Dear Sam: I recently graduated from college and have been job hunting for the past three months but am not getting any results. My problem is that I have little work experience. How can I make my résumé eye-catching to employers? – Emily

Dear Emily: I wish there was a formula to predict the length of a job search, but the success of each candidate’s search depends on numerous factors. One thing is for sure, though; the better prepared you are, the more likely you are to shorten the length of your search. Selecting an objective for which you are qualified, creating a strong and targeted résumé, sharpening your interviewing skills, and exhausting all search options, will help get your foot in the door and land that job sooner.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes the average length of unemployment is about 5 months; a recent study of more than 400 professionals and executives found a job search took one month for every $20,000 candidates earned in annual salary in their former position. There is no question a job search is a long and often laborious process, and with the thought of months of searching on the horizon, I’m sure you’ll agree taking a proactive approach to preparing for a search is not an option, but a necessity.

Many factors can impact the success and length of your search including selecting realistic objectives and remaining flexible to opportunities, titles, and compensation levels. Keep in mind that some factors are outside of your control, such as the demand in your industry or for your particular skill set, the economic climate, and the personal preferences of each hiring manager. So how do you shorten the length of your search?

Define Your Goal – Be sure you understand your goal, and you clearly identify your transferable skills, as a hiring manager won’t have time to relate past experiences to current interests. Don’t get trapped into creating a one-size-fits-all résumé; instead, define a primary objective and refocus your résumé to meet the needs of secondary goals. If you try to create one résumé for multiple objectives, the result will be a diluted presentation of your candidacy to each hiring manager. As a recent graduate with little or no work experience, you must sell your degree and the coursework you have completed, along with the skills you have demonstrated in the class or during the little experience you may have had as it relates to your objective.

Develop a “Value-Based” Résumé – Your résumé needs to sell your value to a hiring manager. Don’t develop a résumé that simply serves as a narrative of your background. Instead, prioritize engagements, responsibilities, and achievements based on your objective, making sure you are marketing your candidacy effectively and answering the hiring manager’s question of why he or she should interview you. Follow up-to-date protocols in formatting your résumé, beginning with a qualifications summary, not an objective statement. Also, be sure your résumé looks professional and “meaty” and isn’t formatted using an overused template. The summary should tell the hiring manager about your core qualifications, experiences, and achievements that position you to perform in your profession of choice. (Think about team projects you may have led, extracurricular activities you were involved in, or even skills you demonstrated while juggling part-time work and school.) Remember, recent studies estimate the screening process to be as short as 7 seconds, so this summary is critical in getting your foot in the door.

Diversify Your Search – Job boards and newspaper classified ads should always form the foundation of your search, but there are also other methods you can use to expand your search. Networking is a great way to find unadvertised positions or to gain valuable referrals for posted opportunities. If you don’t have an extensive network, think about joining a local professional organization, community group, church organization, or civic league. Don’t be afraid to send a “cold contact” letter asking for an opportunity, regardless of whether one is posted.

Prepare for the Interview – Give your friends and family members your résumé and have them “quiz” you on different aspects of your background. Develop scripts for the questions you have struggled with in past interviews. Record yourself so you can watch your interview and analyze your verbal communication and nonverbal cues. And never turn down an opportunity to interview. The more practice you get, the more confident you will be when the interview for your dream job comes along.

Remain Positive

– While this might be easier said than done, it is critical you remain positive during your search. Keeping a good attitude will help maximize your success.