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.

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Complicating matters is the need for resumes to address three different audiences simultaneously: a junior recruiter or HR person screening for certain keywords, the senior recruiter looking for skills and experience, and the hiring manager, who is looking for team fit and specific relevant successes, says Marc Cenedella, founder, president and CEO of TheLadders.com.

Executive recruiters, resume writers and career specialists recommend that job seekers spend at least three to four hours customizing each resume for each opportunity. Tailoring your resume to each opportunity is even more critical in a sluggish economy and competitive job market: Employers want specialists with specific, creative solutions, not generalists with vague ideas.

To ensure that your resume works for (and not against) you, I recommend writing it more like a proposal than a job description. Focus on the immediate results you can offer as well as the long-term benefits you bring. Explain how your subject matter expertise can help your target firm address its specific challenges and opportunities and how your leadership and executive skills achieve bottom-line results. The key is to make your points relevant to the employer, not to your ego. In other words, it doesn't matter if you were top dog in your prior firm; you need to clearly show how your experience as the top dog will benefit your prospective employer.

One way to present challenges you've addressed on your resume is using the STAR analysis process, which breaks your challenges into situations, tasks, actions and results. What was the initial situation you walked into? What task or responsibility did you take on? What actions did you undertake? What were the immediate and big-picture results? A shorter version calls for simply noting each major challenge and accomplishment, generally in a case study-like format. The point is to present the greatest information relevant to the prospective employer's needs in the briefest context.

Also, use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to make your resume keyword- and key-phrase rich. Select 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 the right keywords for the type and level of position you're pursuing. Using 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.

Next: Think Long-Term

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.

Finally, make sure you know the intimate details of your resume and all of your accomplishments, adds McCann. You need to be ready to elaborate in great detail on processes, facts, time lines, technologies, costs and all manner of statistics on all firms and projects directly related to the position for which you are interviewing.

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.

If you focus your efforts on companies in growth industries where your skills are suited, and if you emphasize your ability to have an immediate impact on prospective employers' bottom lines, you'll be poised for success no matter how bad the economy. As Gregory Laka and Company's McCann notes, "There are not a lot of people who can leave their thumbprint on a business. Those individuals are the top 10 percent of the talent pool. They are the people that businesses will always look to hire no matter what the market or economy."

Mark Cummuta writes the CIO Job Search blog on CIO.com.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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