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by Pamela M. McBride | March 31, 2009

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Forget about conducting blanket marketing campaigns using mass resume mailings and desperate salesman techniques. Eliminate fast-talking, superficial conversations under the often misused guise of networking. Instead, build a solid foundation of productive career skills and perform a focused, efficient job search to get the job you want. By reevaluating what you are doing in the five main areas of your job search: perspective, portfolio, process, people skills and planning, you may achieve better results in your search for post-graduate employment.

Perspective: Self-Assessment and Planning

Getting a late start in the job search process is no excuse to skip over self-assessment. Yes, it can be a long, tedious process, but if you neglect it, you will likely pay for it later. How? Think of how you felt the last time you spent three hours in a class, but you had absolutely no interest in it. Were you bored, frustrated, angry? Well, if you think that's bad, it will be worse if you land a job in which you experience those feelings eight hours every day. With proper self-assessment, this will not happen. And, as an added bonus, you will be better prepared for every other part of the job search.

"If you figure out what you like, which skills you want to use and in what industry you want to work, you will be more likely to get into a job with people you like and with whom you have something in common," says Ollie Stevenson, area operations director at Drake, Beam, Morin, in Houston, Texas. "For example, if you value the environment, look at companies that are high on the list of being environmentally safe," Stevenson proposes. "There's a good chance your co-workers will share your principles."

She further urges job seekers to learn about the job market to discover for what industry they are best suited. "You can be an HR specialist anywhere, but would you rather work in a service-oriented culture or in a manufacturing culture?" asks Stevenson, who authored The Colorblind Career (Peterson's, 1997). Visit your campus career development center for information on taking formal assessment instruments such as the Strong Interest Inventory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Career Beliefs Inventory. Additionally, there are books that have informal assessment methods to identify your skills, personality, values and interests.

Portfolio: Job Search Documents

Now that you have figured out where you want to go it's time to put together a career portfolio that will get you there. At a minimum, it should include:

A well written resume on paper, on disk and a scannable version.
A "master" job application to use for completing applications.
Letters of recommendation.
List of credible references.
Samples of your work, but only when applicable to your field (such as graphic art or writing).

Since your resume may be an employer's first contact with you, it is crucial to understand the screening process. How do employers choose from hundreds of resumes? They spend only seconds reviewing each one to decide whether it will be put into the "closer look" pile. Besides judging the overall appearance, (Is it neat, clean, and generally attractive?) each employer has something specific for which he or she is looking.

Jeronica Goodwin, a human resource specialist who recruits for WakeMed in Raleigh, N.C., reads 100-200 resumes and applications weekly and recruits for over 50 positions at one time. She can identify candidates who meet the minimum qualifications in about 60 seconds. "I narrow down the ones to be considered by length of time in one position or organization and job-related experience. Since this job market is extremely tight, loyalty and commitment are important," she says. "I like to see that someone stayed at a company long enough to grasp skills like dealing with difficult situations and adapting to the organizational culture, things you can?t get from short-term employment and gaps," she adds.

So, how can you make the best impression with the resume despite the challenges? Ollie Stevenson, who wrote 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Job Search Questions, (Career Press, 1995) advises first writing a summary statement that links your skills to the employers' needs based on the requirements in the job announcement. "Then, in the body, highlight accomplishments that support your summary statement, writing only enough relevant information to whet the employer's appetite," she suggests. Finally, use the same good habits to approach resume writing that you developed in writing term papers: research well, ensure zero grammar and spelling errors and present a professional image.

Process: Job Search Techniques

Variety is not only the spice of life, but it is a key ingredient in finding a job. Therefore, don't limit which techniques you employ. According to Maxine Wheeler, president of BEST Training Consultants in Montgomery, AL, "Although the Internet and networking can produce great results, there are other resources that might lead to that perfect job."

She advises that many government agencies announce positions through job hotlines, job fairs, and employment offices. In fact, Wheeler found her job as training coordinator for the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in Montgomery, AL, by looking through the job listings at the Alabama Employment Services office and regularly calling the job hotline for new listings. Moreover, she promotes using temporary placement agencies because they may land you in a job not otherwise open to the public. They often hire entry-level temporary personnel and move the most deserving ones into permanent positions. "A friend's daughter landed a job through a temporary agency after being in a new city only three days. Even though it was not necessarily the job she wanted, she did such an outstanding job they promoted her into a payroll/accounting position, which was her area of interest. They had not announced this position because they were looking to fill it from within," Wheeler recounts. Internships, too, can provide the inside track on jobs. Jeronica Goodwin, a 1998 graduate of St. Augustines College in Raleigh, NC, was an intern in the Staff Development and Training Department and in the Human Resources Department at WakeMed. "I often referred students to work in the service departments of the hospital. As a result, I was offered a job as a recruiter two months before I graduated, " she says. Goodwin serves as the internship program coordinator for Saint Augustine's as well.

Finally, your school's career development center should top your list of resources. "Besides career counselors, workshops, computers and libraries of job search materials, these centers have listings of companies that are willing to invest their time and money to hire students," says Joe Thibodeaux, a channel systems engineer at Cisco Systems in southern Virginia. Thibodeaux, a 1996 graduate of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, found his current job as a result of the leads he found on the center's database of internships. "Even if you don't get hired where you do the internship, you can get good leads from it. A good lead along with a good recommendation will give you a leg up when you compete for other jobs," says the past president and vice-president of the National Society of Black Engineers.

People Skills: Conveying the Right Message

As a job hunter you will have the challenge of conveying your personality and capabilities before, during and after the interview. And although you want to appear casually confident, avoid being too casual. Before the interview, make a good impression by spending adequate time composing the cover letter. Julie Nielsen, corporate director of Human Resources for Resource Consultants Inc., in Vienna, VA, believes that your job-specific skills account for only half of what the employer wants to see when applying for a job. "Employers want to see a good mix of your personality and good, solid communication skills in the cover letter," she says. "Just because you are applying online doesn't mean it's not important to find out whether the recipient should be addressed as Mr. or Ms., she adds.

Nielsen, whose company has received as many as 300 resumes in one week via the Internet, further warns, "Some people are getting too comfortable with the ease of applying for jobs online and are making costly mistakes. Don't send form letters in which you forget to change the names or cover letters that say 'My resume is attached, Love, Joan.'" During the interview, the interviewer's comfort level plays a big role. "A large part of hiring decisions comes from how comfortable you make an interviewer feel," says Dina Johnson, who for 12 years was an interviewer at such companies as Merrill Lynch, Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals, Princeton University and Georgetown University Hospital. "They make decisions about you based on how you dress, how you shake hands, whether you smile and how much enthusiasm you show," adds Johnson.

There are three very important things to remember, according to Johnson, who is also the owner/president of Accomplishments, Inc. in Laurel, MD. First, don't take it personally when you don't get hired; employers are human, too. They make mistakes, have bad days, and sometimes the hiring decisions are made beyond their control. Second, the interview should be a two-way process. Don't be afraid to get engaged in conversation; that means you must properly balance speaking and listening, responding and questioning. Finally, when all things are equal among the finalists, whether or not you make follow-up efforts can be the deciding factor. "Send a thank you note within 24 hours and be sure to address some part of the interview discussion in it," Johnson recommends.

Planning the Search

You now have the tools to engage in a focused job search, but remember to set a plan to make it happen efficiently. "Time management allows you to be in control," encourages Wheeler. "For each day you need to set and write down desired goals, schedule activities, and prioritize them. Keep it simple and stick to it. If you're organized and follow a systemic approach, it will make the process easier and bring about better results," she assures. So, if you don't have a job by graduation, then work smarter, not harder!

Pamela M. McBride serves as a technical resource analyst for Career Transition and Development Programs with Resource Consultants, Inc., in Vienna, VA.

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