These days, a job search is much like a sporting event: you practice and hone your skills for that all important match up in the big interview. But what skills do you focus on and how do you prepare for the interviewer’s style of questioning? Practice, bring your tools, and get your head in the game. Related: Tackling The ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Interview Question The question I am most often asked is “What advice do you have for an interview?” My answer is consistent: Develop three to five stories from your most recent positions. Put them in the format of the challenge you faced, the action you took and the result of that action. Remember, a company is looking for how you can help them, not the other way around.

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In my last article, I covered some basics of LinkedIn networking and I had a really good response. So many people REALLY struggle with networking and I get it. To be honest, when my business partner and I attend a networking event together, she always tells me not to follow her around because she won’t talk to me. I hate that! First and foremost, as an introvert who covers it up well, I would rather have my teeth pulled than network with strangers. However, I find that once I get rolling, it really is no big deal. So, why do so many of us dread networking and how can we work around it? For most of us, if we think about it, we can start by realizing that we find out about jobs, gain clients or make money by knowing the right people. So, how do we meet those right people are? Your “right people” might be completely different than my “right people”. Identify who you need to meet. If you are in transition, you already know that you must have a list of your target companies. Find professional associations and universities in your area that host networking events. Talk to current and former co-workers; try a Chamber of Commerce event. There are many ways to get out there and start meeting the people who can help you move towards your goals. Now, you know where the right people are, why are we so uncomfortable with taking the next step and actually meeting them? For me, i'ts one if not all of the following:

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What are the best ways to get a job interview these days? In this economy, I am often asked to how long clients should expect to be in transition. They are often surprised by my answer. It seems to me that because we keep hearing that the economy is slowly getting better, we are lulled into a false sense of security that the job search process isn’t as difficult as it has been for the past few years. According to the Economic Policy Institute Article from November 2012, while the job seekers ratio has held steady at 3.4 job seekers to one job opening, any number over three means that that there are "no jobs available for two out of three workers." I also found it very interesting that the same report states that job seekers far outnumber job openings across every sector. Couple this with persistently low hiring and we are finding that unemployment lengths remain unusually high. Given this less than wonderful news, what can you do to ensure that you are taking all necessary steps to avoid becoming one of the long-term unemployed? Step one is the resume, however, that is merely a step. It's not the whole job search.

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Let’s face it: Getting what you want in life requires the salesperson in all of us to come out. One very important aspect of sales is networking. Some of us love it but, really, most of us HATE it! It is hard. Hard to know who you should talk to, hard to know how to act, and hard to know what to say. As career professionals, we often discuss how to network. What does it look like? Or, just as importantly, what does it NOT look like? Networking is a bit counter-intuitive. Most of us go into a networking situation thinking, “What do I need to get out of this?” and then we say exactly that, what WE need to get out of it. Don’t do it! Networking is about establishing and maintaining a relationship with someone before you ask for help. The rules don’t change just because it is not face-to-face. Let me give you an example of a very common mistake we see in our business. Last week, I received a LinkedIn request that simply said “Susan, I am looking for a new career opportunity and would like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” We are always open to meeting people and building our network. Of course, I accepted, although already I was feeling a bit on the defense. Why, what’s the big deal? I have never met this person and I feel like a favor is being requested or is about to be requested of me.

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It's very important to get the best work performance possible from your employees. But do your employees remember to pack their hearts when they’re packing their lunches? Are they merely going through the motions at work? Feigning “connection to the work” while in reality spending more energy avoiding trouble versus willingly contributing their personal-best? As the leader or manager, how do you create “meaning” at work? Have you heard the story about the custodian in a large federal complex in the suburbs of Houston? He was going about his duties one day when a group of “suits” entered the building where he was working. One of the executives asked the custodian, “So, what do you do here?” The worker smiled and replied genuinely, “I help put a man on the moon.” The VIPs were heading into a meeting with NASA officials that day and happened to run into this dedicated gentleman who truly “got it” — he fully understood his role. It wasn’t simply about cleaning toilets and mopping the floors. His work had true meaning. Because he was faithfully on the job every day, he helped create a spotless, VIP-visit-worthy space where other employees and visitors could enter and concentrate on their work at hand… putting a man on the moon.

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Recently, a business acquaintance asked me why our consultants are so good and why our competitors' consultants were not. My response was, it really isn't about the consultants at all. The competition has good consultants as well. It's much more about the business model. When I think about why our consultants are perceived as being better, it may not only be the quality of consultant or education of our consultants, but also the delivery of our model and the fact we make the time to devote to candidates. Our consultants are not servicing 150+ job seekers at a time and our focus is still on the personalized delivery. However, we can’t ignore the increased importance of a virtual delivery system. Our competitors are moving further away from one-on-one delivery and trying to make a buck by delivering career transition services virtually, thereby "saving money” and commoditizing our industry. We often discuss the the question, "Should we be changing our business model to compete in a virtual world?" When I look at the fact that the “big box” providers are all moving in this direction, I am left wondering if they know something that we haven’t discovered. However, when I look at the reality of a virtual model and couple that with the feedback that we receive from those participating in our career transition programs, I become more convinced than ever that while virtual is a complimentary tool, it's not the ideal method to help people find their next opportunity. Obviously, an outplacement firm has to offer “state-of-the-art” technology. We, as well as our competitors, spend a lot of time and money implementing systems that can provide an efficient virtual experience for our career transition clients. We all spend a great deal of time educating the transitioning employees on how to use the system. However, when we look at the candidates who access the online resources available to them, the numbers are quite striking. Less than 20% of all candidates within our system ever log on to start the initial online services. Now remember, our candidates are given the opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with a dedicated career coach from the beginning. They are choosing to relate with a coach rather than to use the virtual tools. To me, this makes it clear that people would still prefer to have a live person with whom they can touch base than to have a webinar that they can access from their home. After speaking with an ex-executive from a large, national outplacement firm, I was quite surprised to learn that the virtual model is not succeeding as well as the company had hoped. Initially, this seemed a bit shocking as companies adhere to the idea that by eliminating the one-on-one personal training and offering a commoditized product in the shape of virtual career transition programs they will save money. We sincerely understand the need to minimize costs and save money (as cash is king); however, if a company has the resources to provide a cost effective but individualized program, it seems that program is ultimately more helpful to a departing employee. Maybe the virtual model is not all it’s cracked up to be. After all, we are all still human and when faced with a vulnerable, emotional time, it is human nature to reach out to a familiar person and get direction/guidance and advice. What are your thoughts about virtual career transition? Have you been the recipient of one of these programs? I welcome your feedback. Career transition new face image from Shutterstock

Recently, we were in the position of looking to fill a role at our company and needed to find top notch candidate. After a rather frustrating search, we suddenly were connected with a candidate who was everything we were looking for. We were quite fortunate to find a great fit, but I was surprised to find that, when she told me about her job search, she really did all of the steps we talk about. I have asked her to write a bit about her process to help others see that the process works. The rest are her words. As a young professional, the whole world seemed to be an opportunity for me. But I realized very quickly that in order to find opportunity, you must stand out from the pack. After trying the conventional routes of job searches I gained nothing but frustration. I quickly realized that a job search is a job in itself and must be approached as such. So, I developed a business plan and began to market myself as a brand. I did this by implementing several steps. 1. Know what you want. You have to know what you are looking for and be specific in your definition of what you are looking for in a job. Employers look for candidates who know what they want from a career and for those who take the ambiguity out of themselves. You must find your niche and define it well. 2. Create a great resume. A professional resume and cover letter that clearly define your strengths and state your goals is crucial. A clear format is a must. Your cover letter and resume are your chance to sell yourself and your first step in branding your product, you. 3. Market yourself through networking. Remember, you are advertising a product and want as much exposure in the market as you can possibly achieve. LinkedIn is a great site for connecting to your target group. But you must be selective; your Facebook friends are not your target market. You want to surround yourself and create your professional presence based on professionals with similar interests and impressive goals and achievements. Also, look at every new meeting as an opportunity. Do not be afraid to ask for advice; you never know who may become a lead or reference. Have people work for you, ask people to forward your resume, and listen for job opportunities that match your niche. 4. Don’t forget the personal touch. A simple “thank you” allows you to stand out from other job seekers. Don’t just thank someone after an interview; a simple email thanking someone for becoming a new connection is the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself. Always attach your cover letter and resume. If the connection is not a possible employer, take the opportunity to ask for advice and, again, attach your resume. It is a representation of the product and the more people who see it, the better. 5. Remember that you have a business now. In order to market the brand you must treat it as a business. You should spend 20-40 hours per week on networking, applications, and interviews in order to achieve your goal; employment in a position that allows growth and opportunity. 6. Be patient. This is not an easy process. It is also very emotional and you can expect highs and lows. But as long as you stick with your business plan, you will achieve your goal. So what are you doing about your job search? Are you treating it as a business? Are you committing the time it requires? I would love to hear your comments on the steps laid out above. Successful job search image from Bigstock