10 Strategies for Searching for a Job During a Recession

Whenever the economy gets closer and closer to a recession, the job market begins to tighten. Competition for good jobs increases as the number of skilled professionals, laid off from their companies and recently graduating from college, flood the job market. Most companies begin to reconsider their hiring plans and many stop hiring altogether as they wait for the weak economy to firm up. And while the Internet has made it easy and convenient post your resume online, it has also made it difficult for job seekers to stand out from the competition. During a recession even the basics of a job search can change. Resumes have to be customized, cover letters have to be more strategic, obtaining interviews becomes more difficult and salary negotiations become more sensative. It's no longer an employee's market, the tide has changed in favor of employers, and job seekers have to adapt if they want to come out ahead.

If you want to maximize your chances of landing a great job during an economic slowdown, then follow the best practices outlined below for conducting a job search when times are tight.

1. Forget the "shotgun" approach.

You'd think by now people would wiseup to the fact that the "shotgun" approach to finding a job just doesn't work, but surprising there are still people that browse through the want ads, submit their resume online to thousands of companies using automated resume submission services, and they let a few good friends know they're in the job market. Every Monday they get up and submit the same non-customized resume to any and all jobs that they're even slightly interested in and then they sit back and wait.

During a recession, or downturn in the economy, the shotgun method becomes even more attractive to job seekers because it makes them feel like they're doing something, even though at the end of the day their efforts are in vain.

During the best of times, the shotgun approach is nominally effective at best, but during a tight job market, where employers have their pick of candidates, it usually does more damage than good. Using the shotgun approach turns into a commodity, just another job seeker with the same old skills that doesn't stand out from the crowd. When you post the same boring resume everywhere you position yourself as just another job seeker, not someone who can make a meaningful contribution or provide an employer with the best bang for their buck. And when you send the same resume to everyone, you become nothing to no one.

2. First focus on the company, then on the job.

One of the greatest struggles that job seekers experience when searching for a job in a down economy is anxiety. They're so anxious to find another job that they get desperate and as a consequence lack focus. They feel like they can't slow down to develop a realistic strategy and apply to as many positions as they can, as quickly as they can. Securing a new source of income becomes the number one goal. Unfortunately, as the old say goes, "haste makes waste" -- and this couldn't be more true for job seekers who don't slow down long enough to develop a plan.

It's quite common for job seekers to initially be driven by fear. Fear is a normal human reaction, but unchecked it can be disasterous for a job search. Don't let fear be your driving source for finding another job. If money's tight, sit down and review your finances. Cut back on expenditures, talk to friends, family and local church leaders if you need a little help, but slow down and put together a plan that is based on common sense, a plan that focuses on both the short-term and long-term. Develop a strategic job plan that takes into account your experience, your unique skills and talents. Use strategies that play to your strengths and help set you apart from others in your industry. Set realistic, achievable career goals, and then stick to your plan. You'll find a new job faster by developing a plan that differentiates you as a candidate and that focuses on how your can help employers succeed, than by sending your resume to every employer in the world.

If you're simply making a job change within the same industry, putting a good plan together may only take a few minutes. If you're planning on a career change, then it may take a little longer. Make sure that as part of your plan you focus on specific companies. Employers are interested in candidates that are interested in them. It's important to know which job you want and are qualified for, but employers are going to be more impressed with candidates that really want to work for them. Once you know which direction you're headed in, make a list of all the potential employers that fall within the scope of your career goals. Then do your due diligence and learn everything there is to know about each employer. Develop a custom resume for each employer. And go out of your way to communicate to each employer why you're the best fit for their company, and the job they're offering.

3. Focus on growth industries and specializations.

Your chances of finding a good job (and keeping it) increase when you focus on job opportunities in growth industries. This is especially true during a recession when many industries are experiencing layoffs. If you're a construction worker, you may want to consider looking for a new industry or specialization if your industry has been hit hard by slow times.

The following is a list of America's fastest-growing industries:

  • Business (management, international business, consulting)
  • Computers/IT (software publishing and computer systems design)
  • Community and vocational rehabilitation services
  • Commercial and industrial machinery and equipment rental and leasing
  • Construction (concrete manufacturing and engineered wood products)
  • Energy and Environmental
  • Health care (home healthcare, abulatory, office)
  • Government (Federal)
  • Legal (attorneys)
  • Aerospace manufacturing
  • Security (physical and systems)
  • Education
  • Science/R&D

Once you've identified a few industries you're interested in working in, and the region(s) where you're willing to live, we recommend selecting anywhere between 5 and 15 companies in those industries and regions to target. Narrowing your job search to just a handful of companies will allow you to perform the research necessary to identify and connect with decision-makers at each company. Focusing your job search in this manner is much more effective than following up on every job opening you see on the Internet.

While you want to focus your job search efforts, it's also important to be realistic. If you only focus on getting a job at one or two companies, you may be limiting your options too much. You should also select industries that make sense. If you've spent the last four years in construction, it's probably not realistic to make a quick switch to healthcare -- even if it is a thriving industry. Spending too much time focused in the wrong areas can sap your pocket book and your confidence. If you're struggling to figure out what direction to go, you may consider taking a career assessment.

4. Step outside of your comfort zone and consider new options.

There thousands of job opportunities out there that go unoticed by the general populace of job seekers. In addition to large fortune 500 companies and blue chip firms, that make up the Dow Jones and NASDAQ, there are a plethora of jobs available in more non-traditional business environments such as spin-offs, nonprofits, fast growing private companies and even startups. Many of these sectors not only offer great job opportunities, but they provide a stimulating atmosphere where you can be involved with cutting-edge technology and innovative projects.

Many people shy away from seeking job opportunities with venture-backed startups for fear they are too volatile, but the upside potential offered by most startups can provide substantial long-term career benefits -- such as stock options, raises and career advancement. Startups are also a good stepping stone for other career opportunities down the road.

During a down economy, federal, state and local governments are also a great place to find jobs, as they are continually hiring.

Each of the business environments adressed above (startups, spin-offs, nonprofits and midsize private comapanies) have a unique culture that requires a unique mindset and attitude. Startups, for example, require individuals that are flexible and can wear many "hats". A manager for a startup may have several duties, including financial accounting, business development and risk management. Startups are also quick paced, high energy environments that don't offer employees a lot of set processes for getting things accomplished. This can be frustrating to those who like uniformity and routine. Which every business environment you choose to pursue, make sure it's right for you and be prepared to convince prospective employers in interviews that your personality is a good fit for their business environment and culture.

Knowing what business environment is right for you requires self awareness. How do you feel about the corporate business environments you've previously worked in? Do you do best in an environment what is structure or do you thrive in an environment that is unstructure and even considered choatic by many? Do you like working in a team, or do you perform best when left to work alone? What do you consider to be your ideal job? What is your worst job? Do you like having a boss, or do you like being your own boss? These are just a few questions you'll want to ask as you determine which work environment is best for you.

5. Compete effectively with consultants.

More and more companies are turning to consultants and independant contractors to acquire services and fill positions previously held by full-time employees. Consultants, typically are less expensive than full-time employees and do not require the same long-term commitment. Using consultants rather than employees also helps companies quickly scale up or down, in response to swings in the economy. Consultants often have the same experience as full-time employees and are often able to bring to the table skills and knowledge captive employees don't have.

Consultants are also viewed by many employers as experts in their fields, and as such are expected to make an immediate and meaningful contribution to the company. They're typically brought onboard to address specific issues and resolve problems the company is facing. And since consultants and employees cost about the same to employ, employers expect employees to also bring immediate and meaningful contribution to the company.

In order to compete with consultants, job seekers must convince potential employers that they can hit the ground running and deliver meaningful results quickly. One of the most effective ways to do this is to show a prospective employer that you've delivered results in the past. Your resume, cover letter and any other communications should describe how you're able to solve the problems and issues a company faces.

6. Focus on revenue.

During a recession, companies are particularly focused on revenue. Money is the life blood of a business and without it all operations cease. While you may not be applying for a sales position, any sales experience or expertise you bring to the table are going to help you secure a job. Both on your resume and during your interview, hightlight any contribution you've made business development, pre- and post-sales support, cross selling and upselling, parternship development and partner support. Not only will you show prospective employers you can make a meaningful contribution to the cause, you'll set yourself apart from other job candidates.

During a recession, companies also focus on expenses. The higher their expenses the lower their bottom line. Your second job is to help employers to see you as an asset, not an expense. Both on your resume and during your interview, highlight any contribution you've made to lowering expenses. Go out of your way to help prospective employers see you has worth more than what they have to pay to hire you.

7. Use your resume the right way.

There is a right way and a wrong way to use a resume. The right way will help you get an interview and your foot in the door. The wrong way will land your resume in the trash and a job opportunity missed. You're job is to develop a resume that provide recruiter's, hiring agents and employers just an information to pique their interest and desire to learn more about you -- nothin more, nothing less.

For a resume to be truly effective, it must be designed to address three different audiences at once: the resume screener (usually a junior HR employee), the senior recruiter (who is looking for certain skills and experience), and the actual person doing the hiring (typically a hiring manager who makes the final decision).

So the "one size fits all" approach to resume development is a thing of the past. Serious job seekers must customize their resume for each new job opportunity. Customizing your resume is even more important during a recession or tight job market where competition for each opening is intense and employers are looking for specific skill sets, experience and abilities.

Resumes must also be results oriented. Your resume should scream, "I [your name] can deliver measurable, meaningful and significant results". Anything less, just isn't going to get you the good jobs. Instead of writing your resume as a job description--as so many job seekers do--develop it more like a proposal. Use your resume to explain how you're going to help your target employer address and/or overcome specific challenges and issues they face. Demonstrate how your leadership experience and managerial skill is going to help them take advantage of new opportunities. Make sure your resume helps potential employers see how you're going to directly contribute to their bottom line. Most resumes are self indulgent and try to position the job seeker at the "top dog" in their industry. Employers only care about what you've done and accomplished as it relates to what you can do and accomplish for them. Make sure your resume speaks to your employer's needs, not to your ego.

The STAR analysis process is a great way to present in your resume issues and challenges you've addressed in previous jobs. STAR stands for situations, tasks, actions and results. Start by briefly presenting the situation given to you. Identify the tasks you were required to take on due to the situation. Explain what actions you undertook to address or resolve the situation. What were the results you were ultimately able to achieve? Alternatively, in a case study format, you can just note each challenge and accomplishment. Whichever method you choose, you want to make sure to present the information that is most relevant to the prespective employer's needs.

Also, use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to make your resume keywords from the job specification and from your research on the firm and the industry. You want your resume to repeatedly stress "company insider" terms and keywords can differentiate you and your resume from all the others. Recareered's Rosenberg says your resume will get more hits from scanning software and more eye contact from humans (and you'll get more interviews) when your strongest keywords are in the top one-third of your resume.

After putting all that time and effort into your resume, it would be a shame for a recruiter or hiring manage to reject it on the basis of a spelling or grammatical error—or to have it get trapped in a spam filter. If you aren't using a professional resume writer, then at least have one other person review your resume. If you are in a crunch and must send your resume without another reviewer, here's a trick I learned from a Discovery Channel article on brain functionality: reading text backwards forces your brain to re-review each word individually. Use Lyris Content Checker to pre-scan your resume and cover letter to ensure that innocuous words don't get blocked as spam.

8. Try to be perfect.

With so many job seekers available, recruiters are being told to keep looking until they find an exact match. Candidates who are landing positions in today's economy are—by strategy or by luck—perceived to be "ideal" candidates. Such ideal candidates are confident and they're genuinely passionate about the job, company and industry. Hiring managers consider confidence and passion top qualities.

To make sure you're playing your A-game on interview day, spend time beforehand scripting and rehearsing your answers to interview questions about your strengths and weaknesses, says Chris McCann of Gregory Laka and Company executive search.

McCann also recommends being prepared to explain how you developed staff beyond providing company paid training. For example, did you serve as a mentor? "Noting how some of those individuals have succeeded demonstrates your personal connection and commitment to your team," he says.

9. Be prepared to be flexible. VERY flexible.

The job market is not the same across the country. Some states are creating more new jobs than others. You may need to move. If international work appeals and is open to you, consider work outside the U.S.

In addition to being open to relocating, you may have to bend over backwards to get a job or impress an employer. An executive recruiter I interviewed for this story told me about a candidate who moved from third or fourth choice to top selection when he offered to work as a consultant to start, at half the rate for six months in a contract-for-hire option. By lowering his rate and starting out on contract, this candidate showed his willingness to mitigate the risk his prospective employer would be taking on by hiring him full-time. Notably, the candidate didn't go to this length because he was desperate for any job. He made some upfront sacrifices because he really wanted this particular job with this particular employer, the recruiter told me.

Another candidate offered to fly cross-country on his own funds to meet with a CEO who was on vacation at the time. By being extremely flexible for the CEO, the candidate met him in a much more informal and relaxed environment. This expensive and risky strategy worked for the candidate—who, again, was not desperate for any job. He got what he felt was the perfect job for him.

10. Plan for the long term.

Don't stop your search until at least 30 days after your first day on your new job. I know colleagues who've had job offers rescinded or who've been laid off—not for performance reasons but for the company's financial reasons—within their first 90 days who then have had to start their job searches all over again. (I've experienced this, too.) Consequently, some job search experts recommend that new hires keep interviewing for other jobs during their first 90 days at their new employer since that's a standard trial period for new hires during which employers can let them go for any reason.

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