Secrets to Landing a Job

The job market seems to be picking up, but the positions still go to those who hustle.

The big news at one of our staff meetings recently was that Sam Marcus, son of managing editor Barbara Marcus, had landed a full-time job, with benefits, in his field of photo editing/magazine production. This was an achievement because Sam, like so many other young people, graduated from college in 2008, just as the economy -- and the job market -- was tanking. His first job, at a computer store in New York City, was “a nightmare of erratic schedules and poor treatment,” says Barbara, but it pushed him to “get his résumé out there and hustle.”

With a series of internships, both paid and unpaid, Sam gained experience and contacts. He was working as an independent contractor at a media firm when a full-time production job opened up, and he jumped at it. “I’m proud of him,” says his mom. And well she should be. The job market for new grads -- and for workers in general -- seems to be picking up, but the positions still go to those who hustle. As a magazine editor who interviews job candidates, I’d like to offer my best advice for getting your foot in the door.

First, a note to parents: Steer but don’t hover. It’s okay to refer your children to people you know who can help with their job search. But let them make the contact.One father I know kept his son Andrew’s résumé on his computer. When he saw an ad for a job for which Andrew was qualified, he’d fire off a résumé. But it was up to his son to follow up. (Andrew landed a temporary gig that he hopes will turn into a full-timeposition.)

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Insulated from face-to-face (or even voice-to-voice) contact by social networks and text messaging, many young people in particular have a tough time picking up the phone or meeting someone in person. But it helps if people like me can attach a face, or at least a voice, to an applicant.

Once you make a contact, send periodic reminders that you’re still interested.Even if an applicant seems promising, a single e-mail is often buried under the dailydeluge. Polite but persistent e-mails are more likely to get an answer -- eventually.Review the job description and troll the company’s Web site to become familiarwith what it does. My husband is in charge of hiring entry-level employees at hissmall firm. He once received more than 100 responses to an ad posted on Craigslist,but he set up only five interviews. Most of the other applicants were either overqualifiedor had misread the job description.

Remember that a job e-mail is not a text message. “R u hiring?” or the equivalentis no way to address a prospective employer. Get the spelling, grammar and punctuation right.

And take heart. Like Sam’s, your perseverance will pay off. A study by theUniversity of Michigan Retirement Research Center found that participantswho ranked high on a scale of conscientiousness earn about $1,500 more per yearthan the average American and have significantly higher lifetime savings.Way to go, Sam.

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.