

Another big issue is boring resumes. There are ways to make it interesting so hiring managers don’t just glaze over when they read yours. Bob Wilson, managing partner, OI Partners in Chicago, advised job seekers to include interesting things about themselves in a resume, beyond education and work experience.

“One of the best ones we have seen was ‘compiling & singing Romanian folk songs.’ Who knew?” he quipped.

3. Have I been a networker, or an avoider?:
Just posting stuff on Facebook is not serious networking. Sorry. If you want to find a gig you have to put yourself out there and meet people face to face.

Stefanie Smith, an executive consultant-coach, suggested you commit to inviting five people out to lunch or dinner this year. “Seek out those who can mentor you, colleague with whom you can exchange ideas, and former subordinates who have now gone on to new and higher roles,” she said.

You have to find out about a job before it’s posted and the best way to do that is through networking, said Jobvite’s Finnigan. Most people get jobs via personal contacts so you have to put yourself out there, he said, and that means attending conferences and going to community events, for example.

The way to find the people you need to know is to research companies via their own sites or in the news if they’re big enough. You should also follow employers you’re interested in on Facebook, Twitter and any blogs about the company, Finnigan added.

“You want to be the first to hear about new jobs and new opportunities,” he stressed. “The early bird gets the worm.”

4. What do I want to be when I grow up?:
For workers who lost a long-time career and see no hope of reentering that field, it’s natural to be ambivalent about what to do next. That’s why you need to figure out what  you want to do, for the long term or just for the next few months.

No matter how hard you try, if you are not motivated or passionate about a certain job hiring managers are going to take you out of the running.

Paula Loop, PwC Global Recruiting Leader, said you have to be open to change, and convince employers that you really want it. “Understand how to answer ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ It’s crucial to acing a job interview,” she said.

5. Am I a Jack-of-all-trades?:
Once upon a time, it was a good thing to claim you could be all things to all employers. Unfortunately, today it’s all about specialization.

“Companies hire specialists, not generalists,” said Kathryn Ullrich, Silicon Valley-based executive search consultant and author of "Getting to the Top: Strategies for Career Success". “Still, most job hunters don't get that.”

It makes sense that job seekers resist the specialist label. “They don't want to risk losing out on opportunities, so they play it safe and position themselves as generalists,” she continued.

But you have to resist if you want to land a job. “Know your specialty -- your unique brand and offerings.”

Your resume, cover letter, your elevator pitch, and interview answers all have to reflect that specialty.

6. Does anyone know I’m here?:
When you’re in the troughs of job searching it’s easy to think no one knows you exist. That’s what’s so great about the Internet and social networking sites. While they shouldn't replace contact with real people, these sites are a great way to raise your profile when you’re unemployed.

Story: Jobs growth may pick up, but not by that much

“Find a blog that is relevant to your career goal and become a frequent commenter on it,” said Laurence Shatkin, author of “2011 Career Plan.” “This assumes you have something worthwhile to contribute.”

Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, among other more targeted social networking sites, also offer visibility.

“With either of these, you have to establish an account that’s only for professional purposes—that is, it informs readers only about things relevant to your job function,” he said. “If you want to post your vacation photos or tweet about your kid’s birthday party, use a personal account.”

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

Explainer: The top 10 business stories of 2010

  • Image: BP CEO Tony Hayward surveys gulf spill repair work
    AP

    In 2010, the economy rebounded fitfully from the Great Recession — starting strong, wobbling at midyear but showing enough vigor by year's end to quell fears of a second recession. Yet Americans hardly felt relief under the weight of high unemployment, which began the year at 9.7 percent and is now 9.8 percent.

    An oil spill devastated the economy and environment along the Gulf Coast and hammered energy giant BP's stock price and reputation.

    China muscled past Japan to become the world's No. 2 economy, a reminder that the global economic order is shifting and America's supremacy is diminishing.

    It was a year of job shortages and swollen budget deficits that disheartened Americans and caused deep losses for incumbent Democrats on Election Day. The Federal Reserve tried with scant success to jolt the economy with record-low interest rates.

    The struggling economy was voted the top business story of the year by U.S. newspaper editors surveyed by The Associated Press. The oil spill in the Gulf came in second, followed by China's economic rise.

  • 1. Economy struggles

    Image: Unemployment brochures are seen on display at the employment training facility, JobTrain, in Menlo Park, Calif.,
    AP

    Climbing out of the deepest recession since the 1930s, the economy grows at a healthy rate in the January-March quarter. Still, the gain comes mainly from companies refilling stockpiles they had let shrink during the recession. The economy can't sustain the pace. The lingering effects of the recession slow growth.

    The benefits of an $814 billion government stimulus program fade. Consumers cut spending in favor of building savings and slashing debt. Businesses hesitate to hire. Cities and states lay off workers. Growth slows through spring and summer.

    Unemployment stays chronically high. In May, the number of people unemployed for at least six months hits 6.8 million — a record 46 percent of all the unemployed.

    Pointing to the deficits, Congress resists backing more spending to stimulate the economy. The Federal Reserve seeks to fill the void by announcing it will buy $600 billion in Treasury bonds to try to further lower interest rates, lift stocks and coax consumers to spend.

    As the year closes, the economy makes broad gains. Factories produce more. Consumers — the backbone of the economy — return to the malls. Congress passes $858 billion in tax cuts and aid to the long-term unemployed. Yet more than 15 million Americans are still unemployed. Economists say a full economic recovery remains years away.

  • 2. Gulf oil spill

    Image: Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts his boot out of thick beached oil at Queen Bess Island.
    AP

    An explosion at a rig used by BP kills 11 workers and sends crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill devastates the fishing and tourism industries along the Gulf Coast and causes environmental damage that may last for decades. BP sets up a $20 billion fund to compensate fishermen, restaurateurs and others whose livelihoods were damaged.

    The oil giant still faces civil charges and a criminal investigation by the Justice Department and lawsuits from hundreds of individuals and businesses. BP's stock market value shrinks by more than $100 billion after the April 20 disaster before bouncing about halfway back.

  • 3. China's rise

    Image: Workers install scaffolding at a construction site as a Chinese national flag flies near by in central Beijing.
    Reuters

    China passes Japan as the world's second-biggest economy. The World Bank says it could surpass the United States by 2020. China's gross domestic product is spread out over 1.3 billion people — amounting to about $3,600 per person. That compares with GDP in the U.S. of about $42,000 per person. In Japan, it's about $38,000 per person. China's thirst for raw materials and other products helps the rest of the world recover from the recession. Still, the U.S. and Europe complain that China gives its exporters an unfair competitive edge by keeping its currency artificially low.

  • 4. Real estate crisis

    Image: Home for sale
    AP

    Housing remains depressed despite super-low mortgage rates. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dips to 4.17 percent in November, the lowest in decades. But home sales and prices sink further. Nearly one in four homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, making it all but impossible for them to sell their home and buy another.

    An estimated 1 million households lose their homes to foreclosure, even though the pace slows after evidence that lenders mishandled foreclosure documents. Some did so by hiring "robo-signers" to sign paperwork without checking their accuracy.

  • 5. Toyota recall

    Image: Toyota Master Service Technician Mike Blomberg inspects a gas pedal assembly.
    AP

    Toyota's reputation for making high-quality cars is tarnished after the Japanese automaker recalls 10 million vehicles for sudden acceleration and other problems. Toyota faces hundreds of lawsuits alleging that some models can speed up suddenly, causing crashes, injuries and deaths. Toyota blames driver error, faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals for the unintended acceleration. The uproar damages its business. Toyota's U.S. sales rise just 0.2 percent through November in a year when the industry's overall sales climb more than 11 percent.

  • 6. GM's comeback

    Image: GM headquarters
    AP

    General Motors stock begins trading again. It signals the rebirth of a corporate icon that fell into bankruptcy and required a $50 billion bailout from taxpayers. GM uses some proceeds from its November initial public offering to repay a portion of its bailout. (Washington still holds about a third of GM's stock.) GM's recovery helps rejuvenate the industry. Sales of cars and light trucks rise 11 percent through November compared with the same period in 2009. Shoppers who had put off replacing their old cars return to showrooms.

  • 7. Financial overhaul

    Image: Barack Obama, Christina Romer, Timothy Geithner, Barney Frank, Paul Volcker
    AP

    Congress passes the biggest rewrite of financial rules since the 1930s. The law targets the risky banking practices and lax oversight that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The law creates an agency to protect consumers from predatory loans and other abuses, empowers regulators to shut down big firms that threaten the entire system and shines more light into markets that have eluded oversight. Republican critics say the law goes too far, imposing burdensome rules that will restrict lending to consumers and small businesses.

  • 8. European bailouts

    Image: Athenians walks behind a board showing exchange rates at a foreign currency exchange shop in Athens on Wednesday.
    AP

    Greece and Ireland require emergency bailouts, raising fears that debt problems will spread and destabilize global markets. European governments and the International Monetary Fund agree to a $145 billion rescue of Greece in May and a $90 billion bailout of Ireland in November. The bailouts require both countries to slash spending, triggering protests by workers. Investors fear that debt troubles will spread to Spain, Portugal and other countries, weaken the European Union and threaten the future of the euro as its common currency.

  • 9. 500 million Facebook users

    Image: Mark Zuckerberg
    AP

    Facebook tops the 500-million-user mark. It expands its dominance of social media and further transforms how the world communicates. If it were a country, Facebook would be the world's third-largest. Facebook tightens its privacy settings after criticism that personal information is being disseminated without users' knowledge or permission. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" and is the subject of a high-profile movie about Facebook's creation.

  • 10. iPad mania

    Image: Customer uses an Apple iPad
    AP file

    Apple Inc. unveils the iPad, bringing "tablet" computing into the mainstream and eroding laptop sales. Apple is expected to sell more than 13 million iPads this year. The iPads sell about twice as fast as iPhones did after their 2007 introduction. The price of Apple stock rockets more than 50 percent in 2010. Competitors scramble to try to catch up. They include the Dell Streak, BlackBerry PlayBook, the Samsung Galaxy Tag and HP Slate.

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Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 4.97%
$30K home equity loan FICO 5.23%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.67%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.28%
13.21%
Cash Back Cards 17.74%
17.70%
Rewards Cards 17.01%
16.96%
Source: Bankrate.com