If you’re unemployed, I don’t need to tell you that every dollar counts. For most, trimming expenses while searching for work is essential.
The typical length of a job search in the United States is eight months, and many people have been looking much longer. Even if you’re prepared financially, being out of work will likely cause you to evaluate every discretionary expense carefully.
However, when it comes to attracting the right career opportunity, there are a few things you should not be doing on the cheap. Here are the top five (in order of sequence for a successful job search):
1. Professional Resume Evaluation
Resumes are becoming increasingly complex and hard to do right. It used to be that a resume was something you prepared knowing that a person would eventually view it and decide if there was enough interest in setting up an interview. Today, the typical hiring manager receives 300 resumes for every opening. Many companies now have software that scans resumes looking for keywords and patterns, scoring it based on relevancy to the job, then determining if it’s worthy of being seen by a human being.
Knowing how to write a resume for both human and electronic eyes is a skill worth paying for. Services like ResumeEdge or Resume Deli have professionals with resume expertise in dozens of industries. When choosing a resume service, make sure you’re working with someone with relevant experience who is up to date on industry job trends.
2. A Personal Website or Blog
After your resume is capable of passing the initial qualification gauntlet, 95% of employers will research you online (a process called “cyber-vetting”) before interviewing you or at the pre-offer stage. An increasing number of job candidates are creating personal websites with their own custom domain to assist them during this phase.
A personal website allows you to create an official presence online for when employers search you. Since personal websites are not yet overwhelmingly common, it can be very effective at helping you stand out from the crowd. According to research we’ve done at Workfolio, 56% of hiring managers are more impressed with a personal website than any other tool.
A personal website is a statement of how much you care about your career and provides employers a glimpse into your personality and potential cultural fit for the organization. Given the cost of most personal websites (typically less than the cost of two lattes a month), the return on investment may be greater than anything else on this list.
3. A Professional Headshot Photo
Your photo is often the first thing a recruiter or hiring manager sees of you. LinkedIn profiles with photos are seven times more likely to get viewed than profiles without one. Your photo is a critical component of your brand. Your packaging depends on it (think: product shot on a box). The better looking the photo, the better the odds someone will “pick up the box” and look at what’s inside (your goal).
The biggest mistake people make is using a candid shot taken with a smartphone or cheap camera. Find the best portrait photographer in your area. Pay them to take your photo in a studio with professional lighting and touch-up service. Having trouble finding a good photographer? Look at LinkedIn photos of professionals in your area and ask them where they got theirs. Avoid the family portrait studio in the mall as the quality of lighting and backdrops don’t usually add up to a professional result.
Other tips to keep in mind for your photo: Smile, don’t go black-and-white, face the, camera or turn slightly to your left (so you’re looking at your profile), and crop your headshot just above the head and below the shoulders.
4. Professional Interview Attire
This pretty much goes without saying (I almost didn't include it in the list), but you need solid professional outfits in your wardrobe. Most companies will require at least two or three interviews, so make sure you have at least that many. If you've been employed for a while, check that your wardrobe doesn't look dated.
Women are typically better than men at this (sorry, guys). For men, you need at least two suits that are expertly tailored, if not custom-made for you. Also, the bag or case you carry says a lot about you. For professional occupations, it’s hard to go wrong with gold standards like Tumi and Coach. Unless you’re in your 20's interviewing at a start-up, avoid messenger bags and backpacks.
5. Personal Business Cards
Okay, your resume and personal website are in place. You've landed the interview and are dressed for it. There’s one more thing you need to have: a personal business card.
This is not a business card for your “transition employment.” A personal business card is just that — personal. It only has your name and contact information on it, nothing else. Your personal business card is what you’ll leave behind with the person who is likely deciding your future.
Your card should be beautifully designed and memorable (my personal business cards are made of translucent plastic, and no one throws them away). Your cards should use high-quality paper or other materials. Whatever you do, don’t get the free business cards you see advertised on TV or online. These have third-party ads on them that send a terrible signal to anyone who receives them. Online printers like MOO are a great place to start designing your personal business card.
Spending money on these personal branding devices will increase your chances of finding a job faster and, perhaps, even landing a better one. I can’t think of a better investment.