April 24, 2020

Office Hours: Job Hunting During a Recession

This post originally appeared on Medium.

We won’t sugarcoat this for you. If you’re a recent grad just starting out, finding a job is going to be tough right now. The economy is down and there’s a lot of uncertainty about when things may turn around. Many companies are focusing on reserving cash and paying the team they have.

But there are still open jobs out there. Many companies are still hiring — either to replace folks in critical roles that previously left or to grow the teams that will help them grow the business. It’s still possible to find a job right now. Job seekers will have to be more nimble and persistent in finding them, especially ones who are entering the market with more potential than proven experience.

Follow these tips to get yourself ready to find the right job, even when times are tough.

Be prepared.

We often start our job search advice with “do your research.” And for good reason — nothing turns a hiring manager or executive off more than a job seeker who is unprepared and unaware of widely available information.

When looking for a job in a crisis, being prepared is even more important because there are more qualified candidates than there are available jobs. You’ll have to be willing to go the extra mile to stand out. Being prepared is an easy way to do that.

Before you submit an application, make sure you’ve done the necessary leg work. Start with the company and understand their products, their competitors and their team. Read the company blog, follow their leaders on social media, do a news search to read their press coverage. The goal is to know as much as you reasonably can about the company.

Then, dig into their industry. How is the industry projected to fare during an economic downturn? Where does this company stand within its industry — are they a major player setting the tone for everyone else or a young, upstart trying to disrupt the status quo? What are the major trends that all companies in the space will have to adapt to? In this economic climate, every company is considering whether they’ll see a surge in new customers or a precipitous drop in demand. Make sure you understand how this company’s industry will be affected and how the company will weather the storm.

Be polished.

You’ve done your research, so now it’s time to show the company that you’ve gone that extra mile. Spend time poring over the posting for the job you’re applying for. Then, tailor your resume and cover letter specifically to the needs of the position and the company. Companies are not taking on the added expense of hiring someone new unless they have to, so having someone in the role must be important for the business. Read through the job description with a critical eye to figure out how this role fits into the overall success of the business. The hints will be there!

For example, if you’re applying for an Account Executive role, you may be required to work closely with current and prospective clients so relationship management and sales skills will be a must have. Keywords like “great communicator,” “go getter,” and “prioritizes goals” will tip you off to what success looks like in the role.

Take those keywords and use them to tailor your resume and cover letter just for this job. Are they looking for someone who can cold call prospects? Include the time you went door to door canvassing for a ballot initiative on your resume. Oh, they need someone who can meet ambitious goals too? Use your cover letter to tell the story of how you crushed your personal best on your club sports team. Make sure you actually use those same keywords in both your resume and cover letter. Some companies use automated systems to scan and reject applicants based on whether their resumes include certain words. Tilt the odds in your favor by including  language they’re using. 
Bonus: here’s a helpful guide on crafting and formatting your resume and cover letter.

Be flexible.

Finding a full-time job in the midst of economic uncertainty requires a lot of flexibility. When a company does decide to hire in this kind of economic environment, they have an extraordinary amount of leverage. They benefit from the increased demand for the smaller supply of jobs, especially quality ones. And if it’s a company building a cool product and offering decent pay, benefits, and a strong team culture, they have even more of an upper hand.

That means you, the job seeker, will have to be incredibly flexible to nab the job you want. You’ll need to be flexible on the exact kind of role, the salary, and even the location of the job. You may have had your heart set on working in project management, but now customer success might be the only thing available. Rather than being precise about what you want out of a job, broaden your focus to include jobs that can affirmatively answer these two questions — “will I learn useful skills here?” and “will I like working with these people?”

Again, it’s a tough market and there are more qualified candidates than there are jobs. Digging in your heels will mean you’re looking for work longer than if you’re flexible about what you’re willing to accept. Do some yoga stretches now and be prepared to bend for the job you want.

Be patient.

Recessions force companies to move more slowly than usual, and much more slowly than they’d like to. Founders and leaders of that company are keeping their eyes on the numbers every day. Where they previously were driven by growing sales, many will shift to trying to simply keep and service their current customers. They’re similarly keeping an eye on holding down expenses as tightly as they can. Even if their teams desperately need a new engineer or content marketer, they may delay making that hire as long as they can keep expenses down and conserve additional cash.

This means job seekers should plan to be in it for the long haul. Even if you’re charming the pants off of every recruiter and HR manager you speak to. Even if you’re willing to take any job to get your foot in the door. Even if you have an amazing skill set that’s in high demand.

Remember, each company is trying their best to maintain and take care of their current employees. Don’t take any slowness in the hiring process as an indicator of your ability or fit for the role.

Be a hustler.

If you, like most Americans, still need to make money while you’re on the hunt for the right full-time job, be prepared to hustle in the meantime.

While many companies won’t be able to hire people full-time, and provide all the benefits that come with being a full-time employee, they may still be willing to pay contractors for help. Think about what skills you have, what skills you’re looking to build, and see if you can contract or consult for a business that needs them. Really into social media? Reach out to some smaller businesses to see if they need help creating content or managing their online presences. Know how to code? See if that tech startup might need an extra set of hands.

You likely won’t be able to charge a lot at first because they may not have big budgets but that extra money could help you stay afloat while also building your resume.

Finding a job in a down economy is going to be tougher than normal. But it’s not impossible. Follow these tips and keep your head up. You’ll eventually find a role where you can learn, grow and start your career off on the right foot.