THE BLOG
05/15/2013 12:40 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2013

Don't Start a Job Hunt Until You Read This

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I have been hearing unusual stories from clients who are job-hunting these days. So I decided to consult a few recruiters for a new perspective and their advice for gaining employment in today's world.

I first spoke with Jill Ikens, President of Atrium Staffing in Boston, which is a woman-owned staffing firm headquartered in New York City with multiple offices in New Jersey, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. She is seeing an uptick in new hires in Boston, especially in the fields of biotech, start-ups and new opportunities in human resources, especially on the benefits side, due to the constant and upcoming changes in health care laws. There is also a rising demand for human resource managers and generalists.

Jill finds that students who have worked their way through school and have solid work experience have a much better chance of finding work and are more marketable in employers' eyes. She worries that candidates often rush through their resumes without making it clear what they have to offer or taking the time to tell their personal work story. As a former teacher, Jill is often shocked by the spelling and grammar on the resumes she gets, which can ruin a candidate's chances for success. She advises candidates that it is imperative to do significant research on a company before an interview. Companies are looking to hire people who demonstrate uniqueness and creativity and can market themselves to match the company culture. She does see a trend towards video resumes in the future too. Jill also talked about the importance of good manners, such as hand writing notes to thank the interviewers, which job hunters may overlook.

Jill urges candidates to clean up their social media accounts of anything controversial and to be careful of what they are posting. She also recommends that job hunters complete their entire Linked In profile, including gathering excellent recommendations, as companies will be reviewing profiles very carefully. Use Twitter to follow companies where you are interested in working. Social media will give you great interview material and increased connections.

My second expert is Jenna Bayard, an Executive Search and Assessment Consultant at Russell Reynolds Associates in New York City. She has worked in the field since college. She finds that she and her colleagues are spending more time than ever coaching their candidates to communicate clearly and effectively in interviews. She says that too many candidates are talking in circles, not listening or following directions, and rambling when they are asked how they can add value to the hiring company. I mentioned that it sounded like candidates need "media training" where they can learn to speak in bullet points and synthesize information to convey quickly with impact. She agreed.

Like Jill, she says that LinkedIn In has radically changed the field of job-hunting for candidates and companies alike. She highly recommends that executives invest in the Premiere Edition of LinkedIn. She encourages people not to apply blindly for a job, but to use the LinkedIn tools to get to the hiring team. It is good to have 500+connections. She says that if you are looking for work and currently working at another job, do not fill out the Job Seeker Application, as your current employer may see it. Jenna declared that audio phone screening is dead and that companies are now using Skype or Face Time for interviews. If you have anything controversial on your digital footprint, i.e. Google, Facebook, etc. that you cannot remove; you need to address it openly with the hiring company.

Jenna says that while hiring has improved, many companies are quite gun-shy about making a poor hire. Therefore, the interview process is more complex and takes much longer. Companies are road-testing executives and digging deeply into their strategic skills, their problem-solving talents, and whether or not they match the company culture by requiring multiple interviews, more time connecting to people at the company, and more evidence that this candidate can come in as a change agent. Companies are looking to hire people who are not just going to do their job description, but demonstrate new ideas and the capacity for innovation. Job-hunting, especially on the executive level, requires lots of patience for candidates since companies keep evaluating them from all angles. Jenna says that some candidates actually withdraw from the hiring process in exasperation or because they are out of vacation time from having so many interviews with one company.

Lastly, Jean Kripton Dunham has owned Jean Kripton, Inc. in Chicago for over 25 years now. She rode out the recession and now sees lots of requests for new talent. She sees three major trends. Candidates, who lose their jobs due to a lay-off or other reason, need to completely re-evaluate themselves before they go back on the job market. They need to be certain that they have the skills required for the new workplace, especially in technology. Plus they need to update their network and understand how their field has changed and be strategic about how to sell themselves into the positions they seek.

Secondly, Jean says that companies need help getting crystal clear on exactly what kinds of competencies are needed for a posted job. Part of her job is to try to get the hiring company to zero in on real specifics. She also says that many hiring companies are still rigid about candidates in transition. For example if someone has changed jobs frequently, but can demonstrate an upward career path, that should not be held against him or her. Sometimes when people are out of work, they need to work part-time anywhere they can just to pay the bills. So candidates need a solid explanation for each career move.

Thirdly, I asked Jean about the issue of age, as people over 50 are afraid they are no longer marketable. Jean advises candidates not to make their age an issue in their communications with companies. Candidates need to convince companies that they want to make a long-term commitment and that this is not just a stepping stone job. If you are over-qualified for the job that you are seeking, you need to persuade them as to why it is a good fit for you and which specific company challenges you are excited about. Jean says, and I agree, that companies have to become more flexible in reviewing each candidate as an individual. Even if they have had a number of jobs, this candidate may be a better choice than a person who has done exactly that same job before and hasn't experienced a variety of business models and work cultures.

So, there are lots of changes in the field of work to consider before you launch a job-hunting effort. Many people are working at a workaholic pace, are out of touch with their network and their industry trends, and have not been to a conference in years. We now manage our own careers. Make sure that you are actively building your network of colleagues, in-person as well as in organizations in your industry, even if you have a job today. You may not have a job next week. Marketing yourself is no longer an optional skill-set in the 21st century. You need a portfolio of skills and evidence that you can exceed the demands of a job, visibility in your field thorough speaking, blogging or being active in associations, and a daily marketing plan for finding the best company match for you. Good luck!