The New Year is the busiest time of the year for job hunters and recruiters. Tom O'Neil shares some strategies to ensure you get a jump on your competition

1. Follow up and use your personal networks

Surprisingly a large amount of job offers come from word of mouth. When a person is a colleague or friend, their word is generally more trusted. Therefore a person who is referred to an employer has a higher 'trust value' and therefore a higher chance of getting employed. This is especially true if there is not actually an official job vacancy and you are the only person being assessed for the role.

Therefore it's vital to get back in contact with your network and wish them a happy new year, as well as tell them you are now looking for new career opportunities in 2012.


2. LinkedIn
Go through your LinkedIn profile with an objective eye, making sure your profile 'sells' you as much as possible. Look at common key words in the types of positions you are seeking and ensure these are included in your profile.

After you have done this, ask a friend or two to have a look through as well to see if you have missed anything of importance.

Check the number and quality of your recommendations on LinkedIn. Social media author Linda Coles calls these your 'silent salespeople'. I recently was told a major international IT company would not select any senior level staff unless they had more than 20 recommendations. I was chuffed when I read this as I am up to 39, however when I asked Linda I found that she has over 120! Therefore you can start to see the power these 'sound-bite' type recommendations can have.

3. Go back over your successes in 2011
Most people tend to rush into the job hunting process, only really thinking about their successes (and failures) when they are in the interview. Were you awarded further authority in your role? Did you exceed any sales or performance targets? Did you train or mentor any new people? All these things are important to an employer so make sure you take some time today to think about the positive things that shaped your career in 2011 (and be sure to include them in your CV!)

4. Plan your career, not just your next job
Remember that each position is a stepping stone to the next, so take some time out to think about what you want to be doing for a role in 2020. Once you have done this, map out ideal positions (and study if needed) to get you there.

5. Direct marketing
Has there ever been a company you would just 'love' to work for? Why not contact them direct and introduce yourself, your skills and what you can do for them. You would be surprised about the amount of people who, because they demonstrated a strong interest in the company, got a position personally crafted for them, even though there appeared to be no position available. The other major benefit of this direct approach is that is means a manager does not have to pay a $15,000 recruitment fee right at the start of the year, as you have come to them for free!

6. Check in with your verbal referees
Time and time again a candidate has missed out on a dream job because their referees were too old or not overly positive. During my HR and recruitment career, I have contacted the referees of candidates I have been really interested in employing, and got responses like "Oh no... is Steve looking for ANOTHER job?" or "Sorry I don't remember a Mike Smith... Are you sure he put me as a referee?"

Contact your referees, ensure they are aware that you are back on the job hunt, and ask them if they are happy to provide a verbal reference. The five minute call you make today may well be the difference between getting your next job in January or June...


7. Follow up
Because of the nature of the recruitment process (especially executive search and selection), the hiring process can be extremely drawn out. Make sure you keep in contact with the recruiter / potential employer on a regular basis. Most candidates are not keen to do this as they feel it's overly aggressive. However as long as you are friendly and professional in your follow-up, you should be remembered positively when the time for the final decision comes.

8. Take time to tailor your CV, cover letter and interview to the role
A vacant position is a major headache for a company, especially if that position is at a senior or executive level.

Therefore it's vital that you tailor your entire approach as a 'complete solution', specifically for the opportunity. In most job advertisements and position descriptions, there is a section entitled 'Personal Specifications / Characteristics / Competencies" etc. This section is the key to the role and is what you need to target.

Read through the documentation and summarise what the ideal person would look like. With your skills, achievements, qualifications and experiences, how can you meet or exceed these requirements?

Finally you want to ensure that the main aspects and keywords are 'mirrored' in everything you send to the employer and in your answers during the interview. The closer you meet their brief of the ideal candidate, the higher the chance of you getting that job!

9. Positive state of mind
As the job hunt progresses, it can become a painful process. However it's vital to stay as positive as you can, as employers can sense frustration, anxiety, and antagonism, all the emotions they won't want in an employee. Make sure you go into each situation with a positive outlook, take the best from all situations and remember every challenge is an opportunity to grow and improve your skills.

* Tom O'Neil is a leading international author, career specialist and MD of CV.CO.NZ. You can contact Tom via email: