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Susan P. Joyce Headshot

SMARTS for a Tough Job Market

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JOB INTERVIEW
Zia Soleil via Getty Images

In this tough job market, it's very easy to spin your wheels, making no progress, submitting resume after resume and hearing nothing back from anyone. There are three main reasons for the frustration:

1. Volume of competition -- the average job posting receives over 250 responses, a very large number for any employer to sift through.

2. Resume/application databases- - the large number of responses has necessitated the use of applicant or resume databases. Having your resume pulled out of those databases for a human being to view it depends on including the "right words" (the keywords) on your resume/application.

3. Not obviously qualified -- Most of the responses to job postings are from people who are not clearly qualified for the job they are applying for. In fact, they may be qualified, but they haven't made that fact obvious to the employer (with the right keywords), so their applications are ignored, and their resumes drop down the infamous "black hole."

The whole process is very frustrating, wasting your valuable time and energy. It's also extremely discouraging to hear nothing or to be rejected.

The S-M-A-R-T-S Job Posting Response Success Strategies

Rather than hastily emailing a your resume as quickly as you can to every job you find, take the time to demonstrate your SMARTS in responses to the employers and job postings which interest you.

S - Sell what the employer is buying.

Do not try to submit a "general" resume that will show the employer you are qualified for many jobs! First, they most likely won't have the time to analyze your resume to figure out how great you are and all the other jobs you could do for them. And, secondly, a general resume will not contain the "right" keywords so that your resume is actually seen by a human being.

If you create a cover letter (very good idea) or send an email with your resume, make it easy for the reader to understand what you are trying to accomplish. Specify the job you are seeking by making the job title and your qualifications for that job very clear. [Read "Get That Interview with a Great Email Message" for more ideas.]

If you don't meet most of a job's requirements these days, it's very unlikely that you will land the job. So, in your cover letter/email message, highlight your specific qualifications that line up with the jobs requirements.

Customize your resume to the specific opportunity so that it contains the appropriate keywords to be included in a resume database search by the recruiter. Without the right keywords, submitting your resume to most employers is very likely a complete waste of time.

  • Customize your resume's "Objective" or "Target Job Title" to this specific position and employer.
  • A "Summary of Qualifications" section at the top of your resume, below your name and contact information is a perfect location for this summary information.
  • Use the employer's name and other unique details in your response so it doesn't look like a "form letter" response.

And -- OMG! -- don't fill your message and your resume with texting jargon, unless you are applying for a job which requires that knowledge and skill (and maybe not even then, if you are responding to a recruiter who might think the jargon is a bunch of typos or the ranting of a crazy person).

[Read "Customize Your Resume in 5 Steps" for details.]

M - Market yourself as a potential employee.

Make it easy for the employer to see how you fit the bill by connecting those dots between their needs and your skills and experience. For example, they want someone who knows how to use Access databases, and you have five years experience with Access. Include that information in your cover letter or email message and in the "Summary of Qualifications" at the top of your resume.

The quality of your response -- well-written without typos, spelling errors, or grammatical errors -- will offer proof that you are a good prospect as a potential employee. Employers often view every part of the hiring process as a demonstration of the quality of your work, like an audition for the role of employee.

When you make it clear in your response that you have read, understand, and meet their requirements, you will stand out. You are also demonstrating your "attention to detail" and "ability to follow directions" more effectively than if you repeated those terms in your resume 100 times.

A - Analyze the whole posting.

Read the entire posting, word-by-word:

  • Do you meet most of the requirements?
  • Do you want to do this job?
  • Do they want the resume as a Word file attached to your message or as plain text, copied and pasted into the body of your message?
  • Do they give you instructions for responding to a specific person or email address?
  • Do they have a question they want you to answer in a cover letter?

Believe it or not, simply reading the posting and responding appropriately will be a big differentiator.

Most job seekers don't take the time to pay attention, and by demonstrating that you have paid attention, you will stand out.

R - Research the employer.

You don't want to be job hunting in a few weeks or months, so be choosy about the jobs you apply for by researching the employer.

Spend time understanding what each employer does, how they do it, who they are, and ways they are better than their competition. You'll be better prepared for the interview, too, and you waste less time responding to fake or inappropriate job postings.

  • Do you know anyone who works there? Check your email contacts to look for the domain name. Search through LinkedIn to see if you are connected to someone there. If it's a local employer, ask friends, family, and neighbors.
  • Google the employer's name to see what you find. What's in the news about this employer? If you don't find anything (or if you find only job postings), the employer may be bogus, so proceed with caution!
  • Visit the employer's Website to evaluate the organization. What are they telling the world about themselves?
  • Check LinkedIn for a Company Profile and any connections you might have there.
  • If the employer is a publicly-traded company (on a stock exchange), check AnnualReports.com to find the latest annual report published.
  • Search through Indeed.com for jobs posted by the company. If you find the same job posted on more than one job board, they probably have an urgent need to fill it.

T - Think about yourself and this job.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, over 4.4 million (MILLION!) jobs were open on the last day of April, 2014 [source: JOLTS - Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey]. And, it feels like all of them are posted online. So, you could conceivably spend all of your time connected to the Internet, applying for job after job after job. But, you wouldn't be qualified for all of those jobs, so, at least part of the time, you'd be wasting your time and energy.

Instead, take the time to figure out what you want to do, the jobs you are qualified for, and the employers you might want to work for. If you aren't sure or don't have a clue, read the classic book, "What Color Is Your Parachute?" by Dick Bolles, or hire a career coach to figure it out. Then, go after those jobs and those employers, skipping the other 4.39 million jobs you don't want to do and aren't qualified to do.

S - Safeguard your personal information.

Times of economic stress attract opportunists taking advantage of the situation. Beware of the possibility that the employer, the recruiter, and/or the job may not be legitimate.

  • If the employer is asking for something unreasonable (e.g. your SSN and/or bank account number), be suspicious and do more research to be sure the employer is legitimate.
  • If the "recruiter" claims to represent a well-known employer but has an e-mail address which is not associated with that employer (e.g. AcmeToolsHR@gmail.com rather than HR@AcmeTools.com) be suspicious, and confirm directly with the employer that the recruiter and the posting are legitimate before you respond.

For more information on spotting and avoiding job scams, read Avoiding Job Search Scams and Protecting Your Privacy sections.

Use Job Search SMARTS, and you'll be more likely to land the right job, even in this tough job market.

Follow me on Google Plus and Twitter (@JobHuntOrg) for more job search tips!

Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and the editor and chief technology writer for Job - Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com. This article was originally published on Job - Hunt.org.