Even in decent economic times, you need to redouble your efforts if you want to stand out.
But in these times you'll need to retriple it.
I read -- and give -- a lot of advice in articles and columns, but the best advice I have read recently comes from another Huffington Post occasional blogger, Jason Calacanis. He's the founder of the Silicon Alley Reporter and Mahalo.com and I've lifted (with his permission) a chunk of his recent Business Week column, How to Hire --and Get Hired--in a Recession. (to read the whole piece you'll need to go to the link).
For Candidates: People Who Work Harder Win
The more you put into something, the better it tends to work out. (Brilliant observation, I know.)
If you're looking for a job, you want to send out as many signals as possible that show that not only are you not afraid of hard work, but you're actually turned on by it. You must understand that, right now, there are too many candidates fighting for each position. The leverage that led to bidding wars between employers two to three years ago is gone--just like the bidding wars over houses are over.
The best way to signal that you're hardworking is to explain your routine and method for working explicitly to your employer. As someone who does a couple of hundred interviews a year, I can tell you I almost never get a proactive candidate who does this!
If I were coming into a meeting with me looking for a job, here is the script I would follow:
Candidate: "Thanks so much for having me in to discuss filling the role of VP of BlahBlah. May I tell you how I've been able to make an impact at the companies I've worked at before?" (Translation: "I'm confident I can fill this position. That's why I didn't put the word 'possibly' in front of 'filling the role.'")
Employer: "Certainly." (Translation: "Thank the Lord! Finally, a candidate with whom I don't have to pull teeth!")
Candidate: "My belief is that hard work--not busy work, but hard work--is what differentiates the teams that win from those that lose. My method for working is that I like to prepare for the week on Sunday. I read up in the trades on where the industry is on the weekend, and I prepare a game plan for myself for the week ahead. This only takes an hour or two. Just a simple list of some goals I want to achieve and what I think will help the company reach its goals: I make it a point to get into the office on Monday an hour or two early. This gives me a chance to get an even bigger jump on the week--something I believe is very important. I tend to do working lunches with clients or hit the gym to get myself thinking. Finally, I've made a philosophy of not leaving the office until my boss does.... I think that's the honorable thing to do."
Employer: "When can you start?"
Seriously, I've been waiting for someone to say that to me for a decade, and it still hasn't happened. Now, I'm not saying folks can't have a life and family--let's not start that whole controversy up--but in a market like this, people seriously are going to need to sacrifice.
Bottom line: Employers are going to hire the hardest-working people and lay off the clock punchers first in an economy like this (as they should). If you want to get employed, your best strategy is to put yourself into the hardest-working bucket.
What would impress me (back to Mark here) most about such a candidate is not just their confidence, take charge attitude AND behavior, but their ability to think and act prospectively. Given a climate where no one seems to be able to look ahead and everyone is reacting, such a P.O.V. would stand head and shoulders above the competition.