Tips for Finding Employment in Hard Times


To beat the job-hunting pack, you'll need to take risks, be realistic, and understand your potential employer's needs

We can all agree that times are tough. Everywhere I turn, it seems that more companies are cutting jobs across the board. It's not just General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) anymore; everyone from Starbucks (SBUX) to Sun Microsystems (JAVA) to Citigroup (C) is announcing massive layoffs at all levels.

If you're gainfully employed, you're probably relieved it's not you. But if your company isn't among those that have had to slash jobs, I'm sure you at least know someone who has been affected.

As a professional résumé writer, I'm particularly interested in career development and the job search in general. I come in contact with all types of people, from Gen Yers just starting out to baby boomers looking for a job to carry them through to retirement. Of course, it can be especially tough to find a job in economic times like these. But there are some methods that can help you navigate through the madness, and I'd like to share some outside-the-box tips for finding a job today.

Take Chances

I started my full-time, one-year MBA program in July 2001, so you can imagine what my class' job prospects looked like after September 11 (really bad). Companies that were supposed to interview on-campus canceled and those that did interview had few, if any, jobs available. We were encouraged to network, but calling contacts only gets you so far in distressed economic times.

What can work, though, is getting in at the ground level. No, I don't mean through the mail room. Temporary work ("temping") can be a great way to introduce yourself to potential employers. It may not feel good to be making $10 per hour doing data entry for 8 hours a day, especially after you've worked hard to gain an advanced degree. But if you make a good impression with your new client, you could gain full-time employment in a few months. Some companies only hire staff starting in these entry positions, and once you've gotten in the door as a temp, you can look at open in-house positions to which others won't have access. Even if it doesn't work out for long-term employment, at least you'll be paying the rent instead of racking up the credit card bills while looking for a job.

Be Realistic

Understand that you may not get the title or pay that you want. It's great to be optimistic, and certainly you should apply for your dream job. But this is not a great time to try to jump from project manager to director-level when so many people with years of executive experience are losing their jobs. The competition out there is fierce, and to succeed you need to consider jobs at all levels, especially if you have been out of the workforce for a few years. Many big companies will require that you start at a lower level before jumping to any leadership position. Two of my previous employers, Procter & Gamble (PG) and FedEx (FDX), typically require all candidates to start small before moving into the big leagues.

Limitations of Networking

Professional networking sites like LinkedIn and the Business Exchange are great ways to grow your base, especially when connecting with past colleagues or classmates. But these networks must be used wisely for best results. When I look at professional online forums, I see many people advertising their availability. This is a fine way to meet fellow job searchers, but truthfully, the majority of hiring managers are too busy to sort through these forums to find potential candidates. Networking is great, but be mindful before spending hours surfing the Net for new friends and forums.

Revamp Your Résumé

One common mistake people make when writing their résumé is to focus on themselves, their abilities, and their lives. Prospective employees will often advertise that they are looking for "increased responsibility" or "great opportunities" with a new company.

Let me break it to you: Companies are not waiting around to offer you that dream job. They want to know what you have to offer them, not what you are hoping to gain. Quantify your accomplishments and highlight what you have done. Demonstrate that you understand the industry lingo and even sprinkle a few buzzwords into the mix.

Yes, it's rugged out there today, but you can increase your chances of gaining employment by thinking differently than all the other job searchers. Best of luck in your job search!

Colleen Paulson is an engineer turned MBA and analyst who specializes in writing executive resumes. Based in Pittsburgh and a longtime BusinessWeek reader, she also created the Recession Job Search topic on Business Exchange.

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