Job-Search Lessons Learned in a Year of Economic Meltdown

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by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

The end of the year is a good time to look back and assess what has worked for you and what hasn’t in the last year. That’s especially true for reviewing success and failures in the job search — and particularly relevant in a year of economic downturn. We put out a call for job-search lessons learned during a year of economic crisis and heard from new college grads, career experts, strategists, entrepreneurs, and bloggers. Here’s what they — or in some cases, their clients — learned about job search in the last year:

Stop spending so much job-search time online.

We’ve heard — and given — this advice for at least 10 years now, but job-seekers are still too often falling into the black hole of Internet job searching. “I closed my business in July of this year,” reports Brandon J. Mendelson, a graduate student attending the University of Albany, “and have found the hard way that the worst way to find a job is to focus your search entirely online. It is easier [online] to be disqualified by potential employers for the tiniest of issues, and you lose out on the face-to-face interaction that makes or breaks any deal,” says Mendelson, who is also a published American humorist and creator of The Graduate Student Survival Blog.

“Searching on job boards may make you feel like you’re working hard on your search,” says Molly Wendell, president and CEO, Executives Network, Scottsdale, AZ. “You review each job posting and carefully select which ones you’d be perfect for,” Wendell notes. “You may spend some time thoughtfully composing a well-worded cover email. And finally, you hit send. And then you wait. And wait. And wait. Did you know that more than 94 percent of companies never even respond to candidates who apply for a position?”

Network, but do it smartly.

“Research shows that more than 80 percent of positions are found through networking,” Wendell points out. “So what are you doing still staring at the computer? Get out and meet people!! It’s about meeting people, making connections, building relationships and identifying opportunities that are often never even posted. If you drop everything else you’re doing, and just start networking, you’ll land that much faster, and you might even create some great, long-lasting friendships and relationships along the way,” Wendell advises.

Among smart network connections — especially for college students and new grads — are parents, as Taylor Kopelan learned during an eight-month search for a job in the film industry after graduating from Connecticut College. “Your parents have good connections,” Kopelan points out. “In my case, my mom’s the co-creator of, The Guru Nation, a professional-development network where business gurus help you make connections. You can’t forget to tap into the people your parents know, work with, met socially, or refer you to. They can be a huge source of information and introductions. Through The Guru Nation, I landed six more interviews than I would have without that resource,” reports Kopelan, who is now an associate producer. “Ask your parents for recommendations. Ask neighbors. Ask all the people you can connect with, and don’t be shy about it.”

While job-seekers should not wile away hours on the Internet at the expense of networking with people face-to-face, a prominent presence on the Internet can expose you to a vast world of contacts. “Always be visible,” advises Internet marketing management strategy consultant David D., Chicago, IL. Though he’s now a consultant, David still considers every full-time role presented to him. “The vast majority of these inquiries come from recruiters who have seen me on LinkedIn or other social-media presence,” David says. “Yet I meet full-time job-seekers at networking events all the time who don’t even have a basic LinkedIn profile. Don’t handicap yourself; maintain up-to-date profiles on LinkedIn and other business-oriented social networks.”

One reason networking is so effective is that employers love referrals from their own workers. “Networking into an organization is far more productive than responding to position listings,” observes Philip Lelyveld, entertainment technology strategy advisor at ReelWord. “Once the people in the department know you, you have a leg up over other applicants. And having a third party within the organization suggest to the hiring manager that you be considered for a position is extremely valuable.”

[Find more networking resources here: The Art of Career and Job-Search Networking.]

Optimize your resume — but don’t obsess about it.

“Accept the fact that you will need to position your resume, career marketing documents, and interview responses to protect you from age discrimination or the perception that you are overqualified,” suggests Cheryl Lynch Simpson, executive career coach/resume writer and managing director,, Westerville, OH. Simpson describes the experience of her C-level client who engaged her to design his resume but resisted her recommendation to trim the resume’s length and limit the amount of work experience he claimed. “He was naturally proud of his early achievements and wanted them to remain on his resume,” Simpson reports. “After using his new resume for two months and landing no interviews, he called me back and asked me to design a shorter resume version to help protect him from these two perceptions. He had consulted with numerous recruiters, each of whom advised him to shorten his resume, and was now ready to act on that recommendation. I did as he asked to shorten his resume from four to two pages and remove all decades-old dates. Once he put this age-discrimination-proof resume into play, he landed a great job in less than two months.”

Certified Executive Career Coach Cheryl Palmer, M.Ed., of Call to Career cites the difficulty job-seekers often have in mining that key resume ingredient — accomplishments: “I had a client who hired me to do her resume,” Palmer recalls. “As with most resumes I see, hers was very vague and didn’t clearly articulate her contributions in her different positions to a potential employer. I had to really dig to get her to come up with accomplishment statements that had impact. Later she emailed me to let me know that she got a promotion at work as a result. The resume really gave her confidence because in the process of highlighting her contributions to a potential employer, she also was able to affirm herself as a valuable employee.”

As important as your resume is, Wendell points out that job-seekers, especially those who write their own resumes, often rework them “until you’ve driven yourself crazy.” Even those who hire a professional resume writer may find that “every person you ask has a different opinion of it,” as Wendell notes. “And just when you think you’ve got it perfect, someone comes along and tells you that it needs some serious revamping. Get your resume to a point where you’re happy with it, and then leave it alone,” Wendell advises. (Of course, you do need to keep updating your resume with every new job, accomplishment, and educational achievement.)

[Find more resume-writing resources here: Resume and CV Resources for Job-Seekers.]

Open yourself up to possibilities you might not have considered in a better economic climate — such as relocation, temping, or a less-than-perfect position with the perfect employer.

“One lesson is to seek temporary or seasonal employment to provide a source of income, as well as psychological well-being while seeking permanent employment,” notes Chuck McCabe, CEO, The Income Tax School, Richmond, VA. McCabe points out that the increase in displaced workers in a particularly weak economy boosted enrollments in his company’s online tax course by 90 percent over the previous year.

“I have a client who found himself in a career transition a couple of months ago, and I was coaching him through his job search,” says Joe Rosenlicht of InMotion Career & Wellness. “One of the points I was trying to convey was that, since it’s a challenging job market now, to consider temporary work as a way to reenter the work force. Thinking it was a step backwards, he was reluctant at first, but eventually decided to pursue it. Temp work is a smart idea for several reasons:

  1. It gets your foot in the door of an organization or a new industry that you have an interest in;
  2. Temps are often given preference when full-time positions at the company open up; and
  3. You have the opportunity to “test-drive” the organization to see if it’s someplace you really want to work.”

Rosenlicht describes his client’s happy ending: “Actually my client was just offered a permanent position at the company where he’s been temping. So the lesson that he learned was to remain flexible, open-minded, and visionary in the face of a tough job market.”

If you find the employer of your dreams, but the position you want isn’t available, consider another position to get your foot in the door. “I had a interview with a company representative for an administrative position even though it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, recalls a visitor to job-search expert Jacob Share’s JobMob blog. “They then forwarded my resume to other people in the company with their recommendation, having already vetted me. Another way to do this would be via information interviews.”

Palmer points out that in a recession, not every region may be hurting equally, and considering relocation can pay off in a downturn. “I had several clients who were pharmaceutical sales reps in different parts of the country who had been laid off from a major employer,” Palmer recalls. “Two of them got jobs within weeks of the initiation of our client-coach relationship. What made the difference with the two who got jobs so quickly was location. Both of them were located in Texas, which was not feeling the effects of the economic slowdown like other parts of the country.”

[Find more temping resources here: Temping Tools, Advice, Strategies, and Resources.]

Project professionalism — from your emails to your interviews.

Sometimes it’s the little details that show how professional you are and earn employers’ respect. Kopelan learned that after an embarrassing email incident. “I sent an email to a creative director at “The N,” and she sent it back marking all my typos in yellow. Not good,” Kopelan acknowledges. “I was told to proof by so many people. It wasn’t a rule I didn’t know. But once you get called out on it, you never make the mistake again.” Now Kopelan employs a surefire proofing technique: “Proof every letter and email backwards. It seems like a silly process, but it works because your typos will jump out at you.”

Kopelan also learned two interviewing lessons in professionalism: “Over dress! I went to meet with a PR firm, and because they are very laid back, I thought I could go to the meeting with an open shirt and blazer. Wrong. Very wrong. It’s important to show up in proper business attire no matter where or when you have an interview. If you’re in doubt, overdo it. It’s better to look like you own the company,” advises Kopelan, whose second interviewing observation is that “interviewers want you to ask lots of questions. And it’s important to ask the right ones. You have to be engaged in the interview and unafraid to ask some questions. Try to find out what happened to the person who had the job before you. Ask what process the company will use to make its hiring decision. Inquire what someone in this position would have to do to succeed,” Kopelan suggests.

Sometimes projecting the right degree of professionalism in an interview requires professional assistance. “One of the pharmaceutical sales reps that I worked with realized that the time she invested in working with me on her interview skills really paid off,” Palmer reports. “She really felt prepared for the interview as well as the salary-negotiation process. She was one of the ones who got a job very quickly.”

[Find more professionalism resources here: Job-Hunting & Business Etiquette Resources.]

Final Job-Search Lesson: Be Persistent

New-grad Kopelan gets in the last word: “Eight emails are not enough! Seriously. Sometimes you have to be prepared to send someone an email 10, 12, or 15 times to get a hiring manager or head honcho to get back to you. It may feel like you’re on overkill, and you may not be comfortable sending so many emails, but you have to keep at it until you get a response,” Kopelan says. Truer words were never spoken; don’t give up, especially in a down economy.

[Find more follow-up advice here: Job Interview Follow-Up Do’s and Don’ts.]

See also these Job-Hunting During a Recession Articles for Job-Seekers.

Katharine Hansen, PhD, Creative Director Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at) Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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