2. Focus on Your Targets
Today's smart job seeker makes targeted strikes. Don't get bogged down in massive job databases. Instead, go directly to the websites of companies you'd like to work for and check out the job listings, usually posted under "Careers" or "Employment Opportunities." Your professional association or organization — if you never joined one, do so now — may have a job bank with openings in your field. If you're considering a career switch, check out O*NET OnLine, the Department of Labor's list of new and growing fields.
Next, prepare to meet people who work at your target companies. Learn as much as you can about their key decision makers. Read stories; ask questions. What were their career paths? What are their outside interests? Seek these people out on their own turf. Does their company sponsor a charity run? Try to compete, or at least volunteer. Connect with them over a shared interest, rather than hat-in-hand. Is this a modified form of stalking? Hey, do what you've got to do.
As I wrote in Start Where You Are, I learned a lot from one of the top stockbrokers in the business, Gary Abrahams, who moved from San Francisco to Las Vegas in the late 1970s. Noticing fabulous houses being built on the outskirts of town, Abrahams put on his best blue suit and went door-to-door to meet the owners. Through the new clients he met, he became Dean Witter's top producer in that region.
3. Nail the Interview
When it's time for an interview, make it easy for the employer to pick you for the job. Look through your recommendation letters for positive descriptions, or ask colleagues what they think your strengths are. You can call upon these kudos during the interview to help make the sale.
Most important: Know what you're talking about. "Do your research on the organization, understand what the business does and the industry in which it operates," says SHRM's Jackson. Armed with that knowledge, you can ask questions that highlight your strengths. For example, you might ask an interviewer to name the company's biggest challenge — and be prepared to discuss possible solutions.
Above all, project confidence. "Candidates we hire are people who understand their unique strengths and skill sets and demonstrate right up front a commitment to our mission and an authentic interest in our business," says Paul Hvidding, vice president of human resources at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), which has appeared in AARP's list of best employers. "It's almost as if they are saying, ' I have a lot of choices where I spend the rest of my career, but I'm interested in your organization.' "
It's not fair, but some younger hiring managers worry that older workers lack the vitality to keep up. (Interviewers have even been known to sneak in a walk with older applicants, then judge them on their pace.) So project upbeat energy, whether that means a brisk stride or alert assurance when answering questions. And choose an interview time when you're most energetic, says Jackson: "If at all possible, schedule the interview when you are at your best and most alert — if you are a morning person, schedule it before lunch."
Even if you're aiming for a permanent job with benefits, don't rule out a temporary contract. A lot of employers are hiring temps as a way to ride out the recession. Think of a temp job as an audition for a full-time role.