Positive Career Strategies in an Economic Slowdown

time for a new strategy

The events of September 11 and their continuing aftermath have heightened the sense of uncertainty about the future. The nation’s economy, which was already stalling, seems definitely headed into recession.

The economy began to stall in the spring, and, after the September events, economists marked down forecasts for the third and fourth quarters even further. A recent survey by the Blue Chip Economic Indicators found that most economists believe the nation has entered a recession (defined as two consecutive quarters of negative total economic output). The effect on job seekers is significant and may extend well beyond the near term.

When the economy changes, your approach to the increasingly tight job market has to change as well. You can give yourself a competitive edge by taking decisive steps to assess your own career goals and potential, know more about the job markets in your field, and find a well-rounded approach to getting on with your life.

Take a Tip from Ad Agencies: Brand Yourself

When you’re trying to get a foot in the door of a tight labor market, you may want to develop your own brand, much as marketers construct a carefully thought-out image and campaign for products. Robin Fisher Roffer, a career counselor and author of Make a Name for Yourself, recommends that you begin the process just as an advertising agency plans strategy. “Your challenge is to capture the essence of what you have to offer, create interest and enthusiasm for it, and enhance your image in the business world,” she says.

You may not consider yourself a hot commodity, but you can be sure that most employers view productive, reliable, congenial workers as worth pursuing, regardless of the economic outlook. Roffer advises that honesty is as important in planning for your own “marketability” as it is in advertising a car or a line of laundry soap. List your best qualities as both an employee and as an individual. These are the qualities you’ll want to highlight in a resume or interview. Then list the qualities you might like to change.

Next, construct a “mission statement” for your plan to market yourself. “Companies with powerful mission statements and employees that embrace these statements walk the walk and talk the talk,” says Roffer. If you write down your mission statement and use it to define your goals, she says, then you’ll be able to move your dreams closer to reality.

Constructing a personal “brand” can be as simple as listing your assets and coining a “slogan” for your own goals. This kind of introspection is often the last kind of activity you’re in the mood for if you’re concerned about the economic effects of unemployment, but it can help direct your goals and project the kind of image you want to prospective employers. “Brand success asks you to think about your brand in this very intense, obsessive way: writing it down, talking it up, and putting it out in the universe to fulfill its destiny,” says Roffer. But once armed with a strong set of skills and a distinct employment identity, the biggest question for many job seekers is how, exactly, to find the best possible market for their skills and goals.

Know Your Market (and Get a Crystal Ball)

A number of easily accessible tools can point you to both current and predicted trends in the market for specific types of jobs and the likelihood that these will remain in demand in the future. The U.S. Labor Department (DoL) and its Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are excellent sources of frequently updated information on where the jobs-and the money-are in industries large and small. BLS publishes the Occupational Outlook Handbook and the Career Guide to Industries, each of which gives detailed breakdowns of salaries, demand, and immediate prospects for virtually every major job category in the country. You can find out what areas of specialization are hot, what areas are likely to cool, and the reasons why.

A quick glance at the government statistics reveals that, because of increased foreign competition, mergers and acquisitions, and streamlined agricultural and manufacturing methods, the overall employment market for chemists is likely to shrink by 3.9% during the period from 1998 to 2008. Worse, that figure goes to 10.6% when “general” chemists are considered. But for chemical engineers, a 7.1% increase in demand is expected, a figure that jumps to a whopping 31.0% for computer scientists, and others who have both information technology skills and a background in chemistry. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that even with figures revised to reflect recent economic setbacks, prospects for employment as a chemist in the drug industry are excellent. BLS predicts that, in the 1998 to 2008 period, demand for general chemists will rise by 12.9%, for chemical engineers by 17.6%, for biochemists by 35.5%, and for computer systems specialists and information technology engineers by 58.4%. Another DoL publication, Hot Jobs for the 21st Century pinpoints growth areas in industry and highlights the ways you can get training and experience for in-demand jobs.

Statistics are not the only source of useful information on promising employment opportunities. You can call the HR departments of most large corporations and find someone more than willing to talk to you about what types of positions they most want to fill now and in the future. National organizations that represent your professions, such as the American Chemical Society, have information to help you identify new and unexpected opportunities, such as in the rapidly expanding numbers of small specialty chemical firms.

Take this information into account when you’re “branding” yourself. Talk up those areas of your experience that you know are in demand, even if these are not obvious elements of the jobs you’re applying for. Look for those industries that you know are slated to experience growth and expansion. Consider getting supplementary training that will put you in the forefront for the best jobs in your field.

Knowledge really is power in job searching. Getting the strategic “lay of the land” is important whether you’re considering a career change, looking for work after a layoff, or are starting off with a new diploma. You will be able to plan for future security and go directly to the jobs with the most possibilities for expansion and growth.

You’re Not Alone

In an economic slump, one of the few really buzzing growth industries is job placement and career counseling. Business is booming for “headhunters,” motivational speakers, college career advisors, and local and state job placement agencies. If you’re out of work, the down side to all this activity is that you have increasing competition for a shrinking job pool. The up side is that you’re not alone in this search. Some of the brightest minds in the country have found themselves out of work in recent dot.com and industry shakeouts, and many are forming “search communities” on the Internet to provide support and leads for other job seekers.

Jeremy Gocke, whose early online ventures were failing in 2001, founded The Layoff Lounge as a job networking service. Today the service has expanded to an active network of city chapters, local speakers at chapter meetings, and ties to new jobs across the nation. Gocke, who plans to expand the Lounge concept to China, has found that out-of-work “techies” are resourceful and eager to look at new strategies and approaches to business and career planning.

Consider checking into the online sites to see what people in your same situation are doing. You’ll learn more about successful strategies-and the ones that have failed. In the process of learning more about other people who are job hunting, you may also be able to overcome that “it’s-something-wrong-with-me” feeling you get after a few job rejections.

Don’t Put Your Life on Hold

You may be temporarily out of a job, the constricting market may have forced you to lower your expectations and take a position that you don’t like, or you may feel stuck in a job you wanted to leave long ago. You’ve constructed your own personal brand, you’ve identified the types of jobs and employers that are right for you, you’re ready with resumes, but so far nothing has turned up. What next?

Get up and do something, advise the experts. In California, where the legions of dot.com unemployed grow each day, many people are throwing themselves into activities that serve a dual purpose: helping others and networking. In San Francisco, volunteers at the local food bank trade stories about job prospects as they fill bags of groceries for needy inner-city families. Many of the volunteers were six-figure employees of tech companies and now find themselves unable to connect with new jobs that use their skills and match their expectations. Activities as diverse as group exercise classes, psychological support sessions, and brown-bag meet-and-greets are available to job seekers across the nation. “In some cities, so many activities have been geared to the out-of-work that a laid-off techie can go from Manic Monday to Casual Friday and never be more than a few hours from the next shoulder to cry on,” says Shawn Hubler, a writer for the Los Angeles Times.

It’s more than mutual pathos that participants in these activities seek, of course. They trade tales of where jobs are, where they’re likely to be in the future, which companies are looking for new hires, and who to contact for an inside line. And, while exercising, volunteering, and socializing, these job seekers are also continuing to build the lines of community support and interaction that make life rich. When they finally connect with jobs that are right for them, they’ll be better equipped to be well-adjusted and productive employees.

The current economic downturn may reverse direction sooner than expected or continue for the foreseeable future. Job hunting in a slow economy requires increased diligence in identifying job leads and following up on those opportunities. There are more people competing for jobs and in an uncertain economy, employers will slow or even freeze their hiring plans so be prepared for an extended job hunt.

JobSpectrum.org wishes you the best of luck in your search, and offers the following other articles that may be of use in your search:

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