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Jump-Starting Your Search? Six Essentials for Job Hunters

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This article is reprinted by permission from CareerJournal.com

Need to find a job on the fly? For a variety of reasons, executives and professionals often find themselves needing to identify and land a new position quickly. If you're starting a job search, here's guidance on getting-started basics, and links to more advice that can help ensure you make your best shot at success.

1. Write a resume.

Most job seekers need a resume to present to hiring managers and recruiters. And, writing one can help you identify your strongest selling points -- a big help later on in interviews.

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WHAT TO DO: Start by choosing a resume format that's best suited to your situation. For most, a chronological approach will do, but career changers and others might opt to organize theirs by their functional skills. Determine if a lengthy resume makes sense for your experience level, bearing in mind that recruiters often prefer a concise summary for speedy reviews.

Got gaps in your work history? Use these tips to fill any holes and learn what to do when you lack the right credentials for the job you're after. Be sure to avoid the resume mistakes that commonly derail job hunters and learn how to prevent spam filters from snatching your document. Look for ways to make your resume stand out and proofread carefully.

2. Start networking.

Not all openings are listed on job sites or the classifieds. Most, particularly at higher levels, are filled by word of mouth. Some professionals generate job leads through established relationships and in-person meetings, while others find new contacts over the Web.

WHAT TO DO: Begin networking with those who know you best -- your friends, family and ex-colleagues. Tell them you're on the hunt and ask for referrals to others who might be able to share leads. To start fostering new relationships, attend networking events in your area. Check the Web sites of networking organizations, such as The Financial Executives Networking Group and Forty Plus for local meetings. Need advice on what to do once you're there? Read the article: "If You Want a New Position, Start Networking Now."

To cast your net wider, consider joining an online social network like LinkedIn, Ryze.com or ZeroDegrees.com, or an industry-specific group, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Discussion Group for accounting professionals. Check if your alma mater hosts an online social network for alumni. Graduates of Stanford University, for instance, can network with one another online through InCircle.

3. Search online.

While large job-search sites list a variety of postings, they're not necessarily the best resource for those in highly specialized jobs. Niche sites that advertise jobs in a particular industry or field may be a better bet for focused searches.

WHAT TO DO: Make your first stop at an industry-specific job site, such as ChemistryJobs.com for chemists, iHireBanking.com for bankers or interEC.NET for engineers. Check blogs and email newsletters devoted to a particular industry for job listings in your field. Review the Web sites of industry groups like the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters Society, which lists insurance jobs. Some executive recruiters advertise their search assignments online. An example is Crandall Associates Inc., a firm in New York that fills jobs in direct marketing, telesales and customer service.

4. Write a cover letter.

Once you've identified an opportunity, you'll need to make contact with the employer. This introduction to employers is most potent when tailored to the specific opening you're after.

WHAT TO DO: To quickly get your resume in front of employers, use email. The note should have a specific subject line, such as, "experienced retail sales executive," and be addressed to a specific person. If you don't know the appropriate contact, check with the company's human-resources department. Lead with a sentence that demonstrates your interest in the particular job and employer you're targeting. If you're responding to an ad that lists a job number, be sure to include it.

Describe how you're the right fit for the position and company by citing related experiences, achievements or other credentials. Keep your letter short -- and avoid unusual fonts, colors or graphics. Sign off by saying how and when you will follow up. Finally, carefully proofread your letter for spelling, grammar and clarity.

5. Prepare for an interview.

The first impressions you make on hiring managers can make the difference between being invited back for a second round of interviews and being left out of the running.

WHAT TO DO: Polish your interviewing skills by rehearsing answers to common questions, such as: "Can you tell me about your weaknesses?" Strong answers will draw on examples from your past experiences and accomplishments. In addition, prepare answers to questions about your personal life that may affect your job performance, but avoid sharing too many details.

When the big day comes, calm your jitters by practicing stress-reduction exercises. Make sure to dress and behave professionally, no matter how casual the employer's culture, and project confidence, without crossing the line into arrogance. After the interview, follow up with a thank-you letter that reminds recruiters of your strongest selling points.

6. Sharpen your negotiating skills.

Pay talks can be a challenge to job seekers unaccustomed to negotiating, as well as those seldom at the bargaining table for themselves. Ask for too much and employers might veto your candidacy. Ask for too little and your paycheck could undermine job satisfaction down the road.

WHAT TO DO: Research the going rate for professionals in your field and at your level, making sure to consider incentives such as stock options and bonus pay. Factor in any cost-of-living differences and relocation expenses using online salary calculators but take the figures with a grain of salt since one-size-fits-all results are typically only estimates.

Wait to discuss salary with employers until an offer is on the table. Use these tips to brush up on negotiating tactics. When an offer is made, compare it against your current pay and any other job offers. If you receive a counter offer from your current employer, you may decide staying put is a better alternative to switching jobs.

This article is reprinted by permission from CareerJournal.com, ©2003 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.