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Not Ready for Prime Time?

If your job-search package isn't ready, you're not either. Before you try to find a job, do the prep work on your résumé, wardrobe, and online presence

My husband and I love to try new restaurants, especially small, ethnic ones. Of course, we would quickly go bankrupt doing this if we did it all the time, so instead we view it as a special treat. Recently we dined in a tiny Pakistani restaurant the night after it opened. Every dish we got was different from the one we ordered. We waited a half hour or more between courses. The manager yelled at the wait staff, and the waiters screamed at the chef. It was a hair-raising experience to have dinner at a place that just wasn't ready, and ever since, we've referred to the place as the Not Ready for Prime Time Restaurant.

If you're looking for a job, you want to make sure you're ready for prime time. If you hit the job-search trail before you're ready to be taken seriously, you've shot yourself in the foot. Think about it this way: If a friend invited you to meet someone special (and you were interested in doing do), you'd take the time to put on some nice clothes and comb your hair. Otherwise, what's the point? Same idea applies when you're hunting for a job. If your job-search package isn't ready, then you're not, either. The easiest way to fall out of a prospective employer's good graces is to hit the job-search trail with your pack half-empty.

Update Your Résumé—for Real

Now, the situation is different if you're lucky enough to be contacted by a search person or by an employer directly. In that case, you're not expected to be a prepped-and-ready job seeker. If you make it past a phone screen, you'll probably have a few days before you're called in for an interview. You can use that time to get your résumé together. But if you're initiating the job search yourself, make sure your résumé is ready to send out before you start having even casual conversations about looking for a job.

First, update your résumé if you haven't in the last six months. (Of course, I think it's a good idea to update or at least evaluate your résumé every six months, even if you aren't looking.) What are your recent accomplishments on the job? What projects are you involved in that will impress someone?

If you're not employed, say so. Employers don't like to get résumés that show an employer as current and then hear from you on the phone that you're actually unemployed. That's a classic not-ready-for-prime-time move. The very worst offense in this area is listing as your current employer an organization that every member of the reading public knows is out of business.

You're not ready for prime time if you list as references people who aren't expecting reference-checking calls. You have to call them each and every time you launch a new job search (and contact them again whenever a reference-checking call is imminent). The very last thing a reference-checker wants to hear on the other end of the phone is "Judy Adams is job-hunting? Well I'll be darned. I thought she was happy at XXX."

Be Reachable and Available

People whose educational credentials are out of date on their résumés are not ready for prime time, and neither are people who aren't in a position to check e-mail every day, except vacations. I just spoke to a job seeker the other day who said "I don't have access to a computer right now." Ouch. There's got to be a Kinko's or someplace you can get online&mdashThat's why they invented Kinko's! Maybe that's not why, but if there's a Kinko's or another place to get online in your town, then you can't use that excuse.

Next, make sure you have a grown-up e-mail address (save the hockeyguy5 account for personal use) and voicemail message. If I'm a company recruiter and I call your voicemail and hear "Hey dudes, we're in Vermont this weekend but we'll see you at Jocko's Monday night for poker" as your outgoing message, I'm hanging up. Being casual and having fun are wonderful things. But you're on a job search, and you've got to let employers know that you're operating in professional mode now.

Take a few minutes to clean up your MySpace and Facebook profiles. You don't have to come across like a zombie, but once again, if your page is dotted with racy jokes and blue language, that's not going to impress anyone. A majority of employers cross-check their candidates' online profiles, and I can't say I blame them. Of course, you'll allowed to have a life. You just don't need to publish every aspect of it. If you would be casual enough to post photos of you and your favorite bong on the Web, what might you say to a customer over a glass of wine at a dinner meeting?

If you're conducting a stealth job search, you've got to figure out how you're going to manage interviews around your work schedule. Most employers will understand if you can't come in to see them at 2 p.m., but you can't say, "I'm only available on Sunday mornings." It is up to you, once you launch a stealth job search, to figure out how to make yourself available on at least some weekday evenings and, if possible, for some early-morning and lunchtime appointments as well.

If this means you must take up an early-morning gym or trail-running regimen, which will allay suspicion on those mornings when you're actually interviewing over an early coffee, so be it. If you have to say you've taken a seat on the board of a local community arts organization, providing cover for those evenings when you have to dash off to a 6:30 dinner interview, fine. (For any of you who think that may be unethical (, 4/12/07), I wish you luck if you tell your boss what you're really doing.) Obviously, if you share the news that you've joined X Board or Y Committee and mention the group by name, you must join the board or committee; and you shouldn't join unless you are prepared to have the post be more than a cover for your job hunting.

Check Your Internet Tracks

If you've got a LinkedIn, it's got to be current. If you don't have one, it's a good idea to get one before launching your job search. And racking up a few pithy LinkedIn endorsements from past and current peers, managers, and customers is not a bad move either.

Don't wait until you have 30 résumés on the street to spruce up your appearance for job interviews. Do it now. Get two or three interview outfits ready to go and listen to your voicemail message to be sure it represents you in an appropriate way. Make sure you'll get any messages that are left for you (roommates, spouses, and kids all have been known to delete voicemail messages in the past). Deactivate any autoresponders on your e-mail account or spam blockers that require a person to jump through hoops to get an e-mail message to you.

Lastly, Google (GOOG) yourself. If you've left untoward messages in Yahoo! (YHOO) groups over the years, you can now ask the group owner to delete those postings from the archives. Check your blog. Are you comfortable with a prospective employer finding it and reading it? Don't think your name can't be connected to your blog. You'd be amazed.

It can take you hours or days to get your act together for the job search. But if you're going to take the leap, there's no sense in sabotaging your own best efforts. Put your public face together and then launch your campaign. You can always revert to the freewheeling voicemail message once you've got the job.

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