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Mar 25, 2009

O.K., you just got laid off. Once you get over the shock, here’s some good news: millions of people were hired last month!

By Jia Lynn Yang / Photography by Andrew Eccles

Rob Sparno recently did something that 12.5 million Americans are trying to do right now. He did something that has not been more difficult for many decades. Something that’s getting only more difficult every day.
He got a job. A really good job. A pay-the-mortgage-and-still-be-able-to-pay-your-kid’s-private-college-tuition kind of job.
Despite what you read in the headlines, Sparno is not unique; he’s not even unusual. Mike Ehrlich got a new job at JNK Securities in New York City. David Stevens was just hired by the Chamber of Commerce in Mountain View, Calif. Jamie Varon was recently hired by techVenture, a California recruiting firm that works with start-ups.
In fact, 4.4 million people were hired in January alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even as overall unemployment worsened. That means many more people are competing for each available job. The most recent statistics show that there are four unemployed people for every available job.
It will almost certainly get worse before it gets better: the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute estimates that by next year, one-third of the U.S. work force will at some point be unemployed, or working part time when they’d rather be full time. That would translate into more than a dozen people chasing each job opening.
Already, many companies have so many applicants that they’re leery of advertising open positions. Just four hours after the Phoenix National Hockey League team, the Coyotes, posted an assistant position on Jobing.com, a manager called the site pleading with them to take down the ad—the company had already received 180 résumés.
UnitedHealthcare, for instance, asked Fortune not to disclose the number of jobs it has open. The spokesperson said he feared a stampede, citing a recent incident he read about in which 700 people applied for a janitor position at a school in Ohio. And thousands of would-be models turned a recent casting call for a few openings on “America’s Next Top Model” into a riot in Manhattan.
That kind of supply means a job seeker in today’s hyper-competitive economy must be part detective, part consultant, part salesperson—and very creative.

Don’t Try This at Home (or on the job hunt)

O.K., you’re ready to commit. Ready to think outside the box, reinvent yourself or print your résumé on purple paper if that will get you noticed.
Let’s start with what doesn’t work.
Lisa Hamm, a recruiter for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, takes a swig from her water bottle during a break at the National Capital Region Job Fair in Falls Church, Va. It’s all she has time for between talks with hundreds of job hunters. People are waiting an hour or more for minutes of her time. The more impatient give up and simply plop their résumés onto a pile and walk away.
When Fortune called Hamm after the job fair, she reported that she had received 250 résumés that day, but only four people had been asked in for interviews. In other words, those fair attendees might as well have played the lottery.
“The thing to avoid is thinking that by sending out a ton of résumés, you’re looking for a job—you’re not,” says Steven Greenberg, publisher of Jobs4point0.com, a Web site targeted at job seekers over 40.
Put another way, carpet-bombing may make you feel good, but it doesn’t work.
Experts say another common mistake to make blind calls. “You never call and say, ‘do you have a job?’” explains Marie McIntyre, a career coach based in Atlanta, Ga. Instead, ask for advice. People feel flattered when they’re tapped for their wisdom—and that sometimes makes them think harder about opportunities for you.
Now a caveat: nobody has a free hour to hear your sob story. You have to make a compelling case for busy people to make time for you. “Just meeting people to network in the industry broadly—no one has time for that now,” says Lisa Rutherford, president of tech startup Twofish.

Getting to YES

Sparno got his new job at Salesforce.com, two and a half months after losing a job at Oracle. All it took was a scheduled daily pep talk, a fraternity of out-of-work neighbors, voluminous research, a PowerPoint presentation, seven rounds of interviews, a bout of inspiration at the whiteboard during the last meeting and stamina worthy of an NFL middle linebacker.
It’s enough to drive the average job seeker to drink. Are there any shortcuts?
Well, maybe not shortcuts, but at least clues from experts around the country and a corps of people who have recently punched their tickets with successful searches.

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow…

When Pat Bennett walked into a job interview at the software company SAS, the hiring manager told her outright that he saw no reason to hire her. She got her foot in the door by explaining that she was used to dealing with high-strung lawyers, not unlike the financial service clients that she would be dealing with in the new position.
In her second round interview, she gave a PowerPoint presentation showing how she’d approach the business during her first 30 days. She got the job.
Bennett’s approach boiled down to doing something every salesman instinctively knows. Getting the prospective buyer—or in this case, the potential employer—is only the first step. The key is to figure out: What do they want? What keeps them up at night?
If you can answer those two questions, then you will only have to face one more: When do you want to start?


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