Identifying what employers want and making the case to show why you're a fit is one of the most challenging things for job seekers. If you haven't looked for a job in a while, it may seem like what employers want changed a lot since the last time you looked for work.
Years ago, everyone seemed to prefer to hire Jacks-of-all trades—in other words, people who could do a little of everything. The goal was to cross-train, and people who were generalists could expect to be in demand.
According to Kevin W. Grossman, author of the Tech Job Hunt Handbook, things changed dramatically with the recent recession. When employers eliminated jobs in the past few years, they were more likely to keep people who focused in a particular area. Grossman explains: "If you have specialized skills and are helping solve real-world problems, you are two steps ahead of everyone else when it comes to landing—and keeping—a job."
In a competitive market, job seekers should consider honing in on their specialties and applying for positions where those targeted skills will be valued.
Consider these tips to help make your business case:
Be specific. It's not enough to be "hard working, experienced, and a strong team player." Pretty much everyone who applies for a job claims these basic qualifications. "These unquantifiable generalities won't differentiate you from everyone else vying for the same positions," Grossman notes.
Think about the specifics that make you different. Focus first on what the employer needs from their employees; you can learn this via their job descriptions, by talking to knowledgeable people, and by reading information online from your target organizations.
Once you understand the employer's hot buttons—what problems they need to solve and what kind of people and skills they need to solve them—you can begin to make a business case to explain why you are the right person for the job. Write your resume, application materials, and online profiles so they say you have the right stuff, but make sure you prove your claims by illustrating how your skills and accomplishments qualify you for the job.
Fill in the gaps. Maybe you've never actually considered yourself a subject matter expert, or you don't really have the expertise necessary to market yourself as one. Instead of sulking and reminiscing about the days when everyone wanted to hire generalists, focus on what skills you need to have under your belt to be more marketable. For some, it may mean taking formal courses or earning certifications. Others may learn what they need to know by finding strong, willing mentors who will help them grasp missing concepts. Grossman notes: "Volunteering can be another way to sharpen or learn new skills."
Use social media. There's no better way to showcase your expertise than via social media. If you want to prove you know a lot about a topic, you can create a blog and write about it, start a LinkedIn group focused on the subject and lead online conversations, and fill your Twitter, Google+, and Facebook streams with content that makes it clear you're connected and an expert in a specific subject matter.
Social media can be particularly useful for people who need to shift their specialty area to land a job. If you really do know your stuff, you can join a community of like-minded experts online and become well known as a go-to leader in that community. Grossman suggests you find people who will champion your cause. If you play your cards right and make a clear case showing how and why you're a good fit for the type of position you seek, referrals for opportunities should not be far behind. He reminds job seekers: "Get in the mindset of being a specialist, and you could see a change in your job options."
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.