Five Ways to Become Job-Search Savvy

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Some people scour jobs boards, others network like there's no tomorrow. Whatever your job-search strategy, here's five tips to help you stand out from the pack.

Think Strategically

"You never want to get caught behind changes in the marketplace," says Dawn Fay, New York-based regional vice president of Robert Half International. "When the market changes, it's often subtle, so stay ahead of the game." That means reading as much as you can in professional and generic publications and Web sites and constantly nurturing your network to keep the pulse of the hiring climate. "There's always an ebb and flow of demand for certain skills and positions. Stay focused on the big picture," Fay says. "Keep an inventory of your skills and network going and really think things through."

You also may have to learn to think entrepreneurially, to reformat your skills to match morphing market demand - or to create a position for yourself where none may have existed. "Too many people in traditional accounting get tunnel vision and don't see which other parts of their personality can shine," says Jerry Gonzalez, a senior accountant for salary professional services for Robert Half and Accountemps in Seattle. "You have to be flexible, however the market changes. Part of my mantra is not necessarily seeking out change, but being ready for it. Stay positive and be proactive."

Request informational interviews

"Don't be afraid to contact senior managers and ask for informational interviews. It may sound simple but it's seldom done. Everyone goes to Web sites," says Diane Albergo, director of career services and human resources for Financial Executives International, a membership organization of senior-level finance professionals headquartered in Florham Park, N.J. "Explore your network and ask for that time."

One caveat: You can't just call senior people at firms you'd like to work for and ask for an hour of their day. You have to network your way in. "Don't just pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, give me five job leads,'" says Jon Alpert, CFO of New York-based beverage company Apple & Eve. "I'm open to providing an industry overview if the person networked in from a reliable source."

When asked whether he grants informational interviews, Andreas Rothe, senior vice president and global controller of PB, an infrastructure services firm headquartered in New York, says, "If it's a person connected to somebody I know, yes." Rothe recommends registering to networking sites "to connect with people at the companies you're targeting. I know obviously my network. What I don't know is whom they know." By utilizing networking sites, he says, "within two to three degrees of separation, you have access to over one million people."

A second caveat is you must do your homework before you even touch the phone. "You need to prepare. I'm busy and I'm lazy. If you want me to help you, tell me how to help you," Alpert says. "Say, 'This is the information and help I think you can provide.' The art of that is that if you make it easy for me, I'm willing to help you."

Use Visual Aids

"Going through the door and interviewing, you want to wow them as much as you can. Research the company through and through. Bring a presentation - a Powerpoint, for example, or a binder or portfolio - about what you can do for the company, especially for senior-level positions," Diane Albergo says.

"Present alternatives and solutions" that highlight the particular expertise you bring to issues the company faces, she adds. However, she warns against using video. "I don't think it's advisable because it takes a natural acting talent financial people don't have. They come across better in person," Alpert says.

Stand Out From the Competition

"Creativity - not cuteness or cleverness - is important," Albergo says. She suggests creating an addendum to your resume that lists your professional accomplishments and extras, like community service work, for example.

Some people might be inclined to send little gifts to hiring managers, interviewers or people they've met through networking. Albergo mentions sending a book you might have talked about. But while Alpert thinks sending a sleeve of golf balls might be appropriate in some situations, he says it's more beneficial to "send useful follow-up information."

Don't Burn Bridges

Networking is supposed to be a mutually beneficial process. Information is supposed to flow two ways. You never know when you might want to contact someone again. However, Alpert says, "98 percent of the people who network into me never finish the process. I never hear from these guys when they've landed. Stay in touch. Finish the circle. Tell me what you're going to be doing, so I can see if I want you in my network."

Originally published June 18, 2007