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Reigniting a Cold Job Hunt

I'm a senior-level executive with experiences and competencies from companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. I have both domestic and international experience and 20 years of strong successes within these companies.

I've been in a career transition for just under one year, and I admit to having a very focused search. I don't want to work for the wrong company, so I'm being very particular about exploring only top consumer-goods companies.

Although I've attracted some interest, I'm surprised that given my level of experience and success, I haven't landed the right job. Can you provide insight or thoughts on what roadblocks are causing such a long and tedious search, other than the obvious? -- A.B., Ellicott City, Md.

First, some good news: The economy is picking up again, albeit slowly. This means that some of the high-level jobs you've been seeking may finally come open as companies lift hiring freezes or look to fill vacant positions.

Now for the bad news: Even though the labor market has been a major bummer over the past 18 months, someone with your background shouldn't still be pounding the pavement after nearly a year. "This person has been doing something wrong," says Tom Welch, president of Stuart (Fla.) career-coaching service Career Dimensions and the author of Work Happy, Live Healthy. (I'm assuming that you indeed have a record of "strong successes" and that you weren't the one who came up with the idea to replace Classic Coke with New Coke.)

Still, you have no reason to freak out. You can turn things around, our experts say. After all, you're clearly open to advice. "I give the person credit for asking the question," says Welch. Even though it's tough to give you tailored tips without knowing more about your résumé, you can take steps to boost your chances of finding the right job.

"TAKE A CRITICAL LOOK." To get your search into high gear, you must first find out where the obstacles are. Is networking a problem? Perhaps you simply aren't able to generate the kind of job leads you need. Or maybe your résumé is a turnoff. Does nobody call you after you mail in your materials? Or perhaps you have networking and résumé-writing down pat, but your interviewing skills are lacking. A possible sign of that might be that you rarely get asked back for a second interview, let alone a third or a fourth.

Identify where the breakdown is occurring. "Individuals need to take a critical look at what they've done and how they're portraying themselves," says Louise Kursmark, president of Best Impression Career Services, a résumé and career-guidance company in Cincinnati.

A common mistake in networking is failing to give your contact enough information about what value you can add for an employer, says Welch. Simply asking a friend, colleague, or any other job contact about openings isn't going to cut it. "Networking is a marketing and sales process, and the product you're marketing and selling is you," Welch adds.

THE ONLY ONE. Make sure your résumé is focused on how your past experience translates into assets for the hiring company, says Kursmark. Too often, résumés fail to spell out how a candidate is a perfect fit, leaving recruiters to do the guesswork. If you turned around a business, revitalized profits, or increased market share, say so. "You must concentrate on your ability to help the company," Kursmark says.

Apply the same approach to an interview, says Steven Cohen, president of consulting firm Negotiation Skills in Pride's Crossing, Mass., and the author of Negotiating Skills for Managers. Find out exactly what type of exec your future employer is looking for prior to the interview. Your task isn't just to persuade an employer that you're a great employee with gobs of great experience, which is where many candidates stop. You must leave an interview with the recruiter feeling that nobody else can do the job but you. "You have to figure out what product they're looking for, not try to sell a product they aren't looking for," says Cohen.

Your biggest barrier to finding work may simply be your focus on top consumer-goods companies. "There are just not that many jobs" right now, says Kursmark. "We're talking about a pyramid, and it gets skinnier at the top."

Although your desire to go with what you know is perfectly understandable, our experts say it's high time you start expanding your search. Not only will you come across more opportunities, you'll also improve your prospects. "At this stage in his or her career, this applicant ought to be focused on diversification," says Shel Hart, vice-president at Orlando-based outplacement firm Spherion. "Broadening into different industries will make an applicant more marketable down the road."

A MICROBREWER'S DREAM? Hart suggests taking stock of what you're good at, be it technology, marketing, sales, management, or some other area. Then start thinking about other kinds of jobs or industries where these skills might be in demand. As a consumer-goods specialist, you might be attractive to companies that sell raw materials to consumer-goods companies. Or you could be appealing to a variety of manufacturing outfits, including industrial-goods companies. These may not have as much cachet, yet they may still offer interesting career paths.

Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Cohen says you could be a dream hire for a microbrewery, or, given your international experience, for a foreign soft-drink company. A little closer to home, companies that concoct the flavors that companies like Coke and PepsiCo use might also warrant looking into. "Too many people are too narrowly focused in their job search because they don't want to step outside their comfort zone," says Welch. "Your skills may be transferable to other industries."

Concentrating on only top companies as opposed to second- or third-tier outfits that might be in more dire need of help could also be keeping you from a steady paycheck. Competition for jobs at the big-name companies is tougher. Although working for an industry leader certainly has its perks and prestige, you may do more for your career if you land a job at a turnaround situation. "Where there's a company in pain, there's opportunity," Hart says. "If you do well there, you will rise through the ranks more quickly, and you can have a lot more impact."

IN THE MEANTIME. Since you've been "on the beach" for nearly a year, our experts suggest that you keep your résumé from getting stale by doing volunteer work or finding a contract or consulting gig. This can show an employer that you're more than what you do -- or used to do. "It may also give you a chance to explore what your talents and skills are, and what you find rewarding," Cohen says.

After all, it's always better to find something that's fulfilling both financially and professionally. This time around, though, the path could be different. By Eric Wahlgren in New York

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