This is a very hard job market to enter. Applicants have to do more, stand out and think outside the box. Here are some suggestions - strong suggestions to help you do your best and land the job you want:
1. Report your own bad news. My first job out of college was as a teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. The principal was so difficult (mean!) that over half of the teachers left that year. However, she told me that she would give me an unfavorable recommendation so I couldn't leave. The following year was even worse - three quarters of the teachers were leaving. I applied for a job at Sidwell Friends School, where the Obama girls go, and got an interview. I told the headmaster that I was an excellent teacher and had letters from parents to prove it but had a difficult principal who would give me a bad recommendation. She did and I got the job anyway. The headmaster told me that if I hadn't told him about the bad recommendation, they never would have hired me. You be the bearer of any bad tidings that will impugn a future job.
2. Be persistent and act outside of the box. I lost my first job on TV due to budget cuts (the weatherman and I had to go), and lost the second job after five years because of heat from advertisers. I still wanted to be a consumer reporter, so I watched the TV news on the local ABC station every night for a month and wrote the news director a letter as soon as the news was over giving him story ides that I could do to make his news better. After a month, he called me and said that if I would stop writing him letters he would put me on the air! Sending a simple resume with a cover letter and waiting for a response doesn't cut it in this market. A good friend's son used this method when he wanted to work for the Dodgers. He sent the president a baseball every day for a month with a different message on it. Guess where he's working? The Dodgers! His first job out of college.
3. I thought of another out of the box idea when I got mixed signals from a news director in San Francisco (KTVU-TV) many years ago. He called one day and asked me to come be the consumer reporter (I was living in DC). The next day he said he changed his mind. The third day he changed it back and wanted me to come, and the fourth day he changed it again, at which time I offered to come for a month so that we could see what each other was like. He agreed and I did. As "luck" would have it, we both got fired for me doing a story on the station's biggest advertiser, but the point is, offering to come for a month got me in the door. I then landed a job at ABC-TV in Chicago, which was a station in an even bigger city.
4. Be willing to intern for nothing and then make yourself indispensable. Come early, stay late. The PBS station here in St. Louis, KETC, just hired two people - and they both had interned there and had made themselves vital members of their team.
5. If you move to another city and don't know anyone, ask your friends for the names and contact information of their friends and then call every one. Getting jobs is a lot about who you know and who knows you. Many jobs these days are inside jobs - when a job is open, new hires come from inside or someone on the inside knowing someone on the outside. When moving to Chicago to be the investigative reporter at ABC-TV, I only knew a handful of people and wanted to know everyone (this was pre-Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn). I invited 75 people to my going away party and put on the invitation: Ticket to get into my party - the name and phone number of someone in Chicago. I got over 100 names and phone numbers and called every one and within six months knew everyone from the mayor on down. I had new friends and story ideas to use on my new job! You never know where your next job is coming from - networking is a key.
The next ideas come from looking for a new employee for one of my nonprofits:
6. Only apply for jobs that are right for you. Save your paper, time, and postage if you have none/few of the characteristics listed in the job description. If you've been selling shoes, don't apply for a job as a program director for a youth leadership development organization. It's a waste of your time not to mention the time of the prospective employer.
7. Keep your resume short - one page, either one sided or double-sided at most, which means it is not a good idea to pad your resume with useless tasks you've done like getting the mail out.
8. Make sure your cover letter mentions the name of the organization or company for which you are applying, and some or all of the characteristics listed in the job description. No form letters. No Dear Sir or Madam if a name is on the job description. Sure, it takes longer. Do you want to be considered or not?
9. Make sure your cover letter is perfect. Not one error, typo or left out word. Read your cover letters OUT LOUD before sending, not silently to yourself. Reading out loud is the ONLY way to catch typos and left out words and sentences that don't make sense. When reading resumes, I circle the first error; when I come to the second, the resume goes in the trash. If applicants can't insure that the first thing I see is perfect, I am not interested in them.
10. Ask everyone you ever worked for who loves you to write a short letter about your capabilities and how terrific you are. If, when you ask, they ask you to write it for them, politely refuse and insist that they write it. They can even dictate it if possible, but make sure the finished product is on the company letterhead. When you're asked for letters of recommendation, you have them and don't have to scramble madly for them.
11. Use the most positive line or two from each letter under that listing on your resume. Put the line or two in italics and include the name and job title of the person who wrote it. It tells the person reading the resume how great you are without having to rifle through letters. And of course, the line is corroborated in the letters when they are asked for.
Ex: ABC Company…dates you worked
Eric was the best employee we ever had. He came early, stayed late and always did more than was asked of him. I would hire him back in a second.
John Smith, President
12. When you get the interview, make sure you are dressed professionally and that your clothes are clean - no shirts hanging out, no sloppiness. Also make sure you always have a firm handshake - no dead fish, and look the person in the eye, teeth showing and say you're glad to meet them. I have escorted applicants out the door when they look sloppy and/or give me a dead fish handshake. And make sure your hair is not in your eyes. One applicant had hair hanging over one eye and it kept falling back and she brushed it away over 30 times. Not interested in her. Another applicant asked what the attire was for an interview. I told him that if he had to ask that question, he was not mature enough for the job.
13. Make sure you do not have any distracting speech patterns - like using "you know" or "um" or any other words too many times. One applicant said "you know" 134 times and I know because I counted! Another said "kinda" 83 times. Neither got the job.
14. Make sure you smile a lot and show enthusiasm. One applicant was smart and had everything we were looking for - except a scintillating personality. She was not animated, spoke in a monotone and never smiled. She didn't get the job.
15. Read, scour, and devour the website of the organization or company before the interview (phone or in person) so you know as much as possible. Come with questions you want to ask - always have questions.
16. Practice your interview skills and answers to questions. Make up a list of questions that you think you might be asked, ask your roommate, parent or significant other to ask you the questions and give you feedback.
17. If you're asked to do homework, find out how many people will be at the interview and bring enough copies for all. Don't assume it will only be one or two people. We had 13 people interview candidates one evening!
It is not easy to land a job these days, but these tips will certainly put you at the head of the pack. GOOD LUCK!