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Job Hunting? Look for Constructive Criticism

Job Hunting? Look for Constructive Criticism

Winston-Salem Journal

A willingness to pursue constructive criticism — even if it is painful — may be just as important as networking when it comes to landing work in a bleak Triad job market, according to employment officials.

Many job-seekers struggle with three major roadblocks under their control — poor marketing, poor networking and poor mind-set — said Andy Chan, the vice president for career development at Wake Forest University.

“Many people don’t realize that the way they are marketing themselves just isn’t working, and they never get any feedback,” Chan said. “The best way to get feedback is to ask for it from people who do a lot of hiring.”

Those unable to hire a career coach can’t afford to be bashful about approaching friends and acquaintances with hiring expertise, Chan said.

Job-seekers need “real feedback, even if it hurts to hear it,” regarding cover letters, resumes and interview mannerisms, Chan said. “Many people aren’t bothering with a cover letter or dismiss its importance when in reality it serves as a valuable tool for helping you stand out.”

Seldom has a new year started with such a dismal local job market.

The Triad’s jobless rate of 11.1 percent in October was near at least a 41-year high. It is projected to rise as announced job cuts, including those at Dell Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., are completed.

Just 7 percent of local employers expect to hire in the first quarter, down from 22 percent in the third quarter, according to the latest Manpower Inc. survey. It is the second-lowest hiring projection since at least the fourth quarter of 1996.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, there are 6.3 candidates for each of the 2.5 million job vacancies in the country.

Effective networking will require job-seekers “to take a more aggressive approach that goes beyond most people’s comfort zones,” said John Challenger, the chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago consulting company.

That includes being prudent users of such social-media Web sites as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and joining professional and trade associations to establish new relationships and potential referrals.

“It is important to understand that those who find jobs are not going to do it by simply responding to Internet job ads,” Challenger said. “Likewise, those who want to keep their positions in the new year are not going to do so by flying under the radar.”

Chan said that the Internet is a great tool for researching a potential employer.

“But the truth is, if your experience doesn’t line up perfectly with the job, the likelihood of getting seen in an Internet application is low,” Chan said. “That’s why networking is important. People hire people; they don’t hire paper.”

Chan suggests that job-seekers “re-examine their financial needs so they can be more open to opportunities that may pay them less than what they want.” However, he acknowledges that some employers remain skeptical of applicants willing to be underemployed — working for less pay than their skill set — to get a foot in the door.

“If they hired an overqualified person before and it wasn’t the right fit or they left early for another job, then the likelihood they would take another chance is slim,” Chan said.

Applicants could alleviate those concerns by offering to work on a short-term contract basis “so that both parties could assess how the job is going,” Chan said.

Challenger said that employees can improve their chances of keeping their jobs by seeking more responsibility, establishing a rapport with their boss’s boss, finding or becoming a mentor, aligning their goals with those of the company and finding ways to save the company money. “It is important to be a generalist,” he said.

“But knowing more than anyone else on a specific issue or topic will help make you the ‘go-to’ person for anyone in the company who has a question on that area. This specialized knowledge makes you extremely valuable and should be covered in your resume.”

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