2010 Career Building Tips

Job Interview

“You’re hired!” For countless job seekers searching for gainful employment or fresh career opportunities in 2010, these are the words they’re longing to hear. The good news for those currently job hunting being that slow, but steady signs of economic recovery are finally beginning to show, with businesses likelier to be staffing up once again in the coming year.

Realize, however, whether new to the concept of high-tech career building or an old hand at the job hunting process – finding the right position, let alone the kind of gig you’ve been dreaming of, won’t be a cakewalk. Not only are overall staffing levels likely to be lower at both small businesses and Fortune 500 companies in the immediate to mid-term future. You’ll also be competing with more prospective job candidates (and better-trained workers at that) than ever before.

Knowing this, it begs the obvious question: How to get on potential employers’ radar, let alone stand out amongst an already overcrowded pack? Thankfully, it’s a snap with the power of the Internet at your fingertips, says Digital Trends’ own resident editor Scott Steinberg. “Finding work, making a name for yourself and standing out as a subject matter expert in your chosen field is easier than given the wealth of online tools and services at your disposal,” he explains.

From better resume building and personal branding to constructing an unbeatable professional network online, here are a few of his favorite tips for growing awareness, establishing credibility and sending your career prospects soaring.

Keep Your Skills Sharp

“Education is expensive, but don’t forget that over the long run, the lack of crucial knowledge or experience can be costlier still,” he says. Given the speed at which today’s increasingly technology-fueled world operates and evolves, Steinberg insists, best practices change daily, as must we all in order to stay relevant and valuable to our respective organization.

Keep Your Skills SharpAs such, keeping one’s skill set current is vital, with the greatest rewards and highest chances of success accruing to those who invest in their own continuing education. “Let others screw around and waste days watching Days of Our Lives reruns, slowly becoming more outmoded and out of practice all the while,” he says. “You should be constantly be focused on spending your time becoming more well-informed and capable, and therefore of greater worth to any given enterprise.”

Happily, those who can’t find the spare cash or time to spring for night courses or an MBA on the side aren’t out luck either. Not only do dozens of universities offer fully-accredited online programs that let you sharpen your talents or grow your skill set for a fraction of the cost or time. Countless free online resources from downloadable eBooks, webinars and audio/video tutorials let you brush up on virtually any subject, while local libraries and organizations also provide beginner- to expert-level educational programs for pennies on the dollar. So get smart, he insists: “What’s more valuable than an investment in your own future?”

Dress for Online Success

While talent and capability ultimately matter most, face it – we’re a visually oriented culture that moves at a hyperkinetic pace, making how you choose to package and present yourself just as important. More pressed for time and resources than ever before, employers don’t just need to comprehend why you’re the best man or woman for the job… They also need to be able to tell why so at a glance. That’s where personal branding (learning to sell yourself and the core attributes you stand for in a way that’s both compelling and memorable) come in.

“Think about the key characteristics that define you, as well as relevant experience and overall career goals, then boil these elements down to the perfect elevator pitch,” suggests Steinberg. “If you can’t catch a possible employer’s attention with a quick 30-second opening summary, what makes you think someone with an already overflowing schedule will want to set aside 30 minutes to hear the rest of the presentation?” Everyone understands the importance of being timely and saving a clean suit for formal interviews. But few take the time to set the stage and actually apply the same amount of polish to their image that they do dress shoes – a crucial mistake, he insists.

Online Job HuntFurthermore, once you’ve decided on the message you’d like to send, Steinberg says that it’s essential that you start telegraphing it long before ever picking up the phone. “Never forget – in terms of online job hunting, the efforts we make in the off-hours matter as much, if not more, than those on the clock,” he explains, suggesting that passion and persistence are two of the successful prospective job seeker’s most important assets. Recruiters aren’t clueless, Steinberg says: Not only will they actively use online search engines such as Google or Bing to learn more about you. (Making it essential your keep your online image spotless – and delete those nasty posts from exes or incriminating photos from college off Facebook.) They’ll also look to see what you’ve been up to recently, whether that’s taking an active role in the online professional community and contributing to industry newsgroups or sitting around blogging about how you’ve sat on the couch listless for days or how much you love mud wrestling with your pet chinchilla.

The cheery news being that it’s easy to find ways to show your love and affinity for a given topic and why you’re a standout candidate for related positions long before your resume even hits a recruiter’s inbox. Steinberg’s simple advice: “Don’t hesitate… Get out there and create.” He suggests using blogs, webcam videos, podcasts, bylined articles, self-published books, social networks, surveys and other complimentary or cost-effective Internet vehicles to get the word out. Likewise, forum posts; newsletters; Twitter updates; press releases; and free stories written for leading industry publications in exchange for a published link or personal bio can all make handy self-promotions. While there’s a fine line between annoyance and assertiveness, he says that online job seekers can’t afford to be shy. Why? The more visible you are, the likelier you’ll be top of mind and clients’ first port of call. The added bonus being that by doing so, you’ll also establish yourself as a thought leader and subject matter expert, not only making you more desirable to potential employers, but instantly elevating yourself above rivals whose enthusiasm for a job disappears the second they hear the 5 o’clock whistle.

Use a Targeted Approach

Ready to submit your CV, but don’t know where to start? Begin by scanning for free online resume templates, which can help provide immediate guidelines on overall shape, tone and form. Furthermore, when building a resume, says Steinberg, try to keep it short and sweet – one to two pages should be enough to summarize your overall value proposition and background. One size does not fit all either: Every individual cover letter and submission should also be custom-tailored based upon the given employer and position to which you’re applying. Recent jobs and outside activities which show off applicable skills should all be highlighted. Be certain to skip extraneous information (e.g. your love of cats or storied youth growing up in the wilds of Wyoming), however. Instead, focus on the details which really matter: Specific career accomplishments, the direct results or return on investment (ROI) they led to, and how each helps establish your credibility and value.

Resume“Keywords, or search-friendly terms that recruiters might input into a computer when seeking relevant experience for a position, are also important to interweave throughout your resume,” Steinberg confesses. Rather than sift through a stack of thousands of resumes, he says, many HR reps are simply conducting searches using automated programs, which scan e-mails and digital documents for these phrases. As an inside tip, he suggests swiping these keywords (e.g. “brand manager,” “customer service representative” or “program director”) straight from the job description itself, as terminology varies between employer. Once identified, keywords should be inserted early on near the top of your resume, making it easier to find when it’s time to sort through the virtual piles. It also doesn’t hurt to throw abbreviations or alternate spellings for these terms in as well.

Also realize: While popular job sites and search engines can provide leads, you shouldn’t confine your job search strictly to the biggest brand-name outlets. Steinberg additionally advises looking at sites specific to set geographic regions and industries, and looking directly on the websites of the 5-15 companies that interest you most (or browsing their weekly newsletters) to optimize job hunting results. He further recommends going a step beyond by signing up for regular email updates, becoming an active presence on these firms’ official newsgroups and/or reaching out to existing employees via their blogs to make insiders aware that you’re both interested and available. “You’ll get further focusing on a smaller number of targets and maximizing outreach efforts than spraying and praying using the shotgun approach,” he says.

Make Friends and Influence People

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: You are who you know. Still, says Steinberg, the advice holds truer than ever these days, as, thanks to social networking services like LinkedIn, Facebook and Plaxo, corporate leaders and even titans of industry are just a single click away.

Standing out in a crowdTo start with, create a profile on these services that keeps an air of professional dignity about it (anything that wouldn’t fly at the office or a corporate event is a major no-no online as well), yet reflects your own signature personality. (Remember: It’s important to establish why you’re the one man or woman that best fits the job description and an irreplaceable go-to resource that employers can’t afford to do without.) Then use these platforms to connect with clients and colleagues, source professional recommendations and endorsements, and make introductions and outreach. Mind you, while it’s important to let others know you’re looking for gainful employment, always be aware of how these communications may be received. One should be polite to a fault, respectful of others’ time and never act boorish or desperate.

By regularly blogging, posting links to topics or projects of relevance and interacting with the online community through special interest groups, online forums and professional organizations, you won’t just make crucial contacts. You’ll also routinely be front and center on their smartphone or computer screen, keeping you top of mind when positions do open up. “Even during relatively slow periods, such efforts serve to establish expert credentials, and build a foundation you can use to connect with peers or potential mentors,” says Steinberg. He also recommends getting involved with online forums, pro bono community projects and high-profile events, as well as attending tradeshows (both real and virtual) to grow your contact network. Likewise, arranging for informational interviews, wherein you ask someone in a position identical or similar to the one you’re seeking to explain the daily ins and outs of the job, to be a smart way of getting in front of the right decision-makers.

“The key is to make people aware you’re out there and looking and be someone they’ll find hard to forget,” Steinberg says. “Otherwise, you run the risk of being just another face in the crowd – and with four out of every five job openings going unpublished these days he says, it’s imperative that you mix and mingle.”

*Looking for more job hunting tips and career advice? Also see the following articles, sure to be a boon to anyone seeking gainful employment in 2010 and beyond:

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