By Erica Woods, Manager of Contractor and Community Relations at Apex Systems

Navigating the job market is difficult. In the last decade, things have changed dramatically with how people should conduct their job search, from the resources they use to identify job leads, to how they pursue those leads, to tools they can leverage to assist, to systems that companies utilize to prioritize applicants, to the “digital background checks” companies use to screen applicants.

To help you navigate your job search effectively and confidently, here are five tips.

1. Self-Assessment and Reflection.

A highly beneficial first step is to engage in self-reflection around your current/past job. Ask yourself some open-ended questions such as “What have I enjoyed about past roles, projects, Managers, teams, and companies? What have I disliked? What responsibilities do I want in my next role? What technologies/platforms do I want to work with? What projects do I want to work on? Where do I want to be in a few years and what type of responsibilities can I start to get involved with in my next role to help with that end goal?”

2. Professional Branding.

One of the biggest changes for job seekers 10 years ago versus now is the importance of online branding. Online career networking sites changed the game. Your resume may no longer be the most important piece of your professional portfolio. If you’re a Developer, your GitHub profile and contributions carry far more weight for most hiring managers. Conducting a formal or informal “social media background check” on candidates prior to an interview is common practice. The strength of your online profiles can land you the job over an equally qualified candidate.

3. Strategy and Networking.

Adopt the Agile approach to your job search, and set daily or weekly goals/tasks. If you’re not working, have 3-4+ items on your daily ‘Job Hunt To Do List,’ which span multiple categories. For example, your list could include 1.) Connect with three recruiters, 2.) Customize resume for applying for ___ skill set, 3.) Sign up for/update job alerts, and 4.) Reach out to X recruiter to get recommendations on companies who are hiring.

One of the areas most candidates don’t think about during their search is relevant skills development. Do research and/or talk to a quality recruiter who supports your skill set frequently to get a gauge of the top hiring trends, i.e. skill sets, clients in your city are seeking in candidates. Then, go above and beyond by investing time weekly/monthly to increase your knowledge with those skills/technologies. There are lots of free online training resources you can leverage, such as Coursera and Cybrary, and other great training providers like Pluralsight and Safari offer free 10 day trials.

Most cities have active user group communities, and increasing your involvement/attendance at local user group/MeetUp meetings is one of the best sources of knowledge and networking. Also, community involvement is a good branding component to add to your resume, which is often a category missing from resumes. If you’re part of a local association, like a Helpdesk Institute or Project Management Institute, add a ‘Community Involvement’ section to resume and list out any groups you’re active in.

4. Prospect

What’s prospecting and why could that be helpful in a job search? Essentially, it’s developing a list of potentials. As you conduct your search, keep a running list of all the companies you come across that have relevant jobs that spark your interest. Then, communicate your ‘Company Prospect List’ to the Recruiter/s you work with, and determine which ones they have a relationship with. Even if that company doesn’t have a current opening, it’s worth asking to have your resume submitted proactively, in the hopes they have a position not posted.

5. Use Quality Resources.

As part of your strategy, identify at least 3-4 resources you should utilize for your skill set. Sign up for job alerts via multiple channels. Share your status and career preferences with the most relevant people in your network. As an active job seeker, you don’t need to be everywhere. But you need to carefully consider what the relevant communities are in your industry, both online and in person, and invest your time in those places.

You really do need GPS to make your way through today’s complicated hiring environment. There are currently more than 23,000 job listings for individuals with active federal security clearance at ClearanceJobs alone. The challenge isn’t finding a job – it’s finding the right fit for you, in the right location, for the right salary, at the right time. Apply the tips above and you’ll be well on your way to navigating your way into your ideal opportunity.

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Apex is the 2nd largest IT staffing and services company in the U.S. With a presence in over 65 markets and 15 technical skill practice groups, they had over 30,000 technical professionals on assignment in 2016 with more than 1000 clients.