Job hunting during tough economic times can be an overwhelming task, with scores of people competing for a small number of jobs.
It's an especially difficult job market in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, job seekers say, where the housing fallout has resulted in layoffs in the mortgage and construction industry and the unemployment rate is at a three-year high.
"It gets really frustrating," said Lori Hunter, 32, who has been trying to find a job at a fast food restaurant since May. With several years of experience working in food sanitation, she thought it would be easy to find work after leaving her previous job at Taco Bell. But she hasn't had any luck, despite sending out copies of her résumé and calling employers.
"This year has been rough," Hunter said as she looked for job openings at the state Employment Development Department office in Modesto.
No matter how dismal it might seem, there are ways to make yourself stand out from a sea of applicants during a challenging economic climate, employment experts say.
Often, people who have been laid off are embarrassed about their situation and don't want to talk about it with their friends or family, said Paula O'Leary, a business services representative with the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.
"To get rid of that stigma, you need to let everyone you know that you are looking for a job -- friends, former co-workers and even your dentist," O'Leary said.
Job tips may come from unexpected sources, such as neighbors, church members, parents of your children's classmates or a workout buddy at the gym. Give them your résumé and ask them to keep their ears open about job opportunities, she said.
"You will have 30 people looking for you, rather than just you," O'Leary said.
Cold-calling employers and networking are the most effective ways to find work, according to a recent study of more than 100 job seekers in Stanislaus County done by the Alliance Worknet. More than 50 percent of the participants found jobs through those methods.
When cold-calling an employer, find out first who the hiring manager is and then call to introduce yourself. Give a brief summary of your qualifications and ask to discuss possible job openings. If the employer says no, inquire about other companies that might be hiring or ask to come into the office to discuss future openings.
Make personal contact
People tend to send out résumés only on Internet job sites because it isn't very intimidating and can be done at 3 a.m. from home, said Alliance Worknet work force consultant Jeanne Boulet.
Although that's still a useful tool, she said, it isn't nearly as effective as hitting the pavement during the day and talking to people face-to-face or over the phone.
Another common pitfall is making a résumé too specific.
O'Leary said some former mortgage workers or loan officers are being turned down for jobs because employers believe that as soon as the housing market rebounds, those prospective employees will be out the door.
To avoid being cast as someone who wants to perform only one type of job, rework your résumé to highlight a summary of skills, rather than focusing on the past five mortgage firms you've worked for, she said.
Those skills could include knowledge of computer programs, customer service experience, data entry, organization skills, longevity with a firm or other highly desired attributes.
People who already have jobs, or are looking to make an upward move in their field, can approach job hunting a little differently.
Stay focused on your area of expertise and the geographic area where you want to live, advised Andrew Koch, co-founder of TheLadders.com, a job search site that specializes in high-paying positions.
"If you start applying for jobs that are not a fit, you will get less response and that can be frustrating," Koch said.
Use industry "buzzwords" in your résumé so it pops up in résumé database searches online, he said, and choose a slightly different, but professional, font on a printed résumé so it stands out from the others.
Looking for a job should be treated as a job, he said.
"The people who are consistent and are actively looking for jobs each week and each month, or however long it takes, those are the people who get jobs," Koch said.
For those who are unemployed, set a daily job-searching schedule and stick to it, said Alliance Worknet work force consultant Anneka Rogers. Start the day by cold-calling employers from 8 to 10 a.m., then hit the pavement for a few hours, going inside businesses to ask for job applications. Spend the rest of the afternoon following up on job leads, she said.
That's what Elsa Quezada tries to do. Four days a week, she wakes up early and spends the day looking for jobs at the EDD career resource center in Modesto.
Quezada, 38, has been searching for work since December, when she was laid off from her job at Golden Valley Health Center in Modesto.
"I've been on interviews, but the competition is high," she said. "I just keep a positive attitude."
The tightening job market isn't likely to change soon. Although the data haven't shown that the nation officially has entered a recession -- defined by two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth -- other indicators show that California's economy has weakened considerably.
A slowing economy typically brings higher unemployment rates, declining incomes and rising poverty, according to a report released this month by the California Budget Project. These problems linger for many years, long after the recession officially has ended.
During the downturn of the early 1990s, nearly 770,000 Californians lost their jobs and the unemployment rate swelled from 5.1 percent to 9.2 percent, according to the report.
A milder recession in the early 2000s resulted in nearly 400,000 Californians losing their jobs. The typical household income declined by about $2,000, and nearly a half-million people fell into poverty.
Even though both recessions officially lasted just eight months, state employment took more than six years to rebound after the downturn of the early 1990s and nearly three years after the subsequent recession.
"Job searching is a process that never stops, even if you already have a job," Rogers said. "There is no such thing as job security anymore.
"Keep your eyes and ears open all the time. Do some self-exploration to know who you are and what you are capable of in the future."
Tips for job searching
Treat a job search like a job. Set a job-hunting schedule and stick to it.
Tell everyone you know that you are looking for a job. Network with everyone, from your close friends to your hairdresser. Ask them for job leads.
Make sure your voice mail recording and e-mail address are professional.
Hire a professional résumé writer, or seek free résumé advice from a career resource center.
Put your best qualifications or skills in the top third of your résumé.
Take the county-funded WorkKeys test to assess your skills and find jobs you might not have considered. Call the Alliance Worknet at 558-9675 for information.
Be realistic. Focus on high-demand jobs in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
Write a thank-you note after an interview. Employers rarely get such notes and it will make you stand out.
Cold-call employers. Briefly tell them about your skills and ask to discuss possible job openings.
Focus on transferable skills in a résumé. If you are a former mortgage worker, highlight your computer or data skills.
Research the company before going in for an interview. Make sure you fit into the company culture.
Alliance WorkNet, 558-9675, www.allianceworknet.com
Employment Development Department, 576-6118, www.edd.ca.gov
Merced County Worknet, 724-2100, www.co.merced.ca.us/wi/worknet/worknet.html, career center, 1200 W. 16th St. (16th and R streets), Merced San Joaquin County WorkNet, 888-512-9675, www.sjcworknet.org; career center, 56 S. Lincoln St., Stockton
CAREER RESOURCE CENTERS
These provide free access to online job listings, résumé assistance, typing tests, fax machines, etc.
Employment Development Department, 629 12th St., Modesto.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday.
Alliance Worknet, CSA Stanworks lobby, 251 E. Hackett Road, Modesto.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday.
EDD lobby, 125 N. Broadway, Turlock. Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday.
Bee staff writer Christina Salerno can be reached at email@example.com or 238-4574.