There are signs of the economy recovering, but it's not going to happen overnight. It's still very tough out there for job hunters what with companies continuing to lay off versus hire. A light at the end of the tunnel does exist, we just have to wait a little longer. Here are a few tips on how to deal with the job search in the meantime.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- With the U.S. economy apparently getting ready to take one of its cyclical snoozes, employers are more hesitant to take on new hires than they were even just three or four months ago - and the recent uptick in unemployment means more competition for each opening. That doesn't mean you need to give up on the idea of looking for a new job. In fact, if your company is going through a merger or seems likely to announce layoffs, your best bet may be to start your job search right away.
What's different about job hunting during a slowdown? Sure, the fundamentals - a resume that highlights your achievements and is easy to read, customized cover letters that succinctly tell why you're the best candidate for a particular job, and diligent follow-up (including prompt and impeccable thank-you notes) - never change.
But when the market's tough, you have to work harder at job hunting and be more flexible, say Annie Stevens and Greg Gostanian, managing partners at Boston-based executive coaching firm ClearRock (www.clearrock.com). They've come up with seven tips to help you get the job you want.
1. Request more face-to-face meetings. During boom times, it might be okay to rely on phone conversations and e-mails with networking contacts and recruiters. But right now, "people need to have more in-person meetings, in order to gather more information and make a better impression," says Stevens.
2. Step up your job-search activity. "The sheer numbers of letters and phone calls also need to increase," says Greg Gostanian. "Plan on making up to 40 phone calls a week, and sending out between 15 and 20 letters to prospective employers, recruiters, and others. It's important to keep quality in mind when developing these contacts, but there's no question that part of this process is a numbers game. In a slower economy, you need to better your odds by making more contacts."
3. Try to be as flexible as you can. With so much uncertainty in the air, employers may not be jumping to offer you a full-time job at the salary you have in mind. Instead, they might propose contract or project work, bringing you on-board part time, or hiring you full time at less than what you were hoping to earn. If you can possibly afford to, at least for a few months, accept what they're offering, especially if it's at a company where you see growth and the potential for bigger opportunities later. Once you have a foot in the door, says Stevens, "show what you can do, and how you can help them achieve their goals."
4. Consider relocating. Job candidates who are willing to move are in even shorter supply than usual these days - partly because tumbling real estate values in many places mean that relocating involves selling a current residence at a bargain-basement price (in some cases, for less than is owed on it). But being open to the idea of moving improves your chances for success, Gostanian notes. "When you expand the geography where you're willing to live, you have a bigger playing field with more opportunities," he says.
5. Scour the hidden job market. "In good times, only about 20% of available positions are ever advertised or posted. In a slower economy, even fewer jobs than that are publicly announced in any way, because employers don't want to be inundated with resumes," Stevens says. So dig deeper into uncovering unadvertised openings through networking, and by contacting potential employers directly. Whenever possible, register on companies' web sites to receive e-mail updates about new openings that fit your experience and skills.
6. Spend very little of your time on Internet job boards and help-wanted ads. It's fine to keep an eye on the job boards and post your resume on job sites, especially niche sites that specialize in your industry or your area of expertise. But don't fritter away too many hours online. "Fewer job openings mean more people are chasing the same advertised and posted positions," notes Gostanian.
7. Take advantage of social networking sites. If you aren't already using web sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Friendster, and MySpace to re-connect with old acquaintances and make new ones, this would be a good time to start.
As the name "social networking" implies, these sites aren't designed primarily to help people develop professional contacts (except for LinkedIn, which is the most business-oriented of the bunch) - but, hey, you never know. Besides, the sites can be fun. Between working harder at your current job and trying to figure out where to go next, you could probably use a little fun, couldn't you?