Listening to all the advice that's given to job seekers can leave your mind numbed. Everyone has words of wisdom for you, but much of it is conflicting. Parents, your spouse or partner, friends, colleagues and neighbors – everyone has an opinion based on their own experiences. "You should do such-and-such because that's what worked for me the last time I was searching for a new employer," they say.
Moreover, there is no lack of online experts. A recent Google search for "job search tips" yielded a whopping 246 million results.
The problem is that things have changed over time, and yesterday's best practices are often antiquated. What works in one situation won't necessarily work in another. Nonetheless, here are four points that will likely benefit almost any job seeker.
1. You aren't your job title. If you equate your own identity with the job you hold (or don't hold), you are confusing your status with your inner self. You might be unemployed, but that's not who you are. You might hold an impressive job title, but that isn't who you are either. You are a person with a unique professional history, abilities and accomplishments.
Rather than introducing yourself as the "director of such-and-such," try to talk about yourself as a subject matter or functional leader instead. Identities like "human resources thought leader," "Java developer," or even "online marketing maven" all convey your area of expertise and something of your value.
Bear in mind that titles differ between companies, but roles, functions and required expertise need to be fulfilled regardless of what you call the person who fills them.
2. Distinguish between your responsibilities, actions and outcomes. One of the most common ways job seekers lose opportunities is to talk about all the things that they were supposed to do. They say, "I was responsible for X," rather than what they did and how it turned out.
It's one thing to give a really brief description of your role, but it is another to list all the things that make up your job description. It's neither fair nor productive to implicitly ask your listener to jump to the conclusion that you've filled all your responsibilities in an exemplary way – even if you did.
Chances are that there are any number of people who have had responsibilities similar to yours. In order to distinguish yourself from your competition, you need to convey what you actually have done, how you did it, with whom you interacted and what you actually accomplished. And you need to put it all in context to demonstrate why your results are impressive and answer the always present but unspoken question: "So what?"
3. Always look for more information. This requires a major, but altogether necessary, time commitment on your part. You'll never be on a totally equal footing with an employer in an interview. But the more you know going into this conversation, the closer you can come to leveling the playing field. It should go without saying that you need to be well-versed in whatever is found on the company's website and LinkedIn company page. But that should be just the beginning.
Check out the company on Google Finance, Yahoo Finance and in the news. And do searches on LinkedIn and initiate conversations with people who both work there now, and those who used to work there. Don't settle for surface answers. Ask multiple people the same questions about what it is like to work there, challenges and opportunities for advancement, what buzzwords are often heard in the company, whether there is a profile of the kind of job seekers that tend to be favored. See how the answers from different people compare with each other and hone in on differences for further exploration.
4. Network, network and then network some more. Budget time each week to engage in informational interviewing, attend industry events, conventions, conferences, lectures and presentations of all kinds. Expand your connections on LinkedIn, and build at least rudimentary relationships with them. The more you go out of your way for others, the more they are likely to return the favor, whether that means introducing you to others, giving you key pieces of information or entrance into their own companies.
Related: 6 job perks you should always negotiate
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