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Job Search Skills

Random Job Search Tips and Tricks

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On this website, you can find many specific suggestions on resume-writing, networking, & interviewing. But occasionally we run into random pointers that are not covered elsewhere. So here are a few tips and tricks, in no particular order. (Have a tip of your own? Then send us an email. We may add your idea to the list.)

1. Quotes from reference letters
If you have glowing written recommendations from previous employers, consider extracting a few brief, impressive quotes to include in your cover letter or at the end of your resume.

2. Contacting headhunters
Headhunters are not impressed by unsolicited resumes, but they may be impressed by a personal recommendation. So instead of making direct contact, see if a former boss or colleague will recommend you to appropriate recruiters. (Always remember that recruiters work for the employer who is paying them, not the applicant.)

3. Business cards
Unemployed job seekers should have business cards printed with their name and contact information. But to take your card to the next level, include a summary of experience on the reverse side. For more space, get a folding card. Then give them to everyone you meet.

4. Cover letters
Whenever you can, write a creative cover letter. While the resume presents the facts of your career, the cover letter can convey your personality and work ethic. It can also explain any unusual circumstances. But don’t waste your time using one of the standard cover letter templates that you find online. Interviewers will have seen those a million times.

5. Bad references
If you are concerned about what some of your past managers or colleagues may say, don’t just leave it to chance. Instead, consider a strategy of “repair & prepare”. That is, take steps to “repair” any previous hard feelings and “prepare” the person for questions they may get from prospective employers. But don’t try this unless you yourself can truly let go of any negative history.

6. Emoticons
If you think that using smiley faces in your emails will make you seem friendly and open to prospective employers, think again. Research has found that people who use emoticons are viewed as unprofessional and lacking leadership qualities.

7. “Gap-filler” positions
If you have temporarily taken a job outside your field just to have a paycheck, but don’t want to lead off with it on your resume, here’s a possible solution. You could divide your work history into two sections: Professional Experience and Other Positions. The “gap-filler” job can get a brief mention in the second section, thereby indicating that you are currently employed but have not changed professions.

8. No fancy fonts
Resist the temptation to get creative with fonts or bullet-point symbols, because not all computers have all fonts. If you email a resume using a font that your prospective interviewer doesn’t have, their computer will simply substitute something else. And you have no idea what that will be. One applicant found that her creative bullet point symbols had actually turned into tiny little lips! So stick with plain bullets and standard fonts like Arial, Bookman, etc. Then "test drive" your resume by sending it to a few friends and seeing how it appears on their computers.

9. LinkedIn
Increasingly, employers are checking out professional applicants on LinkedIn. But LinkedIn can do more than present your credentials and experience. For an immediate reference, get colleagues or clients to write a Recommendation. To provide a “work sample” of your expertise, answer relevant questions in the “Answers” section.  Get your colleagues to recommend you for specific skills and abilities.  Join relevant interest groups.  And explore all the other ways that LinkedIn can help.

10. Phone interviews
To increase the “energy level” in your voice, don’t slump over during phone interviews. Sit up straight or even try standing up. You are more likely to feel and sound professional if you are nicely dressed. There’s no need to put on a suit, but never do phone interviews in sweats or pajamas.

11. Update your training
If your last educational experience was in prehistoric times, consider updating your credentials. Start working towards a professional certificate, take a relevant community college course, attend workshops and seminars, or even sign up for a couple of webinars or audioconferences.

12. Chat with everyone
When you are invited to interview, capitalize on all opportunities to talk with people in the company. The assistant who schedules your appointment may be able to answer questions about the interview process. The receptionist in the lobby might have observations about the company culture. But don’t become intrusive or start an interrogation – much can be learned from simple, friendly conversation.

13. Avoid TMI with a “mental stop sign”
If you are uncomfortable answering a particular question, that’s when you’re most likely to babble and reveal more than you planned. Carefully prepare difficult answers in advance and decide exactly when you want to stop talking. Make those words a “mental stop sign” and say no more after you utter them.

14. Have an answer for “what do you do?”
This is the great American introductory question, so if you’re not working, you may feel at a loss for an answer. But remember this: the question is “what do you do” not “what is your job”. So answer with a description of your field. It’s better to say “I’m an accountant, and right now I’m looking for a new position” than to blurt out “I’m unemployed”.

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