As Colorado's job market begins showing signs of life, some recruiters complain that discouraged job hunters have lost the edge required to impress them.
"People need to be more prepared, but they are not," said Sam Sargent, president of Human Resource Asset Management Systems Ltd. in Monument.
Among the complaints from recruiters are employees who haven't thoroughly researched the companies they're interviewing with or who simply lack confidence.
"Even though I'm seeing a huge uptick in the number of jobs coming to my site, there is still more talent than available positions," said Andrew Hudson, who runs a popular job-listing service in Denver. "It is really up to the job seeker to understand how to get noticed."
Listings at Connecting Colorado, the job board for the state's employment centers, reached 22,600 in the first two weeks of March, compared with 16,863 in the same period in 2011, said Alexandra Hall, the state's chief labor economist.
The Conference Board's count of online help-wanted ads in Colorado reached 91,297 in February— the highest tally since August 2008, Hall said.
Claims for unemployment benefits last week hit their lowest number since March 2008.
Bolstered by such statistics, some job seekers are jumping back into the market without having honed their skills or understanding how the rules have changed, Hudson said.
"One thing that is important is to tailor your approach and your message each time you apply for a job," said Leanne Buehler, director of experience solutions at Corvirtus in Colorado Springs.
After months of getting nowhere, getting called into an interview catches some people off-guard, especially those who took a broad rather than targeted approach.
When there were more than six unemployed workers for every opening in the summer of 2009, going after anything that popped up made sense.
With that ratio falling back to 3.7 in January, focus has become more important.
Job hunters need to do their research and show an interest that goes beyond pay, vacation time and the employer's stability, Sargent said.
For their part, job hunters describe a new problem replacing the old consternation of sending off resumes into a black hole and never hearing back: going to interviews and not knowing why you got passed over.
"I have had interviews where I think I did well, spoke confidently, and the job goes to somebody else," said Ernest Gurulé, a freelance writer who has looked for work for the past year after getting laid off.
Gurulé, who once worked as a reporter at Channel 2 in Denver and has held various public-relations jobs in recent years, knows how to get his message across. But most of the time, he doesn't get to hear why it didn't connect.
Years-long hunt pays off
Linda Harmon, who co-owned Amber Homes with her husband, struggled for more than three years to find work, despite her experience as an executive and entrepreneur.
"I was dumbing down my resume, doing everything I could to get my foot in the door," said the former vice president of marketing.
She worked as a ghost writer, trained other displaced executives on social media, took a full-commission sales job and even worked as a nanny while pursuing a permanent job.
Every 500 resumes produced one interview. She had seven where she made it to the final round. Although she worried about being overqualified, the people who got hired were even more qualified.
All that hard work, however, paid off when the labor market did finally loosen up. She landed a job last month as development manager at Friendship Bridge, a Lakewood nonprofit that provides micro-finance to women in Guatemala.
"There is no comparison between 2009 and 2010 to the way it is today," Harmon said of the job market. "I have gotten a lot more calls back in the last couple of months than I ever had before."
Network and focus
So how can job seekers improve their odds?
Volume still matters when applying for jobs, but job hunters should include words from the job posting in a tailored resume they send out. That approach will lift an application higher with the automated tracking systems that more employers now use, Buehler said.
Some people think that looking at job boards online and shooting off resumes is enough. But Hudson recommends that job hunters spend no more than 20 percent of their time in front of a computer and instead work on their social network and the intangible people skills that will help them connect with an interviewer.
Most hires come via referral, so who you know still matters, he advised.
Sargent recommends that job hunters do their homework before going into an interview and that they craft a fresh pitch for each interview.
"People may have the skills, but they give you the same interview they gave one, two or five years ago," Sargent said. "They haven't juiced up the act. They need new material, and it has to be exciting. We are asking them to sell themselves."
Tips for job hunters
• Apply for jobs where you meet at least 75 percent of the criteria.
• Target a specific resume to the opening, and use key words from the job description.
• Get out from behind the computer, and expand your network.
• Research the position, the company and the people interviewing you.
• Think of the interview in terms of speed dating. You have to impress.
• Have a strong answer to the question of why you should be hired.
• Be prepared to ask questions as well as answer them.
• Focus on why you are the best person for the job, not on why you haven't been able to find work.
• Be ready to explain what you have done while unemployed.
• Be aware of your presence on social media and what it communicates.
Denver Post research