By Chris Gent
Finding work is work. And finding work during a bad economy is even more work. Many of our fellow public relations professionals have lost their jobs due to layoffs or corporate downsizing and once again find themselves in the hunt for a job. During this time of economic uncertainty, I believe it’s a good idea for all of us to polish up our résumés and sharpen our job seeking skills.
In hiring PR professionals at my company, I could tell you applicant stories that would make you laugh and your jaw drop at the same time. I’ve seen it all – candidates who fluff their résumés, fail to do any advance research on our company, never showed up for an interview or failed to follow up an interview with a simple thank you note.
Here are eight suggestions for preparing yourself for the job market:
1. Work Your Network – The importance of career networking shouldn’t be discounted when you are in the midst of a job search. In fact, networking should become a part of your daily work and career-related endeavors. Research shows that for every person you build a relationship with, that person has relationships with 20 other potential job connections, and each of those another 20, and so on… Networking does not always provide immediate gratification or results, but it does build long-term relationships and connections that may potentially help you find a job. If the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is true, then the more people you know, the better.
2. Craft an Informative, Accurate Résumé – When preparing your résumé tell a prospective employer what you’ve accomplished, not what you did. Don’t waste your time detailing all the little projects you were involved in. Instead, tell them how your work helped move the business forward. Tie what you did to how it impacted the business. Provide numbers that demonstrate your accomplishments. Keep the information on your résumé accurate – a representation of fact instead of a work of fiction.
3. Manage Your Online Reputation – The Internet has made information instantly accessible. You can find an employer quicker than ever before. The flipside is that an employer is only a few clicks away from finding your entire social life online, for better or worse. Before beginning a job search spend some time cleaning up your online presence. Google your name to see what a prospective employer might see. Delete any embarrassing photos, comments, links from your online profiles and blogs. Tone down your screen names. Don’t use “cute” e-mail addresses, Twitter handles, etc.
I’ve actually received résumé cover letters asking me to contact the applicant at email addresses like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You might have a nice set of lips or be the studliest man around, but let your significant other be the judge of that – not your prospective employer!
Not enough to convince you? A recent CareerBuilder survey showed that 43 percent of employers found content on social networking sites that caused them not to hire the candidate. Don’t be a statistic… clean it up!
4. Tap Into Social Media – Social media sites have proven themselves as important vehicles for making connections and demonstrating your personal passions and interests. It’s also a great way to connect with a prospective employer. Participation in social media communities like Facebook or LinkedIn can make you visible to a large number of people within a particular company or industry. Twitter has become the ultimate utility to connect directly with recruiters and employees at companies you might want to work for. The best part of Twitter is that it allows you to connect with people you don’t know, based on common interests. By conducting searches, you can learn a lot about a company and opportunities that might exist.
Research shows that a majority of job openings are never advertised through traditional means, i.e. advertising, websites. It’s the people who are well connected who learn first about available jobs.
5. Follow Instructions – If the company asks you to follow a certain procedure or process when applying, testing or interviewing for a job — do it! You might not like or agree with how it’s being done, but it’s not your process, it’s theirs.
I once had a candidate who left our testing room during a timed test and walked outside to take a personal call on her cell phone. When I passed through our lobby and noticed the candidate sitting outside I went up to her and inquired if she had completed the test. She said she would once she finalized her weekend plans. That action and response spoke volumes about the type of employee she would be if hired. Next candidate, please.
6. Do Your Homework – You’d be amazed how many people never research a company before submitting an application. Even worse is showing up for an interview without any knowledge of the company’s mission, goals or future plans. The Internet is a tremendous tool that makes research easy and convenient. Spend some time reviewing a company’s website before applying. Read its most recent annual report and news releases. Google the company name to find recent announcements, acquisitions or challenges. This information will expand your knowledge and enable you to ask educated questions during the interview.
Each time I hire an employee, I administer a short quiz about our company. I want to know how much the applicant knows about our company. Of all the candidates who have taken it through the years, less than 10 percent passed the test. I even had an applicant emerge from the testing room completely unaware that they had applied at an electric utility!
7. Remember to Say Thank You – It’s important to remember to offer a thank you note or follow up e-mail with a potential employer, recruiter or interviewer. This simple gesture shows that you appreciated their time and are interested in the position, and it could be the tipping point that pushes you into the job candidate finalist category. I believe the thank you note remains one of the most overlooked marketing tools of the job search. Don’t forget to use it.
Of the 250 applicants who applied for my most recent job opening, only 15 followed up with a phone call or email. Of the 10 candidates who were called in for a personal interview, only four sent follow up thank you notes. If I’m looking for an employee who is detailed oriented then those four who sent thank you notes just moved to the top of my list.
8. Smile, Stay Positive – When you are job hunting you will be turned down, often many times. It’s just a fact. Remember there are probably hundreds of people out there searching for the same position. An important thing to remember is staying positive and projecting a positive image and attitude. A good way to do this is to surround yourself with positive people – people who will motivate and encourage you to push on. Having a positive attitude makes a big difference. Remember to smile during an interview. Yes, it can be difficult to smile when you’re on the hot seat — but a smile during an interview shows enthusiasm for the position and the company.
I’ve interviewed several applicants who came into an interview with a chip on their shoulder. No matter how smart or talented you might be, a bad attitude is a deal breaker.
Whether or not you’re currently on the hunt for a new job, keeping your résumé up-to-date and sharpening your skills is important. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! It’s 98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed, according to Dr. Seuss. Kid, you’ll move mountains!
Chris Gent, APR is vice president of corporate communications at Kissimmee Utility Authority, Florida’s sixth largest municipally-owned electric utility. He is a past president of FPRA’s Orlando Area Chapter and this year’s Central Florida PR Professional of the Year.