10 Secrets for Searching for a Job During a Recession

Focusing your efforts on jobs in growing industries and demonstrating how your work has generated revenue are just two simple ways to distinguish yourself from the rest of the job seekers competing for positions in a down economy.

With the U.S. economy inching closer to a recession, the job market is changing dramatically. Competition for jobs is heating up as an increasing number of skilled professionals, laid off from their companies, flood the market. Firms are reconsidering their hiring plans as they wait for the softening economy to firm up. And while the Internet has made it easier than ever for job seekers to post their resumes, that convenience has made it harder for candidates to stand out. Even the basics of a job search—resumes, cover letters, interviews and negotiations—have changed as a result of the economy. It's no longer an employee's market, and job seekers have to adapt accordingly—sometimes in radical ways that benefit employers more than job seekers.

If you're tired of struggling to find a job and don't want an economic slowdown to hurt your chances of landing a new one, follow the best practices outlined in this story for conducting a job search when times are tight.


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1. Forget the "shotgun" job search method.

Many people still use the "shotgun" method for conducting a job search. They read the Sunday job ads; they submit a standard resume to as many job boards as they can find; they call on a few friends. Then they submit their standard resume to either a handful of opportunities each week, or they submit to dozens of jobs with the same resume as long as the position sounds remotely interesting.

"As job seekers become more fearful of the economy, they fall back on the shotgun method because it feels like they're out there working it," says Phil Rosenberg, former division director of Robert Half International who's now CEO and founder of reCareered, a career counseling and resume writing firm.

The problem with the shotgun method is that it does not work, especially in a job market where employers have the pick of the litter. In fact, it does more harm than good. Recruiters are not likely to want to help you because you have given all potential hiring firms free access to your information, which negates the value they provide to their clients. Second, you commoditize yourself: By posting your resume everywhere, you become indistinguishable from a plethora of job seekers with similar skills. Consequently, hiring firms can immediately negotiate on price, driving your salary down or out. What's more, when you try to be all things to all prospective employers by sending a standard resume to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. Your resume won't get noticed because it doesn't stand out.

2. Start with a plan to find the right company first and the job second.

What the shotgun method lacks—and what every job seeker needs—is a specific idea of the job they want and a plan on how to get it. Yet few job seekers start with these ideas since both require thought and time. Pressed to quickly find a new source of income, most job seekers don't feel they can afford the time needed to create a big-picture strategy; they simply want to apply to as many positions as quickly as possible. They feel they need to act, not sit and think.

That mentality is born of shortsighted fear. It's not the mentality of a long-term, solutions-oriented leader. Keep in mind that hiring managers want leaders with demonstrated success in finding creative solutions to difficult problems. Business plans, project plans, budgets and presentations all take time to research and develop. So does differentiating your job search. By taking the time to zero in on a specific career goal and to plan an effective job search, you demonstrate to hiring managers your clarity and ability to manage projects. It's a strategy that's worked well for me. One of my own recent interviewers commented, "So very few candidates truly understand what they really want that it is an eye-opening 'ah-hah, this guy is different' moment when someone can confidently communicate that to (us)."

The amount of time this planning requires varies by person, but it can range from as little as a few minutes for job seekers who have already committed to specific industries and geographies to a few days for those who are less certain of their goals. Since I was originally looking to change industries, I spent more than two weeks researching the leading firms in the industry.

For information on how to create and manage a job search project plan see my blog entry on the topic, Using Project Planning Skills in a Job Search.

3. Focus on growth industries and specializations.

Picking an industry that is still growing or is predicted to grow during these difficult economic times increases your chances of landing a new job and decreases your chances of getting laid off again.

Most of the job search engines, career sites and economists agree that the top industries for 2008 include...

Most of the job search engines, career sites and economists agree that the top industries for 2008 include

Experts from the executive placement industry recommend selecting two or three industries along with the region(s) where you are willing to live, and then selecting the top ten firms you'll target based on your industry and location criteria. Focusing your attention on a shortlist of prospective employers (as opposed to following up on every job ad you see) will make your research more manageable and will make it easier for you to identify the key decision-makers inside those companies with whom you need to connect.

It's important to be realistic about the industries and firms you're choosing. In my own job search, I initially attempted to change industries from financial services to defense. But after four months of disappointing results, I learned how difficult it is to overcome the new security clearance requirements enacted after 9/11—especially in today's economic climate. That lost time sapped my finances and a bit of my confidence. Luckily, I was able to recharge and rebuild my plan over the holidays. My new plan included evaluating the types of firms and business environments I enjoy working in beyond just top-ranked corporations. I also significantly reduced the time I spent searching for positions outside of my immediate region, since my relocation costs have repeatedly been cited by prospective employers as cause for dropping me from consideration over the past few months.

Within the IT profession, the areas of specialization in highest demand today include

The highest paid individuals in these specializations are those who have earned industry certifications and possess in-depth technical and managerial experience, according to reCareered's Rosenberg. So a useful tactic in finding a new job is to expand your subject matter expertise in those key technologies, which can include earning an industry-rated certification or master's degree. If you lack technical certifications or advanced degrees, you can still impress cost-conscious employers by presenting yourself as a lower cost, increasing-value team player. Demonstrating your commitment to your industry and specialization with ongoing, self-directed (read, self-paid) training towards key certifications impresses employers.

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