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The Smart Guide to Landing a Job  

Photo of Raymond SingletonThe country's tough economic climate surely isn't making things easier for dads who are currently out of work or looking to take a step up on their career ladder. Making enough money to lead a comfortable life and provide for your kids might seem like a tall task right now, but it's important that you don't get discouraged. We asked Raymond Singleton-Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Parent and Community Engagment in New York City's Department of Social Services-for some no-nonsense advice on how an NYC Dad can come out a winner in today's crowded job market. Here's what he had to say.

Take some time to figure out what you want to do. "When people find their vocational goal, that's when they're most successful," Singleton says. "At that point, they're inspired to work, they're going to do a good job, and they're going to show up. Ask yourself, if you could be anything in this world, what would it be? Do some self-discovery and self-exploration about who you are, what's really interesting to you, and what you're going to excel at. It's one of the better ways to catapult yourself into the job you want."

Target the industries that are hiring. "The hot industries right now are hospitality, food, and retail," says Singleton. "They've been very productive in the last couple of years, even though the economy has had some trouble. Other industries that are good and always realizing some growth would be the health and transportation industries."

Utilize the city's job banks. "New York's work force has multiple entry points for job seekers," Singleton points out. "You can go to the Workforce1 centers throughout the city and connect to employment there." The New York City Workforce Investment Board is a valuable online center for job assistance, guidance, and information. Be sure to check it out. "And if you're in school," Singleton adds, "CUNY has a great workforce system, as do many colleges, like Laguardia, Brooklyn Community, and Borough of Manhattan Community."

Cast a wide net. Don't just explore one avenue while finding a job to the exclusion of others. Get yourself out there. "Go around and meet employers on your own," says Singleton. "Go to job fairs and look in the newspaper. And there are plenty of websites that you can go on."

Don't hold yourself back because of limited experience. There are still ways you can make yourself an attractive candidate for hire. "Employers look for somebody who is motivated, somebody who has a good work ethic, and somebody who's inspired to be at the job, meaning that they show a lot of enthusiasm," Singleton explains. "If you don't have a lot of experience, maybe your first step should be to connect to an internship or some kind of training or apprenticeship."

Project an upbeat and positive attitude. "Remember, more than anything in the labor market right now, employers want people who are going to show up for work, put their all into the job, and express how happy they are to be employed, especially if it's a customer service field," Singleton states.

Dress to impress. Match what you wear to your interviews to what type and level of job you're applying for. "If you're going into construction, there's certainly no need for you to show up with a suit on if you're going to be the guy working the jackhammer," Singleton says. "Folks might have the opinion that you might not want to get dirty. But if you're the guy who's handling the budget on a construction job, then the suit's the right thing to wear. In the retail industry, again, think about what level you're coming in at. If it's the managerial level, you want to look the part. But if you're a salesperson, you might not want to wear a power suit. You want to look business casual, comfortable, and approachable. As they always used to tell me in college, don't outdress your boss."

Do your research. If you secure yourself an interview, don't go into it blind. "Look at the company online," Singleton suggests. "Do some investigative work and see how long that company's been around, what the history of the company is, and if they're experiencing growth or not. If your interviewer asks you, 'Why do you want to work here,' you'll have the background to fill in some details. You can say, 'I know this company well and feel it's a good fit for me because such-and-such.' "

Avoid the easy mistakes. "I've seen plenty of people go into an interview and not have a clue about what they're interviewing for," says Singleton. "They don't even know the name of the person that they're meeting. That's a major mistake because that says to the employer that you'll take any job and you just happen to be there with them because the opportunity popped up."

Know yourself. As obvious as this may seem, make sure you don't contradict what's on your resume. "While a lot of folks put time into putting their resume together, they really aren't well versed at what's on it," Singleton explains. "They don't look at things like gaps in time or the dates when they moved from one job to the next. Be sure you know your own work history so that you can respond quickly to what your potential employer might ask you." Then get ready to sell yourself. "You have to be able to market what your strengths are," says Singleton. "If somebody asks why they should hire you, or what your strengths or weaknesses are, be prepared to answer and it don't take too long to do it. Your interviewer might lose interest."

Don't get caught offguard by the tough questions. Be prepared for them and know how you're going to handle them. "There are some inappropriate questions that employers sometimes ask, like if you have children or if you've been arrested," says Singleton, who notes that it is also illegal for a potential employer to inquire about your age, religion, race, or sexual preference. "Self-disclosure is a gray area. I think the general rule of thumb on self disclosure is don't if you don't have to. You certainly don't want give up too much if you're not ready and I think it's appropriate to say, 'I'd rather be cautious at this moment.' Employers respect honesty."

Learn how to turn negatives into positives. If you were fired from your previous job and you're asked about what happened, don't lie. "Lying is always not the way to go. The truth is too easy to find out," Singleton explains. But even if you've been fired, it's not necessarily a deal breaker. "I think that every employer can understand if something has occurred in the past that wasn't your fault. And if it was something that was your fault," he adds, "make it clear that you realized it, you admit it, and that you've grown from it. If you say, 'I had that experience and now I'm ready to do something new for you,' it could work in your favor in some ways."

Ask the right questions. The right inquiry can speak volumes. Use the preliminary research you've done on your prospective employer to have some questions ready to go. "For companies that are doing well, they want to know that people are savvy about the industry," Singleton says. "They'll like it if somebody comes in and asks questions about the company's growth and shows an understanding of why the company's been so productive. That's impressive. They'll say, hey, this guy came prepared." If the company isn't doing so well, take a different approach. "If the company is laying people off or not making a lot of money, go in and say, 'I've got some ideas. Have you thought about doing this?' That's engaging, and that says to an employer that this person has potential."