By Mary Ellen Podmolik
Chicago Tribune reporter
January 6, 2009
1. Make finding a job your new job.
2. Tell everybody you're job hunting.
3. Search online but also press the flesh.
4. Consider jobs outside your field.
5. During phone interviews, stand up to project more energy.
You're out of work. You're hardly alone. Through the first 11 months of 2008, the nation's economy lost 1.9 million jobs.
That means that just like it's a buyer's market for houses, where home shoppers can be extra choosy, the recession makes it an employer's market for new hires.
It's no time to dwell on the negative, though. Experts say there are strategies and techniques to conquering joblessness.
Even during a severe economic downturn, organizations have positions to fill, and after the shock of the pink slip has worn off, it will be your assignment to get noticed and get hired.
You can break down the process into several steps:
•File for unemployment insurance benefits right away. Depending on your eligibility, that money is there for you for a half-year and maybe longer.
•Pause, don't panic. Take a little time to get over the trauma and get ready for the next stage in your career.
•Start the search process, mapping out a plan with the same seriousness with which you would undertake a project while working for an employer.
It won't necessarily be easy. Career counselors say hiring is taking longer than usual, a fact they attribute both to an employer's aim to get the right person the first time and to the large number of applicants. Indeed, in November in Illinois, there were more than three unemployed people for every job vacancy advertised online, according to The Conference Board.
But a key step comes early: assessing your skills and figuring out how they translate into different jobs and industries. Particularly during a recession, it's not smart to pigeonhole yourself into believing you can only work in the field you just left. You've got to believe your skills will benefit other industries.
"If you're an assertive-type person in this market, is that an advantage? Yes," said Maxine Topper, supervisor of career counselors for Jewish Vocational Service. "People have to be more aware of where they fit, where they are going [career-wise] and the needs of the employer. [Hiring managers] have a job to fill and they have a ton of people standing in line for that job."
Joy Ashner has been out of work since September, when her employer eliminated her position as a logistics supervisor. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, she has decided to embrace her job hunt by looking forward to what opportunities it may bring her.
"You really just need to pick up and get going," she said. "You need to put the past behind you."
She's calling people she hasn't talked to in a decade, telling them about her jobless status and her abilities. She's taking classes to advance her computer skills and using professional networking Web site LinkedIn to find people to speak with.
She also attends networking groups offered by career counseling centers. And while she has discovered that searching for a job is a full-time job in itself, she has taken some solace in meeting others in the same spot.
"I have met so many really smart, really nice people," Ashner said. "It's all different levels, it could be a CFO and it could be somebody working in a factory. It doesn't matter and everybody's in the same boat."
Career counselors say the steps to finding a job in a recession aren't that much different from during good times; you just have to work harder at it. The must-do list includes:
•Check your pride at the door. Tell everyone you know that you're out of work. A job lead may come from a neighbor, a fellow church member or the parent of a child's friend. "There is no throwaway contact," said Wilmette management consultant Marilyn Moats Kennedy. "The shame is not there anymore."
•Don't try to find a job by spending day and night in front of the computer. "This is not a time to be stuck in your home office or your basement," said Craig Randall, managing director of the Chicago office of executive search firm DHR International. "If you're trying to sell something, you've got to go out and press the flesh. Make a list of everybody you know and really attack your personal Rolodex."
•Research an opening by using the Internet to learn about the company and the industry so you can sell what benefit your addition to the company would bring.
"If you have a contact [at a company], don't make that call until you do your research, know how to talk about yourself and what you can offer," said Monica Keane, executive director of Barrington Career Center.
When it comes time for a phone interview, Kennedy tells clients to do them standing up because you project more energy standing than sitting.
•Ask your direct managers if they'll help you with a reference because they have the best knowledge of your work and your accomplishments. While some organizations limit their communication related to former employees, given the non-personal reason for a lot of layoffs today, they may be willing to help.
•Seek assistance and support from career centers and networking groups. One site to check out is www.chicagojobs.org, which has links to area organizations that offer support groups, resume assistance and skill-building workshops. Several religious organizations offer assistance on a non-denominational basis.
However, make sure the group advances your job search. Camaraderie is fine at the beginning, but the best groups help advance a member's search.
•Decide whether you can afford to be underemployed and whether you can deal with being overqualified for a position.
"Don't take a job just because it's a job," said Paul Schneider, managing partner of SSP, a human resources consulting firm. "If it doesn't work out, six months later you'll be back on the job market and now what's your excuse of why you left?"
•Look past the biggest, well-known companies. Smaller companies, counselors say, are eager to scoop up talent that they perhaps couldn't attract a few years ago.
•Stay positive. "No one is going to hire someone who comes to them with a sad sack story," Keane said.
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