Some things haven't changed. It's still tough out there. Many people are competing for few opportunities. But with the right tools, you can improve your search, broaden your networking opportunities and align yourself with a career that fits your skills.
Here are 10 tips for a successful job search in 2012:
1. Create a job-search strategy. Employers hate receiving applications from candidates who are not qualified for positions. So it's time to stop using the shotgun approach to your job search. You're wasting your time, and you're wasting the recruiter's time.
Carefully read job postings and determine whether you could do most of the tasks required if you started tomorrow. A recent CareerBuilder job forecast reported that employers are not finding qualified candidates for their open positions, so learn how to tailor your existing skills to a job's requirements and spend time preparing better résumés and cover letters instead of just blasting a generic one to every single posting.
2. Define your goals. It can be challenging to stop and ask yourself, "What do I really want out of a job?" Answers as simple as a paycheck or benefits may be a reality, but the fact is that you do want more out of your job than just cash. Your career needs to satisfy you in more ways than just your pocketbook.
By defining what you want out of a job and what you offer as a job seeker, you become better at applying for jobs that are aligned with your overall career goals. By taking the time to define what you want as a job seeker, you can figure out what your best selling points are and the most valuable skills you have to sell to an employer. Make sure your social media accounts are professional if used as part of your search. And if they aren't, keep them under lock and key, since more and more employers are screening applicants via social profiles.
3. Diversify your search. While employers still use sites like CareerBuilder, many are branching out in multiple ways to connect with job seekers. You should be readily available in each of those channels. Whether it's through social media or local networking events, use today's technology to further spread the message about your job search. Today's job search can be summed up in one word: hustle.
The more you switch up your efforts, the more opportunities you'll come across and the more you will place yourself ahead of the pack. Also, know your industry and what trends are happening. Manufacturing companies may still have you apply in person, whereas digital advertising agencies may expect a much more elaborate electronic portfolio available via the Internet.
4. Evaluate your skills and add more. Perhaps your skills aren't up-to-date with most of the jobs you are seeing in the market, or perhaps they are a little rusty. Brush up on your skills with online courses or community classes. You could also consider going back to school full time. Government funding and other programs are available for out-of-work job seekers who want to enroll in training or continue their education to better position themselves in the current workforce.
5. Be unique. You already know that defining your goals and skills can help set you apart from the competition. When an employer asks, "Why should I hire you?" you will already have a list of your best qualities. As you come across jobs that you feel confident about, do something that will help you stand out and be memorable to the recruiter or human resources manager.
Dig around, and before applying, find out the name of the hiring manager or someone who heads up the department the position is in, and contact him directly. Use the information on LinkedIn to your benefit. Reach out with a brief introduction, and let him know you've applied for the position and you hope to be in touch. After applying, it never hurts to follow up with a company via social media to share your excitement about the position.
6. Listen. Searching for a job can be tedious, and you can get so focused that sometimes it's easy to forget to listen, research or monitor conversations. Pay attention to how employers are communicating about jobs via social media and through their websites and how you can speak to them in their own language. Connect with other job seekers or career experts, and see what methods you can adopt from their job-search strategies. Join Twitter chats and online career fairs to connect with more employers and broaden your network. Just be sure that while you're out selling yourself, you take the time to listen to how others are finding success in their search.
7. Set goals. The overall goal may be either get a job or get a new one, but when you break that big goal down into smaller goals, you set yourself up for more success and less frustration. When you only look toward that big goal, it can be disheartening when it takes a long time to achieve it.
Choose monthly goals such as joining professional organizations or volunteering at a nonprofit that will allow you to flex and use your skills. When you are able to create a to-do list and hold yourself accountable for achieving these goals, you'll feel better about yourself. That initiative can be shown off in your job search and interviews as a great example of your character. By forcing yourself to focus on small goals, you continue networking with new individuals who can assist you in your job search.
8. Prepare for anything. You can't always predict when you may get called for an in-person or phone interview, so you should always be ready. Go into an interview with at least five examples that demonstrate your best qualities.
When they want examples of real-life successes or things you'd do differently, have them prepared. If you volunteered or taught yourself a new set of skills, be sure to mention this. Rehearse for interviews with mentors or friends so you won't wing it, which can diminish your chances of portraying yourself in the best way. Leave the interviewer with phone numbers of references who will back you up with recommendations.
9. Positive thinking can lead to positive results. Use your career search as a time to see every situation as a learning opportunity. Of course, every job hunt will have moments of frustration and hopelessness. But don't give up on yourself or on the belief that the right job is out there. Use the time to re-evaluate your career path, which could lead you to a more fulfilling career. A positive attitude is contagious, and the more positive you are, the more likely others will be to go out of their way to help you.
10. Stay balanced. Job searching can take a lot out of you. Create a schedule or routine for yourself, so you don't burn out. Make sure you get plenty of rest, talk to friends and family, stay active and allow yourself time to do things you enjoy.
Finding the perfect job is attainable, but you have to put in the work and effort and have faith that you'll reach your destination. By being proactive, connecting with others and having a can-do attitude, you'll be able to tackle some of the biggest job-search hurdles in 2012.