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Ideas for job seekers

New Year's resolutions, those hopes we lay out for ourselves at the beginning of each year, are back in our collective consciousness. More often than not, these resolutions turn out to be an exercise in wishful thinking rather than goal setting and so they fall by the wayside before the month is out.

If you are a job seeker, I challenge you to break the mold of "wishful thinking" as a job search strategy and resolve to take specific, proactive steps to be a better candidate. While the job market is still lean, indicators are trending toward modest improvements this year. Striving to be the best candidate you can be is imperative to have a chance for the positions that become available in 2010.

What should you resolve to do? I asked career professionals from around the country what they would recommend. Many of them echoed what I believe to be essential strategies, and others offered novel ideas that can really set you apart in this job market. Committing to the following resolutions can improve your standing as a candidate.

Here are my ideas:

■ I resolve to be intentional about choosing which jobs to apply to by assessing my qualifications in comparison to the employers' needs.

■ I resolve to have a résumé that accurately reflects my abilities in context of the position to which I am applying.

From Andrea Dine, Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass.:

■ I resolve to contact two professionals who have helped me on my career path and thank them.

■ I resolve to conduct one informational interview a week for the next two months.

■ I resolve to network with one alumnus in my field of interest per week.

From Kelly Cuene, University of Wisconsin-Madison: I resolve to start a blog related to my industry and commit to posting on a regular schedule.

From Jennifer Browning Jacoby, Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla.:

■ I resolve to apply with targeted, well-written cover letters and avoid getting careless or lazy with my application documents.

■ I resolve to be open-minded to unique and unexpected job opportunities that may come my way.

From Samara Kuhn, Duke University, Durham, N.C.:

■ I resolve to write thank-you notes for my contacts and job interviews, even when they don't turn out the way I hoped.

■ I resolve to ask for feedback from interviewers if I don't get the job so I can improve going forward.

■ I resolve to separate my job search outcomes from my personal worth.

These resolutions highlight three overall points. First, finding a worthwhile job opportunity in a scarce job market requires that you look beyond the job boards. Networking is essential to an effective job search.

Second, searching and applying for positions must be focused and well-executed. Recruiters are sifting through mountains of applications to find quality candidates to interview. Applying with insightful cover letters and well articulated résumés is the only way to give yourself a chance for your application to rise to the top.

Finally, following through is vital. Employers want to know you take their position and your application seriously. Thank-you notes and getting feedback demonstrates your determination.

I wish you all the best this year with your job search. May 2010 provide you with quality positions to apply to and may you achieve success with receiving a promising offer.

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