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The U.S. economy created 120,000 jobs last month and more than 200,000 new jobs in each of the last four months, which is good news if you’re looking for work (though some companies, like Yahoo, have recently imposed huge layoffs).
In 2010, it took at least one month of job hunting, on average, for every $7,500 in salary. Today it takes about half that time: Odds are, you'll spend one month searching for every $15,000 you want to earn — which means, for example, five months for a $75,000 job, compared with 10 months in 2010.
But with employment numbers improving, many people who had given up job hunting are leaping back in, which increases competition. Meanwhile, employers have been changing the way they find, interview, vet and hire candidates. Bottom line: Although there are more openings than a year or two ago, you’re going to have to work harder and smarter to land a position.
To help you take advantage of this gradually improving but tricky job market, here are four tips I've been giving clients in my career coaching practice:
Tip 1: Create a long-term strategy. In the thick of the Great Recession, many people responded to the grim economy by staying in jobs they didn’t like, abandoning the search out of frustration, or grabbing the first opportunity that came their way.
Now that some firms are hiring again, the best way to approach the job market is by asking yourself: "Where do I want to be five to 10 years from now, and how do I get there?" Of course, this assumes that the employment picture will continue to improve over the next decade, which I think is a fair bet.
With that in mind, view your next job as the first step in your five- to 10-year career strategy. Consider what you want in terms of salary, growth potential and retirement benefits. Most important, since this is a long-term plan, will your new employer have legs over the long haul? This is especially important for people in their 50s and 60s, many of whom want their next job to be one they’ll keep until they retire.
And don’t be too hasty about accepting the first offer you receive. Remember to ask yourself whether the position fits into your long-term plan. As Amy Gallo recently blogged
for the Harvard Business Review: “It can be tempting to accept any offer. But before you take on a job, you need to evaluate the situation carefully.”
Tip 2: Differentiate yourself with the human touch. During the recession, a great number of applicants conducted job searches online, submitting resumés electronically and networking through LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms. But in today’s increasingly competitive job market, you’re less likely to hear back after emailing your resumé, and with the onslaught of social networking, many executives are “networked out.” A LinkedIn request to connect has become as irritating to senior managers as the junk mail of the past.
In 2012, I recommend a different approach: Differentiate yourself by getting warm and personal.
Instead of reaching out through LinkedIn, make a phone call to a prospective employer — or someone who works for one — or initiate the contact by mingling at an industry conference.
You might even send a snail-mail letter of introduction to the chief executive or another executive or board member of a company where you’d like to work. People receive so few personal letters these days that they’re usually quick to open them.
After an interview, send a handwritten thank-you note. That’s not only a sign of good manners; it will help separate you from the growing number of applicants.
Tip 3: Emphasize your experience.
During the recession, demoralized, poorly managed employees were reluctant to quit, since they knew how hard it would be to find the next job. Now, however, they are beginning to leave for better opportunities, and as a result, employers increasingly recognize the importance of motivating and managing their staff.
So tap into this need. Emphasize that your years of being in charge of people and projects, along with your emotional intelligence and decisiveness, represent skills that the company can use.
Tip 4: Be persistent and patient. Don’t become discouraged if your first 10 networking contacts fail to get the results you're after. You’ll probably need at least 20 face-to-face networking contacts before one of them turns into a formal job interview. And even then, you'll need to remain patient: Expect to go on three to five job interviews before receiving an offer.
Avoid the mistake made by one of my clients, who folded up her job-search tent because her 25 networking contacts led to only one job interview and no offer. If you maintain dogged determination and keep your spirits up, there’s a good chance you’ll ultimately get hired.
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