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On The Scene: Job Seeking 101

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On the Scene
Thursday, October 29, 2009

Software-industry veteran Michael Hoffman was unexpectedly laid off a year ago, but he wasted no time getting back in the game. After 129 days, 74 job applications, 268 emails, 109 phone calls, four career fairs/networking events, 17 phone interviews and eight in-person interviews, Hoffman finally found a job as a senior project manager at Jeppeson Sanderson.

With so much experience in the job-seeking scene, Hoffman has a good sense of which tactics are effective and which are a waste of time, ideas he shared at a seminar this week hosted by the Rose City Software Process Improvement Network (SPIN) at Portland’s World Trade Center. The reality of the job landscape is a bleak one: As of August 2009, the ratio of job postings to unemployed people in Portland is 1-to-7 according to Bureau of Labor Statistics cited on Indeed.com. While that’s not as bad as cities like Miami and Detroit (ratios of 1-to-11 and 1-to-17, respectively), Portland’s competitiveness still outpaces most other major U.S. cities. So what are the best ways for Portlanders to go after opportunities and sell themselves effectively?

As far as online tools, Hoffman prefers using sites like Indeed.com and Craigslist for broad searches; Indeed aggregates job postings from other major sites and Craigslist is often used by smaller companies who don’t want to pay to advertise on the larger sites. In-person search activities like job fairs can be helpful, Hoffman says, but you don’t always have the opportunity to do much for yourself. “When I went to a job fair and there were at least a couple thousand people and you stand in line for half an hour to 45 minutes to have a two to three minute talk, it just becomes a little bit demoralizing,” Hoffman said. However, you can make the most of networking events by having unique conversations with reps that will help them remember you later. And if you’re at a busy single-company event, seek out the reps who aren’t talking to anybody, even if they don’t represent your field; as Hoffman learned, those conversations can lead to an interview with the right person.

But with such a large candidate pool for a limited number of jobs, it’s easy for your resume to get dismissed, or worse, ignored completely by swamped HR people. “Your challenge is getting yourself noticed,” Hoffman said. “And getting yourself noticed is all about not only getting a person to look at your resume, but making it easy for others to quickly learn about you.” Seek out recruiters if you need to, but Hoffman said it’s best if you can apply directly with the hiring contact at the company you’re interested in. Some companies prefer employee referrals, so Hoffman recommends using LinkedIn to see who in your network may be connected to the hiring contact and can put you in touch with them.

Getting your materials in front of the right people is only half the battle, of course; your resume and cover letter need to pass the hirer’s “30-second look.” Hoffman said to consider the basics, like making sure your resumes are concise and customized to each job you apply to and that your cover letters don’t repeat what’s already in your resume. Sell yourself in an interview by learning as much as you can about the company and making a personal connection with the interviewer before the questions start.

Even if you have a secure job right now, it doesn’t hurt to be ready in case you do suddenly find yourself jobless. “‘Luck favors the prepared,’” Hoffman quoted from The Incredibles. Keep updated lists of all the skills, certifications and experience you accumulate, which you can pull from when you revise your resume. And a unique consideration for our Facebook-fevered generation: Make sure your social profiles are clean. Companies aren’t necessarily looking to see who your friends are, but those negative comments on your page could be all a hirer needs to put you out of the running.

Kevin Manahan is the online editor for Oregon Business.

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