Networking is key, said workplace consultant Alexandra Levit. She recommends mining social media networks such as LinkedIn for contacts at a company you're interested in as well as commonalities like mutual friends or professional associations that can give you a way to connect with them.
"Send a quick email introducing yourself and ask for 15 or 20 minutes of their time to ask about their career path and how they got to where they are," said Levit. Even if there's not a particular job posting, establishing a connection now can open doors later. When a job does open up, they may remember your conversation and think of you.
Don't send out mass resumes. Instead, focus your efforts on a few applications at a time for the jobs you really want and are best qualified for. "Most people don't want to hear this, but you have to customize your resume if you want results," said Levit, who recommends integrating key words from the job description into your resume.
A summarizing paragraph on your resume that explains who you are as a candidate can also help you stand out. Research the company where you're applying and adapt your description accordingly. "Make it clear that you are a good fit for the culture," said Challenger. "These people want to know that they could manage spending the next 10 years of their life with you."
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So what if you have a job but are ready for an upgrade?
First, don't rush to leave the company, said Levit, especially if you enjoy where you work. Instead, look for ways to expand your role within the organization. Are there opportunities to move up within your department? Or to move into another department?
If it's just a pay raise or promotion that you're after, make sure to track and quantify your accomplishments so you can share them with your manager when you have your review. Specifically, look for ways that you've added value to the company's bottom line. (Did you increase sales by a specific amount, say? Or help bring in new business? Did you find ways to streamline processes that saved time and money?)
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Once you've established a strong track record in your current role, don't be shy about asking your manager what it would take to move up to the next level.
If you've concluded that there are no opportunities within your company and have started looking around, keep in mind that the process can often take several weeks. In the meantime, you don't want to do anything that could jeopardize your current position. Remember it's easier to get a job when you have a job.
Whether you're actively job seeking or not, Levit stresses the importance of establishing relationships with people in your field. "It's always best to connect when you don't need them," she said, "and you can be laying down the groundwork."