In a faltering economy, jobs are not only hard to hang on to, but, once lost, hard to find.

In a faltering economy, jobs are not only hard to hang on to, but, once lost, hard to find.

Out-of-work contractors are pumping gas and college educated business folk are settling for jobs usually held by teenagers. More than ever, the interview process is crucial, calling for top-notch appearance, a solid interview and some good old-fashioned determination.

"It is so hard right now with the market the way it is so you want to make the right impression for sure," says Bonnie Ryan, industrial staffing consultant for Express Employment Professionals of Medford.

Maria DelCastillo of Advanced Personnel Staffing, concurs, "They've got to swallow their pride and try as hard as they can. We all have to look within ourselves right now to make life work out. It's a real challenge right now."

To ensure optimal results from the drudgery of "job hunting 101," area employment agencies offer the top 5 tips to improve your chances of getting hired.

Dress the part!
First and foremost, dress as if you're hiring for a much-wanted position, whether it's true or not.

"We have people who come in their PJ bottoms and their flip flops! They walk in and they look like they just crawled out of bed," says Connie Suarez, of Barrett Business Services of Medford.

"Dress according to the job you're looking for. Obviously, for some jobs, we don't expect you to come in wearing a suit, but come in clean and presentable. If you want a clerical job, don't come in wearing jeans and a T-shirt."

Good Hygiene
Just as crucial for first impressions, maintain good hygiene. Avoid strong breath odors and strong perfumes or colognes. Men should be clean-shaven and jewelry should be simple and minimal. Piercings are out for most potential employers — take them out for the interview.

"Employers are going to be able to be choosy this year with so many people out of work so it's especially important to give the impression of, 'This person will be a good employee,'" Suarez says.

Be prepared
When the big day arrives, show up 10 minutes early with a nicely printed, current resume, says Ryan. If a resume is outdated or missing information, don't set an interview until it's ready to go. "It's so hard with the market the way it is so you want to make the right impression from the beginning."

Greet your interviewer with a handshake and be prepared for interview questions. Stay focused on the task at hand but offer interesting answers to questions and provide professional references.

Follow through
After the interview, check back but be sure not to be bothersome. Follow up, Ryan says, but don't call every day. Be polite, patient and remain flexible, keeping a checklist of follow-up calls.

Avoid common mistakes
Outside of wearing PJs and flip-flops, avoid these common interview mistakes.

Don't put on a phony persona you won't be able to maintain if hired, don't lie on applications and avoid negative statements, such as complaining about past employers.

Just as important, avoid "overselling" yourself on a potential job, says DelCastillo.

"Some of the challenges we're having are that there are some very qualified individuals coming in looking for work. They'll say, 'I owned my own company for 16 years and I want this job that pays minimum wage doing assembly," she says. "The employers know as soon as things start to turn around these people aren't going to stick."

In preparing specific resumes for job interviews, consider the job at hand and be sure to focus job-specific information towards the top of the resume. Be honest, but configure resumes to offer pertinent information in the best light. Clerical job? Put office skills above outdoor job experience and working with zoo animals.

With jobs at a premium, some common sense and focus can make the difference in getting the job or staying unemployed.

"Even if you have to take something you don't want as much, a job is a job in this economy," says DelCastillo. "You've got to do what you've got to do."