OK, it’s tough out there for job seekers. Competition is high, employers are choosy, salaries aren’t what they used to be. It’s time to step up your game. Learn to market yourself!

The first rule of marketing is KNOW YOUR MARKET. Read about what employers care about, what they look for, who they want on their team, how they are making sure they find the right person – the FIRST time.

Here’s some information about what employers are focused on TODAY:

…job descriptions are high-level overviews of basic skills a person needs to perform the role’s functions. The document typically lists various tasks to be done and the prior experience that the company believes is necessary for successful execution. It also includes information such as the title and reporting structure.

Job descriptions are most commonly used for hiring and salary benchmarking. The tasks and experience data outlined in a job description is comprehensive enough to give a candidate an idea about whether they are qualified.

Source: Ellen Raim, Coraggio Group, November 28, 2008

Implication for job seeker: pay attention to the job description. Are you in fact qualified? If you don’t know, look at my post about comparing your skills and experience to the posted responsibilities and requirements. Employers use key words now, so you won’t make it past “go” if you don’t have key qualifications included somewhere in your resume or cover letter (preferably resume or both).

More companies are administering more types of assessments, applying them to a larger universe of job categories and doing it online. In 2009, look for more simulation-based assessments as well as tests that use Flash and other interactive media.

Source: Assessment Providers Scoring Well

Implication for job seeker: learn about the kind of assessments employers are using. Become familiar with your own personality type, learning style, leadership style. There are many free assessment tools on the internet (I’ll post some tomorrow).

The point is to get familiar with who you REALLY are, instead of trying to outwit an assessment given by an employer. Be who you are from the start and you will land the right job. Pretend to be someone else and you’ll be miserable in your new job – or you’ll be found out and fired.

Self-awareness is valuable, too, when you are in an interview. When that dread question “what are your weaknesses?” comes up, you can talk about areas that you are working to develop IN THE CONTEXT OF THE JOB. For example, for a job that requires accurate tracking and monitoring, say “I pay great attention to detail and as I’ve progressed in my career, I have learned how to fit those details into the big picture.” The unstated implication is that your weakness was seeing the big picture, AND that you’ve overcome that over time and with experience.

Percentage of executives reporting top challenges to address in onboarding, 2009

57% Retention of new employees
53% Productivity of new employees
34% Company reputation/employer of choice
25% Improve customer experience via more effective employees

Source: Survey of 600 HR executives by Aberdeen Group

Implication for job seeker: Once you land a job (and you will!), your employer wants to keep you – AND see results. You’ll keep the job if you produce results. They’ll support you in doing your job. So ask for support if you need it.

It’s better to really learn the ropes in your first 90 days than to try and figure things out by yourself. This is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence. You are coming into a new environment; it’s just smart to get the lay of the land, figure out the politics, learn the systems, become familiar with the policies, understand some history, and MOST IMPORTANT build relationships throughout the organization. Eventually, you’ll make a mistake (everyone does), and those relationships will make the difference between whether people give you an opportunity to learn from it or hold it against you.

To ace your first 90 days, check out the book The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins (2003: Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston MA) ISBN 1-59139-110-5.