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Times are getting better, but still tough.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal compared job seekers now–often isolated and searching online–to those who were looking for work during the Depression.

In the 1930s, folks were more likely to call  in favors to friends and family or knock door to door asking for work. Ironically, 27.5% of external hires made now come from referrals, even in our more connected world.

Perhaps we would be wise to focus more on personal relationships and less on the keyboard.

That said, the web is an excellent portal. I get 4 to 5 inquiries a week from our site and I try to read each one. I know behind each resume is a real human being who needs a job.

If you are on the job hunt, can I advise you to be…

Flexible. Focus on getting a job. Once you have a job it is always seems easier to find another position. Look beyond your field for the next two or three years.

Sincere.  When resumes come in, I try to envision the kind of person who sent it. Is he/she sincere? Was there an effort to get to know us? I try to respond to each inquiry individually, and I feel a larger motivation to respond to those that are personalized as opposed to mass mailing.

Present. Ask to stop by. Even if I can’t offer you a job at the moment, talking in person might give me some thoughts on other places for you to inquire. The more you ask and connect, the higher you likelihood of getting hired.

Healthy. Maintain your eating and exercise routines. Get out there and do some volunteer work. It never hurts to look around and be able to count your blessings.

Encouraged. I do think there are the right jobs out there. Just like 1938, it’s often about being in the right place at the right time.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

It’s no secret that the aftermath of the Recession continues to take a toll on the construction industry. Last week, as I listened to more struggling economic news, I must admit that I thought to myself, “How much longer?”

I have seen several of my competitors – companies I have bid against for the past 30 years – go out of business. It’s been difficult to watch.

Lucky for me, we have people around here who pick each other up. A day or so after my low point, our CFO told me he thinks things are gradually getting better. Here are a few thoughts for an improved outlook:

Think like a golfer. To me, the downturn might be like a golf handicap: you work hard, a few changes start to occur and then one day things are better.

Don’t trust the status quo. They say that housing always leads us into a recession and always leads us out, but it has become obvious that will not happen this time. There’s no need to wait around for things to happen as they have in the past. Be innovative. Be the catalyst for change.

Play up what works. In times like these, I feel it is important to focus more on the bottom line than on the revenue. Instead of taking an elaborate project outside your normal realm, concentrate on projects that you do best. This will enable you to offer value to customers in terms of quality service and quick delivery.

Like most companies, we have taken a financial hit recently, but we’ve still turned a profit every year. We’ve done it by working smart and staying within what we do best, commercial building construction. By focusing on your strengths, you CAN overcome the weakness of the current economy.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email