MONEY: THE TOUGH NEW JOB HUNT

Robert Reid is looking forward to spending his upcoming 50th birthday at work. After 19 months of unemployment and more than 1,000 applications, he landed the job he wanted, as a technician for a Silicon Valley firm. "My biggest birthday present is going to be sitting at my desk," he says. And after all the angst, he ended up getting two offers within days.

Things are looking up for job seekers in 2005. Last week the Labor Department reported 157,000 new jobs in December; that figure underwhelmed economists but sets the stage for a big New Year's push by companies that delayed hiring until after the holidays. One in four employers says it will add staff in the next three months, and that makes it the brightest job market in four years, reports Manpower Inc. But don't expect to cakewalk into your new office. Employers have been sharpening their triage skills. If you haven't looked for work in a while, things have changed. Here's how to find a job now.

^ Avoid Internet overload. Reid found his job on Careerbuilder .com, but had to sift through hundreds of listings to find good positions. There are almost 1,800 job sites on the Web--best to start at Jobomagic.com, which lists all the sites, and focus on those aimed at your line of work or region. Still, nothing beats e-mailing and calling all your contacts. "The No. 1 way people still find a job is through some kind of referral," says Hussam Hamadeh of Vault.com, a jobs-research site.

^ Get ruthless with your resume. All that "self-motivated, people-oriented" finessing is fluff to employers. When Reid cut his from five pages to one, he started getting more calls. Use keywords that employers might be searching for on databases: programs you know, languages you speak, specific tasks you've accomplished. And if you e-mail your resume, consider pasting it--a spam filter could block the attachment.

^ Prepare to talk, talk, talk. The latest trend in interviews is... more interviews. Companies now expect you to pass muster with the multitudes: it's called "consensus hiring." Some companies send candidates from one exec to another; others put them in front of panels. So pretend you're a politician with a set of "takeaways." Make sure you hit your theme in every interview. Vary the patter a bit, and make eye contact.

^ Play games. Interviewers, perhaps bored with that "Where do you want to be in five years?" chestnut, have added tricks and games. "It's a way to start conversations and see how people think," says John Kador, author of "How to Ace the Brain Teaser Interview'' (McGraw-Hill). Be ready for behavioral questions like, "Why might your best friend get angry with you?" or "What did you do the last time you had a personality conflict at work?" Or open-ended brainteasers like: "How would you design a spice rack for a blind person?" Remember, says Kador, there's usually no right answer, but avoid getting flustered or jumping to a quick, wrong answer. It's OK to think out loud. Finally, there's the "do your job before we give it to you" ploy. One would-be publicist was asked to write a press release on the spot. Reid fielded a tech-support call while he was in an interview.

^ Hurry up. Experts say the pent-up demands of understaffed employers and unhappy workers will make the first quarter feverish, and most of the new jobs of 2005 will be filled by the spring holidays. So it's time to get to work getting work.

MONEY: THE TOUGH NEW JOB HUNT | News