Tune Up Your Job Search Skills

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TiyaSince longevity does not guarantee job security during these turbulent times, there are many people in the market for a new job today who haven’t had to look for work in ten or more years. 

Tiya Cunningham-Sumter, a Chicago based professional development specialist and life coach, says when she tells adult job seekers that they need to write a tailored cover letter to go with each resume, they are surprised. Years ago, a cover letter was optional.

Part of Sumter’s work is stressing that it’s a whole new world out there and new rules apply. The days of interviewing with one company and landing that job on the spot are long gone. Today it’s not unusual to look for a job for weeks if not months. The New York Times Economix blog reported that the length of time it takes to find a job when you’re unemployed is getting longer and longer. The duration of unemployment rose earlier this year to an average of 39 weeks, the longest on record.

So if you’re unemployed and looking, be ready for the long haul. 

Document your job search.

Since you’ll be sending out dozens of resumes and interviewing with multiple companies, Sumter recommends that you keep track of the companies you contact. Have a sheet listing that includes the name of the company, the position applied for, mode of application (snail mail, email, website or walk-in), the date, and how you’ll follow up.

“I think keeping track of every job you apply for allows you the opportunity to make sure your search is focused and also allows you to have a record of dates so that when you do your follow up, the information is in one place,” Sumter says. 

If the job search drags on even beyond the average time, Sumter urges job seekers to be patient and realistic. “You may have to send out many resumes before you get a bite. So if that list is growing, the person may have to revise that cover letter and resume. The same goes for the interview. If they are getting called in for interviews but have received no offers, they should revisit their interview techniques and get additional help,” Sumter advises.

Tailor your resume and cover letter to fit the specific job.

While she’s very aware of how frustrating a long job search can be, Sumter warns against job seekers becoming lackadaisical. “You have to put that effort into it,” she urges. “Always present your best self. The idea is to stand out.”

Sumter advises against sending out generic cover letters and resumes. Instead, edit each cover letter and resume to show how you’re the best candidate for that particular job. “Those bullet points [on the resume] should be detailed and start with power words,” she said.  

Use online and traditional job search methods.

In terms of looking for a job online versus the traditional methods of phone calls and snail mail, Sumter says there is no either or; you should do a combination of both. You can still walk your resume in to some companies; however, most HR departments want you to apply for jobs online.

While you’re online, Sumter suggests that you set up profiles on professional networking sites like Linkedin.

“Make sure that everyone you know knows that you’re looking for a job,” she says.

“Networking is key. That’s how you find opportunities.”

Follow up on every application.

“The biggest mistake people make,” says Sumter, “is not following up.”  Unless you apply for a job that states that they are not accepting phone calls, after you submit your application materials—even if you apply online—you should later call the company to see if the position has been filled.  

When you call, Sumter suggests, you say something like, “I’m just calling to follow up and see if you are still recruiting for X position.”

“Companies are bombarded with applications,” she says. “Following up is what makes you different than the other 200.”

As a certified life coach, Sumter has helped numerous people overcome fear and procrastination in order to see the importance of pursuing their passions. She holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising and enjoyed a 12-year career in advertising, client service and research before becoming a coach. She is a former co-owner of Coffee & Tee (T-Shirt Company).