In a Recession, Take the Long View

By: Doug Hardy

In a Recession, Take the Long View

"The economy enters [the new year] in a severe recession and labor market conditions will deteriorate throughout the year...Housing, automobiles, and steel are in a prolonged downturn...Unemployment rates for every major worker group will reach postwar highs..."

Sound like 2009? It's actually a quote from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' official record of the 1982-1983 recession, which was followed by 24 years of economic growth, mild recessions and record employment.

Well, that "long boom" is over and we're in trouble again. Unemployment has risen 25% in six months. Housing, automobiles and steel are in worse shape than they were in 1982. Washington plans to spend $1 trillion to stimulate the economy. Still, it's good to remember that we've survived times like these before.

When jobs are harder to find, you need to take the long view. You need to think in terms of where you want to be when the economy bounces back, even if you have to do "whatever it takes" to survive economically today. You need to extend your plan beyond getting a job to becoming more valuable 1, 3 or 5 years from now. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Make a strategic plan - where do you want to be in 5 years? Just like managing money, managing a career requires goals. Do you know what you want to be doing in 2014? Do you really want your supervisor's job, or are you content to hold the same job you had in 2006? Both visions are fine; what's important is that you actually have made a decision and put a plan into effect. So: If you want to be promoted, what new jobs will teach you new skills? Can you take a class online or at a professional school in the next five years, for example getting certified in a growing field (you can find projections for best job growth and required training here).

2. Change your money habits... permanently. You might have to take a cut in pay this year, whether at your current job or a new one. Nobody loves to cut their spending, but if you have to live on less, it's an opportunity to separate genuine necessities from less important spending, and finally start saving again. Web sites like Kiplingers.com and Money.com, as well as blogs like getrichslowly.org and Dave Ramsay's books have excellent advice. When business picks up, keep saving. What does this have to do with getting the right job? It empowers you to base career decisions on more than just making money.

3. Go where the jobs are...and will be. It might be painful to think about moving to another part of the country, but the fact is, some regions are likely to snap back sooner than others. Pittsburgh is a model for this (you can read about its success here). By contrast, parts of the Sun Belt are so dependent on real estate that they are predicting longer hard times. If you can move, consider it, if only for a few years.

4. Beware your comfort zone. My friend John is a great salesman, and one of his mottos is, "If you're invisible, you guarantee failure." That's true when you're looking for work, too, but the temptation for many of us is to stay invisible - just looking in the paper or online, or visiting the employment center once a week. Doing the same things over and over is staying in your comfort zone, even if you feel lousy about the results. It's not effective when the economy's booming, and it's downright disastrous in a recession.

Are you afraid to network with family and friends? Then you'll stay invisible. Do you dismiss a job because you're "overqualified?" You're invisible. Are you unable to pick up the phone and follow up on a job application? Invisible, again.

Try something new each week: Search different job titles. Learn to network, then get out and see 5 new people a week. Call friends across the country and ask for leads. Find small private companies listed at your Chamber of Commerce, and visit them in person. Practice your job interview skills at the employment center, then practice them on the phone with a friend. Speak up at the coffee hour and tell people you're looking. Follow up on every resume sent out, if only to confirm it was received.

Finally, do what it takes - friends, support groups, church or self-help advice - to keep going. This recession will end, and the best thing you can do now is turn the slow time into an opportunity to get better at the job search. Whether it takes you ten days or ten months to find a job, you'll make up for this "lost time" in the long run with a better career.