Career Advice: Spring Clean Your Job Search

Baseball is back. Flowers are in bloom. Garage sale season is on. And everyone you know is frantic to shed those last few winter pounds so they can rock their favorite swimsuit come June (not to mention clean out their closets so they can find that blasted bathing suit in the first place).

But when you're job hunting, organizing your closets and summer social calendar shouldn't be the only to-do's on your spring cleaning list.

If your winter search for work has met with limited results, it's time to give your job-seeking strategy a sprucing up, too. Because come beach season, the only things you're going to want to dust off are your barbecue recipes and margarita glasses.

Updating your resume and LinkedIn profile are great places to start. But looking good in print and pixels is only a fraction of the battle. If you've spent the last season (or three) trying the same tired old job-hunting tactics, it's time to shake loose the application cobwebs and try something new.

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So before Memorial Day whizzes by and we slide clear into leisure season, let's talk about how you can clean up your job search.

Stop Banging Your Head Against the Wall

By now, you've probably heard it said 100,000 times that networking is king and the job boards are a sucker's game. But if an unlikely method of drumming up viable job leads is working for you, who am I to argue?

Heck, I know someone who knows someone who knows someone with no prior TV writing experience who got hired to write for "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" by answering a Craigslist ad. I'm betting you've heard similar success stories.

That said, if a particular aspect of your job hunt hasn't turned up a single lead, it may be time to take a step back and try something new. If you've spent the past six months hitting every job fair in town or trolling the job boards from dawn till dusk with nary an interview to show for your efforts, it's time to make room in your schedule for some new maneuvers.

Network Smarter

If you hate to network, you're not alone. But I think people are too quick to equate networking with hawking aluminum siding. To me, "networking" is just code for "e-mailing or hanging out with people who have similar professional interests."

To take the pain and suffering out of networking, Michael Farley, a business development professional in Boston, practices what he calls "reverse-networking."

"I try to share opportunities I come across with friends, peers and colleagues," said Farley, who's currently employed but likes to stay connected with others in his profession should he find himself in the job market again.

"I do not ask for anything in return at the time. Reverse-networking is my way of giving back and earning the right to ask for assistance later on."

Of course, if your requests for assistance go nowhere, it's probably time to expand your network and add a few folks with some recruiting pull into the mix. That's what Brit did. To increase her odds of finding a new position, the Midwestern university professor recently upped the number of professional conferences she attends per year.

"Conferences are really the best place to network in academia," said Brit, who didn't want her last name mentioned for obvious reasons. "People have to actually meet you in person to find your work interesting and to remember you."

Brit's efforts have paid off: she recently received three job offers.

Master the Follow-Up

"When I go to an event, my goal is to always end up with a contact and execute a follow-up, even if it's a just a 'Thank you, it was a pleasure to meet you, hope our paths cross again,'" said Paul O'Connor of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., an environmental services executive who was laid off in 2009.

"It adds a human side," he said.

More important, it ensures you leave a positive impression on people -- as well as a delicate reminder to fork over that lead they promised you over their second martini the night before.

Jessie Sawyer, a recent liberal arts grad living in Hartford, Conn., is a master at checking in with the network she's built in her short professional career. Every two months, Sawyer will e-mail her contacts -- friends and family in high places, people she's met on informational interviews and the like -- about the status of her job search.

"In some cases," said Sawyer, who's trying to line up her first salaried job so she can move out of her parents' house, "they've told me about job openings that I should look into and have endorsed me in passing my resume along to the HR department."

Following Up Works

That's how Sawyer, who blogs about her adventures in job seeking at Undepressed in a Depression, lined up her current internship at a public broadcasting TV station.

Maybe if all job seekers operated as if they were stuck living in Mom and Dad's basement they'd have this much traction in their own employment hunt.

Get Over Your Fear of Branding

I know many job seekers bristle at the suggestion that they brand themselves. Some might even think career advisors have mistaken them for cattle. But I assure you, "branding" is just a trendy catchphrase for labeling yourself as a professional who excels at Skill X, Talent Y and Niche Z before others have a chance to do so first.

For Chris Perry, a recent MBA grad from Parsippany, N.J., the interview process really began to gel when he started labeling himself a "brand and marketing generator." (Translation: He who generates creative ideas, solutions and strong relationships.)

"I incorporated my personal brand in everything, including my resume, my cover letter, my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, my e-mails and my interviews," said Perry, who recently landed his first marketing job out of his MBA program and blogs about branding at Career Rocketeer.

Apparently, it did the trick.

"In one interview, I shared my personal brand as the answer to the question, 'Why should we pick you over all of these other top candidates?'" Perry said. "My personal brand gave the interviewer something that he clearly remembered, as he mentioned it to me later that day."

Build Yourself a Website

Branding doesn't necessarily mean coming up with your own personal slogan, logo or jingle.

For Taraneh Foster, a communications professional in Portland, Ore. who was laid off last year, branding herself simply meant corralling all the pertinent details about her professional life into one place: a Web site she could direct prospective employers to.

"When you're looking for work, it's hard to know how to position yourself," said Foster, whose site outlines her professional background and features some of her work samples.

"Having a site up as if you're your own company is helpful for both your confidence and your ability to sell yourself," Foster explained. "You can put your site on your personal business cards, and contacts you make can then see the breadth of your work. I thought it was important for prospective employers to be able to learn about me on demand."

If you've been meaning to break out of your job-hunting rut, now's the time. Sprucing up your job search tactics today might make the difference between spending an unemployed summer digging in the couch cushions for popsicle money and making enough bucks to take yourself on a real vacation.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer and former cubicle dweller. Her books include My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. Follow her at @anti9to5guide.

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