Recruiters can be your best ally and your worst nightmare. Everyone has his/her own stories about recruiters who wouldn't give him/her the time of day. After all, as the gatekeepers to an organization, recruiters hold a lot of power; as such, they are valued by busy hiring managers who don't want to be inundated with resumes. They trust recruiters to source and screen candidates for them. Recruiters can make or break you as a candidate by passing along your resume to the anonymous hiring manager or losing it in a stack of 350+ applicants for that one opening.
So, how do you ensure you get through?
First, if you are replying to a job posting in the newspaper or on the web, write a cover letter directed specifically to that job's requirements and explain how you can satisfy them. Gone are the days of yore when all an employer cared about was your passing the mirror-under-the-nose test; that's when you could get away with no cover letter about a year-and-a-half ago?
If you have the choice of sending your resume and cover letter to a real person's e-mail address versus a fictitious alibi--like firstname.lastname@example.org all means, send your documentation to the live person, rather than the digital abyss where most of the other resumes for the position will rot. This applies to positions advertised on the web also (even though you may get a personalized confirmation that your resume was received and promises of your consideration--yeah right!).
Now that your resume has made it to the recruiter (or if you're really lucky, the actual, decision-making hiring manager), remember that persistence pays off, especially in a very tight labor market. Call, and leave a message that you are seeking confirmation of the receipt of your resume. You probably won't get a call back, but you've made the overture. Now, wait a few days (give them the benefit of the doubt; they ARE busy and get a lot of phone calls from other job seekers like you) and call back again. Don't leave a message; don't be nasty. Keep calling until the recruiter/hiring manager picks up the phone. Keep in mind that s/he will have literally hundreds of applicants for just one opening (especially if theirs is one of the few companies hiring right now) and that s/he is overwhelmed. There is absolutely no way that s/he will be able to screen all of them adequately, at least not without No-Doze.
Catching recruiters at their desks forces them to confirm that your resume has been received and reviewed (even if it's done real-time while you're on the phone with them) and manifests your tenacity and interest in the job. Persistence and tenacity (without becoming a pest) are qualities that will set you apart from other less-motivated job seekers. And these behaviors may very well lead you to snagging an interview slot over someone else who just sent in a resume and sat back waiting for the phone to ring.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, in these competitive times, networking will be an even more valuable resource and tool than anything else you can do. Networking is still the No.-1 way people land a new job, so start spreading your message and talking to your coworkers, friends, family, peers, bosses, church groups, doctors, professional association group members, pharmacists, dry cleaners, hairdressers, exes, etc. You never know from where your next job lead will materialize. You can be the most-qualified person for the job, but it's your self-marketing and approach that will make the difference in the company's realization of and action on that fact. If you can, use your networking contacts to identify the real hiring manager for the position and have your contact either refer you via the employee referral process or go directly to the hiring manager on your behalf. Or you can attempt to contact the hiring manager directly. In the worst-case scenario--the company is not hiring or isn't interested in interviewing you for the open position--ask for an informational interview to determine if the job and company culture are really a match and of interest to you. Once you've been interviewed (and made a favorable impression), you will be foremost in the mind of the hiring manager to contact you when a position materializes (and before it's even advertised to the outside world).
Just because the market is depressed, doesn't mean that you should be, too. You may already be out of work or anticipate a layoff in your near future, but in spite of the grim news we hear about the economy everyday, there are still jobs available. However, the tightening job market does require that you come up with creative ways to get your foot in the door and your story heard by recruiters and hiring managers.