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How to Conduct a Job Search in a Tough Economy

Write down your biggest fear about graduating in today's economy.

How to Manage Your Career During an Economic Downturn


Current College Grads Status
Graduating from college is supposed to be one of the most hopeful times in a person’s life. Upon receiving a degree, the world is supposed to become your oyster and the job market is supposed to be a vast field from which you can choose the job that you like the most. For the roughly 1.5 million people graduating in 2009/10, however, the prospect is a bit different. While the dream scenario has been true for many graduating classes, 2009/10 college graduates find themselves entering the job market at the time when there is the least money available for hiring new workers.

This is not to say that there are no jobs for new graduates, as there are certainly many. What is to say is that there are far fewer jobs, making competition much stiffer. While many businesses will be actively seeking 2009/10 college graduates for their enthusiasm and malleability as well as their fresh outlook on their chosen field, they will also be looking for the best candidates available. Where a company may have previously taken on ten graduates a year, there may now only be room for two. Because of this, it is more important than ever for graduates to find ways to excel and to stand apart while exhibiting resilience and determination.

College graduates face the challenge of needing to potentially apply to many jobs before finding an interview opportunity. The truth is that even qualified applicants will find that they are up against hiring freezes and budget cuts. This means being able to take not getting a job while maintaining the ability to stand back up and apply for another. When an interview is granted, be professional, be early, and above all, stand out. Tell prospective employers exactly what advantages you bring to the table and be sure to point out assets that help you stand out from the crowd.

It is important for college graduates to know that the economic situation is temporary but that finding a job is important. Resilience pays off and accepting a job at lower pay or benefits now may work well when the economic crisis is over, painting you as a willing part of the team even in hard times. In addition, for many students finding a job is imperative in helping to repay student loans, which can quickly default and permanently damage credit ratings.

While finding employment will be harder across the board for 2009/10 college graduates than for previous classes, it will be different for people in different fields. People in retail management, corporate finance, and banking will likely have a harder time than people in constantly demanded industries such as health care that are needed in any economic climate. While there are jobs available in any field, some are certainly more highly demanded than others, and some students face the possibility of a job outside their chosen field until the economic tide has turned.

In short, 2009/10 college graduates face many challenges. With that said, however, resilience and determination will likely be enough to help these new graduates find employment and make use of their degrees. Times are tough, but a degree is always an excellent investment, even in turbulent economic times.

Consider the following tips:

Take stock:
Evaluate your professional standing and key trends within your industry, company, and profession. What do you need to change? How can you do it? How does your profession look five years from now? Two years from now? What threats do you foresee? What opportunities exist?

Based on your analysis, develop a comprehensive action plan that will help you leverage your strengths and overcome your weaknesses.
Network aggressively:
Networking is not a post-layoff or when-you-feel-like-doing-it activity. All successful professionals incorporate networking as an integral and active component of their career management plan. Tradeshows, conferences, industry and social events, online networking tools—networking opportunities have never been so easily accessible.
Position yourself:
What is your value proposition? What is so unique about you that employers will want to retain you irrespective of what happens to the company financially? We all have something unique to offer and if you can develop a powerful value proposition demonstrating how indispensable you are, you will be in a much better position that most professionals.
Invest in professional development:
This is the Information Age, an environment in which information becomes obsolete faster than fashion. Through continuing education programs and other professional development efforts, it is very important to stay abreast with the cutting-edge of your profession.
Demonstrate leadership and the ability to take on challenges:
The economy inevitably imposes financial strains on any company and under such conditions every employee is expected to do more—take more work, manage multiple tasks, lead projects, and epitomize "cross-functional" in every sense of the term.

Try to volunteer on  projects and take on leadership roles. The key is to demonstrate how you can contribute toward the organization’s success and deliver an optimal ROI for the company.

Update your resume:
Update your resume every month, if not every week. Highlight your recent accomplishments and create a powerful document that will position you as the perfect solution for any employer’s needs. 

Keep your options open:
With all the above strategies, keep your eyes open to new opportunities. Through a portfolio of job search strategies, including networking, you should generate a steady stream of job leads.

Effective career management is an ongoing effort. Once employers recognize how valuable you are, recession or growth, they will do everything they can to retain you.

Nimish Thakkar is a sought-after career management coach and professional resume writer.

Recession Proof Your Job Search

When the job market is tight, it may be tempting to cut corners on your job search, but for the sake of landing a position, please don’t. When it’s a buyer’s market, you owe it to yourself to put your best foot forward. To stand out, there are three key factors you need to concentrate on—your resume, interview skills, and a follow-up strategy.

1. Resume
Click here for information on resumes

While a homespun resume would have garnered interviews in the past, in a tight market you have to step up your game. This isn’t a time to rely on a friend’s goodwill and use her as your "resume writer."

Search for a professional—a Nationally Certified Resume Writer or someone who works at a Career Center or One-Stop Center. A professionally written resume can make the difference between getting called in for an interview and getting overlooked.

To ensure the best possible service, ask to look at the writer’s resume samples. Don’t get caught up in all of the hype regarding certifications and publications. This advice may sound strange coming from a Nationally Certified Resume Writer and published author, but I’ve been in the career-services industry long enough to know that quality work trumps credentials.

That said, you can and should add weight to the extras, but the bottom line is that you have to be comfortable with the quality of work you will receive.

2. Interview Skills
Click here for information on interviews
Admit it. How many interviews have you gone on without preparing? In a job-seeker-friendly market when companies are clamoring for great employees, the "wing it" method works just fine. But to compete in today’s market, you have to invest time getting acquainted with common interview questions and sample responses.

To get you started, here are a few questions.

Many candidates have submitted their resume for consideration. Why should I hire you over other qualified candidates? Keep in mind that the interviewer is interested in your candidacy. That is the reason you are interviewing for the position. When answering this question, mention the three main reasons you stand out from others. Depending on your position, reasons can include your proficiency in account management, customer service, and/or strategic planning.

What do you know about our company? There is a difference between wanting a job and taking a sincere interest in working for the hiring organization. There are no shortcuts to answering this question successfully; you have to conduct research.

What areas of your abilities would you like to improve upon? This is a tricky way of asking, "What is your greatest weakness?". Choose an ability that needs improvement but isn’t an integral part of your job.

3. Follow-Up Strategies
Click here for follow-up letters

The interview isn’t over when you walk out of the interviewer’s office. Chances are, many candidates interviewed for the position before you did and many more will interview for the position after you. To remain competitive, it is essential that you write a follow-up letter.

This is advice most job seekers tend to ignore. And it’s a shame because the follow-up letter can seal a job offer. This is because only a small percentage of job seekers write a follow-up letter, so those who do take the time to write one stand out.

Below is a sample of a follow-up letter.
"Thank you for the opportunity to interview for ????????. The level of professionalism displayed by the associates immediately impressed me. Each was warm and exuded a level of enthusiasm that is contagious. My initial impression of was solidified during our interview. From the information you relayed during our meeting, my qualities are a direct fit with the job opening.

Please know that I remain interested in working at??????????. If necessary, I’m open to attending another round of interviews to explore this opportunity further.

I can be reached at (631) 387-1894 or linda@careerstrides.com. I look forward to your positive response."

In Closing:
Following the advice above will make you more confident. Confidence leads to more interviews. More interviews leads to job offers. Job offers leads to career satisfaction.

So what are you waiting for?

- Linda Matias

Certified in all three areas of the job search—Certified Interview Coach ™ (CIC), Job & Career Transition Coach (JCTC), and Nationally Certified Resume Writer (NCRW)

Mr. Endicott's Advice for College Graduates

So, what can you do to increase your chances of finding a job in a highly competitive job market flooded with experienced workers. It's a big challenge, for sure, but there are certain things you can do to tip the scales in your favor.

1. Be Willing to Settle for Less

This is the best piece of advice I can offer to recent graduates who are entering the job market. If you're expecting to wave your diploma in the air and have people offering you management jobs, you'll probably be disappointed. Why? Because in 2009 and 2010 you'll be competing with legions of job seekers who have advanced education and real-world experience. The economy will make sure of this.

So the first thing you need to do is enter the job market with realistic expectations. I'm not telling you to aim low in your job search -- not at all. I'm telling you to realize what you're up against, and to be open to a wide variety of opportunities. This is not the kind of job market where you should pass up an opportunity just because it's not your dream job. The next opportunity might not come for a long time. If you have student loans and credit card debts to pay off, this is even more important.

2. Leverage Your Network

As a recent college graduate, you may not have an extensive network of business contacts. But you still have a network of friends and family, and many graduates before you have found jobs by tapping into this network. Here are some tips for using your network effectively. In this kind of job market, you need every advantage you can find, and this includes your personal contacts and family members. You never know who has useful connections until you ask. So put your pride aside and ask for help.

3. Be Flexible With Your Location

Some cities have been hit worse by layoffs and unemployment than other. So depending on where you live, you may want to seek work in a nearby city or even out of state. For example, a recent graduate from Wayne State University in Detroit might want to look for a job outside of that city. With the car company layoffs, there's even more competition for job seekers there.

With this being said, you have a better statistical chance of getting a job if you apply for positions where you currently reside. Applying for jobs out of state (or even out of driving distance) is much harder, because you can't just pop in for an interview at the employer's convenience. Take it from me -- some hiring managers won't even look at a resume that's not from a local resident, and for this very reason. So start local, focus on the places where you'd like to live, but be flexible and willing to go where the work is.

4. Limit Your Living Expenses

You've just graduated from college, and now you're excited to strike out on your own and make your own living. I know how you feel. I've been there. But before you plop down a deposit for the high-priced apartment, consider how it affects your job search process. The more bills and living expenses you pile up, the higher the salary you'll need to cover them. And the higher you go up the pay scale, the fewer jobs there are. Living with the parents might not be the cool thing to do, but it could save you a lot in the way of monthly expenses. That is, if they'll even let you back in!)

5. Go Above and Beyond to Distinguish Yourself

When there's a lot of people competing for a limited number of jobs, you have to work harder to set yourself apart. You can do this in many ways, and it doesn't always come down to past work experience. For example, a marketing / advertising major who is looking for a job in that field could set up a creative website where they "sell" themselves as a product. If I were applying for a position  would show them what i have done on www.salisbury.edu/careerservices

You should also tailor your resume for each job posting. This allows you to prioritize certain skills and credentials to make your resume more relevant for the position being advertised. Here are some more tips for going above and beyond to find a job in this tough market we are in. This one is a must-read for college graduates, so be sure to check it out.

6. Communicate Better Than Your Competitors

I've hired for several entry-level positions in the past, which means I've screened a lot of recent college graduates who were entering the job market for the first time. More often than not, I was appalled by their lack of basic communication skills. Use the Writing Center!  I won't theorize on how instant messaging has eroded communication (that's another article entirely), but I will say this. The few applicants who know how to write a polished email and communicate well on the phone really stood out. I often hired them over equally qualified candidates for this very reason.

7.  Be Assertive

Get out there and make those calls.  Do not rely on email-Call them!.  Tell that employer what you can do.  Do not dig a hole and expect the employer to come looking for you.  Those days are over. Greet those people that can hire you.

8.  Do not be afraid

Employers expect you to contact them - that is part of their job.  Let them know what you can do for their employer.

You'd be surprised how much communications skills can help when you're applying for a job. In the past, I would check resumes simply to ensure the person had the basic skills needed to get started. Then I would used the initial phone call and the interview to assess their communication skills, enthusiasm, etc. I have turned down qualified applicants who could not communicate well, and I have hired barely qualified applicants who were great speakers and writers. A lot of hiring managers feel the same way about this.

From Job Monkey.com

Here are five tips to ensure that you set your career off on the right foot before you even schedule your first interview.

1. The early bird catches the worm.
It's an old cliche, but it has never been truer. If you wait until you cross that commencement stage to "commence" your job search, you are likely to be months behind the curve. Start your job search this month -- today, even. A good first step is to meet with a counselor at your school's career planning center.

2. Lay a strong networking foundation.
You may not think you know anyone who can help you in your job search, but you'd be surprised. Start by meeting with your professors and department chairs. Have you interned or volunteered? Write down your supervisors' name. Have you worked a summer or school year job? Get in touch with your old boss and former colleagues. If you know just 10 people -- and they each know just 10 people -- you suddenly have a pool of 100 people to help you find your first job. That's the beauty of job networking!

3. The 3 Rs: Research, research, research.
Hopefully your college offers on-campus recruiting and/or job fairs -- two great ways to start your foray into the formal job application world. But before you charge ahead, take some time to really learn everything you can about the organizations you are dealing with. Read industry publications. Talk to others in the field about them. Google them! Make it your business to come as prepared as possible to every interview. That way you will know what each company is looking for -- and be better able to convince them why you are their best choice!

4. Practice really does makes perfect.
Most college career planning offices offer practice interview sessions, either in a group setting or one-on-one with a counselor. Sign up for these as often as you can. When your school is hosting an on-campus job fair or recruitment session, sign up for that, too -- even if it's not exactly what you're looking for. The more practice you have with interviewing, the better prepared you will be to ace it when your dream job comes along. For practical advice and how to's, see JobMonkey's article on job interview tips.

5. Flesh out your resume: Volunteer or Intern
One of the best ways to gain experience (not to mention networking connections) is by volunteering or interning. If you really want to get a leg up on your job search competition, commit to a 20-hour weekly college internship throughout your senior year. Your career planning center and/or your academic advisor may be able to help you find a suitable opportunity. Consider which career paths most interest and excite you -- and also look for placements that will allow you to develop new skills.

Survey Stuff:  Parade.com

Check it out-only the highlights!
Last week, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released another round of discouraging data. Fewer than 1 in 5 graduates who are looking for jobs have found one, and employers are planning to hire 22% fewer graduates this year than they did last year.

"You are graduating into a world of anxiety and uncertainty," Vice President Joe Biden told graduates of Syracuse University this week. "But these are the moments you can embrace … only a handful of us ever get a chance to actually shape the course of history."

History might need shaping, but now is a great time for graduates to embrace the positive. The numbers aren't all bad.

For one, bachelor's degrees are still vital for landing jobs. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the unemployment rate among four-year college graduates between age 20 and 24 is 6.1%, while those with only high-school diplomas is 19.6%.

Serious job-hunters also can take advantage of their fellow graduates' idleness. Right now, fewer students are seeking jobs than in years past. By this time in 2007, about 64% of graduates had begun looking for a job. In 2008, about 67% had begun. This year, only 59% have launched a job search. That's about 130,000 fewer people competing for work.

"Whether they've decided to delay their careers because of the economy or don't realize how tough the job market is, fewer grads have started job hunting," said Andrea Koncz, information manager at NACE.

The Crystal Ball
Last week, Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke forecasted that the recession would be over by the end of 2009/10. But what does that prediction mean for job growth? The United States recovered from its four previous recessions in markedly different ways. Twice, the job market bounced back quickly, and twice the nation went through a "jobless recovery."
Recession Worst month for job losses After that, steady job growth began...
1973-1975 December 1974 5 months later
1981-1982 July 1982 6 months later
1990-1991 February 1991 20 months later
2001 October 2001 23 months later
2007-2010 March 2010  here we are - the recession is almost over but unemployment rate is still staggering.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor

Another silver lining: Several industries actually are planning to hire more graduates this year than in 2008, including transportation, utilities and alternative energy.

"The big openings right now are in the solar industry. Anything green," said Eric Lochtefeld, founder of University of Dreams, an organization that seeks internships for students. "The nice thing is there's not a huge level of experience expected because it’s a new sector."

Uncle Sam is also hiring. The U.S. government is planning to hire 6% more college graduates than last year and offer up to 60,000 internships.

"Not only is the government hiring, it's providing salaries and benefits in line with the private sector," said Tim McManus, vice president of education and outreach at the Partnership for Public Service. "We're in a unique time and place in this country. Graduates who used to look for careers on Wall Street, for example, are now seeing that they can have a greater impact in government."

For graduates who have landed jobs, how much are they earning?

To date, the average job offer to a 2009 graduate with a bachelor's degree is $48,515, down about 2% from last year, according to NACE. (Parents who got their first jobs in the early 1980s had it slightly better. The average job offer for the Class of 1982 was $22,450 — or, adjusted for inflation, $49,485).

To be sure, an entry-level salary of $48,000 seems high in this economy. However, that amount represents only the 1 in 5 graduates who have already been offered employment, and pre-graduation job offers tend to come from relatively lucrative industries, including engineering, computer sciences and healthcare.

In specific fields of study, NACE found that the average job offer was $58,438 for engineering students; $57,693 for computer science students; $46,973 for business students; and, $36,807 for liberal arts students.

What about all those government jobs? McManus said most graduates with bachelor's degrees receive a base starting salary from $33,000 to $42,000, plus "locality pay," which raises it between 13% and 34% depending on the cost of living where they work.

Job seekers' increasing reliance on technology also gives graduates an opportunity to set themselves apart. Those who applied the old-fashioned job-hunting techniques have a better chance of outmatching those who rely solely on online submission forms.

"Students say all the time, 'I submitted my resume online and I never heard back.'" Lochtefeld says. "The best advice that I can give to students is stop playing the numbers game. Things that worked 20 years ago before the Internet — direct contact, person-to-person networking — still work today."



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