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How to Job Search During Economic Downturns

Angie Tran

Content Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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When the economy suffers, so do many people who find themselves unemployed. Professional, committed workers, accustomed to job security and satisfaction, have the rug pulled from under them, and suddenly have a new and highly undesirable job on their hands — searching for a job.

Like the Great Recession of 2008, the “Great Lockdown” of 2020 is one of those times. It’s estimated that close to 200 million people worldwide could lose their jobs as entire industries grind to a halt. 

Now for the good news: recessions always end. Once closures are lifted, and the economic engine starts humming again, the job market will return to life. Even so, finding employment isn’t an overnight venture. It can take anywhere from 23 days to five months to land a new job. That’s why — even during an economic downturn — it’s critical to start searching right now.

How does job hunting look in lockdown? What’s the best way to manage a job search during economically-trying times and still come out successful? Here are some tips to keep in mind.

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Research Which Industries Have Promising Job Prospects

Every economic downturn is different. When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, it was hi-tech and programming jobs that took the hit. In the recession of 2008, the financial services and construction industries took a steep dive. With COVID-19, people working in travel, hospitality, and customer-facing services are out of work, and almost all other industries are affected to some degree. Yet, in every recession, there are areas of the economy that still perform — and even outperform. 

In a recession, job seekers must find the industries that are functioning and growing, and see how their skills overlap with possible job openings in those industries. This is the time to get creative and think outside of the box. For example, an event planner with excellent organizational skills could consider pivoting to a career in the wider field of project management, which is in high demand. 

Don’t Lose Focus

Losing a job is very scary, especially when the economy is in recession. For the unemployed, any job might seem like an opportunity not to be missed, and many fall into the trap of sending out resumes left, right, and center, even for positions that are not an ideal long-term fit. 

Although job openings decrease overall in economic downturns, there are still plenty of opportunities to be had. Many companies and sectors continue hiring. In the 2007-2009 recession, employment even increased in education and health services. During COVID-19, consumer goods, household, and wellness industries have seen employment booms, with Amazon opening up 100,000 new jobs and CVS Health looking to add 50,000 new hires.

The fact is, there are jobs out there, so there’s no need to jump headlong into the first offer. Job seekers shouldn’t waste their own time — or a potential employer’s time — applying for a position outside of their areas of interest and expertise or those that are not feasible in terms of commute time or work hours. Rather, use the energy to focus on the positions that are a good match and have real potential.

Connect With the Widest Possible Network

Online job boards and employer websites are a popular way to job search, but they are in fact the least effective. In 2018, job boards accounted for nearly half of job applications worldwide, yet only a fifth of job hires

It’s natural to turn to former colleagues and LinkedIn contacts for hot leads on open positions. After all, co-workers are the ones who know a person best in a professional setting, and they can provide the most reliable recommendations. However, a recession is a time to look beyond the standard job search sites and even professional networks to other connections who can help. A quick email or phone call to a well-connected acquaintance or relative can give job seekers access to many positions that are never advertised, which make up the so-called “hidden” job market.

Think About Going Freelance or Consulting

When the job market is uncertain, experienced professionals can choose to open a freelance or consulting business in lieu of searching for a salaried position. This is a particularly smart move for people who’ve developed specialized expertise in a specific niche, and who’ve built a solid network of relevant contacts who could potentially turn into clients. It can also be an interim option until the employment market rebounds — and who knows? The business could even take off and become a real success.

Brush Up on Professional Development

During the COVID-19 lockdown, people worldwide are self-isolating, and that provides a unique opportunity to work on themselves. While job searching demands a lot of time and energy, there is still plenty of both left over to devote to upskilling. 

Once the job search is underway, it’s easier to get a feel for the types of opportunities that are out there. Perhaps there’s a high demand for people who are skilled in a particular software program. Some companies are turning to more digital-based business and marketing strategies during the coronavirus period, which means there are openings for people familiar with them. 

Job seekers should devote time to professional development, and fortunately, there’s no shortage of free and paid online education courses available. Upskilling gives candidates a huge competitive advantage when interviewing for positions, and this is even more important for a job search during a recession. 

For additional reading on the best online education options: 

Put the Best Foot Forward

Some two months after COVID-19 first hit U.S. shores, there were 16 million unemployed people throughout the country. During a recession, when so many workers are laid off at once, the job market is much more competitive than usual. Serious job seekers have no choice but to stay on their game. A positive and optimistic attitude will radiate to potential employers and create a great impression that will help land the job. 

There are steps people can take while unemployed to keep spirits up. Make sure to stick to a routine. Wake up at the same time each morning, and schedule the day in blocks of time. For example, devote three hours every morning to searching and applying for jobs, followed by an hour of at-home exercise, a lunch date over Zoom with a friend, and two hours of professional development in the afternoon. Create a sense of purpose to keep motivated every day.

Practice Interviewing Skills

One of the most important elements of a job search is the interview. During a long period of social distancing or after a stretch of unemployment due to recession, it can be difficult to keep up the confidence and conversational abilities that are so important to succeed in job interviews.

Job seekers need to use the time between employment to brush up on interviewing skills and the only way to do that is to practice, practice, practice. There are a few ways to effectively practice interviewing while at home. One is doing a mock interview with a friend or relative. If there’s a friend willing to help who also works in management and can provide professional feedback, all the better. If this isn’t an option, there are loads of mock interview platforms and tools available online, both for simulated or live practice. Some are free, while others charge a small fee.

For job hunters who prefer to keep it simple, there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned mirror. Simply print out a list of interview practice questions from the internet, and face your own music!

Last, But Not Least: Keep an Open Mind

Managing a job search during a recession is like walking a tightrope. On the one hand, it’s not the time to be overly rigid and demanding. The job market is highly competitive, and many prospective employers have reduced the HR tap to a trickle or closed it altogether. On the other hand, no job seeker should ever undersell themselves, or settle for a job under poor conditions. So how to best keep the balance?

First, be very knowledgeable about market rates and conditions, and how these have changed during the economic crisis. That knowledge puts the job seeker in the best possible position to assess when an offer is good, just a bit off, or a definite no-go. Second, keep an open mind. Being flexible and receptive to new ideas may just open the door to an unexpected and satisfying career path. 

These aren’t normal times. Searching for a job during the COVID-19 recession has unique challenges on top of the usual stress of unemployment. Maintaining the delicate balancing act between knowing one’s worth and staying flexible is the best way to navigate the job search tightrope with success, even when times are tough. 

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