Whether you heard it on the radio, watched it on TV, saw it on your smartphone, or read it in the newspaper, the good news was everywhere last Friday: The U.S. unemployment rate dipped below 6 percent for the first time since July 2008. More precisely, our economy added 248,000 new jobs in September, extending the longest streak of private-sector job growth on record.
But if you’re still on the outside looking in — finding yourself unemployed as an estimated 9.3 million still are — maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at your current strategies for finding a job.
It may just be one thing keeping you from your next job, or it could be several. The point is, you need to to try to identify what you think these deficiencies or shortcomings are and then execute your own special action plan to obliterate these obstacles once and for all.
While we empathize with your long search to find work in what has been an unforgiving economy, we believe good job prospects lie ahead if you just stay the course a little longer.
Take a look at the following reasons why you may still be out of a job, and steps you can take to address them.
1. You have a hole in your resume.
Nearly everyone has a hole in his or her resume so the better question to ask is what new approach can you apply to fill in that gap or work interruption?
In the past, that hole might have been the result of a passel of life events. Perhaps, you had to stop out to raise your child or care for an older family member. Maybe your spouse got a great new job in a another city, requiring you to leave your job prematurely for the good of the family. Maybe you decided to take that one big shot at being an entrepreneur. Then again, maybe your company folded or downsized you out of a job, so you had no choice but to try something new.
The point is, resumes, like swiss cheese, contain lots of holes. No one is going to fault you for these transitions (if they do, maybe you don’t want to work for them anyway). But your hiring manager will hold you accountable if you can’t adequately, (no, glowingly and assuredly) address these gaps.
Your action plan:
Be prepared to address any gap in your work history. Keep your remarks brief and to the point: “I spent six months abroad to improve my language skills;” “I helped my parents set up a travel agency;” “I agreed to help run my church’s food bank for a year.”
Whatever the event or situation, present it in a positive light. Use it as an opportunity to reveal another attractive dimension of your character. Share how it made you not only a better person, but also a better worker, with more skills, perspective and experience to bring to your next position.
Remember, a reasonable hiring manager will excuse a gap in your work history, but your potential employer won’t excuse your own poor response to it.
2. Your think your education doesn’t measure up.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Most jobs require basic skills. If you want to be a cop, you need to know how to handle a gun. If you want to be a financial planner or project manager, you should know how to run a spread sheet. If you want to write a column, such as this, you should know what a dangling modifier is.
However, most employers, outside of NASA, aren’t looking for rocket scientists, nor are they solely basing their hiring decisions on your hard skills, such as science, engineering, technology and math (STEM), despite the periodic industry outcry you hear about students not measuring up in these key categories. What they really want to know is how well you function as part of a team and how well you can plan, organize and prioritize your work.
Surveys confirm this. Of the more than 200 employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers about their top 10 priorities in new hires, the overwhelming majority said they want candidates who are team players and problem-solvers. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list.
In fact, during the Silicon Valley tech boom in the 1990s, about one in 10 people working in information technology actually had and IT-related degree.
Last year, Lazlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president for People Operations, revealed that things like GPAs and transcripts are almost worthless in hiring. Indeed, the company has stopped asking for transcripts for everybody but the most recent graduates. “What’s interesting,” Bock added, “is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.”
So don’t discredit your lack of formal education. Employers are looking for native intelligence that you don’t always find in a book. Again, you have to express your ability through your action plan.
Your action plan:
Use your resume as your opportunity to highlight and express your communication, interpersonal, teamwork, and leadership skills. List and explain the projects you have led or managed and how you successfully saved the company things like money, employee turnover, or time.
If you don’t have a sterling GPA or didn’t attend an ivy league school, that’s okay. What will be equally impressive, if not more so, is a powerful portfolio that shows you off. So collect great samples of your work — PowerPoints, brochures, projects, videos, reports, testimonials and letters of recommendation — put them on a CD or link them to a URL and let them be your entree to full employment.
3. You’re not paying closer attention to your appearance.
Just as you have to present well on paper, you have to do the same in person. Unless you’re applying for a job in entertainment or work as a barista, where the more tattoos and nose rings you have, the better, you have to show your hiring manager, through your appearance, that you’re capable of fitting in with their organization.
Your dress, while important, is not clearly as important as your hygiene. Remember, you’re trying to impress your potential employer that you’re somebody who can fit in and work as a member of their organization. In that regard, your appearance should never be offensive or malodorous or serve as a distraction.
According to the Job Center of Wisconsin, 95 percent of the employers it interviewed said a jobseeker’s personal appearance affected the employer’s opinion of that applicant’s suitability for the job. And 91 percent said they believed dress and grooming reflected the applicant’s attitude towards the company.
Prepare for a job interview the way you might a date.
As for your wardrobe, unless you’re working in the fashion industry or working on Rodeo Drive or Madison Avenue, you probably don’t need to be outfitted by Armani or Gucci. You simply need to arrive neat and wrinkle-free. Dress conservatively in understated, non-threatening tones. Save the loud party outfits for the weekend. While you want to stand out, it’s more important to show your employer you can fit in.
Every company or business has a culture. Cheat by going online to see how the company presents its employees in the workplace. Follow suit.
4. You’re poorly networked.
Employers want to know how deeply connected you are to their industry. There isn’t a profession that doesn’t have an auxiliary society or association supporting and representing it, so you need to be a member at some level.
These associations provide networking opportunities, and makes it easier for you to contact and mingle with other members and keep you abreast of industry trends and concerns. They also keep you attuned to the latest industry jargon and buzzwords.
Today, it’s not enough to join industry networking associations. You also have to create your own, through LinkedIn, Facebook and other professional and social media sites. In your postings, don’t just blab to the world that you’re in search of work. Rather, keep the drumbeat slow and steady. For example, if you completed a certificate program, share it. Similarly, if you completed a project that enhances or reflects well on your professional status, share it.
Regardless of what obstacle has been holding you back from participating in the nation’s job recovery, now is the time to take action. The economy is swinging your way. Define your unique strategies for finding a job and start executing them.
Don’t let your personal campaign end until you claim one of those new jobs that will be listed in the upcoming November jobs report. You have the talent and support to see this mission to the end and become the newest member of the U.S. labor force.