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Career Moves 

How to find and land the right job in post-Katrina New Orleans

Grant Cooper has a story that illustrates the new jobs, careers and dreams that exist in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Founder of Strategic ResumŽs, a company preparing jobseekers and their resumŽs in New Orleans and nationally since 1994, Cooper recently had a client who had worked in mortgages and sales, but his dream was to plan events, which, in this city, means knowing how to throw a good party.

"In the new landscape of New Orleans, neighborhoods are the new power bases," Cooper says. "This guy realized that, and started going around to neighborhood organizations asking to throw benefits and parties for them. He organized the Bayou Boogaloo for Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. It was a smash, a huge success. Hundreds more than expected came, it raised lots of money, the bands got paid. So, he needed a resumŽ, because he's got more events, more work. He wrote the job description for his dream job, and now he's got it."

Cooper says that while the New Orleans economy is not as big today as it was pre-Katrina, it's still vibrant. Plus, he says there will be plenty of room to grow once federal monies begin trickling down into local businesses, from restaurants to shops to banks to car dealerships.

"I'm a lot busier now than I was before the storm," Cooper says. "There's a lot of activity now. One of the problems with New Orleans before the storm was it was such a sleepy, laid-back community that you had to wait for someone to die to get a job sometimes. But there are openings now. Everything's all shaken up."

The current state of the New Orleans job market reflects many facets of life in the city post-Katrina -- everything has changed, presenting us with lots of struggle and frustration, but also opportunity.

Following the storm, some businesses closed, some opened. Some employees were displaced and are still unable to return, while others made it home as soon as possible and started to rebuild and look to the future. While it's obvious that the construction industry is currently experiencing the biggest boom locally, there is plenty of activity in other sectors as well. When treading the murky waters of the New Orleans job market in these heady times, it's important to consider three crucial steps to achieving your employment goals: gaining an understanding of how to best approach the local job market, preparing a resumŽ and following that up by sealing the deal with a stellar interview.

"POST-KATRINA, YOU HAVE A LOT OF people that are having to look at career changes," says Bryan Moore, director of Job 1 Career Services, the City of New Orleans employment agency that merged with the Louisiana Department of Labor after the storm. "They may have lost their job, their company went under, and jobs may not be available in that industry. So, they have to ask themselves some important questions: What else is it that I am interested in doing? What am I good at? What can I do to make enough in wages to support myself and my family?"

Job 1 works on both sides of the employment market, helping employers get back in operation staffed with the right match in terms of employees, and helping people who are either unemployed or looking for something new.

"We deal with individuals," he says. "Our mission is take them where they are and take them to where they want to go. "Plenty of people are still trying to come back to the city," he continues, "but one of the impediments -- besides housing, or a lack thereof -- is employment, or a lack thereof. So, the way Job 1 is helping rebuild the city is by finding them jobs."

While much of the economic forecast for the city seems bleak, Moore says there is plenty of growth in the construction, ship-building and health-care industries. Jobs in those in-demand sectors often require specific skill sets, and a program offered through Job 1 subsidizes a portion of the salary for someone working to gain experience. It provides a dual benefit of the worker learning the tools of the trade without the company having to foot the entire bill for training.

Tourism was the main economic engine in New Orleans pre-Katrina, and the hospitality and service industry that entertains, feeds and hosts the city's tourists figures to remain a dominant part of the local economy for years to come. Considering those jobs often offer low pay for long and hard hours, attrition was an issue before the storm. "The biggest challenge for employers in the hospitality industry is finding people who are committed," Moore says. "We assist in that with pre-screens of applicants to find only those that are committed."

Moore points to a series of Job 1-sponsored job fairs held in recent months as proof that major local employers are actively seeking qualified workers. Companies such as UPS and Marriott recently met with hundreds of job seekers, and next week manufacturing giant Lockheed Martin will seek to fill hundreds of positions. Yet, the needs of contractors in the construction industry are what dominates the local job market right now, Moore says.

"We need to make sure we prepare people, especially our young people, for jobs in construction because there is going to be a boom here for that industry for the next 10 years," he says. "Contractors can't find help, and that's delaying the rebuilding of our city. These opportunities are there, and will be there for a long time. And, actually, they pay really well."

COOPER OF STRATEGIC RESUMéS AGREES that construction is the local boom industry, but that doesn't mean jobseekers should settle for anything.

"A lot of people are having to look at new things, because so many companies downsized or simply went under after the storm," he says. "Too often, people on their resumŽ will choose not to highlight something they've done, thinking that background isn't relevant. But if you do one job well, it means you're motivated, hard working and a quick learner. Don't minimize the fact that you were in the food and beverage industry. Show what you did, and show how you were good at it."

New trends in the local job market, Cooper points out, are increased use in online employment sites to find new jobs, plus a huge spike in federal government hires (check www.usajobs.gov for listings). There's also an increased need for contracted workers, non-staff employees often signing six-month or one-year contracts to perform a job for a company.

"Write your own job description -- go to people and tell them what you can do," Cooper says. "There's a huge vacuum right now, and people have to fill it. It's never been like that before in New Orleans."

WITHIN THAT VACUUM, AN INTERVIEW with your future employers is what stands between you and your new job. Many employment experts -- in the form of advice from the staff of national employment Web sites such as www.monster.com and www.hotjobs.com, plus information from the Human Resource Managers Association (HRMA) -- advise that when job candidates ready themselves for a job interview, they should consider the four P's: preparation, practice, personal presentation and pertinent questions.

Preparation for the interview is the first step in the process. Nothing can sink a job candidate's chances faster than going to the interview without having done the bare-bones research into the company or the position applied for. Tools to prepare yourself include looking at the company's Web site, reading any type of literature or brochures that might be available, and talking with people who have worked there. Lack of preparation can lead to confusion about what the interviewer wants to discuss, or, worse, asking dumb questions.

In addition, human resource experts advise that it is perfectly acceptable to ask questions about the interview itself, such as "Who will I be talking to?" "Any suggestions on how to prepare?" and "Should I expect a particular type of interview format?" Beyond taking the attitude that you have nothing to lose by asking such questions, it gives the company a hint that you're aggressive, diligent and serious about the position.

When it comes to practice, the old adage stands that you can perform a practice interview by yourself in front of a mirror. A much more realistic simulation, however, is to have a friend or family member pose sample questions to you.

While it seems like common sense that you should put your best foot forward when it comes to your personal appearance for a job interview, many human resource managers cite recent graduates as lacking an appropriate fashion sense. While a wrinkled suit or wearing white pants in January might not necessarily be a deal breaker, it could make the difference when there are abundant candidates in a competitive job market, which is currently the case in New Orleans. Beyond the clothes, smiling, a good handshake and avoiding becoming too nervous are also essential to showing your best self. It is also important in all personal presentations to maintain eye contact.

Once you have arrived at the interview well prepared, thoroughly practiced and appropriately presented, make sure you are also equipped with pertinent questions. Few things would disappoint your interviewer more than concluding the interview session with the typical "Do you have questions for me?" and you reply something along the lines of, "No, I think you have answered them all for me."

Your research and preparation could spark some questions, and, if not, the discussions of the interview should. So, when that customary question comes your way, respond with well-thought-out, perhaps even difficult, questions that show how much you know about the business. After that, shake hands and get ready for your new job.

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