Last week’s claims reports show that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits has dropped to 352,000 — the lowest number since April 2008. The good news is an  indicator of a potential change that the job market may be facing in Q1 of 2012.

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Any figures coming out of the Labor Department are going to be slightly volatile, but the 50,000 drop in claims is the largest one in more than six years, which is quit impressive.

If you don’t have a job (and even if you do) these figures are important to pay attention to because it means that hiring is strengthening and the unemployment rate will start to decrease. There is still a long way to go before our jobs market is back to where it was prior to the recession, but it is still important to keep an eye on the changes.

With More Jobs, Comes More Competition

The problem with a weak jobs market is many people get comfortable, including employers. Hiring and training new employees takes money and time, but as businesses grow, employers will start taking the time to find better fits for certain positions.

It can be easy to lose steam in any job, but it is growing increasingly important to bring your best performance as the work place gets more competitive. Many of those who have been on unemployment are so desperate for work they are willing to do your job for less, which is always attractive to an employer.

For those on the other end of the spectrum, as you are applying for jobs, remember that there are literally hundreds of other people applying for the same job. Here are some cardinal rules for applying for a job:

  • Follow Directions: This seems elementary, but you’d be surprised with how many people skim through postings and miss key information. With a lot of people turning to Craigslist to post a job, it’s important to see what they request of you, i.e cover letter, no attachments, etc. and comply with these requests.
  • Get Personable: The cover letter, and application in general, is tricky to navigate. How do you keep it professional without getting boring? I find it’s best to include your personality in your writing. Don’t be afraid to talk about your hobbies and how they relate to the position so the person hiring can get a sense for who you are.
  • Phone a Friend: You can’t get enough eyes on your application, even if it’s just your resume and a paragraph to the company. Having a friend look over what you wrote to put an extra set of eyes to catch and mistakes. And, they can give you some helpful hints. Call on friends who are in positions you respect or can give you some good insight to the job application process.

You Got the Job! Now what?

Congratulations, getting a new job is a very exciting time. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the chaos and changes that come with a job but there are a few important things not to forget:

  • Keep Celebration to a Minimum. The first thing everyone wants to do once they get a new job (and stable income) is to celebrate. I am a full supporter of celebrating, but don’t go overboard; keep your celebration to a nice dinner, or a short trip to the mall. It’s easy to fall into a spending cycle as you get excited about incoming paychecks, but this a dangerous game to play.
  • Do account for future finances. On top of wanting to celebrate your new job, you also may be inclined to spend like you already have the money — don’t do this. Not to say you will lose your job right away, but you never know what can happen, it’s a much better move to establish a new budget which will account for your paychecks.
  • Establish a Budget. It’s important to keep your budget updated with whatever changes happen with your finances. As mentioned above, you should adjust your budget to reflect the amount you’ll be making each month. Consolidate debt and setup auto-pay where you can, this way you can start building credit and while paying off debt.

As you can see there is plenty that goes into these labor figures, even if you aren’t looking for a new job it’s important to look for ways to improve within the job you currently hold. Last month, employers added 200,000 jobs which was the sixth month in row with job increases topping over 100,000.

Although there will not be as many seasonal jobs added, experts still have high hopes for January’s jobs report set to come out on the first Friday of February.

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