IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Looking for a job in 2011? Here’s how to stand out

If you’re planning to look for a new job in 2011, here’s a list of six questions to ask yourself, and advice to get you started on rejiggering your job-hunting approach.
Image: Resume on computer
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.AP

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.”

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.

“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.”