The new year often inspires new goals, and if one of yours is finding a new job, then it's time to get started. These nine resolutions will help you land that next gig — just be sure to commit to them, at least until you get the offer!
1. I will be active online. Build and maintain a strong online presence. Digital invisibility is a severe liability, indicating that you're out of date and unable to navigate the online world, a frequent stereotype about older applicants.
You can combat that stereotype by joining LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and maintaining an active presence on all three. If you work in a visual field, you may want to consider Instagram or Pinterest, too. Why? A report by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 77 percent of organizations say they use social networking sites to recruit potential employees.
If you're already on these sites, give your profiles a face-lift. Select a recent photo that shows you looking like someone they'd want to hire — professional, friendly, energetic. To get ideas on how best to showcase your skills and interests, check out the profiles of other professionals in your field. And of course don't post anything you wouldn't want to have to explain in a job interview.
2. I will network, network, network. Employers hire people they know, or people who know people they know. When re-employed workers were asked about the most effective steps they took in finding their current jobs, the overwhelming majority said networking, AARP found in a recent study, "The Long Road Back: Struggling to Find Work After Unemployment." So do it the old face-to-face way or do it online, but reach out to at least one person every day and ask for help and advice. Make it a point to tap your friends, relatives, former coworkers, social media connections and anyone else you can think of.
If there's a particular industry you're interested in, join an association connected with it. Attend industry and professional meetings and conferences. Many college and university career centers help alumni, too, through workshops and counseling. A growing number are connecting members via Revere, a type of online software.
Join a job seekers meet-up group in your community, or start your own. Get together regularly to share contacts and leads and help each other stay positive, proactive and accountable.
3. I will not rely solely on job boards. Cruising through job boards and applying online as you come across postings may give you a sense of accomplishment. But the sad fact is, many companies use talent-management software to screen résumés, weeding out droves without a human ever looking at them.
Most jobs are filled either internally or through referrals. A report commissioned by Icims, a provider of talent acquisition software, found that referrals are the pick in roughly 2 out of 3 jobs filled. Referral candidates tend to fit in faster with company culture, be happier in their jobs and stay for the long haul — all pluses from the employer's point of view.
Search for contacts who work at the company that interests you or who have some other connection to it. Tell them you're applying. Ask if they can put in a word for you or give you any advice.
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4. I will give my résumé a face-lift. Trim your résumé to two pages. Or even one. "Think advertisement, not obituary," says Susan Whitcomb, author of Résumé Magic: Trade Secrets of a Professional Résumé Writer. "No one wants, or needs, to read every one of your employment entries over a four- to five-decade career.
Most recruiters will scan a résumé in 20 or 30 seconds. So make yours attractive and easy to read, without gimmicky graphics. Choose a plain font, such as Times New Roman, in 12-point size (I recommend 14-point font for headings and your name in 16-point) and use black type on white paper. Other fonts to consider are Arial, Calibri, Cambria and Tahoma. Highlight your past 10 to 15 years of experience. Tell stories that highlight your strengths. Under your job descriptions, slide in short snippets such as "cut costs by 28 percent" or "delivered the project two months ahead of schedule."
Only include jobs that are relevant to the work you're seeking. There's no need for college graduation dates. Match the experience and skills you cite in your résumé with the exact skills employers say they're seeking. Of course, this means you'll need multiple versions of this all-important document to match multiple potential employers. More work, but worth it.
Finally, proofread your résumé. Nothing annoys HR people more than typos. Print it out. Read it again the next day. Read it out loud and backward.
5. I will get my life in order. Get physically and financially fit. This will send a message subliminally that you're up for the job. Your age will become irrelevant; you'll have a certain vibrancy and energy that people want to be around.
Spruce up your wardrobe. Get the right look for the job you're seeking. Free personal shoppers are available at many department stores or you could even use an online service such as Stitch Fix or MM.LaFleur. Ask friends for tips on looking your best.
Do up a budget and find ways to trim living costs and pay down credit card debt. If possible, downsize. Lower expenses give you greater freedom about your salary requirements.
6. I will learn something new. Look at the specific requirements of the jobs you're applying for. If you don't have them, get them straightaway. A hiring manager who sees that you're taking classes or working toward a professional certification knows that you're not stuck in your ways. Plus, the very activity of learning will make you feel less stuck, more optimistic and enthusiastic.
7. I will volunteer for a nonprofit or do pro bono work. Volunteering can keep your skills current, allow you to network and get your foot in the door at a future workplace. It can also fill gaps in your résumé.
Search for prospects at VolunteerMatch, HandsOnNetwork and AARP's Create the Good. Seek out nonprofits that need your particular expertise through Taproot Foundation and the Executive Service Corps-United States. Bridgespan runs an online job board for nonprofit positions. Idealist has a searchable database of both volunteer and paid positions.
8. I will soul-search about what I really want in a job (and what I don't). Focus your pursuit on workplaces you would truly like to join. Don't apply for open positions scattershot. To figure this one out, make lists: the best times in your working life, the things you really like to do, what you've excelled at and what you really don't enjoy.
Don't get locked into a must-have salary or title. A flexible workday might be more important to you now, or having enough free time for things you value, such as travel or education. Health insurance, retirement savings plans and paid time off might also play an important role in defining your ideal job.
So before you apply, get a bead on whether a prospective workplace has a culture in which you'd thrive. A web search for articles about the place is Step 1. Or visit career help sites the Muse and GlassDoor to find write-ups about workplaces by current and former employees.
9. I will keep an open mind. Above all, don't get trapped into thinking that you need an exact replacement for your last job. Consider a different profession in a different industry, making trade-offs about salary and flextime, stitching together a full-time position with part-time gigs. Don't pass up a golden opportunity just because it doesn't conform to your concept from 20 years ago of the perfect job.
You can broaden your search by considering contract work or temporary assignments, which may lead to a full-time position. Who knows — you might find you like not being locked in somewhere long-term. You build a new life for new times.
Kerry Hannon is AARP's job expert. Her latest book is Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies. She has also written Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness and Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills. Find more from her at Kerryhannon.com.