When searching for a new job, it’s essential to make a good impression. But for those who are unemployed or just starting their careers, finding the money for a first-class job search can be difficult.

Fortunately, smart candidates can still put their best foot forward without blowing a bundle.

“When you’re on a shoestring budget, you have to be creative to get the help you need,” says Markell Steele, owner of Futures In Motion, a career counseling service in Long Beach, Calif.

Marc Dorio, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Job Interview,” says that if job seekers plan in advance, it is possible to find work without becoming panicky about money.

7 ways to slash job hunt costs
  1. Barter for job search assistance
  2. Visit the local library
  3. Visit low-cost community job centers
  4. Group-related job hunting tasks
  5. Use free Internet, phone services
  6. Pack your own lunch
  7. Save your receipts

“Start by making a budget,” he says. “For income, include any severance you got from your last job, plus unemployment funds, plus any money you’ve already saved.”

Next, he suggests looking for ways to save money while you’re looking to be hired.

Here are seven savvy tips career experts suggest for stretching your dollars while job hunting.

1. Barter for job search assistance

If you need career coaching but don’t have the cash to pay for it, Steele suggests asking if the coach would be willing to barter something of value in exchange for career advice.

“Figure out a way for you and a career coach to work with each other,” she says. “If you’re qualified, you could offer anything from bookkeeping assistance to secretarial help to marketing assistance.”

Steele reports good success with job seekers who’ve bartered services with her.

“They’ve come to me and said, ‘I can’t pay your full rate right now, but could you give me an hour of consultation in exchange for an hour of administrative support?’ And yes, I’ve taken them up on the offer,” she says.

Another way to barter is to trade your volunteer time for admission into a networking event.

“Trade meetings are crucial for meeting people in your industry, but those luncheons and dinners can be pricey,” says Steele.

“Approach the event handlers and see if there are opportunities for volunteers,” she says. “You may be able to manage the attendee check-in desk, or handle some aspect of the planning, all in exchange for a free or reduced price.”

An additional benefit to volunteering time at industry events is that you may rub shoulders with decision makers, an opportunity that might not be available otherwise for any amount of money.

2. Visit the local library

People generally know there’s a lot of research information at the local library, but few job candidates have a grasp of the wealth of resources available for them, Dorio says.

Libraries have subscriptions to paid online databases, and you can use this information for free. You can also access the Internet at no cost when doing company research. And don’t forget the free books on everything from resume writing to successful interview techniques.

“The more your reference librarian knows about you and your specific needs, the more he or she can help you find information directly related to your job search,” Dorio says. “The best tool you can have in your repertoire is your library card.”

Along with visiting your county or city library, stop by local college libraries. People don’t necessarily have to be students to access an institution’s media services, Steele says. You don’t need to live near a major research university to take advantage of school libraries, either. Community and junior colleges can be good local resources.

3. Visit low-cost community job centers

To save money on skill-building, get in touch with the job training and one-stop career centers funded by your local government, Dorio says. These centers offer computer and Internet access, as well as photocopy services.

They may also offer training in specific office skills at a low or reduced rate. That’s important because if you don’t have the specific skill sets mentioned in a job description, you’re probably wasting time and money applying for that position, says Janice Litvin, director of Micro Search SF, an executive search firm in Walnut Creek, Calif.

“Career counselors advise you to focus on jobs for which you are absolutely qualified,” she says.

If the center teaches a specific skill you need — such as word processing, learning a spreadsheet program or graphic design expertise — take advantage of the opportunity to increase your chances of being hired.

Contact your state’s department of labor to locate centers in your area.

Another good source for help is your alma mater. Dorio suggests visiting your school’s career center, even if you graduated many years ago.

“College alumni centers have lots of job resources, both in-office and online,” he says. “They have personnel who can help with resume preparation, networking and putting you in touch with other alumni to support your search efforts.”

Look for informal job search groups, too. With these organizations, people come together about once a week to share ideas, resources and experiences without requiring you to spend a lot of money, Dorio says.

The group can keep you accountable in your search, offer encouragement and provide an informal critique, such as double-checking your resume for typos.

“These support groups can help you stay motivated and may provide you with a tip that lands you your next job,” Dorio says.

4. Group-related job hunting tasks

Cutting employment-related transportation costs can net major savings. Proper planning can minimize the amount of time and money you spend traveling.

“Plan your time so that one day you’re making phone calls, the next day you’re making copies and sending letters out and the next you’re visiting potential employers,” says Dorio.

Litvin adds a related tip: Try to schedule interviews during slower periods of the work day, if possible.

“Interviewing during nonrush-hour times helps you save on gas by dealing with less traffic,” she says.

5. Use free and low-cost Internet and phone services

It’s crucial to have online access when looking for work. The Internet allows you to research companies and get access to job-hunting Web sites. But if you don’t have the budget for costly Internet service, consider dropping it in favor of using the Internet for free at places such as the library or a local job center, Steele says.

You can also sign up for free e-mail accounts, such as Hotmail or Google Gmail, Litvin says.

“Having this type of account might demonstrate that a candidate is computer savvy and financially efficient,” she says.

Regardless of which e-mail account you use, remember to keep your user name professional, Steele says.

“Stay with using something simple, such as your first and last name or something similar,” she says. “Don’t use a cutesy nickname.”

Along with Internet service, evaluate your telephone plan to make sure you’re getting the most value possible for the money.

Most candidates also need cell phone access and voice mail, so they’re always available if an employer calls for an interview, Dorio says.

“Even so, shop around for the best deal, and consider dropping extra services you don’t need,” he says.

6. Pack your own lunch

Save a few dollars by packing your own lunch, Dorio says. Or at least bring along some snack bars.

“If you have several interviews scheduled, you could spend a lot of money stopping by restaurants to get something to eat after each meeting,” Dorio says.

7. Save your receipts

Whenever you spend money on your job search, save all receipts — you may need them at tax time.

“Many of the fees related to your job search could be tax-deductible,” Dorio says.

Such fees include the cost of preparing and mailing resumes and expenses related to employee outplacement services and travel. Be sure to record your mileage for each trip, including starting and ending odometer readings.

There are a few caveats to the tax deductions. You have to be looking for work in your current occupation, and you shouldn’t have been out of work for a substantially long period of time.

“Become acquainted with IRS Publication 529 because it explains in detail which job search expenses can be deducted from your taxes, and what the requirements are,” Dorio says.

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