Q: I lost my last job in mid-December. I did as much networking and job hunting as I could, given the season. Right after New Year's I searched and applied to job openings advertised on a number of online, job boards. When should I expect to hear back from employers? How and when should I follow-up with them? What kind of follow-up is required if an ad doesn't provide any specific contact information?

A: You get a gold star for working on your job search through the holidays. Job seekers who networked and sent resumes during the holidays will be the first to reap results this new year.

Here are some tips to maximize your search and minimize frustration and burn-out:


Even though you might have a jump on the competition in December, other job seekers will now also be flooding the job market with resumes now that "party time" is over. Keep this in mind, so that you don't get frustrated if you don't get immediate results. Employers right now may be flooded with applicants. They can become overwhelmed with sheer volume.

Also consider that some prospective employers who really want to get on with the process of hiring may still have to get through the backlog of mail and delayed project first. Assume that any resumes sent out prior to the holidays may still take a few weeks to a month before candidates are called for interviews. The inquiries you send out now may take a while longer.

select the right audience

It's tempting to apply for lots of jobs simply because they are available, and you need a job, but I'd go for quality, not quantity. Don't waste your time applying for jobs you might not really want, or that call for a huge "stretch" of education, experience and skills you don't really have.

Applying for anything and everything wastes your time, saps your energy, and frankly, annoys employers who don't appreciate being deluged with resumes from (clearly) non-qualified (anonymous) applicants.

By all means stretch a bit if you wish, but for positions for which you are reasonably suited. Online, where you post has a significant impact on the responses you'll get. If you post to an industry-specific board, for example, you're likely to have fewer jobs to consider, but more possible matches for your interests and skills.

Large job boards have many more jobs, but they're also likely to attract larger numbers of job seekers and feature more positions you're not qualified for or interested in. Employers on these sites may be reviewing hundreds of responses before they get to yours.

Job boards aren't just for posting your resume. Many have good resources you may want to take advantage of, including networking and support services. There are also lots of other career-oriented sites (like ASK ALISON, for example) that can enhance your job search experience with information, ideas, and support.

give them what they want

Give the employer what s/he requests and don't be tempted to re-write the application requirements to suit what you think the ought to be! Address it as requested, by the method described in the ad or posting. If you're applying online by email, note whether the employer wants a resume as an attachment or in the body of the email letter, or both. Don't assume that if an employer requires a one-page resume in 10 point Courier, that they won't mind if you send your three page resume in 12 point Ariel instead - they will!

Make sure any letters (and attachments) you send are typo-free and glitch-free, and properly downloadable in a variety of popular word processing programs.

Tip: test your documents ahead of time by sending them to someone else's computer. If they don't open or format properly, it could be your text editor, or perhaps, the way you've formatted the document. I wouldn't suggest using anything smaller than 10 point type with a fixed font (e.g. "Courier"), and anything larger than 12 point type may be hard to read unless you have a really tiny resume with lots of white space! Some text characters don't translate well from one popular word processing program to another (e.g. you may have ot use stars instead of bullets). Be sure to keep the line length short so that whatever the recipient's default, your document will format properly, and allow enough white space and decent margins.

Tip: don't name your resume file "resume." Use your name (e.g. "abdunhamresume) so when an employer goes to open it, s/he knows it's your resume, not just ust one of dozens called "myresume" sent by less-savvy job seekers. Be sure to include a personalized cover letter (not a "dear employer" form letter) with every job application, unless there is only an online posting format with no room for additional comments and mention the job code and job title, and the place you saw the posting or ad. Don't use weird fonts or word processing programs.

respect the odds

Responding to classified ads and online are good ways to increase your job hunting options, but you can't expect to get the same kind of interest that networking through personal contacts would bring you. Most employers would rather review half a dozen resumes from applicants recommended by someone they know, than a hundred resumes from people who are virtual strangers, even if their qualifications are great.

Be wary of postings or blind box ads that seem to be hiding too many facts. Some employers keep things vague because they really aren't offering a specific job, but are hoping to see what kind of response the marketplace would bring . While it's true that some employers with real jobs also purposely leave off information (to avoid being overwhelmed by job seekers hoping to follow-up), if there is absolutely no information about who the employer might be, what the job really is, or how to get in touch with them, how can you know if you even want to work there?

If you apply for purposely vague listing, assume that your application is going to be used for market research and you're not going to get a request for an interview by responding.

follow up appropriately

Be optimistic and don't take silence personally. There are so many reasons why you might not hear back from an employer, and a lot of them have nothing to do with your skills. These are uncertain economic times where at any time a position may be put on hold, revised, or completely abandoned even though interviews have been conducted.

I would take the in-person approach to follow, if possible. If you can, call to ask if the employer got your resume and the status of the interview process. If you can't call, follow up in a week to ten days with a brief note. Email is ok if a name and contact email was included in the posting or ad. If you use an online form where there isn't any contact information, hopefully you at least know the company at which you applied, and perhaps, the department or job title.

A little sleuthing (by phone) should help you identify the person who is handling the search. If you don't get a response, follow-up in a week to ten days with a print version of your resume and cover letter, sent by regular mail. Wait about a week and then call (or send a brief note) asking if your resume has been received.

Don't forget to mention what job you've applied for, and when, along with a few lines about your skills. If you still don't get a response, send another letter or email and be sure to include a copy of your resume with this one, too. Restate what you've applied for, and when. Make it clear that after several attempts to contact the company, you're trying one last time (because you're really interested in the job but must no consider other offers).

If you don't get any response after all of this, it's safe to assume you're not going to get an interview, but at least you can be assured you did everything in your power to "make it happen." Next time, it will!

have other options

By all means send your resume online to as many places as you like, but make sure that it's not your only method of job hunting, and don't expect any contact unless they want you.

try not to take lack of response, or silence, personally, and be tenacious and patient ...

how to sell yourself to employers


First impressions are lasting and powerful. Learn how to define and enhance your unique assets for positive, personal appeal. Present yourself to others so that they're immediately drawn to you and select you as "the one."


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Get simple tools to turn every situation around to your advantage, no matter how difficult, embarrassing, or stressful. Look assured, positive, and calm (even when you're not).


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See how your own personal marketing plan can help you to be more confident, dynamic, and successful in every aspect of your life.

other tips

When you are job-hunting, you will see lots of variations of the company "uniform." Even when an organization doesn't have a specific dress code, you will find that the majority of workers of the various ranks in a company seem to wear similar clothes in similar styles so that they fit in.

Part of your job as a job seeker and personal marketing of your unique "product" is to learn about these patterns, so you can define a company's uniform. Believe it or not, in some places you will be labeled as 'too different to be one of us' if you are even wearing the wrong color or style of suit, tie or shirt.

using a uniform to appeal to an employer

It may surprise you to think of your business suit as a uniform - just like the one worn by a waitress, nurse, soldier, pilot or athlete - but it is! A football player's uniform, for example, is designed to help him do his job safely and comfortably. Clad in specially designed pads, jersey, helmet and cleats, he is easily identified as a football player. When he wears a uniform that is identical in color and style to his teammates, it further identifies him not just as ANY football player, but as a member of a specific team with a select group of athletes all working for the same organization.

Your interview clothes identify you in the same, general way!

If you wear the same colors, styles and accessories as others in a company, you signify that you are part of a select group of employees, and that you belong to the same team. If you know what the 'team uniform' is at a company, you can adjust your interview image (slightly) to mirror it. Without even saying a word, you let "customers" (prospective employers) know that you are 'on their team' and this will increase your customer's approval of you.

Fine-tuning your image in this way helps you send the message to interviewers that you are a better fit with the company than any of the competitors! Know Your Customers: Tuning in to Corporate Culture Knowing a company's corporate culture is one of the major keys to your personal marketing strategy, and helps you appeal directly to a specific employer. However, the term itself often confuses people. Corporate culture has nothing to do with the size of a company. Even the smallest "mom & pop" stores and informally run organizations have a corporate culture.

Simply put: the corporate culture is the sum of a company's history, mission, philosophy, identity, image and goals. Visit any business on any given day and you will immediately get clues as to what its corporate culture is. You will probably see similarities in dress, attitude, style and maybe even personality (e.g. everyone is flamboyant, talks loudly, wears a jacket with the company logo, carries a navy blue backpack or sports running shoes).

researching corporate culture

You can get clues about a company's corporate culture from annual reports, from the company's informational or promotional materials, and even from their website. All of this information helps you slightly adjust your image, attitude and demeanor to fit in most closely with that of the company at which you're interviewing. Work environments can be loud with laughter, or quiet and laid back.

A company that encourages uniformity, for example, might encourage this with furniture and artwork that is the same, everywhere you look.

Tip: personal observation is very helpful in figuring out what the corporate culture is. A discreet look at the company's offices prior to the interview will give you a clearer picture and help you figure out if you'll 'fit in.' This advance intelligence work is not optional if you really want to get a leg up on your competition!

Pay a visit to the premises at a busy time like lunch hour. Stand discreetly outside the building and make mental notes: What are most of the employees wearing? What colors and styles are most prevalent? What are they carrying with them? What subjects do you hear being discussed as they walk by? Do they generally look happy, or stressed-out? Do the majority of employees seem very mature, or very young, or are they a well-mixed group?

If it's difficult (or impossible) for you to make an advance trip to the company's offices, you can still get a lot of information to help you "fine tune" your interview "sales pitch." Ask your networking connections whether they know anyone that works at the company you're interested in. Read the company's annual report and promotional materials. Check news sources and search engines for articles about the company and it's employees.

Don't forget that first impressions are usually correct, and lasting. You can even get a valuable impression of what the company is really like to help you prepare for an interview, even from the first contact you had with them. For example: Were you contacted by letter or by phone? Did the interviewer contact you personally, or did someone else make the call? Did they conduct themselves professionally? Were you addressed as Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, or by your first name? Was the tone of the contact informally friendly, or professionally efficient?

telephone manner

How you sound and behave as a "phone voice" to an employer can boost your competitive edge before you ever meet, and will reinforce or alleviate any initial positive or negative feelings or concerns that they have about your product.

Making a positive first impression on the phone is critical to your entire personal marketing strategy and your future career success!

Most of us use the phone so much that we take it for granted. However, as a job seeker using personal marketing to get a competitive edge, remember that the phone can help or hurt you sell yourself. Employers want to know if you're trustworthy, intelligent and likeable. They're going to start making that decision right over the phone based on your voice and behavior.

The following will help you become aware of what goes into PPP - Perfect Phone Performance:

- DO  answer your own phone by stating your name and waiting for the caller to respond before continuing. answer your own phone by stating your name and waiting for the caller to respond before continuing;

- DO  keep a pad and pencil near the phone for jotting down messages, and for important names, phone numbers, addresses or other information critical to the job. It's also a good idea to keep a copy of your resume and generic cover letter(s) handy in case you need to refer to them quickly;

- DON'T  put someone on hold for "just a moment", which turns into longer than 60 seconds. If someone does this to you, you are within your rights to hang up and call again when they are ready to talk to you;

- DON'T  answer the phone with anything besides "hello" or another polite, basic phone salutation. You will not impress an employer if the first thing they hear is: "Whassup?" or any other familiar slang;

- DON'T  talk to a prospective employer if you're not ready. If someone calls from a company you can't even remember applying to, your cat is throwing up on your new couch, or there is anything else that is diverting your attention, the best thing to do is apologize for not being able to talk on the phone right then, ask to re-schedule the conversation, and get off the phone as quickly as possible;

- DON'T  leave long, complicated voicemail messages spoken so fast that it sends someone scrambling for pen and pad to frantically write it all down. If you don't reach the caller you'll have to talk later anyway, so bag the long story and just leave your name, date, time and a brief explanation of why you called.

conversational skills + phone interviews

Most initial phone contacts with an employers are brief, usually just to set up an in-person interview/ There are times when your first phone contact with an employer may be an actual interview. How you perform on the phone will decide whether or not you get to the next stage ... an in-person interview.

Remember, the interviewer has never met you and only has ears intuition with which to judge you. Make sure you are cordial, understanding and friendly to whomever you are speaking, no matter how tired you are or how frustrated they make you. You may soon be working for (or with) them!

- DO  Speak in a moderate, clear, pleasant tone of voice. Have someone listen to your voice on the phone and critique how you sound. Note any major problems and begin working on making them better;

- DON'T  carry on two conversations at on the phone, and another with someone else in the room. If you're 'hearing stereo,' put your caller on hold for a moment and remind the person with you that you are on an important phone call. Ask them to wait a few minutes so that you can focus on your caller and complete the call;

- DON'T  drink, eat, smoke, pop your chewing gum or perform any other audible tasks while you are talking on the phone. Your caller really can hear you shuffling your papers, washing the dishes or flushing the toilet! Each noise is magnified and is really disgusting!

- DON'T  cover the mouthpiece of the phone with your hand and yell something to another person. Hands are not effective muting devices;

- DON'T  speak in a monotone, scream, mumble, curse, use slang, be insulting or too familiar, use slang, or whisper under your breath.

after the interview

When the interview is over, make notes right away to capture your first impressions of both the interviewer, the job, and how the interview went. This will be helpful to you when preparing for future contacts with the company. You may think you'll remember all the details, but first impressions are fleeting ... write them down!

Ask Alison a question about your job hunt!

Buy YOU ARE THE PRODUCT- How to Sell Yourself to Employers!

2006 Alison Blackman Dunham

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