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THE beginning of the new year - after a very difficult 2009 for job seekers - offers a good opportunity to review and fine-tune every element of an employment search, from resumés to thank-you notes.
While you might be doing almost everything right, neglecting or mishandling just one or two pieces of the process could keep you from getting a job, especially in this ultra-competitive market.
Here is a checklist that covers some of the major links in the job-search chain:
When was the last time you took a word-by-word, letter-by-letter look at your CV?
Make sure it's completely up to date and tailored to the types of jobs you are seeking. After all, your situation might have changed since you started looking. Now is also the time to create alternate versions, to reflect different types of positions.
Have someone else look at your CV. Alison Doyle, a job search specialist for About.com, which is owned by The New York Times Company, says that if you cannot afford a career coach, give your CV to friends or family members to scrutinise.
Little things count. You could have overlooked a typo or some other error. This happens more than you might think, and "it can knock you right out of the running", Doyle says. And have copies of your CV printed, so you're ready to hand them over at interviews, she says.
If you have not talked to your references lately, call them or send an e-mail. Make sure they are still in the same jobs, and tell them you're still looking.
This helps expand your network, because references may know of job openings. It's also a good time to consider whether to add or remove some people as references.
Maybe you've set up a few basic templates in advance, but that's not enough.
Each cover letter you write should be geared specifically to the job for which you are applying.
Check your closet to ensure that you have appropriate professional attire, including shoes, ready for interviews.
Check and update your LinkedIn profile and make sure that it's consistent with the information in your CV and any other online presence you have, Doyle says.
Hiring managers look at LinkedIn, and any discrepancies could be red flags, she says.
Review your contacts on LinkedIn and reach out to new ones. Check whether anyone new can write a recommendation for you on the site. And, while you're at it, Google yourself and check Facebook or other social networks to make sure that nothing embarrassing shows up.
Do not isolate yourself for days on end. Network through e-mail messages, phone calls, coffee, lunch, appointments and meetings.
Julie Morgenstern, a productivity consultant in New York, recommends setting up some kind of in-person meeting every day during the week.
This helps bring structure to your day, keeps you in touch with the outside world and prevents you from becoming complacent or depressed, she says.
A glance at huge online job sites isn't usually the best way to find jobs. You are more likely to succeed through people you know or meet through networking, or through professional or alumni associations.
When you look for jobs online, Doyle recommends these sites because they collect job listings from sources like company web sites: jobspace.co.za, ananzi.com and allsouthafricajobs.com.
These days, it is common to apply for a job and not receive a reply from the company. Without being a pest, take the initiative by following up with a phone call a week or so after you apply.
If no name is listed on the job posting, use research skills to find one.
Or, if you know someone at the company, check whether that person will put in a word for you.
If you are getting plenty of interviews but no return calls or job offers, take a ruthless look at your interviewing skills.
This is one area where investing in a career coach may pay off, Doyle says.
But if you can't afford one, try to find a job group or service that conducts free mock interviews.
In addition, the same day that you have an interview, make sure to send a thank-you note by e-mail or regular mail.
Finally, recognise that looking for a job - especially in a market like this - can take a psychological toll. But don't take it personally if your job hunt is taking a long time.
Many excellent job candidates, victims of the economic downturn, are in the same boat now.
A job hunt is often about rejection - and that can be hard to endure. Staying in touch with family, friends, professional networks and fellow job seekers can help you maintain a positive attitude and a sense of perspective.
In this job market, job seekers need all the help they can get, practical or otherwise.
"Don't be afraid to get help if somebody's willing to give it to you," Doyle says. - Reuters