Admit it, like most people, you do it backwards. You know it's time to move on from your current job, so you check job listings first.
The problem with that is that if you find a job opening too good to pass up you have to act fast. And a quick check on your computer reveals your Microsoft Word resume is only current as of 2004.
Career counselors and employment experts say this stage is past the time when you should have made sure you are market-ready. Prepare yourself beforehand, and you won't fly in to a panic when the dream job pops up on Craigslist, CareerBuilder.com, or at your brother-in-law's firm.
To get ahead, they say, take inventory of your skills and update your resume on a regular basis.
"The process of capturing what you have done and what you are currently working on is an important, ongoing career management imperative," says Ian Christie, president and founder of BoldCareer.com, an online career planning and career coaching firm.
Christie recommends focusing on outcomes, the difference you have made rather than solely on duties and responsibilities.
Roberta Chinsky Matuson, principal at Human Resource Solutions, agrees with that.
"The key is results," she said. "Most job seekers are so focused on the future that they rarely look at the past."
She says taking an inventory of your job skills before beginning your job search will significantly cut down the amount of time you will waste by applying for the wrong jobs. She follows three simple steps to inventory your job skills: list everything you can do, including tasks that you prefer not to do again; rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being highly proficient); and delete all skills rated below a five on the list, unless you are planning to invest time in improving these skills prior to your job search.
"This will give you a clear picture of the tools you can bring to the job, and should help you answer the question, ‘Why are you qualified for this job?'"
Don Weis, VP of national recruiting for Spherion Corporation, says there are a few important steps professionals should take to ensure they start with a competitive advantage, including developing a new or refreshed resume that highlights your current skills and recent accomplishments.
"Reread your recent performance reviews to make sure your resume captures your successes," Weis adds. "Point out exact metrics on your resume wherever possible, for example, ‘increased customer satisfaction by 30%' or ‘reduced costs by 25%.'"
Weis believes it's advantageous to include investments made in training on your resume. He also recommends a skills inventory section.
"It may help to think of yourself as a product for which you have been asked to describe the features and benefits," he says.
Talent War is a regular onilne column by San Francisco bureau chief Celeste Altus