Job-Hunting in a Weak Job Market: 5 Strategies for Staying Upbeat (and Improving Your Chances of Success)
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
For many job-seekers, searching for a new job is a stressful experience. The end result, though, is usually a positive one in which the job-seeker is rewarded for his or her past accomplishments with a better job—a job that has more prestige, higher pay, and perhaps with a better organization.
But when you have to conduct a job-search in a weak job market, the stress level increases dramatically—especially if you are currently unemployed, expect to be let go from your current employer, or work in an industry or profession that has seen widespread job cuts.
So, when all this bad news abounds and adds to the stress you already feel in trying to find a new job, how do you keep your focus and stay upbeat? What's the remedy? Granted, it can be difficult, but if you follow the five strategies in this article, you should be well on your way to overcoming the stress and anxiety and landing that next great job—or at least a job that will help you pay your bills.
1. Keep a positive focus. In a weak job market, employers that are actually hiring workers have a much greater selection of prospective candidates and will quickly eliminate any job-seekers who appear desperate or too negative.
Your goal, even if you are scrambling to pay your mortgage and put food on the table, is to appear outwardly positive. Employers seek job candidates who are confident and specific about the jobs they seek and the impact they can make in those positions.
You may need to consider temping or a survival job if you are currently unemployed while you seek a new job in your profession, and while that is not the ideal scenario, doing so will allow you to pay your bills, gain some renewed confidence, and give you an emotional boost that will help in your job interviews.
One final tip. When the bad news is overwhelming or you are feeling angry and frustrated, try and find a way to step outside the bubble. Take a few hours to get away from all the bad news—do something enjoyable like going to the park or beach or down to the river to fish. Doing so will not make all the bad news disappear but will give you a mental break you need to face the next challenges.
2. Surround yourself with support. Do not suffer through a bad time alone. Seek out the emotional support of family and friends. Sometimes just talking out about our fears and the stress we are experiencing makes us feel better.
Whatever you do, don't hide your problems from the people closest to you. There is no shame in being downsized or in struggling to find new employment. The comfort you can receive from a spouse, significant other, parent, or friend can be enough to give you the emotional boost you need to reinvigorate your job-search.
The other benefit from seeking the support of others is that the more people in your network of contacts that know you are seeking a job, the more likely you will uncover more job leads that you may never have found if people around you did not know you were seeking a new position.
One final tip. While using your existing network for support is a good start, consider taking additional steps to expanding your network. Join one or more community or professional organizations.
3. Don't believe everything you hear or read. While much of the current employment news is certainly awful, the reality is that there are many companies hiring new employees every day.
Of course, it's not just employment news that turns our stomachs, but all the other economic bad news—such as faltering banks, the weak dollar, and rising inflation.
But there are also programs and professionals that can assist you in improving your job-hunting techniques or offering retraining opportunities. And the Congress is working on extending unemployment benefits and other economic packages to assist people struggling with bad mortgages.
One final tip. If you watch your local television news, turn it off — at least until you have a new job. Several organizations have proven that most local news programs sensationalize bad news for ratings, and the more you watch these programs, the more you feel that the world is collapsing around you — and you simply do not need that kind of atmosphere when you are struggling to keep your confidence.
4. Have long-term focus, but short-term goals. The most successful job-seekers have a long-term career strategy developed with smaller short-term goals to assist them in achieving that long-term goal.
Your most basic goal may be to simply find a new job in your field, but even in this job market, that could be more long-term. Instead of dwelling too much on getting the job, put more emphasis on the process of finding the job.
In other words, create daily job-hunting goals for yourself. Make it a goal to accomplish several things each day, such as tracking down job leads, applying for jobs, making new network contacts, following up job leads, going on job interviews.
One final tip. It's a bit of a cliché, but the best way to really focus on finding a new job is to treat the job-search like a job in itself. Invest as much time, energy, and commitment to finding a new job as you do at your job. The more things you can do today to find a new job will result in more job opportunities—maybe not tomorrow or even next month, but the rewards will come to you.
5. Remember that everything counts. Of course, everything counts—but let's use a marketing example to demonstrate that when you are seeking a new job you are basically marketing yourself to prospective employers.
Marketing is not just about having a great product, but also having the right packaging, distribution, price, and promotion to attract consumers. There are many stories of great products that have failed miserably because of some flaw in the other elements of marketing.
If you are struggling with your job-search, review your entire marketing package:
Your product. All products need some freshening at times, but they also need to have obvious features that are in demand. Review your accomplishments, education and training, and other elements that make you — or can make you — a strong candidate. Just as consumers love new and shiny products, so too do employers seek job candidates who have the best mix of education, training, and accomplishments — all packaged in a friendly, positive, and professional style.
Your promotion. The three most important elements in promoting yourself to employers are cover letters, resumes, and interviewing technique. If you are not getting any interviews, the problem could very well be with your resume or cover letter; seek advice from experts about the quality of your resume and cover letters (from local career one-stop centers, former bosses, your college career center, or a resume service). If you are going on interviews but not obtaining any offers, the problem may be with your interviewing style; consider asking a hiring manager who did not hire you to critique your interviewing style, or consider conducting a mock interview with someone in your network or a local career professional.
Your distribution channels. The vast majority of job-seekers who struggle in any economy to find a job typically are only utilizing a small part of their job-search distribution channels. When job-hunting, your most important channel for uncovering job lead is your network of contacts—the vast majority of new hires result from a personal recommendation of a network contact. And with the expansion of Web 2.0 tools, networking has exploded online. Besides networking, other channels for uncovering job leads includes: Web job boards (national, local, and industry/profession), company job postings, trade publications, local newspapers, cold calling, recruiters, career fairs, and career centers (local, university).
Your pricing. In any job market, it's important to have a realistic idea of your value to prospective employers, but it is even more important in a weak market to not price yourself out of the chance to obtain the interview or receive the job offer. Use industry salary information as well as salary Website information to determine the salary you seek—especially if employers ask for that information from the beginning with a salary request. You should also have a strong understanding of the salary negotiation process so you're ready when the time arises. Finally, you typically should not undervalue yourself when job-hunting, but in bad times, you may be forced to take a big cut in salary just to pay the bills; if so, stay determined that it is just a temporary setback until the market gets better or until you can find a better job.
One final tip. Whether you believe the power that marketing has in job-hunting, the most important thing to remember is that you should always put your best foot forward in all aspects of job-hunting. You cannot be defeatist. You cannot appear demanding. You cannot appear or act overqualified. If you are not getting any interviews or if you are obtaining interviews only to be told you are underqualified or overqualified, the problem is indeed in the marketing of yourself — and you'll need to fix it before you'll be successful.
In a struggling economy, the Job Market Blues affect us all. Staying upbeat in these weak economic times is tough even when you are happily employed and not seeking new employment. Job-hunting in such a job market can place a great strain on your self-confidence and outlook for the future. By following the advice in this article, you'll not only regain some of your confidence but ideally uncover ways you can enhance and improve your job-search, leading to both short-term and long-term job goal successes—and beating the blues.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com.