By Blake DuBose and Mike DuBose
“I sent out 200 resumes in the last month and haven’t heard anything!”
“I’ve been trying for so long, I’m about to give up on ever finding a job.”
“My job makes me miserable. I do the work of two employees and they still treat me like dirt, but I’ve got to pay the bills. My best work is always criticized and I never hear about a job well done. I feel like a prisoner.”
“I just got laid off after 20 years with my company. I’m not too hopeful I’ll find another job soon—companies are looking for young workers who’ll take lower salaries, not people in their 50s like me.”
Sound familiar? Like many others right now, we have friends and family members who are unemployed, underemployed, or simply afraid to leave jobs they hate. These are only a sampling of the comments they’ve made expressing their frustration at the current job market. With the unemployment rate at nearly 8%, jobs are hard to come by (and good jobs are even harder). However, things are looking up: the US Department of Labor reports that employers filled 4.4 million job openings in April 2013. This means that there are jobs out there—if you know how to find them.
With so many people we know in need of employment, we were driven to investigate the best ways to find and apply for decent work. However, before you start applying to positions, there are some preparations that all job seekers should make.
Be positive: True, this is easier said than done—but it’s vital to believe that the right job is out there. By envisioning a happy ending waiting for them, job seekers build enthusiasm and the drive to succeed. Negative attitudes not only slow progress, but they are also easily detected by prospective employers…and who wants a “Debbie Downer” working in their office? (If you need a more positive attitude or feel consistently unhappy, we suggest you read our recent column on depression for tips on diagnosis and treatment.) While a positive attitude is a definite bonus, don’t expect that perfect job to just come knocking on your door. It will take time, research, and careful planning.
Don’t quit yet: While it may feel good to tell your current employer to “take this job and shove it,” you’ll have a better chance of finding work—and not to mention, a more stable financial picture—if you are still employed while searching for a new job. Sadly, prospective employers are often suspicious of unemployed individuals, so if you have a job, hold onto it until you’re ready to leave. Also, people who resign are generally not eligible for unemployment benefits.
Over the course of your career, you should work at jobs that will take you where you ultimately want to be and stay at them for a significant amount of time. Employers distrust resumes that suggest “job hopping” (staying at positions for less than two years). As Rachel Zupek wrote in a Careerbuilder.com article, “Employers want people in their organization to work their way up, so it’s best to show that you want to and can grow with the company.” Employee turnover costs money, and employers want to make a good investment in hiring you.
Exit gracefully: Be sure to leave a former employer on good terms, no matter how hurt or angry you may be. Whether you are laid off or you resign, you will probably be interviewed by the human resources department. Although the things you say are supposed to be confidential, they may still make their way back to leadership. Focus on the good things about the company and its leaders to increase your chances of a good reference or letter of recommendation.
The worst thing you can do during an interview is to speak badly about a former employer. News travels; plus, it makes you look bitter. Count on any negative things you said to former coworkers getting back to management as well. If you resign, give plenty of notice and tie up loose ends before you leave, even if you have to work late or volunteer beyond your last day. Employers will notice and share their positive impressions with people calling to check references.
Perfect your resume: Before you even begin searching for jobs, you need to have an outstanding, up-to-date resume. Keep it to two pages (preferably one). We recommend using the name you are called (not necessarily your full name) and last name, no middle initials. In an easy-to-read font like Times New Roman, start with your name, bolded and in 14 point size, followed by your mailing address (preferably a street address), e-mail address, and telephone number (with area code) in 10 point font. Caution: make sure your e-mail address comes across as professional—few employers will take “[email protected]” as seriously as “[email protected]!” Continue with the rest of your resume in an 11-12 point font.
If you are a college graduate, first, state your academic institution and your major/minor (if applicable), followed by any academic honors such as a cum laude designation or a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher. In the “Work Experience” section, list your latest job first, followed by the years employed (rather than the months, which is unnecessarily detailed), title, and a brief description of the position. Repeat with prior jobs, but leave out any that were short-term or part-time unless they are particularly relevant. If you have worked for multiple departments within a company, only list your latest job. You can include job responsibilities from your previous positions, but multiple listings can give a reviewer the impression that you have been job hopping, whereas you have actually been with the same company for years.
Next, describe yourself using key words like “team player,” “positive,” “forward thinker,” “creative,” “organized,” “problem solver,” etc. According to a survey by Careerbuilder.com and Robert Half International, the top assets that employers are looking for in candidates are multi-tasking, initiative, and creative problem solving. Don’t list your hobbies or interests, but include any professional association memberships, athletic accomplishments, scholarships, academic or relevant clubs, leadership roles, and volunteer work (if necessary, these can be cut to save space). You want to use most of your one page to describe who you are, so forget the work objective and references on your resume. You can explain the work objective in your cover letter and provide references if you are called in for an interview.
However tempting it may be, don’t inflate your qualifications. TriNet, one of the largest co-employers in the US (and also our co-employer), reported that “resume enhancement” (lying) was the greatest problem in the human resource area today. Recently, we offered a candidate a job after she aced several tests and interviews with us. However, we were forced to rescind the offer after a background check determined she had lied about her college degree.
Finally, have a technical writer, an English teacher, or someone who writes well proof your resume. Bad grammar and punctuation mistakes can get your resume tossed in the trash immediately. We’ve seen hundreds of resumes throughout the years, and an amazing number contained typos! Run a spelling and grammar check and read your resume out loud to catch mistakes. Remember, you only have about 5-10 seconds to sell yourself to resume readers, so make your first impression flawless.
Tailor each resume you send: Many employers now use screening software to scan resumes and applications for key words from the advertised job description. Thus, it’s not how many resumes you send out, but rather how well you have tailored each to the job description. Take a little extra time to adapt your basic resume file to address each job posting individually.
Write a cover letter that shines: Employers can tell the difference between a resume that has been sent to 100 other companies and one that specifically addresses the job ad and required skills. Guess which one we trash? If you are allowed to include one, a cover letter gives you an additional chance to show the employer that you have studied the company and its website and explain why your skills match the advertised job, how you can benefit the company, and why you are interested in working for them. In other words, you have a prime opportunity to stand out from the others competing for the job interview!
Keep your cover letter to one page. As with your resume, make sure it is error-free and written well. When we are hiring at our companies, we really dig into cover letters because they reveal so much about the applicants. Ideally, a cover letter should grab the reader’s interest before he or she even reaches your resume.
Score points for presentation: Print originals of the cover letter and resume on bright white paper that is slightly thicker than usual (but not card stock) and sign the letter in dark blue ink to stand out. For documents that you send through the mail, a 10X13” envelope projects the best image. You may even consider having letterhead and envelopes professionally printed. Each resume and cover letter should be done with care, as if you are applying to that job only.
You may want to combine your basic cover letter and resume into a single electronic file that you can customize to fit specific jobs. That way, if employers ask you to submit your resume electronically, you can include both documents.
Know what you want: Once you have an excellent basic resume, carefully contemplate the types of jobs that you want. We always recommend following your passion, even if it means less money, power, or prestige. Why go for the big bucks but be unhappy? Don’t let friends and relatives influence you.
Many people don’t actually know what they want to do until their 30s and 40s. Look at the job-seeking process as a journey that will tell you more about yourself. Are you willing to relocate? What do you enjoy doing? What salary range would you accept? How far would you drive to work each day? Would you be willing to accept a lower paying job to get inside the company? These are all questions you can ask yourself to determine what positions best suit you. Keeping in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect job, formulate a comprehensive (but flexible) plan. As the famous baseball coach and player Yogi Berra said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there!”
If you need assistance matching your skills to the jobs you are seeking, there are professional testing services and coaches that can assist you. University career offices also offer this service to alumni and graduating students, often for free. Use these services as part of your employment search toolbox.
Update your skills: Once you have developed an excellent resume, know what jobs you wish to seek, and have a plan in place, you may want to consider adding some additional experience and education. For example, if you have a degree in finance or business, take some courses in Excel, QuickBooks, human resources, website development, etc. Local community colleges offer short continuing education courses for certifications that can give your resume a big boost. Think outside the box to gain experience that will add value to your resume.
Obtain good Internet access: Jobs can be there one week and gone the next, and in this day and age, the best way to find them is online. You need fast, 24/7 access to the Internet so you can check listings every day and pounce on the ones that catch your eye. You will also need a relatively new computer with a web browser like Internet Explorer or Google Chrome, Microsoft Word and Excel software, and a good printer. Investing in an up-to-date smartphone with Internet access is also a wise move.
Clean up your online image: Sometimes, people seem professional in their resumes and letters to employers but reveal their true selves on social networks like Facebook. According to a CareerBuilder.com survey, nearly 50 percent of employers examine applicants’ social network profiles, and of those employers, 35 percent dismissed candidates as a result of what they found. You might think you have restricted who can see your Facebook page, but employers may use independent assessment firms to pierce your privacy settings. Your best bet is to delete anything offensive, objectionable, or unprofessional from your social media presence before you start applying for jobs.
Never miss a chance to send a positive message: When you set up your out-of-office notification or outgoing voicemail message, speak in a calm, clear, and professional voice. The message should be brief, friendly, and positive to project a good image to any employers who may hear it. Make sure that you avoid any background noise.
Let the search begin! Now that you know what positions you’re looking for and have prepared your materials, it’s time to find potential jobs. Finding the right job is like fishing: you’ll catch more fish with a variety of poles, baits, and spots than with a single line in one place. Sometimes, the fish just won’t be biting in one location, so you’ll have to move to another. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that people who use several different job search strategies (such as a combination of networking, searching online job postings, and posting a resume on relevant job boards) are much more likely to find a job than those who focus on only one or two methods. The wider the net you spread, the better your chance of catching some good leads.
Decide where you want to work: Local or state chambers of commerce are great places to start finding desirable employers because its members are usually quality companies. Conduct research and determine 20 places you would like to work. Then, study their websites, jot down relevant details, and come up with questions to ask them that show your interest. In a CareerBuilder study, almost 60 percent of employers reported being turned off when an applicant came to the interview without knowing much about the company. Nearly 50 percent said that applicants lost their chance at a job by failing to ask good questions about the company. Think of innovative ways to make yourself known at the company, such as volunteering as an intern or apprentice at night or on the weekends. For example, some teachers get their foot in the door by substituting at schools so principals get to know them.
Spread the word: According to the US Department of Labor, most job openings are not advertised! In fact, BH Careers International stated, “Eighty percent of available jobs are never advertised and over half of all employees secure their jobs through networking.” Therefore, you need to reach out to all of your friends and relatives to let them know of your job search, explain what you are looking for, and provide them with your resume. After the initial discussion, check in with them every couple of weeks without bugging them. Ask your entire social network if they know anyone within the 20 ideal companies you have identified or if any of their contacts do. Although much of the employment process is now moving online, don’t underestimate the power of interpersonal relationships! Often, it is a “friend of a friend” who has an “in” that leads to your interview.
Think outside your group of family and friends by joining professional organizations, volunteering with high-profile organizations like chambers of commerce, and giving your time to visible charities like the United Way. The key to meeting business and community leaders is to work your way onto a planning committee. You’ll have the opportunity to help others, plus you will get to know some decision-makers and show them what you can do. Finding the right job is much easier when you know people serving in important corporate and nonprofit roles.
Reach out online: Often, you can find great job postings simply by paying attention to what your friends post on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, in one of our companies, DuBose Web Group, our team members share job openings through their personal Facebook statuses. Alternately, you can post a status briefly describing what kind of job you’re looking for, your location, and any special skills you have, and someone may see it in their newsfeed and make recommendations to you.
LinkedIn is a social networking site that is like a business-oriented Facebook. It is great for networking, and the connections you can build on the site can be helpful in job hunting. If one of your friends gets the scoop on a job about opening up at his or her company, you can get that information (and maybe even a recommendation) faster and with less effort than combing through pages of ads.
Check the classifieds: In the past, most job listings were found in newspapers. Now, a look at the “Help Wanted” section of most papers yields much fewer ads than it would have 20 years ago. In keeping with a larger trend, many employers are now posting their job ads solely online. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t skim the newspaper classifieds (especially on Sunday). But gone are the days when newspapers were the major source of job leads.
Search the web: In the digital age, most people begin their job search online. There are many job search websites available, most of which are free to use. Visitors can either search for a job by location, keyword, or other terms, or post their resumes to the website so that employers are alerted when matching jobs open up and vice versa.
But which sites to use? Several of the largest include Careerbuilder.com, Monster.com, and Indeed.com. According to PCMag.com, Indeed sees 100 million visitors per month (53 percent of job search-based web activity in US), making it the most-used of those three, but Careerbuilder and Monster are also very popular. Another idea is to look at a site specifically tailored to your field, such as Mediabistro.com (for journalism, marketing, and public relations professionals) or Dice.com (for technology and engineering jobseekers).
One of the best things about using these websites is that they are constantly updating to keep up with current technology. For example, even though Monster.com is almost 20 years old (ages, in technology years), it owns the BeKnown app, which brings the job search to Facebook. In fact, several of these sites have apps that can be used on smartphones, making it possible to stay aware of new openings wherever you are.
Mike, who had never used an electronic job search site before, logged on to Careerbuilder for the first time for this column and was surprised at its offerings. Users begin by setting up an account with Careerbuilder.com with basic information like name, city, and the types of jobs they are seeking, then upload a resume. CareerBuilder also provides users with a plethora of tools like job quizzes, a salary calculator, and career advice, in addition to a smartphone app. Most of these sites are free, so we suggest joining several to diversify your efforts. Once you post your resume, employers are alerted about you and you, in turn, are also informed about positions relevant to your interests.
Check local job boards: Many states offer their residents searchable job banks. For example, South Carolina’s SCworks.org features job listings in many areas and advice on how to search for and obtain a job. States also have sites where applicants can learn about and apply for jobs specifically within state government (in South Carolina, www.jobs.sc.gov/OHR/OHR-jobs-portal-index.phtm). The federal government also has a job list (usajobs.gov), and major cities maintain lists of jobs online. Use Google to find the right resources in your area.
Utilize your university career center: If you graduated from a college or university, contact their career center and ask if they can help place alumni in jobs (ask to work with a senior advisor rather than a student). Although this is often a great starting point for recent graduates, even people who have been out of college for years can access job listing databases like Clemson University’s alumni job site, http://career.clemson.edu/clemsonjoblink/alumni.php, or the University of South Carolina’s JobMate (www.sc.edu/career/jobmate.html).
Contact professional job placement agencies: Professional headhunters are trained to match employees with employers (for a fee). However, check with your local chamber of commerce so that you only employ ethical, professional agencies with good reputations. (Mike once worked with a terrible employment agency that made up false job openings and sent people to interview for jobs they could never get to “break” them into taking any job. He promptly quit.)
Keep salary requirements reasonable: Too many folks have salary expectations that are way too high and price themselves out of the market immediately. Consider the intangible benefits of lower-paying positions, and always list your desired salary as “negotiable.”
Don’t sit at home feeling sorry for yourself! If you are unemployed, establish a purpose for each day, such as volunteering or working for a temporary agency. It may not pay well, but you need to get out of the house and feel like you are doing something productive. Being unemployed or stuck in a job you hate can negatively impact your mental and physical health unless you keep a positive attitude, so don’t whine or complain about your situation. Success is often defined as hard work—if you want something, you have to go after it with gusto!
Pray: If you are spiritual, reach out for some help from above. If God created the universe, He can surely help you find a job!
The bottom line: Rarely does a person graduate from high school, college, or graduate school and step right into their ideal job. Often, it’s just the opposite! Finding an exciting role in a caring environment requires a series of experiments, so use the things you like to do as your guide. The right job is out there, but it takes time, research, and work to find. However, the payoff is worth it ten times over. We’re so glad that our team members found us—and that we found them!
About the Authors: Our corporate and personal purpose is to “create opportunities to improve lives” by sharing our knowledge, experience, success, research, and mistakes.
Blake DuBose graduated from Newberry College School of Business and is president of DuBose Web Group. View our published articles at www.duboseweb.com.
Mike DuBose has been in business since 1981, authored The Art of Building a Great Business, and is a field instructor with USC’s graduate school. He is the servant owner of three debt-free corporations, including Columbia Conference Center, Research Associates, and The Evaluation Group. Visit his nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com.
Katie Beck serves as Director of Communications for the DuBose family of companies. She graduated from the USC School of Journalism and Honors College.
© Copyright 2013 by Mike DuBose and Blake DuBose—All Rights Reserved. You have permission and we encourage you to forward the full article to friends or colleagues and/or distribute it as part of personal or professional use during the year 2013, providing that the authors are credited. However, no part of this article may be altered or published in any other manner without the written consent of the authors. If you would like written approval to post this information on an appropriate website or to publish this information, please contact Katie Beck at [email protected] and briefly explain how the article will be used and we will respond promptly. Shorter versions of some articles may be available upon request.