The 7 Questions Job Seekers Need to Ask

The U.S. unemployment rate rose from 5 percent in April to 5.5 percent in May, its highest level since October 2004, just as a new crop of college grads faces the most challenging job market in years. The stiff competition means everyone looking for work must step up their game in the job search.

It's no longer just who you know. In today's economy you must focus deliberately on who knows you. Job seekers should aggressively market themselves to decision-makers and the people who influence those decision-makers. You must also do an honest assessment of your efforts to determine if you're doing everything you possibly can to secure an offer.

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Ask yourself these 7 questions:

Am I looking in the right places?: If your industry is in turmoil right now, don't sit around waiting for things to improve. Look to transfer your skills to another industry. If you performed marketing duties in the hard-hit construction industry, try seeking a marketing-related position in health care administration, which has added jobs. If your small employer is cutting back the hours of its sales staff, look at its competitors that could benefit from your sales success. If your airline is laying off its flight attendants, shift your focus to an opportunity in tourism PR or hotel concierge services. The idea is to think of at least three to five ways to apply what you know to a totally new line of work.

Am I top of mind?: Make a list of all of the people who know that you're looking for work. Then, make a list of the people who should know that you're looking. That second list should be your primary focus because it will likely include decision-makers at the employers you're targeting. Take the necessary steps to make your name known to them. You can accomplish this through internal referrals, alumni contacts, professional associations, industry blogs, online social networks, local career fairs and open houses, peers within the same field, and even old-fashioned cold calling.

Am I memorable?: Standing out from the pack -- in a positive way -- will improve your chances for being considered. Showing up dressed like a clown or mailing inappropriate gimmicks to catch the attention of an employer will likely backfire. Instead, focus your efforts in a positive way. One college student created a magazine about herself that caught the attention of a recruiter. That would work for a professional at any age -- it isn't limited to the entry level. An event planner could put together a packet with photographs of her best functions. A sales professional can bind copies of reference letters from impressive clients who can vouch for his or her expertise and service. Don't wait to be asked for such collateral -- be proactive about producing something that's neat and brings your passion, your personality and your professional skills to life.

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