Let’s face it. It’s not the same economy that encouraged baby boomers to job loyalty. Don’t get me wrong, I think longevity at a company or a position is still highly valued. It’s just not about working for the same company for 35 years, then retiring anymore. It’s all about the fact that in this economy, in this global marketplace, most of us will find ourselves looking for jobs at some point. Proper preparation can mean the difference between eking out an existence; getting paid well (and fairly) for doing something you HAVE to do, or doing something that you WANT to do.

As companies are less loyal to employees, it’s up to employees to be more loyal to themselves.

Recently I’ve had career related discussions with several acquaintances, and was struck by how different people approach this challenge. Some approach from a position of strength and entitlement, some from a supplicant perspective, and some from desperation.

One of the fundamental differences about this economy and that of our parents is that many people have used horizontal moves between companies to better their lots. The prevailing philosophy is no longer to work at a single company and work up the ranks. It’s more about getting an education and putting your best effort in, then getting your much deserved promotion by moving to another company.

So, what do you need if you’re looking for employment in this new economy? One of the most recognized tools on your toolbelt is the resume. A resume is an advertisement for you. A resume is designed specifically to get you that face to face meeting where you can show your stuff and prove out what you’ve advertised. As in advertising, unfortunately, employers have to weed through the fluff to find out what’s real. Today, I’m talking to those of you who really do your best at your job, who really care about the bottom line of the company you’re working for.

My first rule of job hunting is to be real. Make certain that you can back up the claims that you make in your resume with real people that can corroborate it. When I’m looking for a new position, I actively not only send my resume, but a list of my references (as the back page of my resume) with specific quotes that they’ve made about me. So go out, find the people that you’ve best worked for or with, and ask them to sum up what they would say about you in a professional reference, then at the bottom of your reference page, state “contact information available on request”. This is a step that not a lot of job seekers take, and it can serve to help differentiate yours from the other resumes littering a potential employer’s desk.

Think about what benefits you have directly offered to your positions, both today and in the past. It’s a fundamental concept of sales – don’t sell your features, sell your benefits. What have you specifically done to impact the success of the company that you worked for? Have you increased customer satisfaction? How? Have you sold more, been more productive, or come up with an innovative way to do things that has either saved your company money or helped them make more? Write it down, and be creative.

A resume isn’t just a job application; it’s the story of your working career. Make it compelling and interesting. Make it something that reaches out to the recruiter or hiring manager, and makes them want to meet you.

That brings me to another key point: The dreaded cover letter. The cover letter is perhaps the number one item that makes people want to either 86 your resume or call you up. It’s designed to not just parrot your resume, but be complimentary to it. When I write a cover letter, it’s not just a form letter. It’s specifically targeted towards the hiring manager. I do research on the company (or if it’s for a recruiter, the type of position). I research the job requisition, and restate not only it, but how I specifically am uniquely capable of excelling and exceeding expectations in the position. And I give the hiring manager a call to action. I assume that they are going to call me “I look forward to speaking with you soon so that I can demonstrate my fit for this position” and give them a time that I will follow up with them “I will call you on Friday if I don’t hear from you before then to answer any questions you may have”. It’s a good idea to follow through with what you’ve said you’re going to do.

My last piece of advice for the week? In this economy, even if you’re not looking for a new job, it’s good to keep your resume up to date. Pick the top couple of successful people that you know and ask them to critique your resume for you and give you some ideas. Who knows – one of them may turn out to have the perfect lead for your perfect position.