Most job hunters have minimal success with getting interviews from Internet, newspaper, or employment magazine help-wanted ads during the holiday season. One factor is that December is just too early in the fiscal year for most companies, who hope to hire new employees at the end of a fiscal year or just prior to the new one.

Many companies celebrate the new fiscal year on October 1. As a savvy job hunter, you should position yourself for interviews during late summer – at a time when corporate budgets have discretionary or leftover budget lines and many companies are submitting their budget proposals for the upcoming year. This is the time of year when positions are opened and planning for new hires is approved.

Overcoming the holiday hiatus

If you are looking for a job in December, the story is a little different. This is typically a time of employment hibernation. During the holidays, you probably hear of people who answer dozens of ads each week and never receive a call from a company.

Why is it so difficult to score an interview? Mainly because on average, only two out of every 10 companies will advertise their job openings during this time of year. On top of that, nearly everyone uses the Internet, newspapers, or employment magazines as their main resources for job leads.

So, how can you get noticed when you answer one of these ads? You’re in luck, because this article is based on a case study that investigated that very question.

Are you experienced?

Two years ago, during the holiday season, a Chicago-area marketing firm seeking a new human resource generalist placed an ad in a local newspaper and online. The ad, which appeared in the classified section for only one Sunday, called for applicants who had the following qualifications:

• Two years of human resources experience.
• A B.A. degree in business or management.
• An ability to manage a staff of three people.
• Computer skills in WordPerfect, Excel, and MS Works.
• Knowledge of benefits administration, labor relations, recruiting, and workers’ compensation laws.

It seemed pretty straightforward. “If you have what we’re looking for, send your resume” – right? Well, in this case study, a whopping 85 percent of the 151 resumes submitted were automatically disqualified because the applicants had few (if any) of the qualifications the ad requested. To look at it another way, only 10 resumes met the minimum qualifications the supervisor was looking for!

Read and understand – then respond

The simple act of reading the job ad, and responding only if you fit 99 percent of the criteria the company is looking for, can significantly increase your chances of getting noticed. This sounds like common-sense, right? Tell that to the 97 rejected applicants who were dance instructors, boiler room operators, gaming hosts, pastors, addictions counselors, food service managers, accountants, dental hygienists, and retail book sellers.

What else does this tell you? The majority of folks who responded to this ad were not qualified. They were grasping at straws. They were searching for anything and everything during a time of drought. And to this particular employer, it was painfully obvious that these job hunters did not plan ahead.

The deal is in the details

In addition to not fitting the required qualifications, the other rejects were trashed for the following reasons:

• No cover letter
• Extremely overqualified (e.g., Ph.D., M.D., etc.)
• Extremely underqualified (e.g., high school diploma)
• Lived out of state
• Poor writing skills
• Submitted materials that weren’t requested (e.g., pictures, writing samples, etc.)
• Resume was handwritten
• Four-page cover letter
• Bugs Bunny stamps were all over the envelope
• … Well, you get the picture.

It’s easy to see why recruiters weeded out these candidates within 15 seconds of opening their envelopes or e-mails – but what about the 10 resumes that made the cut? What did they do correctly? Here’s the secret formula:

• They sent one-page resumes and cover letters.
• They explicitly conveyed the fact that they closely matched the job requirements.
• They followed up with a phone call to the company.

What have we learned?

The moral of this story is extremely important for those who would like to save time, money, and Bugs Bunny stamps: Jobs that appear in newspaper and online ads are primarily intended for people experienced in those careers.

In other words, if you’re a boiler room operator and you want to be a human resource manager when you grow up, take courses or get a degree. Volunteer. Get work-study experience. Find a part-time job in the field. Build your resume!

Then, apply for jobs online or through employment magazines. With all the contacts you’ve made from volunteering and joining associations, the odds are you won’t even need a newspaper, employment magazine, or the Internet for job leads. During a busy holiday-season job search, the best thing you can do is use a strong network to help make your season bright.

Good luck!

troy-behrens-sm.jpgTroy Behrens, Ed.D., is executive director of SMU’s Hegi Family Career Development Center. He writes “Career Learning” for SMU Parents online.

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