Chicago -- It's a familiar phrase that is frequently repeated: "It's a buyer's market."
It's a buyer's market in real estate, and it's a buyer's market in employment.
No longer can someone expect a half dozen job offers to mull over just because they have graduated from college and have a degree that says they are a qualified accountant, engineer or whatever.
"We hired 25 to 30 people through college recruiting a year ago. The year before it was higher," says Chris Easley, senior representative in human resources for Inland Steel Flat Products, a division of Inland Steel Industries Inc. "This year, we didn't hire anyone."
The recession has taken its toll.
The story is the same in finance, retailing and other fields. Hiring is virtually non-existent, and it has become imperative for the job hunter to mount a full-fledged campaign to land an interview, let alone a job offer.
And next year doesn't look any better according to Tom Adams, vice president in human resources for First National Bank of Chicago, who says forecasts by the bank indicate that recruiting will probably be below even this year's level.
Getting your foot in the door has become critical.
"People have got to understand what a job search entails," says Ms. Easley, who says newspaper classified ads, networking with friends and acquaintances, sending unsolicited resumes and using the college placement office are all part of the search.
One newspaper ad might bring 300 to 400 resumes for a personnel specialist to read.
"The long, rambling resume, in addition to the poorly prepared resume, are the kind that never get a start," says Mr. Adams. "And people have got to understand that."
"The first impression is given by the cover letter and the resume," says Ms. Easley, noting the most frequent mistake made in preparing a resume is a person identifying their job duties rather than their job skills.
"You need to identify your skills and try to give a brief profile of the educational experience and then give an idea of what your job duties are or were," she says.
"On college campuses, we look for things they have accomplished with a club or an organization in which they are a member. We are looking for transferable skills. We're looking for what's transferable into the workplace."
Once in the door, a job seeker's work has only begun, according to Mr. Adams.
"One of the things I've noted repeatedly is that many people haven't taken the time to think about their experience and how they might apply it to the company to which they are applying," he says.
"If you are going to be sitting down with someone in an interview, you ought to know something about the company. Would you fit in with the people already working there?"
And many people haven't taken the time to find out about the company culture where they are interviewing, whether it be the type of dress or the type of attitude assumed by the applicant.
"Appearance is important. I don't care what anyone says. You walk into that interview dressed as if you were looking for a job," Ms. Easley says. "I've seen young people come in just to pick up an application in shorts. That's noticed."
The interviewing process, if you make it to that stage, is nerve-wracking to both the interviewer and interviewee.
"Recognize every interviewer may not be a professional interviewer. A lot of companies will include managers in the interview process," says Ms. Easley. "The person being interviewed has to take part in the process by asking questions."
She warned that some companies still practice the type of interview known as stress interviewing.
"Don't assume lunch is to eat. Lunch is to be interviewed. You've got to be prepared," says Ms. Easley, who frequently volunteers her time teaching interviewing skills to students at Loyola and De Paul universities and at various campuses of the City Colleges of Chicago.
"Be prepared to talk about your previous employment. The worst thing to say is that you didn't like a job and so you left. Why did you leave? Did you leave to find a greater challenge, for a better job or whatever?"
At Inland, Ms. Easley says she looks for an individual with high- energy levels who is able to work in an unstructured environment with superior intelligence. Mr. Adams says he also looks for individuals with high-energy levels, intelligence and common sense.
Once those attributes are found, Mr. Adams says the interviewer can weigh some final bits of information before making a choice.
Then it's time for those involved in the interview process to decide whether to offer the applicant a job.
If the process has worked as it should, all the questions about an applicant have been considered.