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February 25, 2014
The Absolute Best Job Search Tips for Today's Competitive Market
No matter how brilliant you are, no matter how talented and qualified, the current job market is such that every job you apply for carries stiff competition. To land a job and make it a good one, you will need to work many angles to get those odds in your favor.

Job searching is, first, a numbers game. The more jobs you apply to, the better your chances of getting one. But some people take this concept all wrong, sending out hundreds of canned cover letters and resumes to all kinds of jobs that don't match their experiences or don't address the specific position or company. Yes, the numbers are an important element, but only when we're talking about targeted applications that make sense. And let's not forget quality. Quality is essential. Research each company and customize each resume and cover letter. When you do this, the numbers do count in your favor.

Do your best to find the name of the hiring manager, instead of having to write “to whom it may concern.” Research news and details about the company and tell them why you want to work for them. Be specific. Saying they are in a good town or they are a “nice” company is embarrassingly vague. Find a better reason.
Before you do all this, network as much as you can. Even if someone can't make a direct introduction for you, just mentioning their name could work. And remember, simply dropping a name is not enough. Substance is key. Be able to say that you've heard about, for example, the company's new project in xyz field through so-and-so dropped name. It can really help, but be discerning in your networking selections and do your homework. Name-dropping could obviously backfire if you mention a notorious slacker.

Do a background check on yourself. What do you find? Make sure you are putting your best foot forward online, or that others are helping you do that (or not sabotaging you.) You are not always in control of what comes up on search engines, even if it's a case of mistaken identity. Making personal web pages that will show up before other pages can help you. Monitor and edit your own social media trail, and if you find anything negative that you can't control, consider seeking one of the newly cropping up reputation management companies to help you improve your online image. Certainly, maintain online profiles and keep them up to date. Include qualitative and quantitative accomplishments.

Don't just walk into an interview blind. Prepare yourself with practice questions and answers. Consider your attributes and faults. Think ahead about what you will wear. Plan to get enough sleep and to leave early. Make lists of examples of how you have handled difficult situations at work, how you have solved a problem, and strategies you have come up with that have resulted in improvements or financial gain for your company (directly or indirectly). Go to your interview prepared with good stories. Also, have a portfolio that will wow your interviewer, even if you are not a writer or designer. Anyone can compile a set of samples that show your best work, whether that work depicts creativity, strategy or a set of number reports. Evidence, baby, evidence. It's a competitive world out there.

Use a firm handshake. Be confident. Smile. And always, always, get your detailed thank-you letter out within hours of your interview. Review all the reasons you want the job and want to work for that specific company, along with all the reasons they would benefit from hiring you, specifically. But do so with flair and brevity. 

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Suzanne Ritchie is an independent career coach who specializes in helping her clients make the move into technical and marketing jobs.
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