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Business as Usual 

Despite new concerns over the economy, job seekers are advised to stick to the time-tested basics: prepare, present and work hard.

Uncertainty about the economy has been one of the few constants in America following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The repercussions of the tragedy for local economies -- especially in markets such as New Orleans that are driven by tourism -- are difficult to measure. Compounding the confusion are conflicting economic and employment statistics that fail to paint a cohesive picture of the current job market. However, job seekers can rely on the fact that, while competing for a limited number of openings in a sluggish economy, time-tested standards remain the best indicators of a successful job search. These include preparing and presenting yourself well for an interview, continuing education, networking and a strong work ethic.

"Right now, it's an employer's market," says Peter Breen, a New Orleans-based recruiter with MSI International, a nationwide recruiting firm. "Entry-level job seekers are competing for less available positions. During the last five years, there were a lot of employers competing for a great amount of talent. That's not the case now."

Breen says the tight job market nationwide gives employers a natural advantage. "Employers can realistically feel good about hiring people right now," he says. " If they're looking to increase their staff, it's a great time for them to do that. In this market, there are some great people -- through no fault of their own -- who are laid off from their jobs."

Despite the gloomy conditions, Breen contends that job seekers still largely determine their own success. "There are steps you can take to make yourself a lot more marketable," he says. "Continuing-education courses gearing you toward specific skills are very impressive to employers when evaluating candidates. And, of course, nailing the interview will always be crucial."

While prospects for entry-level positions may be limited, workers qualified in their chosen fields are currently finding little difference from the boom economy of the five years preceding Sept. 11.

"We saw a little decline (in job openings) right after Sept. 11 for roughly 30 to 45 days," says Devry Shuart, vice president of Shuart and Associates, a Metairie-based legal search and staffing firm. "But then, it started gradually coming back, and now we're back to normal. The economy has settled down and confidence is back, so it seems that it's business as usual."

Shuart says the modern professional is still not afraid of making moves, and that people don't necessarily feel the need to stay where they are. She adds that presenting yourself in a positive light should always be the focus for job seekers. "Some things are constant. A polished, well-written resume and a stable work history are still the best first impressions."

Shuart adds that job candidates using a staffing agency have a huge advantage. "Working with an established agency is a great tool for potential employees," she says. "We do so much of the work for them, and it doesn't cost the candidate a dollar. We do the leg work, which is the hardest part. Plus providing info on a particular firm's salary range, benefits and personalities to a candidate ensures they enter the interview well-prepared."

Workers on the move in one of New Orleans' key industries -- food and beverage -- will also find conditions status quo. "We're always having a difficult time finding qualified candidates," says Jill Barrilleaux, human resources manager for Martin Wine Cellar. "This industry is a challenge, because there's naturally a lot of turnover, especially with hourly workers."

To fit Martin's needs, Barrilleaux says she relies on classified advertising and word of mouth. "We advertise our openings in a number of publications," she says. "That helps us attract talent we're unaware of. But what really works for us is word of mouth, with our employees referring candidates to us. Our workers know our high standards and strict policies, so they know the caliber of individual we are looking for."

Although education, experience and contacts help job seekers land the interview, it is a strong work ethic and company loyalty that determine an employee's success, says Glenn Michael, owner of Glenn Michael Salon.

"I look for personality first off," says Michael. "Second is their work history: how long they were with their former employers and why did they leave. I tell them in the interview right off the bat, 'I want a marriage, not a date.'"

Michael, who relies heavily on classified advertising to find workers, says the emphasis on longevity is beneficial to his company's continued success. "I let them know that this is not the place if you just want to go somewhere, learn and then leave. We want people to grow within our company."

Despite his specific demands, Michael offers job seekers a universal tip: "Regardless of what industry you're looking to get into, nothing will take you further than a strong work ethic."

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