Looking for Work in a Slow Economy
By: Doug Hardy
By the time you read this, even the optimists will probably admit we're in a recession. Even if it's not an official recession, it sure feels like one compared to last year. The real estate market has slowed to a sick-dog crawl, hiring is off, and prices are rising. If you're looking for work right now, you have permission to worry.
Worry if you need to, but don't panic. For most people, a slow economy just means a longer job search, and you can shorten that time by adding new tactics based on what I call the four realities of a slowdown. Here they are and how to respond.
Reality #1: The competition for jobs is keener.
From an employer's point of view, hiring is always a competition - he wants to compare several candidates for every position, so he can pick the best one. They key to standing out in is to prepare better than your competition in the following ways:
- Focus on skills, not job titles. First, list the skills you used in your last job, and be able to describe how they were important. These are not always obvious. A retail manager in a Best Buy might know electronics, but his or her key skills are communicating face-to-face, managing inventory, and customer service. When searching jobs, or planning an interview, he/she should focus on those skills.
- Research a broader range of jobs.If you're not sure which jobs your skills can fill, use one of the six searches on this great resource, which lists dozens of skills used in hundreds of occupations:
- Out-hustle your competition.That means preparing in advance before you even call or apply for a job. Do a little research about the company where you apply for a job by studying their web site or, even better, talking to their customers. Above all, prepare stories about your successes at your last job, so you can prove you can do a great job in the next position. The best way to tell these stories is called the PAR format, which stands for Problem-Action-Result. Briefly, think of a time you did a good job, then tell about it in this way: 1) Describe the problem you faced, 2) Describe the action you took, and 3) Describe the result (and of course, make sure it was a good result). With three or four of these stories you'll be much more impressive than the competition.
Reality #2: Jobs are less visible.
Even in a recession, there's a lot of business activity, but it's harder to find because businesses advertise less and make less news. You have to go beyond the local paper to know which employers are still strong,
- Yes, this means networking. Start with friends, family, local bankers, the chamber of commerce, and government job centers. The quick way to network: Have a 90-second statement in which you say what your best skills are, where you've worked and what you're looking for. Then, ask who they know who might introduce you to an employer. The key to networking is not the people you know, it's the people they know that you don't.
- When you search jobs online, note not just the jobs but also the employers, because you'll learn which companies are strong enough to hire. Then get in touch with the HR people or owners of that business, asking for a 20-minute chance to discuss what you offer.
Reality #3: Flexibility is strength.
When people say, "You have to be flexible," they usually mean you have to work for less money. That might be the case in a tough economy. But there are other kinds of flexibility - working different hours, commuting a bit farther, taking a contract or temporary job. It's only a temporary setback if you think strategically:
- Keep networking even when you have a temporary job. You'll get a better job quickly as the economy turns around.
- Carry a personal business card with your name, address, phone number and email. You can get great ones for about $20 at www.vistaprint.com Then hand out 10-25 a week to everyone you meet, and give people that quick talk about what you're looking for. This might seem random, but in fact it gets the word out fast.
- If you can find temporary work that teaches you new skills, or brings you in contact with lots of people, take advantage of those opportunities. Even if you have to take a "Plan B" job, increase your skills with a class, a volunteer job or online course or two, to be more qualified and move up faster.
Reality #4: Bad news is discouraging.
How do you stay energized and optimistic when the weeks drag on and you still haven't found a job? Don't become what the government calls a "discouraged worker," someone who's stopped looking. Here are ways to keep your job search fresh:
- Track your progress. Put a big calendar on the refrigerator and keep count of every phone call, every networking meeting, every job application, every resume sent out, every visit to the job center, every hour spent really researching employers in your area. Simple but true: one major way to shorten your job search is to put in more hours each week on it.
- Use every strategy you can learn. Look for jobs and employers online, read about job search techniques, network, take advantage of state and local government resources. Variety in a job search creates new possibilities.
- Set aside no more than 6 hours a week for a special recreation, hobby or interest. Make it active (not watching television). Exercise, join a midweek church activity, finish that sewing project or paint the garage. The break is energizing, especially during traditional work hours. Everyone today has to master the up-and-down cycles of the economy. The extra skills you develop looking for work during a slowdown will stay with you for the rest of your working life, and when business picks up, you'll be front of the line to take on new opportunities.