When the national unemployment rate dropped to just 8.5% in the final quarter of 2011, it reached its lowest level since February 2009. Having continued the downward trend that began in July of last year, job seekers and employers have been able to begin 2012 with renewed optimism and hope of finding long-term employment. However, now is not the time for those seeking work to rest on their laurels, and they should instead be adopting a proactive approach to identifying opportunities and making their applications.

SEE: What Drives Employment

Identifying Prosperous Industries and Organizations
The Internet has afforded U.S. citizens access to a substantial informational resource, and online news websites can now also deliver breaking stories directly to interested readers through their email addresses. This makes it easier than ever for job seekers to keep themselves informed on which industries are prospering and creating employment opportunities, so that they can subsequently adopt a more targeted and structured approach to their job search. If you are looking for work, this should be considered as an extremely useful first step towards identifying viable openings.

For example, economic forecasts have predicted prosperous years ahead for various market sectors, including those relating to retail, engineering, financial services and computer science. This gives you a clear understanding as to where to direct your search, and also encourages you to consider how your skills may fit within any given industry niche. Remember that regardless of whether you have direct experience in a market or otherwise, all sectors and organizations require the efforts of support and entry level staff to help in achieving sustained growth.

Using Social Media to Connect with Potential Employers
While it is widely accepted that even small and independent businesses now boast a significant social media presence, however the ways in which organizations use these interactive tools are less well known. Jobvite estimates that 89% of organizations will use social media to play a significant role in recruitment during 2012, with 64% of businesses adopting an integrated strategy across two or more individual sites. So, with this in mind and using your knowledge of thriving industries and market niches, you can identify potential employers and interact with them directly online.

This proactive approach is key to stealing a march on your rival candidates, and establishing yourself as a recognized voice within a specific industry. To help achieve this, it is worth adopting a professional approach towards cultivating your social media profile, by separating it entirely from any personal accounts that may be connected to friends and family. Similarly, you should create a presence that is visible across several social media resources, so that your skills and experiences are exposed to a wider range of potential employers. (For more, check out 3 Tips To Boost Your Chances Of Finding Work In 2012.)

Assess Your Skills and Further Your Claims as a Candidate
It does not matter what industry or job type you are interested in, the pace of technological advancement is influencing each sector within the employment market. This affects everything from the way in which individuals are employed to the methodology used to perform work-related tasks, and failure to keep up with this progressive evolution can leave you without the relevant skills to stand out as a candidate. So, now is the ideal time to assess your skill set and evaluate where significant improvements can be made.

The facts reveal that the number of individuals seeking out vocational courses has risen continually since 2006. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a total of 19.76 million citizens aged 18 and older committed to higher education programs in 2009 alone. This drive to gain additional knowledge is becoming vital, both in terms of developing relevant work place skills and competing with fellow job seekers in a crowded market place. So, identifying potential gaps in your knowledge and satisfying them is crucial to finding employment. Consider your resume, existing skills and the industries in which you would like to work, and look out for relevant courses that can address any short fall.

The Bottom Line
While the economic portents for the U.S. are no longer as worrying as they were in the summer of 2011, it remains your duty as a job seeker to advance your own credentials as a candidate. It is crucial that you pay attention to both the employment market and your own skills, in order that you may find your ideal long-term placement, and gain the skills to enjoy a secure and financially rewarding career. (To learn more, see 10 Jobs That Make People Happy.)