A conversation with a member over at EM finally sparked my desire to write this post that's been floating around in my brain for ages (thanks for the motivation, by the way!). As one'd guess, I get a great many contacts from people asking for help in getting jobs; its almost a daily thing, in fact. That being the case, I thought I'd create a post specific to making oneself marketable, as this is of great import when attempting to gain employment.
Before I really get to the nitty gritty details, I should note that, as mentioned before, I work as a software administrator and have been doing tech work for years. I've also worked retail in the past, trained new employees for the past four years, and sat on interview boards, so I can give you a reasonably good idea of what hiring managers are looking for, as well as give you advice on how to be just that.
Experience is, as one'd expect, of great import in any industry, regardless of credentials. So much so, in fact, that its more valuable than years of schooling; its becoming more and more frequent, in the USA, that people are being hired into jobs that provide 40-80k a year without a college education. If you get your foot in the door, its a great way to gain access to opportunities that will open the door wide open for you.
In the conversation with the gentleman I mentioned above, we spoke on this with regard to retail experience. He had approximately 5 years of retail experience, but unfortunately, even if you're in the retail industry, that's not so valuable anymore. It seems impressive on paper, but it isn't anything special anymore, as for the past 10-15 years, its been increasingly common for kids to start working at the local mall, outlet store, home depot, or other retail outfit. They usually they start at 15 or 16 years old and stick to it through the remainder of middle school and high school. Their reasons aren't always the same, but in the case of my girl's students, a pretty significant portion of them have such jobs.
If 5 children per class have such a job, with some of the medium-sized schools will have up to around 200 students who are doing this. With how many schools are in most states, that's 2000 students or more who have retail experience. If they stay in school and the retail job through middle and high school, that's 6 years of work experience, resources, and contacts. That means that these kids are essentially ahead of any of their peers that didn't have such an experience, as far as work is concerned.
They essentially move to the head of the interviewer pool by default, as such work experience it makes them stand out even if it doesn't apply to what they're trying to do (if you're a parent, I strongly suggest that you make your kid start working ASAP; they might hate it at first, but it'll benefit them in the long term).
This, of course, brings me to my next point of bettering your skills constantly and making sure that your resume reflects this. Every time you apply to a job they get a soft copy. If your skills haven't improved any, the hiring manager probably isn't going to be all that interested, as you're not working on anything of worth; in short, you appear lazy and your resume gets trashed.
The best thing you can do is branch out your skillset. If you have aspirations of doing something techy in the future, spend time taking free classes on things like web design, using Microsoft Office effectively, understanding SQL, and so on and so forth. Those things look great on the resume, as even though they are actually outside your discipline, it means that you can work with people who do know those programs and functions intimately; that makes you a more valuable asset. It also shows that you are intelligent and have a drive to learn more on a daily basis; its hard to come by a better employee.
Finally, ensure that you speak well and understand, on some level, multiple cultures. This is a widely overlooked skill, but if you know the religious views, political ideology, or cultural views of the interviewing manager, you can adjust your tactics to coincide with this. In essence, you could kiss up to that person and be mostly aware of what they might want, making your attempt to manipulate them more effectively. Keep in mind, I use the word manipulate here because that is exactly what you are doing.
Once you've done those things, all you need to do is be attentive, use the appropriate magical means to make it all work according to your plans, and you should be able to land any job that's within your grasp with relative ease.