Job Tips for a Tight Market

Competition, Unemployment Are at All-Time Highs

The current economy is running dry, and the number of opportunities is growing scarce, leaving the unemployed thirsty for available jobs. With competition at an all-time high, prospective employees are becoming more and more reliant on interview skills and first impressions.

Unemployment is at its highest over the past 14 years. The number of employees has fallen by 1.2 million people in the first 10 months of 2008, according to the Current Population Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the number of unemployed people climbing by 1.7 percent in the past three months, the difference between getting a job and surfing craigslist.com for possible employment could be as simple as being on time. For many employers, the first impression starts with overall appearance.

“Our motto here is; dress for a day; be appropriate for the day,” said Chip Minty, supervisor of external communications for Devon Energy, which is based in Oklahoma City and is the largest independent producer of oil and natural gas. Devon Energy is No. 6 on Fortune Magazine’s list of the “25 Top-Paying Companies” and No. 48 on its list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

“Most of the petroleum engineers dress in jeans and a T-shirt and the corporate dress is casual,” Minty said. “But regardless of the jobs, dress to impress.”

In its tips on attire, Virginia Tech’s Career Services office recommends that a two piece matched suit in navy, grey or black is always the most appropriate and safest choice for interviews.

“Be aware that in some industries, customer contact and image presented to the customer is critical,” Virginia Tech advises on its career Web site. “In such industries, your attire will be judged more critically.” Employers look for professionalism, confidence, eye contact and experience.

“The first thing I’m looking for is experience pertinent to the Washington Post,” said Keith Alexander, D.C. Superior Court reporter for the newspaper.

Resumes also play an important role in getting hired. “For resumes, I like to see lots of white,” Alexander said. “And they should include references. I shouldn’t have to track you down for references.”

Donna Omorgie, a Howard University graduate who recently was hired at Ford Motors, also recommends that applicants should “be professional in nature.” Omorgie attributes her simple business etiquette to getting a job with a company that is currently downsizing. “I was always on time,” she said. “I had a firm but aggressive handshake to show them I mean business.” Basic interview etiquette that employers expect could also be as simple as not answering your cell phone during an interview.

In addition, Alexander said applicants should research the company, ask the employer questions at the end of the interview and take a business card to follow up.

“It’s like dating,” he said. “Let me know you’re interested.”