With unemployment at a five-year high and the average job search lasting six months, it's easy to lose momentum. I've compiled some tried-and-true tactics to help keep your spirits and motivation up even when looking for work has got you down.
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1) Set mini daily goals. If you wake up every morning saying, "Today I must get that job," you will go to sleep most nights feeling like a failure. Finding a job takes longer than you expect, so pace yourself. Break it down to manageable daily goals such as making five cold calls, setting up a coffee date with a former colleague (it's much cheaper than lunch), combing through new online postings on 10 different job sites, following up on previous applications, etc.
2) Submit a customized resume. Never use a one-size-fits-all document; customize it for the position you're applying for. Check for typos and spelling mistakes, which sounds so obvious, but I see them every day. (Click here for a resume template if you need guidance on formatting.)
3) Include a professional summary. Always include two to three sentences at the top of your resume that explain instantly to the reader what you offer and what you seek. Avoid generic or vague phrases such as "looking for a position at a well-known company with room for growth." Instead, use the space to tout specific goals and accomplishments, and to tout your desire to work in a specific field. For example: "Retail associate with five years of exceptional experience in sales and customer service. Extensive product knowledge in electronics and home furnishings. Seeking management role at specialty retailer."
4) Drop weak language. Never start your resume bullets with "Responsible for ..." Just go right into your key points. For example:
WRONG: Responsible for generating sales and providing customer service.
CORRECT: Generated sales that consistently met quarterly quotas and provided exceptional customer service.
LinkedIn analyzed 26 million online profiles/resumes and found the most "over-abused" phrase: "proven track record." If it's in your resume, replace that phrase with action words such as generated, arranged, improved, saved, created, implemented, led, etc.
5) Don't rely exclusively on the Internet. The Internet is a great source for finding leads -- various job boards, your local newspaper's Web site, Craigslist, niche sites, LinkedIn -- and everyone knows they have to apply online, but they usually make the mistake of stopping there, which gives a false sense of accomplishment. (For example, "I just sat in front of my computer and fired off resumes to more than 50 openings. Surely someone will respond ... surely something will pay off." Not!)
6) Pick up the phone. Once you apply, don't wait for them to call you. Take additional steps to minimize the chances of your resume disappearing into the big black hole. People hire people, so invest time in finding an internal referral who'll help get your resume in the right hands. Use your online social networks, alumni contacts, neighbors and so on. When a job posting says, "NO CALLS," that's really designed to prevent people from calling up to say, "So, did you get my resume?" Nobody has time to sort through the pile to give you that answer.
If you're applying to the HR department for a sales position, call the sales manager of the organization to make him or her aware of your interest and qualifications. Or cold call the department you'd be working for and schmooze the person who answers. Instead of asking, "Are you hiring?" you can say, "I know you have an opening for X and I'm exceptionally qualified and would love the chance to get my resume to the decision maker. Might you be willing to tell me who that is?" If you're interested in retail work, walk into a store and befriend the other sales associates who can often put your application at the top of the pile for the boss.
7) Don't say, "Know anyone who's hiring?" With so many people unemployed or worried about their own positions, that's now met with yawns and rolled eyes as if to say, "Yeah, so what else is new?" Mask your pessimism and frustration — it's nobody's business that you're in debt or can't pay the mortgage. Those things, believe it or not, don't lead someone to help more. They usually retrench because they worry about your baggage.
So when you're leaning on people for help, help them to help you. Have your pitch down: "I'm looking for new opportunities in retail. Do you know anyone who owns or manages a shop?" "I'm actively pursuing a position in technology and I have six employers on my top target list -- might you know someone connected to one of these companies?" "I'm interested in joining a small PR firm and I know their positions are usually filled through word of mouth. I'm looking to make connections in the industry, and I'd welcome your suggested leads and contacts."
8) Maximize social networks. Join LinkedIn and Facebook and get connected on groups. In my Women For Hire group on LinkedIn, thousands of members exchange ideas, leads and advice on the job search process. There are thousands of online groups for you to join where you can connect with people in your industry who are willing to help friends and strangers alike.
9) Get out of the house. If you don't step away from that computer and make face-to-face contact with the outside world, you'll delay your success. Use multiple sources for job leads and introductions: Join an association, professional group, or career club in your area -- and then get involved.
Attend career fairs and company open houses. My company, Women For Hire, has produced career fairs for nine years and I've watched thousands of people get hired -- not just by the companies that participate, but also by actively networking with the other attendees. I know firsthand that career expos work.
Go listen to a lecture at a bookstore by an author who intrigues you where you might meet like-minded people. Volunteer one afternoon a week for an organization that draws an interesting crowd. One woman I heard from started a walking club in her Michigan town where a group of people meet three mornings a week to energize one another as they start their days.
You have to keep your spirits up when the job search gets you down. Have a realistic sense of accomplishment, know that you're doing all the right things, and don't be isolated all day, every day.
Tory Johnson is the CEO of Women For Hire and the Workplace Contributor on ABC's "Good Morning America." Visit her online at www.womenforhire.com.