BY EMILY FREDRIX, Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — With little relief in sight on the employment scene, job hunters have to be savvier and more careful than ever about what they choose to spend money on as they search. Luckily, one of the best ways to find a job — networking — is practically free.

The key is to stay focused on your goals, experts said. Here are some tips on ways to keep spending down while looking for the job you want.

1. NETWORK ONLINE: If you don’t have a free profile on LinkedIn, get one, said Susan Joyce, editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org, an employment portal that links to job Web sites, employment offices and articles with tips. “The LinkedIn profile is the new resume,” she said.

You can connect with old friends and classmates on the networking site, which bears some resemblance to Facebook. Start by posting your work history and comments and questions and answering others’ question thoughtfully. That will build up your presence. Then you can solicit recommendations and start to network.

Joyce suggests also joining LinkedIn groups, such as the ones for alumni of your college and for the most relevant professional organization, because that’s where recruiters now focus their efforts. They can fine-tune their searches very quickly by going to groups of people with an attribute they’re seeking such as paralegal experience or an MBA, she said.

2. NETWORK IN REAL LIFE: Don’t neglect networking in person just because you’re searching online, said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm in Chicago. That’s where the real connections are made, and they don’t have to break the bank either.

“You have to get yourself out from behind the computer at your home, out engaged in the external side of things,” he said.

Join the professional organizations you chose in step 1 — ask about discounts — and go to their events, for example. Often these groups will let new members attend events — say, a dinner — for free even when other members must pay. Some groups even let people join for free if they’re looking for a job.

If you arrange meetings with new contacts, don’t feel like you have to treat them to a meal or coffee. Often, just meeting in an office is enough, Challenger said, and it could help you stay focused on business.

3. GO BACK TO SCHOOL: No, we don’t mean for a new degree, which could be helpful but certainly won’t be cheap. Check your college’s career center for new contacts and leads. Many college centers now cater to alumni, not just recent graduates, and offer career advice, help with resumes and connections to other alumni.

Also check career centers at local community and technical colleges, which may help you for a small fee, even if you didn’t matriculate there, said Dorothy Graham, a career coach and owner of Transitionwork.com, a career transition business. And don’t forget state and municipal work force development organizations.

4. KNOW WHEN TO HIRE PROFESSIONALS: There’s a thriving industry built around people looking for jobs, but spending on head hunters, career coaches and resume writers doesn’t always pay off, experts said. Challenger said never to pay a company that promises you success, for instance.
“There really aren’t places that will find you a job,” he said. “That’s a myth.”

But if you feel your resume is out of date, it can be worthwhile to — carefully — hire a resume writer, said Joyce at Job-Hunt.org. An online search finds they typically charge about $200. “Get references, try to find someone who really knows what they are doing and has a proven track record,” said Joyce, who has been through two layoffs herself.

She suggests posting your resume for free on sites like Monster.com and refreshing it every 10 days (just change a word or two), so it never looks like you’ve been searching for work for months.

Career coaching can cost more than $100 an hour, but some coaches will offer a sliding scale or work within a budget a clients sets, said Graham. She suggests first seeing how much work you can do on your own by tapping free resources; then, if you get stuck, hire a professional within your means.

5. BE METHODICAL: Planning each step of your job search will help you save money and time. If you know you’ll be visiting a city for a job interview, plan your trip at least two weeks ahead so transportation costs less and so you can arrange other interviews or meetings, Challenger said.

Maybe even stay with one of the old friends or classmates you’ve reconnected with to save on hotel costs. Ask prospective employers to pay for the trip. And keep using your time efficiently by finding out ahead of time where there’s free wireless Internet you can use between interviews. Check out: http://www.wififreespot.com/

6. IT’S TAX-DEDUCTIBLE (only in the USA): Keep your receipts for things like travel and photocopying your resume. Some expenses incurred during a job search in your current occupation are tax deductible, Challenger said.