For young people set to join the job market, the Sars outbreak is a nightmare with enduring effects. It has dealt a heavy blow to the retail and services industry and forced hiring activities to a halt. Headhunters are expecting a 15 per cent salary cut across industries. It is hard to forecast whether the economy will recover, says JobsDB.com.hk's marketing manager Michelle Leung. 'Confidence will not return if there are dozens of new cases of infection every day,' she says. But not all hopes are gone. 'There are still vacancies around,' says Jack Kwan Shu-wing, counselling specialist at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). When looking for a job, the key words are competitiveness, branching out and maintaining a positive outlook. Competitiveness The definition of the word varies across industries, but the idea is to make yourself appealing to potential employers. A nice and clean curriculum vitae (CV or resume) certainly catches attention. The longer job-seeking period gives you time to learn new skills and do more research on companies you are applying to. Under the current economic situation, candidates with diverse skills and talent will get immediate attention. 'Employers prefer someone capable of performing different tasks that formerly were done by a few people,' Ms Leung says. Marketing executives, for example, may have to double up as public relations officers. Designers in advertising departments may also have to work as marketing personnel. This is why new skills are needed. Researching a company more thoroughly puts you in a better position. Although this is a common piece of advice, it has become particularly important as the economy weakens. 'The idea is to make yourself the perfect candidate for the position,' Ms Leung explains. 'Companies are cutting training costs. They want employees who are already familiar with their business and capable of delivering.' Branching out Give yourself more choice. Do not focus only on positions related to your field of study. It's important to branch out,' says PolyU's Mr Kwan. 'It is essential for fresh graduates to gain more experience. That's why you need as many options as you can. Many positions have good prospects.' Apply for jobs that may not be directly related to your discipline. Graduates in textile studies, for example, can consider merchand-ising positions in addition to quality control and production jobs. Positive outlook Job-hunting can be a long and sometimes painful process and can easily get you down. 'We are talking about perhaps six months of sending letters, attending interviews and being turned down before you finally get a job,' Ms Leung says. 'Remember that given the present circumstances, it's hard to immediately get a job offer. Don't give up and be optimistic.' The happy job-seeker Unlike some soon-to-be graduates, Murphy Lam Choi-ping thinks the future is not all gloomy. 'As graduates gear up for the job market, employers are also making hiring plans,' says the University of Hong Kong student. 'Sars' effects are only short-term.' Over the past six months, Ms Lam, who studies industrial management and manufacturing systems engineering, sent out about 20 job applications and has already received some responses. She is not an outstanding student. Her academic achievements are 'okay, but definitely not top-notch'. 'Employers put more emphasis on performance and personality. Active participation in extra-curricular activities also helps,' says the drama fan. Her all-round development and focused approach to job-hunting - only applying for jobs that suit her - are the secrets of her success. Thorough research has given her a good understanding of the market, and her willingness to adapt also helps. Looking for a job in quality control or marketing, Ms Lam knows her salary will be between $9,000 and $17,000, with trips to the mainland inevitable. 'Some graduates may not want to go to the mainland at the moment,' she says. 'I don't think the market is as bad as people think,' she adds. 'There are jobs available. Whether you get an offer depends on what you expect, and how much you are willing to sacrifice.'