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Make the Lessons of 2009 Pay Off in 2010

You’ve gone through one of the toughest years ever for finding employment and you hope 2010 will be better. When the calendar changes each January, everyone reflects on how far they went and where they want to go. For instance, a company reviews its performance, people make new year’s resolutions, and project team leaders review their progress.

As a job seeker, you should also assess your progress—or lack thereof. Have you gotten interviews? How many times were you in the actual running for a job? What kind of feedback did you receive from employers who interviewed you but didn’t hire you? How many phone interviews turned into face-to-face interviews? Think back and collect that data to determine where you need to try something different to get hired in 2010.

I was watching a show on the NFL Network in which they were interviewing coaches of teams that didn’t reach the playoffs. Each one said they would be in meetings for the next few weeks to review their 2009 performances. They would look at each position, assess their strengths, and determine how they fell short of the plans they devised before the season began.

This is a great way to look at your job search. What can you do to reach your "playoffs" (a job) and advance to your career "Super Bowl" (a good job)? Here are a dozen areas to look at to make sure you’re successful:

1. Your resume. Have you ever just sat down and honestly analyzed your resume? Does it just show accomplishments? Or does it show how those accomplishments added value to the position and the company? Make it come alive by demonstrating the value.

2. The cover letter. Think of this as a "2-minute pitch." Does the letter really stick out? Or is it just a copy of a template you found online? The cover letter is important; it should pique a hiring manager’s interest. Tell them why they should want to interview you.

3. The job description. Did you really read it? The job description should detail exactly what the employer is looking for. This document should be dissected thoroughly to get a sense of what they’re looking for. Look for key areas in the job description that align with your past successes. You should also get a sense of the issues the employer faces: What industry are they in? Who are their competitors? What are the industry’s challenges?

4. List of questions. I heard a story about Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback. His general manager, Bill Polian, told the story of how the team interviewed him before drafting him. They knew he had the skills to do the job, but during the interview he came in with a legal-pad list of 50 questions to ask the team. Polian said they knew then that they wanted Manning. The level and depth of Manning's questions made them feel as if they were the ones being interviewed. So how are your questions? Are they the same ones you’ve been using from a generic list you found on the internet? Do your research and make your questions unique to the company and the job.

5. Job leads. Are the big boards your primary source for job leads? At least 60% to 70% of jobs are found through networking. So, network, network, and network some more.

6. Phone calls. Create a weekly call list to update your network on your search. Review your network and connect with those you haven’t talked with in a long time.

7. Database. Create a list of target companies you’d like to work for. Then, create a system to track those companies, as well as people in your network who might work there, and other relevant information. Also, create an interview record to keep track of your interviews.

8. Google Alerts. With Google’s Google Alerts, you can create an alert for your target companies to keep you updated on everything published about them. Also create an alert for your job title and town (e.g., VP Human Resources+New York). This will allow you to quickly view relevant job openings for your target position and location.

9. Thank you notes. Actually, you should think of these as "influencing" notes. Use your thank you notes as opportunities to help influence a hiring manager’s decision.

10. Volunteering. This is one of the best ways to brush up your skills and find excellent referrals, in addition to the benefits of focusing on others' needs instead of your own.

11. LinkedIn groups. Joining groups related to your field on LinkedIn is a great way to keep up on published articles and job leads that are targeted specifically at your particular group.

12. Positive outlook. Find ways to stay positive and focused. Everyone has a different way to look at the positive. Find one that will keep you believing you’ll get that job.

Review this list periodically to keep your 2010 job search on track. The competition may be stiff, but I believe the one who is better prepared will always rise to the top.

About the Author

Today's post is written by Ron Thomas (pictured), a human resources professional with more than 15 years of experience, including roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. He was recently named to the Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy at the Human Capital Institute in Washington, D.C. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Workforce Management, Chief Learning Officer magazine and Crain's New York Business.  Recently, he was named to the HR Hall of Fame by HR Network of New York. Ron's blog, StrategyFocusedHR, focuses on human resources from a strategic perspective.

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What Do You Want (Besides a Job) in 2010?
5 Things Job Seekers and Employers Should Do in 2010

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