1. Update your résumé. The most essential element of any job search is an up-to-date résumé. If you haven’t touched your résumé in awhile, dust it off and make sure it highlights your most recent skills, areas of responsibility and accomplishments. Taking a little time over several weeks to work on this document is better than rushing to complete your résumé all at once. Keep in mind that this draft of your résumé will serve as a starting point. You’ll want to customize it to each position for which you apply.
2. Keep your profile current. Your professional profiles on networking Web sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook serve as an informal résumé for recruiters, who are more frequently using these sites to locate talented candidates. Make sure your profile is complete and current. Also, consider taking advantage of the extra features many of these sites offer. For example, LinkedIn allows you to secure recommendations from members of your network for display on your page. Adding a few to your profile can help you stand out from the crowd.
3. Put your best digital foot forward. In a competitive job market, a polished professional reputation — both online and off — can make or break someone’s chances of landing a coveted position. As a result, it’s important to get a sense of your digital footprint, or the presence you have on the Web. Building a strong reputation online, or remaking a poor one, can take some time.
Start by searching for yourself on several search engines. If you discover unflattering information, such as an embarrassing picture from a college trip to Mexico, remove it or ask the person who posted the information to do the same. You also should adjust your privacy settings on social networking Web sites to ensure that personal details or photos are available only to the people you select.
4. Make new friends. The best time to expand your network of business connections is when you don’t need a job. Reaching out to new contacts now allows you to nurture the relationships. Maintain regular communication with your contacts and offer your assistance as necessary. When you launch your own search and you’re in need, they’ll be willing to return the favor.
5. Prepare your references. You’ll need several people with whom you’ve worked to sing your praises to prospective employers when your search begins. So why not start identifying and reaching out to these contacts now?
Although most hiring managers ask to speak to three to five individuals, you’ll want to prep more people than this. Like your résumé, your reference list should be customized for each opportunity. That means you’ll want to be able to call on people who can speak to several different aspects of your career — for example, your work ethic, management skills or ability to work with diverse audiences.
Check in with former managers and peers to ask if they would be willing to recommend you if contacted by a hiring manager. If it’s been awhile since you’ve connected with a potential reference, arrange to meet for coffee or lunch, or send a note along with an article you think the person would find interesting. Let each person know you’ll contact him or her if a prospective employer has requested your references.
Although you can’t control the economy, you don’t have to be a passive observer. By preparing for your entry into the job market now, you’ll be ready to take advantage of new opportunities as soon as they arise.