May 12, 2009, 11:31 AM — The days of circling ads in the Sunday newspaper and printing your résumé on fancy stationery may be long past, but many IT professionals still cling to other outdated job-seeking habits that can undermine their efforts. In a competitive job market, fine-tuning your approach to meet present conditions can mean the difference between frustration and success.
Here are some tactics to use in today's job search:
Target each employer. In any hiring environment, a generic résumé won't hold a hiring manager's attention. Blanketing hundreds of employers with an all-purpose résumé addressed "To whom it may concern" isn't likely to result in a new position. It's important to customize all of your application materials - not just the cover letter - for each job opening. That means researching the appropriate contact so you can address the hiring manager by name, as well as detailing how your skills and experience can meet the employer's specific needs.
Loosen up - a little. Formal language such as "Enclosed please find my résumé in response to your job notice ..." can come across as stilted. More natural, direct prose provides a better sense of your personality. (That said, don't toss around slang, technical or otherwise.) Likewise, during an interview, avoid prefabricated responses such as the classic " My biggest weakness is that I work too hard" - a sure way to put an interviewer to sleep and reveals a lack of self-awareness. An authentic answer is much more likely to make a lasting impression.
Fill employment gaps. It's not unusual to have a break in your work history, given today's poor labor market. So you don't have to go to extreme lengths to hide periods of unemployment. For example, forgoing the classic chronological résumé in favor of a functional one - in which your skills are listed at the top of the document and your work history is truncated or omitted entirely - could raise red flags by making it seem like you have something to hide. Instead, use your résumé and cover letter to demonstrate that you've remained professionally engaged while searching for a new position. List volunteer or consulting work you've taken on, as well as any professional development courses you've completed.
Streamline your story. Hiring managers have little time to devote to your résumé. Cut irrelevant information, such as job accomplishments from decades past or the clubs you belonged to in college (unless you're a recent graduate). Instead, emphasize - and quantify - how you've contributed to bottom-line success for previous employers, and how that experience might apply to the prospective employer's needs.
Tailor your references. Like your résumé and cover letter, your reference list should be adjusted for each opportunity. When providing references to an employer, choose contacts who can speak most effectively about the skills relevant to the position, not those who have the most impressive job titles. If you're applying for a management position, be sure to include someone you supervised in a previous job. Likewise, if a particular technical skill is essential to the position, a reference who can directly attest to that ability can be invaluable.
Network constantly. Most positions are still filled through word of mouth, often before an opening is even posted. Take full advantage of online resources such as LinkedIn to meet new contacts. But don't overlook face-to-face conversations. Ironically, because online networking has become so easy, in-person networking has become more meaningful than ever. Take your connections out for coffee or lunch to keep in touch, talk about your search and learn how you can help them. When looking to introduce yourself to someone, find out whether anyone in your network can provide an introduction on your behalf, and be sure to thank that person for his or her efforts.
Job search fundamentals such as the importance of projecting confidence in all your interactions with a potential employer haven't changed much. But many of the finer points have evolved. By keeping your approach up to date, you not only demonstrate to potential employers that you're fully engaged in current IT realities but also increase your chances of landing the position you seek.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.