You could probably fill an entire library with well-meaning books that share conventional wisdom about the best ways to conduct your job search, as well as how to write your cover letter and résumé and how to prepare for your job interview.
But with the uncertain economy and more competition for existing jobs, it's necessary to look beyond textbook examples to see what practical advice is working for candidates right now.
Start your own blog
The phenomenon of blogging has exploded in the last several years. Although it can be a powerful communication tool, it's not necessarily a unique one. The social media tracking site Technorati follows more than 112 million blogs every day.
But for job seekers, a blog can be a résumé in motion. It can show potential employers who you are and what you're about in a very comprehensive way.
"I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of Web 2.0 as it relates to my industry," explains Debbie Horovitch, a marketing and media specialist. She decided to start a blog and use its content as a virtual calling card, where she can show readers what she's learned.
"The results of my efforts are online for all potential employers. They can see that I am a self-starter, and understand business trends, opportunities and needs."
Kelly Rusk was also pounding the pavement. Rusk, a media strategist, had been looking for a new job after a merger left her unhappy with her job. "I sent out dozens of résumés, even had a few interviews with no success," she recalls.
She decided to take a different approach and completely bypassed distributing her résumé. "I focused on building my personal brand via my blog, and participating on various social networking sites and Twitter. Within a couple months, job offers started coming to me," Rusk says.
She eventually landed her current job with a startup media company. "Because they came to me," Rusk says, "I had a lot more negotiating power than ever before."
Work with your network
Job seekers know that tapping into social and professional networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Brightfuse.com can connect you to contacts that might be the key to your next job.
But in addition to those structured networks, job seekers are reaching out to the contacts in their informal network -- close friends and family. It may seem like an unsexy or uninteresting approach in a tech-savvy atmosphere, but it capitalizes on one asset that everyone has access to: people.
"I was looking for a job to help make ends meet in a new city without much success," says Brandon J. Mendelson, a New York-based writer and educator. He found out about a job for a local school through an important part of his informal network: his wife.
It may seem like old-fashioned pavement pounding, but as Mendelson says, you have to get the word about what you're looking for out there. "Make friends, build a network and in tough times don't be afraid to ask tactfully for help," he states.
Make yourself stand out
A recent CareerBuilder.com survey asked recruiters and hiring managers about some of the most unusual tactics that job seekers used to get their attention.
Among their most memorable responses:
-- A candidate brought a broom to the interview to "clean up the waste and corruption in the office."
-- Another applicant wore a shirt to the interview that said, "Please hire me."
-- A very tenacious candidate showed up with breakfast for the employer every day until he was hired.
-- One job seeker was inspired to write a poem about why she wanted the job. She featured the poem in her cover letter.
-- And a very artistically minded applicant created an electronic résumé with flash animation and musical score.
These might be extreme examples, but the message is clear: The old ways are outdated. Job seekers who land the jobs they want are increasingly going above and beyond the standard job search expectations.
Competitors in the job market are treating their job searches as a job in and of itself, so job seekers need to make sure that they have powerful cover letters and résumés, are prepared for the interview, and know as much as they can about their potential employer and the people to whom they'll be talking.
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