We all know somebody who experienced unemployment during the Great Recession. With monthly job losses averaging 712,000 from October 2008 through March 2009 – the most severe 6-month period since 1945, when World War II was ending – new applicants continually flooded the market.
Could a similar situation loom on the horizon? While such a scenario seems hard to imagine when the unemployment rate stood at 4 percent or less each month during the first half of 2019, business economists predict the U.S. will fall into a recession within the next two years. And when layoffs begin coming fast and furious, people need to realize that job hunting becomes a whole new ballgame.
"The big difference is that job seekers must shift from a more passive 'keeping an eye out' for positions online to a much more proactive strategy," says Duncan Mathison, co-author of Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough. "When the economy is strong and applicants are in short supply, employers spend more money and time recruiting, posting, and advertising jobs. This makes positions much easier to find with little effort. During recessions when applicants may be easier to find, recruiting budgets are cut and postings are more limited as employers take a more passive approach to recruiting."
What steps do you need to take when searching for a job during a recession? Here are six strategies to increase the odds of landing a position during an economic downturn.
- Search harder and smarter
The basic tenants of job hunting don't change in a weak job market, but the amount of time and targeted effort that job seekers must put into a job search to be successful increase dramatically. Develop (and stick to) a daily schedule outlining tangible goals. When you set your goals, think about measurable achievements over hours, as time spent in front of a computer doesn't always translate into productivity.
For example you might set the following goals for yourself:
- Send out five customized resumes and cover letters each day
- Reconnect with five former colleaguese every month
- Compile research on one company of interest each day
- Only apply for realistic roles
Mathison notes that when there is a recession, people who rely heavily on job boards make a common mistake that "will kill an effective job search."
"They will be more open to positions and geography – applying for positions that are long shots, positions too far beneath their skills and knowledge, or positions that would require a move they are unwilling or unable to make," he says. "It takes time – wasted time – to do long-shot applications. Focus your search. Restrict job board applications to positions that are a good fit with your objectives."
- Create better application materials
With a deep pool of applicants during a recession, busy hiring managers won't bother reading poorly formatted resumes or typo-filled cover letters. Craft flawless documents that have been proofread several times to ensure they are clean and readable. Before you apply, be certain to include all the information the employer asks to see.
To get attention during an economic downturn, your resume and cover letter must be customized to the job ad in order to get past an applicant tracking system. Forget sending out generic resumes and cover letters – they won't pass muster when competition is stiff.
To customize your resume and cover letter, study the job ad to find keywords related to skills and qualifications that are critical to the role and use these in your materials. For assistance composing industry-specific application materials, consider using LiveCareer's resume builder and cover letter builder.
- Shine in interviews
When you land an interview, make the most of the opportunity by dressing professionally, arriving on time, and displaying your best business etiquette. Then, be ready to show a company with a recession-reduced budget why you'd give the organization the most bang for the buck.
"When employers have a lot of applicants, hiring managers shift their attitude from who can do the job to who will be a 'top 20% performer,'" Mathison says, referrring to a theory that the top 20 percent of employees get 80 percent of the work done at a company.
"Job seekers should ask themselves about what qualities, knowledge, or skills make someone in their profession a top 20% performer," he added. "Prepare for common interview questions with answers that reflect not just that you can do a job but how you routinely seek to be above average in the speed, quality of work, and professional growth."
After your interview, send a thoughtful thank-you note to stay top-of-mind. Especially in a weak job market, continue to show your interest by following-up with the employer until you know for certain the job has been filled or no longer exists.
- Explore multiple employment avenues
Lastly, don't rely on any one technique to find your next job. The best approach, especially in a weak job market, is a multifaceted approach using a number of job-search techniques, such as:
- job boards (especially niche ones)
- job fairs
- working with a recruiter
- contacting your alma mater's career office
- temping (and hoping it might lead to something permanent)
- cold contact
Mathison suggests building a list of companies in your target area that employ people with your type of skills and knowledge. Watch their website's career section for opportunities, but also send the list of targeted employers to everyone you know. Someone may be able to give you extra information or get you tied into an employee referral program. This combination of direct research and basic networking takes more work, but it will uncover opportunities well ahead of the crowd.
- Invest some time in networking
Speaking of networking . . . don't underestimate its power. In a recessionary economy, networking must be a key part of your strategy since fewer organizations are actively seeking new hires.
Tap into your existing connections, but also work hard to find new people to add to your network. That former colleague you reconnect with on LinkedIn or that friend of a neighbor you meet at a picnic might hold the key to ending your recession-induced job hunting woes.
And don't just network from behind the computer. Getting out, shaking hands, and making eye contact in real life can go a long way towards making you memorable to potential employers and referrals alike.