New year, new job? How to maximise your chances

Where will you be this time next year?

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What's your New Year's resolution this year? The chances are that you're planning something to improve your fitness - the most popular resolution by far - but one in four people hope to improve their career prospects too.

After a few days away from the grind, work looks distinctly unappealing; all the worse if it's a job you dislike. It's hardly surprising that January is one of the most popular months to start the hunt for a new job.

"A New Year always brings a degree of optimism," says Jim Greenway, executive vice president of marketing and sales effectiveness for consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison. "However, employees need to meet opportunity with preparedness."

So how can you turn the odds in your favour?

Pick the right time to start

The first piece of good news is that it makes no sense to rush. According to research from Executives Online, January is a terrible time to look for a new job. It's the third worst month in terms of number of vacancies, but the 'New Year resolution' effect makes things worse.

"Candidate registrations surge in January, which may make it harder for yours to stand out," says the firm's Anne Beitel. "Too much noise in the market also makes the employers' and recruiters' task of selecting the right people for shortlist and hire more difficult."

But while the ratio of vacancies to applicants is at its worst in January, by February things are looking rather better - and by April the odds are best of all.

Update your CV

In the meantime, though, there's plenty you can be doing to maximise your chances. First, take a look at your CV. Unless you've been in your present job for only a short time, the chances are that it'll need updating.

This doesn't mean just tacking on the details of your current job: it means rethinking your CV from scratch. Are you stressing the skills and experience that are most useful for the positions you're applying for (rather than the job you're in now)?

If you've been in your present job a while, it can be hard to show how you've progressed your career. The answer is to break this section down into separate entries, so that each increase in responsibilities or special project has the same written format as a different job.

You'll also want to edit down earlier sections of your CV to leave plenty of room for your current role - ideally, your CV should be just two pages long.

Sort out your online presence

The majority of employers - up to 90%, according to some surveys - look up a job applicant online before inviting them for an interview.

So it's a good time to update your LinkedIn profile - this is the time to get round to uploading a photo - and make sure it matches your CV. See if there are any professional LinkedIn groups that might be worth joining - employers sometimes target these.

Google Plus also has job profiles, so it may be worth repeating the process here. And it's also a good idea to check whether there are any online CV databases that it's worth signing up for.

Finally, take a look at your Facebook profile - and if there's anything embarrassing, tighten up your privacy settings.

Be selective

There's an obvious temptation to blast applications out for any vacancy you can find. But recruitment agencies will be wary if you employ this sort of scattergun approach to apply for jobs you're not really qualified for. Equally importantly, if you're sending off a dozen applications a day, they won't be properly targeted at each individual job.

Stick to applying for those jobs you really want and that you've at least got some chance of getting - and then tailor your CV and application for each one. This may mean cutting back some sections of your CV and expanding others: emphasising management experience for one job, for example, or technical skills for another.

To work out which aspects of your CV you should stress, check over the job requirements in the ad; but also research the company on the internet. It may be moving into a new geographical region or line of business in which you have experience, for example. And getting a general feel for the company ethos will help you show that you can fit in.

Get networking

A lot of jobs are never advertised - so how do you find out about them? The answer is to network like mad. Go to any industry events you can and chat to as many people as possible, mentioning that you might be in the market for a new challenge.

Email everyone in your address book - apart from your boss, obviously - and tell them that you're looking for a new job. Include everybody, however unlikely you may think it that they can help: old university friends, other parents at your kids' school, acquaintances from the gym.

2015 looks set to be a good year for job-hunters: the Recruitment and Employment Confederation says that over 80% of businesses plan to hire more staff this year, with more than half saying business is beginning to pick up - over twice as many as last year. Prepare now, and start getting those applications out there - the odds are getting better.

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