Let’s be honest. Looking for a job is tough. In a down economy it’s even more challenging. Over the past few months the reoccurring question I’ve received has been how to best search for employment in a troubled economy. Where I do not have the answer to this question, whether in a down economy or now, I do have some tips that might help make the search more productive.

Me, Myself, and I, Inc.: Professional branding is important for anyone who is job seeking or building their career. It’s important to create a brand that portrays you in a professional light and provides employers with a strong positive impression of you as an individual who would be an asset to their organization. The importance of networking anywhere and everywhere should not be underestimated. This is guaranteed to be your number one way to gain employment prospects; however, there are a couple catches. First, because professional contacts are potentially everywhere, you must be prepared to sell yourself at a moment’s notice. If you had a 30 second commercial-what would it say? How can you best articulate your assets and professional skills? Prepare your pitch and be ready to use it at any time. You’ve only got 30 seconds-make it count! Second, always carry business cards and copies of your resume-you never know when you’ll have the opportunity to distribute.

Cocktail Napkins Not Allowed: Speaking of business cards, how many times have you wanted to give someone your contact information and there isn’t a pen in sight? Invest $20 in card stock and print yourself business cards. Better yet, Google “Free Business Cards” and see what comes up. This may sound like a small detail, but it makes a huge difference in communicating that you are serious about making a connection with someone, and that you are representing yourself in a professional manner. Name, address, phone number, voila-instant contact! The best part about exchanging business cards with someone is that you now have opened the door for continued communication (if you are diligent in following up, that is).

Take a Chance: Not leaving the house is a great way to avoid rejection, but it will not help you progress in the job search. Because we are creatures of habit, it is difficult to drift from our place of comfort, but in a tight market, it is essential. To be more effective in the search, examine your expertise and pinpoint industries, not otherwise considered, that might fit. Just because much or all of your experience is in banking does not mean the medical field isn’t looking for financial talent. Many companies love to bring in a fresh perspective, and that new perspective may be the key to finding satisfying employment in a new industry.

Forget Mainstream Resources: When conducting a job search, look beyond the obvious. Generic job search engines (Monster.com, etc.) are being overrun with panicked candidates, creating an immense amount of traffic. This volume makes it impossible for employers to find qualified candidates in a sea of applications. Niche career communities are tailored to specific industries and locations, providing helpful resources for candidates who are looking for local jobs or jobs in a specific industry. If you want to stand out, look for jobs that are posted on niche sites like your Alma Madder, blogs, social networking sites and industry associations. For a comprehensive list of industry organizations, visit www.weddles.com.

Become an Industry Expert: Believe it or not, there are some industries that elude economic crisis, which is why it is important to research and understand the trends affecting all industries to make informed career decisions.  Jobs in education (people generally turn to education during a down economy as a way of boosting their marketability and skills) and healthcare shed fewer jobs and in many cases actually gain jobs. With the right networking, you might find a virtually recession proof career. Reading related publications and blogs helps to keep up with what is going on in particular industries. You can register for a free monthly report at www.Jobbait.com, which outlines growing markets. Targeting a growing market can automatically increase you odds of landing more interviews.

Stay Connected On-Line: Marketing your brand using technology is a great way to connect.  Consider taking your marketing efforts to the next level by joining online social networking sites (Linkedin.com) or creating their own online career portfolio to showcase your skills and experiences. Consider starting a blog (Blogger.com) on your area of expertise or creating a website that showcases work samples. Using a variety of resources can only increase your chances of success.

Stay Positive: I know this is not as easy as it sounds, but it is important to surround yourself with positive energy. The job search takes effort, and you want to channel your efforts in the right place-your future. Searching for employment in an uncertain market requires more focus on positive connections and less on defeating attitudes. Connecting with people who are going to encourage and support you through these challenging times is the best way to feed your positive energy.