While searching for work alongside 16 million people who are angling for the same openings, getting a hiring manager to tell you why you didn't get hired is about as easy as actually getting the job. But one of the best things you can do is examine your job search with a critical eye: Is your résumé really a good advertisement for your skills? Does your nail-gnawing habit turn off prospective employers? Do you tend to make your interviewers a little nervous?
Some of the most important elements of a successful job search are details. Here are nine tips to follow and details to consider, offered by the experts: hiring managers, executives, human resources managers, and career coaches who helm the U.S.News Outside Voices: On Careers blog.
Fine-tune your cover letter. Suppose you're a manager, and you're making your way through a thick stack of plain-vanilla résumés. You barely have a moment to scan a cover letter, and when you do, it appears to have been written by someone who knows your company's name but doesn't seem to have spent much time getting to know the business. You toss it. Employers want to know that you're interested in them specifically. You should fine-tune your résumé and cover letter to suit the position. "Spend two hours going through the company's website, executive LinkedIn profiles, blogs, and industry articles—before you even touch your résumé or cover letter," says G. L. Hoffman, chairman of Jobdig.com and blogger at Whatwoulddadsay.com. "Only then can you do a decent job with both."
Watch your body language at a job interview. Employers are looking for the candidate with the best knowledge and experience, but rarely do they hire for work skills at the expense of social skills. If you lack self-awareness, it shows. And it doesn't look good. Even in the critical small talk before the interview, make eye contact when you're speaking, smile when it's appropriate, and look alert, says Karen Burns, author of the The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. "Most of all, don't jiggle your knee, kick the desk, twirl your hair, check your cellphone, play with your pen, stare off into space, or bite your nails," says Burns.
Fill in a long résumé blank with volunteer work. Nearly 6 million Americans had been out of work for six months or more in October. President Obama recently signed a bill providing another extension of unemployment benefits, giving as much as two years of benefits to eligible workers. Many Americans w ill have gaping recessionary holes in their résumés through no fault of their own—they wanted work but just couldn't find it. One solution: volunteering part time. "Volunteering tells potential employers that you are an energetic, compassionate person who, even when faced with problems of your own, found the wherewithal to help others," says Burns, who blogs at karenburnsworkinggirl.com. Volunteering also says that you didn't let your skills go to waste.
Don't be careless—watch the small stuff. You forgot to fix the date on your résumé. You whiffed on the hiring manager's name when you showed up for the interview. The small stuff is not always a deal-breaker in other areas of life, but it often is when it comes to hiring, says Alison Green, a hiring manager for a Washington-area nonprofit. "When you're on a job search, a small blunder can take on far greater importance than it would in most contexts," Green says. "Here's what can happen in a hiring manager's head when a job candidate makes a noticeable mistake: 'She told me she was going to send me this writing sample Monday, but then she sent it on Tuesday without acknowledging the delay. This might be out of character for her; everyone screws up occasionally. But if I ignore this possible red flag and hire her, and then she turns out to be scattered and bad with deadlines, I'm going to be kicking myself for not having paid attention to this sign now.'"