Your résumé must answer this question: Green, who blogs at askamanager.blogspot.com, spends a lot of time looking through résumés, and most of them "read like a series of job descriptions," just listing tasks and skills required in positions held by the applicant—and anyone else who held the same job. But that's not the information hiring managers need to make their decisions. Indeed, résumés that capture their attention offer more than that. "For each position, they answer the question: What did you accomplish in this job that someone else wouldn't have?" Green says. "Did you just go through the motions and turn in an acceptable, but not particularly star-quality, performance? Or did you do an unusually good job, one that impressed your boss and coworkers and made them devastated to lose you?"
Make sure you match the job description: If you were a 6-foot, 5-inch, 250-pound Frenchman with burly arms and a bushy beard, would you apply for the part of Little Orphan Annie on Broadway? However ridiculous that image is, every day in corporate America, thousands of managers shuffle through résumés that are totally unmatched to the position advertised. "If you don't have an accurate understanding of what the job is all about, your opinion of how well-matched you are will be based on an erroneous foundation," Green says.
Put your interviewer at ease: This is pretty counterintuitive. Most job seekers are prepared to follow the tone set by their interviewer. But that may not be your best plan. "A great many interviewers hate interviewing," says Michael Wade, a management consultant, who blogs at execupundit.com. "They know they're not good at it, and they are dealing with strangers and asking questions to fill a job with which they are unfamiliar." A job seeker can gain an edge by staying friendly, listening carefully, using body language to indicate amiability, and stressing that he or she gets along with colleagues, Wade says.
Plan before you pursue: Researchers at the University of Missouri recently studied the efforts of 327 job seekers, ages 20 to 40, and found that developing and following a plan at the beginning of a job search has a significant impact on its success. Similarly, Curt Rosengren, a career coach and blogger at curtrosengren.mapmaker.com, recommends setting "process goals" to keep you on track toward your larger career goals. "Process goals aren't big-picture objectives. They're 'roll up your sleeves and make it happen' objectives," Rosengren says. "Maybe you set a goal of making 10 phone calls a day or writing for two hours each day."
Take the less desirable job: The recession has shrunk opportunities in many fields, while maintaining or increasing the opportunities in others (think auto manufacturing versus nursing). That dichotomy has left many of the unemployed wondering how to break into a new industry. That's a tough goal anytime—and especially tough when the unemployment rate is 10.2 percent. Human resources expert Suzanne Lucas suggests that job seekers look for a job that no one else wants when trying to enter a new field. "If a position is hard to fill, they may be willing to hire you if you are willing to learn how to do the work, rather than requiring you to already be an expert," Lucas says.