How to Stand Out in a Competitive Job Market

The economy has been struggling in recent years as many say that this is the worst job market since the Great Depression. While it’s not my intention to get political here or debate numbers, I will say that I’ve noticed that even when the unemployment numbers fall here in the U.S., they often get revised up the following month and they don’t include the people that have either taken a lower paying job (underemployed) or have simply given up. The only reason I even mention this is that if you’re looking for work, the competition is fierce. So it’s especially important for you to find ways to stand out in a positive way.

I was unemployed for nine months back in 2003. That doesn’t seem like a long time these days as I know people that have been looking for work for two years. But honestly, when you’re unemployed, even a few weeks can seem like an eternity and most of us want to do what we can to get back to work. With so much “company” in the job search process, it’s critical to grab any edge that you can. Here are three things you can do to stand out from the crowd in a positive way:

1. Keep busy.

Whether or not we agree with it or like it, the fact is that people who are currently employed are the most attractive to employers. I know it doesn’t sound fair and it’s not what you want to hear when you’re looking for work, but it’s a fact that we need to accept and move on.

Now, the good news is that the next best thing is to being employed is to be doing work related to the job you’re seeking. This puts you ahead of those who are simply job seeking. What this means is that while you’re looking for work, you can still build your resume. If you’ve recently lost your job, find something that you can do related to your area expertise right away so that there is no gap in your resume. If you’ve been out for a while, you need to do something to show that you haven’t been sitting around all day watching soaps. Your options include:

  • Volunteering for a charity or non-profit part time.
  • Helping a friend or relative in a non-paid position.
  • Helping out a start-up that can’t afford to pay you.
  • If you can afford to, go back to school or take classes.

The key here is that you’re doing something career related. It’s not only for your resume – it helps you stay sane by giving you something to keep your mind sharp and it could help you develop contacts that may ultimately lead to a job.

2. Sharpen your skills.

I was a software developer back in 2003 so when I wasn’t interviewing (or prepping for interviews), I was writing programs and working on my web site. I create a personal information manager that I used to manage leads and keep track of interviews. I’d grab books on advanced topics and focused on learning. When I’d go on interviews, I’d bring a CD with code I’d written and that ultimately helped me land a job.

If you’re a chef, cook. If you’re an accountant, brush up on the latest tax laws. If you’re a designer, design something. Take this time to strengthen the skills that potential employers are looking for and keep your skills up to date.

3. Get out there and be seen.

The worst thing you can do when you’re unemployed is stay home all day. Yes, you want to apply for jobs, prepare for interviews and make calls. In 2003, smartphones didn’t exist so I needed to be at home or at a place with internet access to check email. I had a cell phone, but I barely used it so I primarily used my home phone for my job search related calls. Today, you can do all of that on your smart phone so there’s no need to sit around the house waiting.

Get out there and talk to people. Attend career development sessions at your local library – even if you don’t need the skills, you never know who you might meet. Go to lectures and seminars and attend business related events. Go to networking groups or events. If you live near a college you’ve attended, visit the campus and talk to faculty and the folks in the career development group. You’ll be amazed at the people out there that want to help you. And if you’re feeling down, which is expected, this will certainly lift your spirits.

Life isn’t always fair and the job search game is especially tough. But staying focused and having the right attitude can help tip the odds in your favor.


2 thoughts on “How to Stand Out in a Competitive Job Market

  1. Stephen

    James, this is a great set of tips here! I especially agree with the tip about sharpening your skills. Continuing to improve your skills (regardless of whether you’re on the job hunt) will only improve your stock.

    Looking forward to more.

  2. Darren Fleming

    Great tips James, I was also unemployed back in 2010. But the main reason I’ve got back here in the work of the working people is not that I got bored but because I’ve learned so much by getting bored. Nowadays, bored people have the greatest and the most praised ideas of them all. Because most of us don’t have anything else to do but to think and to learn. Once we’ve started learning, we forget to sleep, to eat and then a new chapter of our life begins.

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