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Job hunting? 5 ways to outshine the competition

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It happens after every recession.

A downturn keeps people in jobs they’ve outgrown (or never liked much in the first place). Then the economy revives, and the job market looks like a giant game of musical chairs, with all the players scrambling to find their next seat. This time, the “jobless recovery” having been longer and grimmer than usual, the pent-up demand is stunning.

Consider: No fewer than 80% of all U.S. employees are either actively job hunting now or are open to offers, surveys say. Only 5% intend to stick around in their current positions until the end of 2015, reports a new poll from Right Management.

Numbers like that are a wake-up call for companies that want to hold on to their best talent — but also for employees itching to move. Everyone now has to try harder than ever “to differentiate themselves and demonstrate why they would be the best hires,” notes Patty Prosser, CEO of talent development and HR consulting firm OI Global Partners.

The firm recently asked its career consultants which tactics are working best for job seekers right now. Here’s what they said, and the percentage of coaches who recommended each step:

  • Customize communications with each employer (80%). This doesn’t mean continually rewriting your resume, Prosser says, which is “not only time-consuming but causes confusion for job hunters trying to recall which resume they sent to whom.” Instead, use the right keywords on each application, if there is one, so that digital applicant tracking systems can spot them. Cover letters should mention specific qualifications each employer is looking for, and should include the hiring manager’s name.
  • Be ready to explain how your experience would fit into the new role (78%). “It’s sometimes difficult for prospective employers to interpret how your skills from past and present jobs would deliver the results they want,” notes Prosser. “Don’t expect an interviewer to do it.” Spell out as clearly as you can how your qualifications will transfer to the job you’re after, including an example or two of past achievements that relate to the new job.
  • Make sure your social media profiles have searchable keywords (65%). Prosser points out that about 8 out of 10 recruiters use LinkedIn to search for candidates, so you need to make sure they can find you. “Review the LinkedIn profiles of others in your field, and advertised job descriptions, to capture frequently used ‘buzz words,’” she suggests. “Tweeting and blogging on industry-related topics can help make you more visible online, too.”
  • Have as many face-to-face networking and informational meetings as you can (60%). To tap into the so-called hidden job market of openings that are never advertised anywhere, Prosser says in-person meetings are a must. “Stay away from emailing networking contacts,” she advises. “It’s quicker and easier, but it takes away the personal touch” that could get you hired.
  • Only pursue jobs for which you have at least 75% of the stated qualifications (58%). One of HR departments’ biggest pet peeves is the candidate who, having decided he or she wants to work at a given company, bombards the place with applications and resumes for every job opening, regardless of whether there’s a fit. Don’t waste their time — or yours. “Electronic screening could weed out unqualified applicants before a person ever sees the resume,” Prosser notes. Besides, she adds, “without at least 75% of the stated qualifications, it’s more than likely there will be lots of other candidates who are a better match for the job.”

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