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.