Jobs Search - against all odds and the recession

As is now well known, statistics on the average person having to involuntarily look for a new job is between three and five times in a career span. "Job security" - as generations before us knew it, seems to have failed to transcend the generational threshold. Though we are all well aware of this "new reality", it is an utmost difficult thing to think ahead and plan for these sudden changes. After all how do you remain faithful to your current job, give it your very best and still be looking elsewhere - just in case?

If you are unemployed at the moment or have a hunch/fear that you may be - soon, it is highly likely that your career is not over, not unless you want to pull the plug yourself. However, tighten your belt because the ride may be bumpy at the least, and quite rough at the most. Despite all discrimination laws, the ride will be bumpier and rougher the older you are. When you think about it, discrimination may not have much to do with it at all. The older you are, your experience and expectations are likely to be proportionally higher (relative to your field of work - of course). Your expertise is more likely to be specific. You may not have a lot of flexibility to relocate. etc. All of these things add up to slowly paint you into a nice little niche corner. Based on conventional wisdom - expertise and experience should have high value, in fact they still do, however, the situation is that of demand and supply. It is just that there is higher demand for people that have generic skills and lower expectations. People that can learn new things, become experts in time and ultimately get painted into that nice little niche corner that we visited a few minutes back. Thus goes the cycle-of-life in the rat race. Bear with me, and in a few paragraphs I will write about strategies for prospectors (and prospectors to be - oh that sounded awful!).

Here is a piece of good news: Many Fortune 500 companies that are great with benefits continue to hire, even as they restructure, downsize and offshore. When economic conditions are unfavorable, companies tighten their budgets, lower spending, increase production & sales pressures and unfortunately announce layoffs. This is classic restructuring mechanism. Most companies that layoff employees in a restructuring process, usually continue to hire folks as well, albeit with different skills sets. This paradox, while shocking is not difficult to understand if you step back and look at the bigger picture for a moment. The ambition of any given corporation is not to layoff all its people and ultimately close down. Corporations are forever researching the economics and identifying new revenue streams, leaner operations models, use of the latest in technology, exploiting opportunities in government regulations, labor laws and so on. In the midst of all this - no matter how much you love your job, how hard you work or what your emotional involvement with the company is, at the end of the day you happen to be a number on the CFOs books. Up until the time you add up - you are great, and when you do not, unfortunately it is the end of the road. Of course there is other stuff too - anyone that has spent anytime in the corporate jungle knows that things are never that simple, there is politics, nepotism, personal vendetta and all that mess. The intention of this article is to keep things at a slightly dignified higher level, and focus on what you need to do to tide through.

Being out of work for any reason - sucks. Being out of work for no fault of yours - obviously - sucks even more. Depending on your individual circumstances it is normal to feel any of: rejection, disillusionment, depression or panic. Short bursts of these emotions may even be healthy in keeping you focused on your immediate goal of being gainfully re-employed - preferably in something you like to do and have the knack for. However, dwelling upon this state of mind will produce no real result. Start by telling yourself that loosing a job is not a sign of failure, and in no way does it reflect the quality of your work.

Networking, contacts and references rule. More than 70% of job seekers find employment through contacts. Maintenance of a network of professional contacts has come a long way. The Internet offers many avenues to keep connected with professional and social contacts. Niche sites like LinkedIn offer a mechanism for keeping you and your network of contacts informed about your career movements and that of others in your contact list. These are unobtrusive avenues of letting your contacts know about your professional capabilities and how your career has progressed so far. Some of your contacts may know you well socially, but do not be surprised if most folks do not know your professional strengths and credentials - unless you have worked fairly closely with them for prolonged periods, and even that changes over time.

Change - as the much clich├ęd saying goes - is constant. You are expected to adapt to change all the time. However, there is one problem - in the context of your profession - how do you know what the next change is until it knocks on your door? Whether you are currently looking for a job or happily employed, the Internet offers great resources for researching professional demand. Sites like careersngigs scour the Internet for hundreds of thousands of jobs that are in demand right now. Research your skill sets to see what employers are looking for in your expertise area. Identify trends and constantly re-tool and re-train yourself for the ever changing landscape. Check if geography has any bearings on your skills. With thousands of job losses in motor city, there are perhaps many more applicants per job opening there than say a similar job in a different location.

Sounds like a lot of work? It actually is not. Take baby steps, spend as little as thirty minutes every day on your research and re-training. You may be surprised where you get in a few weeks time. What is more - resources like these are now literally at your fingertips and they are free to use.

Approach your job search as a full time job in itself. Tailor your resume and cover letter for every application that you write. Research the corporation, major projects, products, services, competition, location and the opportunity you are applying to. Include key terms, concepts and information from this research in your cover letter and resume. Make each document count. A well written tailored letter and resume will have a better chance of being noticed and perhaps even being appreciated. At the least it will stand out against mass mailer letters and resumes. Think about all the junk mail you receive in your mail box everyday - there are some that perhaps go straight to trash and then there are some that you are tempted or compelled to open and read. When sending individual applications maintain a document index of your research, documents that you send and key contacts for the opportunity. When you receive an interview call, you can fish out the correct document and refresh your memory about your approach to the opportunity and the specific research you undertook.

Generic skills do not sound as cool as some expert skills. However, generic skills never go out of fashion and are always in some demand. Many people have generic skills and also use them on a regular basis. However, since we do not think much of these skills, we may not be able to objectively document them as such in our resumes. When you keep a written record of your work regularly, over time you may find that your generic skills and many other seemingly small stuff may also add up to something useful. Keeping a record does not need to be a drab grandfather diary anymore. Get yourself an account on twitter and send tweets on what you have been doing (without giving out any work related secrets of course) - start with once every week, and then adjust as required. You will not only get a hang of tweeting, you will also have a fun way of assimilating what you have done in the year - come time for appraisals or writing resumes. As a bonus you might end up getting a little fan following as well.

While hunting for the best fit opportunity, keep an eye out for consulting and part time possibilities - preferably at a professional level in your own field. While these may not be perfect or the desirable end job, they will pay some of the bills and give you access to an additional network of professional contacts.

In this economic climate job hunting may not be the most attractive of propositions. However, armed with the right strategy, a methodical approach and a positive outlook you can bounce back.

Author:  Rajiv Banerjee           
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