20 Habits of Highly Effective Job Seekers in a Down Market
By Ford R. Myers
President, Career Potential, LLC
Even in a down market, job seekers and employees are not powerless or without recourse. In fact, you have more control over your career circumstances than you might think. I’ve developed 20 specific strategies and tactics that consistently generate powerful results for job seekers, even when it seems that “no one’s hiring.”
1. Network, network, network. Continually increase your level of networking and keep expanding your contact database. Reach out to reestablish and nourish business and personal relationships. Offer to help others, even if they’re not in a position to help you (because what goes around comes around). There is no substitute for connecting with people one-on-one. Stay connected and don’t isolate yourself. Being out of work does not mean you have to be out of touch, so be sure to build and maintain your networking momentum.
2. Seek help. Get career support from a professional. A qualified career coach can better prepare you to land your next position. If career coaching is unaffordable for you, take advantage of the support provided by government programs, nonprofit agencies, job search groups, college/alumni career centers, or faith-based missions for the unemployed and underemployed. If you’re thinking of changing industries, get some career testing. If you’re struggling emotionally, get help from a mental health service provider.
3. Read career books and attend career seminars. Take advantage of learning opportunities to improve your job search and career management skills. Keeping informed of business trends will help you gain greater knowledge of the industries and careers that are poised for future growth. Stay plugged into the market and your field to ensure that you’ll be current, and to maintain your intellectual capital. Apply what you learn, and generate stronger search results.
4. Leverage technology. Utilize Web sites and online services to connect with your industry and to build greater visibility. Create a career web site, using tools like VisualCV (www.visualcv.com) and LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). Reach out through social networking sites, such as Facebook (www.facebook.com), MySpace (www.myspace.com), and Twitter (www.twitter.com). Keep in touch with colleagues consistently via e-mail. In addition to leveraging career portals and job boards, learn how to use online tools like blogs, wikis, and virtual job fairs. Focus on optimizing your online identity.
5. Differentiate yourself. Position yourself as an expert by writing articles, giving presentations, or teaching a class. Get involved in professional organizations, and assume leadership roles there. Do something noteworthy in your community that will garner special recognition and build your positive reputation. Focus on what makes you special, and build your brand within your industry.
6. Use your time off wisely. Pursue professional development by participating in classes, seminars, certifications, and industry conferences. Take advantage of free and low-cost programs to enhance your credentials. Explore more of your world to generate new ideas. Do the important things that you never had time to do when you were working full-time. Enjoy the feeling of still being productive and making a contribution.
7. Pursue a temporary, part-time, or contract position. Volunteer, provide pro bono work, take on a consulting contract, or complete an internship or apprenticeship. This tactic is especially useful for those who wish to pursue a career in a different industry. Keep yourself in the game, so you won’t lose traction in your career growth.
8. Act with speed and urgency. One way for you to get an edge over other candidates is to demonstrate that you’re more serious and more determined than the competition. Show up earlier. Arrive more prepared. Move quickly and efficiently. Make an impression by being more responsive and assertive than the others.
9. Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, get plenty of rest. You’ll need to be healthy and vital to maintain the pace of an active job search campaign. Stay in close touch with friends and family. Keep-up with your interests, hobbies, and activities. Follow your normal routines, even as you work hard on getting the job you want. Maintain balance in your life, and don’t let the job search become all-consuming.
10. Be flexible and adaptable. Consider shifting industries and/or being geographically mobile to open-up more career possibilities, even if you would not ordinarily choose these options. Rather than waiting for the perfect opportunity, offer your skills to other industries and lend your experience to different positions. Do whatever you need to do (within reason) to keep your career intact and earn a living. But NEVER lose sight of your career direction and long-term career goals!
11. Improve and enhance all of the documents in your career portfolio. Now is the time to expand your career portfolio far beyond just the resume. You’ll need a one-page professional biography, a collection of powerful accomplishment stories, a series of compelling cover letters, a page of professional references, a list of targeted employers, a 30-second commercial (elevator speech), and other items. Craft a unified package that consistently conveys a highly professional image of yourself.
12. Identify industries that will emerge stronger when the market improves. Research emerging opportunities and niches that will offer career growth, and position yourself to take advantage of these trends. (Healthcare, education, and security are some fields that are expected to continue expanding.) If your field has collapsed, be sure to communicate your transferable strengths and the tangible value you offer, rather than focusing on the trade skills from your old industry. Adapt to the realities of the changing work world, rather than holding onto your old career identity out of fear, resentment, or even nostalgia.
13. Practice interviewing and negotiation skills. In an ideal world, you would have been practicing your interviewing and negotiation skills while you were fully employed, rather than waiting for a career crisis to arise. But now that the employment market is in crisis, it’s that much more important to polish and perfect these skills. Solicit the help of a partner to role-play with you, and switch roles as needed with the questions and answers. Practice with an audio-recording device, and listen to yourself as you continually improve your performance.
14. Be patient, but persistent. When the job market is bad, employers will prolong the hiring process, and your search is bound to take longer than usual. There is not much a candidate can do to rush things, so you’ll need to be patient. However, this does not mean you should sit by the phone waiting for the employer to contact you. You’ll want to pursue two basic strategies: (1) Be persistent, but don’t be a pest, as you follow up consistently on every opportunity; and (2) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Instead, keep moving forward as you explore every appropriate opening you can find. One benefit of pursuing multiple positions is that if you don’t get an offer, or if an employer never gets back to you, you won’t feel crushed.
15. Focus on tangible results and practical solutions. In a healthy job market, candidates can market themselves with their employment history, education, and related assets. But when no one’s hiring, there needs to be a relentless focus on tangible, positive results. The primary question in the employer’s mind will be, “What can you do for me – now?” This means that you should zero in and quickly identify the employer’s most pressing needs and challenges – and then explain exactly how your relevant accomplishments will allow you to successfully address those issues in the short term.
16. Work from a budget. Instead of going into a panic or worrying that you’ll lose everything you’ve worked for, conduct a detailed analysis of your financial situation and develop a family budget. You may discover that you’re in a better financial position than you had thought. While you’re in transition, cut back on expenses and live as frugally as you reasonably can. Examine and update this budget on a weekly basis. This sort of discipline will pay-off by stretching your dollars and providing some peace of mind.
17. Be kind to yourself. Your experience of being out of work or looking for a new job will be determined by how you look at it. You have a choice. You can beat yourself up, feel like a loser, and be riddled with guilt and shame. Or, you can look at your situation in a more positive way. Realize that you are not to blame for the economic meltdown or the high unemployment numbers. You didn’t do anything wrong, and you’re still a highly qualified professional. There is no longer the same stigma there used to be about being unemployed, as almost every family in America will be touched by layoffs and downsizings. Forgive yourself, forgive your ex-employer, and forgive the world. Move on toward a better career future.
18. Pay extra attention to your personal image. First impressions count. Make a deliberate, consistent effort to present yourself in the best light. Ask yourself, “How can I enhance my attributes in the following areas: hair, eyeglasses, makeup, hands, clothes, shoes, accessories, posture, smile?” Now is the ideal time to take stock of your appearance, and make whatever changes you feel could improve your job search results.
19. Watch your attitude. Job search is really an inside game, especially when no one’s hiring. That is, the outcome of your search will have much more to do with how you think about it than with the external circumstances of the job market. Avoid the gloom and doom messages disseminated by the media, and stay away from any negative people in your life who bring you down. Maintain a positive attitude, and never state anything negative or act desperate. Spend some time each day focusing in and recalibrating your internal attitude. Even if you’re out of a job, you probably have many other wonderful things in your life, so remember to be grateful.
20. Be philosophical. Think of the old saying, “Things happen for a reason.” It usually turns out to be true. Look at the big-picture view of your recent change in employment. If you’re like a lot of my clients, after a time you may come to see this transition as a blessing in disguise. Many candidates go on to find jobs that are better than the ones they had before. Others take the opportunity to explore other careers, rediscover their professional passions, and make important decisions. While you certainly didn’t ask to be forced into a job search by the economic crisis, try to find the life lessons and new perspectives in this transition. Commit to yourself that, somehow, you will make this a rewarding and productive experience.
Conducting a successful job search campaign takes energy, discipline, and career support. Despite the pressures you may face in today’s employment market, you must stay focused on your goals and search smart.
Copyright © 2010, Career Potential, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to Reprint: This article may be reprinted, provided it appears in its entirety with the following attribution: Copyright © 2010, Career Potential, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Ford R. Myers, a nationally-known Career Expert and author of “Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring.” For information about career services and products, visit www.careerpotential.com and www.fordmyers.com.