Compiled by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
We asked job and career experts for tips on how workers and job-seekers can take a proactive stance to improve their jobs and careers, even in a tough economic climate -- and we got an earful.
We asked experts to complete this sentence: "If you could offer one piece of advice for how workers and job-seekers can be proactive regarding their jobs and careers at this difficult time, it would be ________________________."
Here's what they said:
You need to be an active networker. In today's economy, it is imperative to have an active network in place. Most employers prefer to hire people who are referred to them via their own networks, so it is essential to focus on expanding your online and traditional networks of contacts. By networking, you can potentially set yourself apart from the scores of other applicants who apply for every job vacancy. In today's economy, employers are inundated with job applications. The best way to have your resume considered is by networking actively and trying to find people who can possibly recommend you for a job opportunity.
Nurture and grow personal and professional networks. Ask not what others can do for you, but what you can do for them. Then -- if appropriate -- demonstrate how you can meet needs. This spirit of reciprocity can help you be "top of mind" when your skills are needed.
Expand thy network of friends now! Take a class at a community college, or continuing-education program, or join Meetup.com to meet people with similar interests, so if you unfortunately do lose your job, you already have relationships with people who might be in a position to help you get your next one. Who knows, you may be able to help them and feel like a million bucks!
Networking is by far the best job-search method and a way to stand out in the job market. Fresh college grads as well as seasoned professionals can effectively use employee referrals to get their foot in the door. The proverbial inside track is especially critical in tough times of mass layoffs and hiring freezes when competition for open jobs gets even tighter. There are many general-purpose social-networking Websites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Here job-seekers can leverage their current network of friends and colleagues to get introductions to other people. Alternatively, they might consider joining specialized peer-to-peer job-search networks such as TugLink.com where they would be able to introduce themselves directly to insiders (employees) at companies of their interest.
Build your network on LinkedIn. While many professionals have LinkedIn profiles, not many know how to leverage the profile as a job-search/career-management tool:
-- Liz Lynch, Founder, Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following in Person and Online, McGraw-Hill.
Network with abandon using virtually every means available -- from professional/social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Ziggs, ZoomInfo, Plaxo, and VisualCV to traditional face-to-face and e-mail contacts. These steps are critical for job seekers today as they seek to gain visibility and traction in their job-search efforts. It is definitely not enough to merely plaster the job boards with resumes; job-seekers must aggressively manage their network to produce viable leads, have numerous conversations, and build momentum through sustained, purposeful activity.
Spend time every day on your network. There are networks that require "face-time" such as associations, alumni events, etc., and then there are virtual networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook that can be expanded and nurtured daily. If you don't already have at least one virtual network, start building one and interacting with peers in your area of expertise and industry. Not only will you make your profile available to the thousands of recruiters who network on these sites, you will also build important ties to peers in your industry and area of expertise. While Facebook might not seem like a career vehicle, it is rapidly turning into a great way for mid-career professionals to re-connect with high-school and college acquaintances. In fact, one of the fastest growing groups on Facebook are young (26-34) to middle-age (35-44) professionals. So -- get out and network. You never know where your next job lead might come from.
Begin to re-establish connections in the workplace. A great place to start is to join and become involved in a professional association. I know of situations where this [involvement] proved fruitful and resulted in new positions. However, start this process early so the relationships are already intact.
Never stop networking. Former colleagues, customers, vendors, association meetings, networking groups, board members, recruiters, and others are all great sources to spread the word and help you identify the right opportunity. You are in the sales mode; thus, you should try to meet five new people per week and have five meaningful conversations (not necessarily with the same five people) each week.
Actively network and keep your referral chain active. New/better job opportunities often come along when you are not looking.
As a career coach, I stress to my clients that the best thing they can do to be proactive during difficult times is to build your network, which includes things like attending monthly networking events, completing a profile on virtual networking sites like LinkedIn.com, joining a local networking group like BNI) that meets weekly, and just getting out there to meet people on both a professional and social level. Building your network also includes maintaining contact with those already in your existing network. (Keeping an organized database of existing and new contacts is important as well.) So if the time comes when someone is looking for a new job, they'll be in a much better position to call upon their now much larger network to help in the job search.
Get in front of people and ensure that you leave with at least 3 new names of people they recommend who could help you.
Get away from the computer ... and make sure you are networking.
Go above and beyond what's expected of you from your official job description.
Focus on the core mission of the business that employs you. Many businesses diversify and serve several functions, but usually there's a central mission that makes money and determines whether the business will succeed or fail. Identify that central function and play a role in it. Identify the skills the business needs for future development of this function and acquire them.
Learn how to listen and be an excellent communicator, including how to handle difficult behavior, and taking personal responsibility for every choice you make.
Determine how your strengths contribute to the company goals. If necessary, seek out assignments that leverage your strengths and contribute to the bottom line. Being a valuable member of the team can secure your position during turbulent times.
SHOW DEDICATION! One of the biggest complaints employers have had in the past few years is that people, especially young people, are jumping jobs every year or two. If you're looking for a job, make sure you focus on pursuing opportunities that you're genuinely interested in. If you look at a job as a four-letter word, as something you need to do to pay the bills, you're could be more transparent than you realize. Employers are tightening their hiring budgets and if they're going to bring new people into their companies, they will want to have some confidence that they'll not only work out, but stick. If you're already in a job, make sure that you're giving it your all, especially in uncertain times. Even consider asking your boss if there's any other way you can be helpful -- even in a different department or function. Be an asset in tough times, and you're all the more likely to make it though to the good ones.
Informally ask others ways you can best meet their expectations and what changes would be helpful to them. Be open to hearing their ideas for improvement, and make adjustments. This approach communicates to supervisors and co-workers your openness to change and interest in continually improving your results. These two competencies are especially important in today's work world.
Create change. If you want to stay current in your position learn to become a valuable asset don't wait for it to happen -- make it happen. If you're worried about finding a career, be proactive. Someone is always hiring, and if you want it badly enough, leave your ego at the door.
Is your resume working for you? If you keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, you're insane or soon will be! This applies to your resume also. If it's not getting you interviews, change it! What have you got to lose?
The hiring market used to look at your whole background and used common sense when looking at your resume. Frequently, the only thing that is done now is to match your last title and company brand. I would advise if you take a part-time job at a convenience store to make ends meet that you not put it on your resume for this reason; it will prevent you from being selected. This reality presented itself when a friend of mine who was a brand manager left a Fortune 500 company to start her own consulting business after a downsizing. Her LinkedIn inquiries went from 10 a month to zero, even though she was willing to listen to the right offer if it came along.
Would you hire you? As you begin a job search, start by asking yourself what assets you would bring to a company, even more so, a company facing dire straits. With the hemorrhaging of the current economy and worsening job market, job-seekers must demonstrate their value through effective verbal and non-verbal communication. It is also vital that they use technology and techniques that represent the future and not the past.
Create a strategic self-marketing plan. Don't rely solely on any one job-search method. Instead, create a multi-faceted plan that effectively taps into both the published and published markets. Creating a systemized plan with daily, weekly, and monthly goals allows job-seekers to measure progress and make required adjustments. Following a systemized process also helps to reduce overwhelm and anxiety. The job hunter knows what his/her goals are and can systematically move forward with them.
Develop a plan that you can activate on day one if your position is eliminated. The plan should include a list of companies and people to contact.
On a whitewater river just before entering a rapid, paddlers need to get centered. Do the same in today's "permanent whitewater" environment. Consider two questions: If I were hired into this job tomorrow, then what would I do? If I were fired from this job, then what would I do? Work from your answers outward.
Assertiveness is critical. In a real sense, we are all sales people hawking our skills. That means if we want to get that offer we have to work very hard starting with the basics: a strategy, solid tools and networking. The key is define what you do best and promote yourself aggressively. You can accomplish this by properly developing a job-search strategy with a well-thought-out personal business plan that clearly outlines the parameters of your next move. Solid definition, backed up with a plan enables you to target and recognize real opportunities. Get in touch with who you are and feel confident about your accomplishments. Project the right amount of self-esteem. I believe that the best lesson is learning how to project self-esteem rather than wait until you feel empowered. We must be ready to seize opportunities.
Remember when you go into that interview, that you are selling yourself to the employer. Before the interview try to develop a list of 4 to 5 things that you accomplished while in your last job. Make reference to those accomplishments repeatedly during your interview.
Recognize your own strengths. Step out of yourself for a moment and realize the way companies themselves are grappling with the changes in economic patterns. Take a look inside at what you can do to be a positive force to assist your current or future employer today. How can you make a positive difference? Making a strong contribution will be felt by managers, co-workers and possibly the entire company. If you are job-seeking, stay clear on your accomplishments. Underline ways in which you have helped previous employers succeed. Be full of your own light. Staying calm and positive in a storm is a great quality in an employee at any level of any organization."
Get really focused on the results you achieve for your employers, and every time you are asked by anyone "What do you do?", answer this question instead, "Why should I pay your salary?"
If you are focusing on only one thing, you are not doing enough to protect your career or obtain a new one. Other things you should be doing, particularly while employed are:
-- August Cohen, Career Consultant, GetHiredStayHired.com
Step back and answer the question, "What I have already done either individually or as part of a team that has produced a positive, measurable contribution to the bottom-line result for someone other than myself?" People looking to hire someone don't care how much you know or how much you can do until they know what you have already done for a company like theirs that produced a positive, measurable, contributing to the bottom-line result. The more you have an answer to that, the less you have to "fudge" what you tell prospective employers. The next step is to target companies that most urgently need that kind of result. Then if you have been accurate in your targeting, all you have to do is find a way into that company, tell them what you've already done for companies like them and then enroll them.
Have confidence in yourself. Look back and see what you have accomplished in all the years you worked; see how far you have traveled to be where you are today. If you are beating the bushes looking for a job, never let the interviewer sense any feeling of anxiety. You have a lot to contribute to the work world!
Get very very clear on what you want your next job to look like. Before finding yourself in that commonly desperate jobless situation, take time to take stock. Do self-evaluations on interests, skills, strengths, and values to determine what kind of job and company matches you -- where you would be best suited and most fulfilled.
Identify, develop and market your most relevant skills and abilities, in your resume, your 30-second elevator speech, and all your networking situations.
Make sure your job skills are up to date. Enroll in a class or training session if necessary to show that you are staying on top of the very latest trends and technologies in your field.
For workers or job seekers in the field of marketing or advertising, get trained in the basics of search-engine marketing. Search engines have become the number one way that consumers gather information daily. There is strong demand for professionals with search marketing backgrounds even as advertising and marketing budgets are cut.
Stay flexible. Too often, [troubled times are] when people start to lay low and stay out of sight, but it's really when people should demonstrate their flexibility in learning new things, trying new jobs, and embracing change. [Flexibility] demonstrates an open attitude, which often translates into a positive attitude, which is exactly what a company needs in these otherwise trying times. Career-killer attitudes include: "It's not my job," "I know this job better than anyone else, so I have nothing to worry about," and "I've been in the workforce for 30 years; why should I have to take a class on anything."
Keep applying and don't lose heart. The job-search process is not like it was the last time you looked for a job, whether that was 5, 3, or 1 year ago. You probably won't be submitting paper. You'll be submitting your resume to a company's Applicant Tracking System, and it probably won't result in an acknowledgement from a person. You probably won't be able to follow up with a person. It may be weeks or months until you hear something. Remember, these all used to be bad signs, but now they aren't necessarily; the flow of applying has changed, and you have to change your mindset with it or else you will find yourself plunging into the Job-Search-Why-Doesn't-Anyone-Want-Me-Abyss. Instead of complaining about the time it takes to fill out on-line applications, use the time to answer the questions thoroughly, completely and using all your best online manners -- spelling, grammar, full sentences). Make sure you set up job alerts, so that you are alerted when jobs of interest are posted. Most of all, hang in there. You WILL get a job. You WILL.
Don't give up. When the news around you seems bad, it's easy to say to yourself that your efforts will not make a difference. They will. Being proactive means consistency -- doing one thing every day no matter what. These small actions will lead to big action and big results.
Identify and clarify "portable value" that isn't tied to an industry or function. Portable value says "Here's what I do, how I do it, what it's delivered to my companies. I can do it for you, too." Dig to get to the foundation of what you do, prove the ROI of what happened when you did it, show how it can work anywhere, and you're ready to out-compete, even in another industry. For example, if you can tweak something that is already working well and at very little cost enable it to save more money or deliver more revenue -- that's a portable value proposition. If you can do it in only one industry, it's not. Chances that you will need to transition from your current field are strong. Portable value helps you do it.
Market yourself as an expert, and here is why: Marketing yourself as an expert is one of the smartest approaches to job hunting you can take any time but especially in a tight job market. Experts, after all, have something hiring managers want: knowledge, skills, and expertise. Job hunters want something: namely, a job. When you establish yourself as an expert, you validate your credibility and increase your desirability. Unfortunately most individuals in the job market never stop to determine their areas of expertise and in fact don't think of themselves in those terms. Instead they plunge into the job hunt with the simple objective to "get a job, any job." [To read the rest of this advice, go to the WorkWise Web site and click on Expert or Job Seeker? You Decide.]
Collect testimonials. Find people who have benefited from your work -- other departments, vendors, your immediate area. Ask people to email you some positive feedback about how your work benefited them. Do the same for others, by the way, to develop allies. The testimonials are a great way to make a tangible case for your value if your job does come into question; they provide ammunition for a raise or promotion discussion; and if you have to leave, they provide good references. Plus, the very act of collecting the testimonials forces you to reconnect with your different constituencies, strengthening your network and therefore strengthening your career foundation.
Find a way to demonstrate expertise online now and to start doing it consistently. For example:
Brainstorm ways in which your unique talents, abilities, and accomplishments could be re-packaged to meet the demands of planned layoffs and unplanned employee turnover. Enlarge the scope of who you are and target the voids/problems you have identified that you are uniquely qualified to successfully resolve solo or with a carefully assembled team. Do this by:
-- Gladys Kartin, Career Strategies and Coaching, Assessments, Interview Coaching, Resume Review
Do something different from everyone else! Be contrarian. Everyone else (95 percent of job-seekers) will be looking to see what other opportunities are available through front-door means (e.g., ads, online job boards, headhunters, etc.). The best way to ensure your ongoing job security, in bad times and good, is to always build and nurture a career tribe through back-door means, which means building relationships outside of needing a job. If you currently need a job, that's fine...you just can't use that to meet people, because they won't meet you! Nobody wants to be put in a position to possibly have to say "no." You have to find reasons, such as research projects, to create the necessary willingness for people to meet you. ... This method is not about tricking anyone and done well, can serve as the door opener to opportunities and entire career changes you would have never imagined. I know; I've done it and taught it for years!
Know and be able to concisely communicate your unique value and how it benefits your current or future employer. Whether that value is a unusual work history, a rare combination of strengths and attributes or a personal quality or expertise that can contribute to your employer's success, make sure the people who can most influence your current career needs are aware so it is clear that you are the only real candidate for the job.
Think and talk in terms of Return-on-Investment. View yourself as a mini-profit and loss center for an employer. Be prepared to talk the language of money and demonstrate ways you have helped to positively impact the bottom line of your past or current employer -- which means demonstrating ways you've helped make money or save money for your employer or its clients. As employees, we all touch money, though some of us may be closer to it than others. All of us must find ways to prove that we make or save money and be ready to indicate that in short sound bites when we get the opportunity. Don't let all the hype about the economy spook you into a state of panic and inaction. By revising your tactics to include a more solution-selling approach to employers, you stand a better chance of getting hired in today's faltering economy.
With the economy hitting an all-time low, and fears of recession and joblessness increasing, people are scrambling for alternate ways to generate income. One way people are combating these fears is through outsourcing -- in essense freelancing their Web, IT, or tech background to buyers all around the world. [If you] have marketable skills in Web design, IT, writing, software development, use this uncertain time as an opportunity to create job security by launching your own business as an outside resource for small and medium businesses, and even larger enterprises.
Maintain a sense of well being and confidence in yourself and in your professional expertise. You are marketing your being as well as your doing. Nothing turns interviewers (HR and others) off faster then a candidate who projects an air of defeat. Dedicating time each day for activities that help you feel good about you will help you be confident and passionate about what you have to offer. All other traditional job-search advice still applies, such as networking (including going to meetings where people who would hire you go), having a crisp message about why should the company hire you, doing your homework so you can present your expertise as directly contributing to what they most need, now.
Follow your passion. You know you've found the right job when work doesn't feel like work. Job-seekers need to approach a job search with an adventurous attitude. Visualize your next position exposing you to new and energizing opportunities. Have fun with the possibilities. Put time into the job search, and your job won't seem like work.
Generally, when people are unemployed or fearful of losing their jobs, they become mildly depressed - especially if they have been laid off or think they will be laid off. This depression is due to learned helplessness -- the idea that their actions cannot make a difference; they cannot win because of forces such as the economy, the government, etc. It is a special type of fear that inflicts people who have been traumatized. Spend your unemployed time reversing your learned helplessness so you can turn yourself into a person of action again.
Focus on opportunities, rather than putting energy into fearing what might happen. Create lists of employers that you want to research, people you'd love to network with, accomplishments you've achieved in the last 60 days. Then think of 3 positive steps you can take now to move you closer to your career goals, regardless of the economy. As Franklin Roosevelt said, "There's nothing to fear but fear itself."
Stop taking a passive approach to job hunting. Now is not the time to make your computer your best friend and just apply to online job postings. Instead reach out every day to someone new and set up a time to meet in person, grab lunch, or talk on the phone. Opportunities exist, and the best way to find them is through other people. People help people they like and for people to be able to like you they need to get to know you. Focus on building mutually beneficial relationships and become a part of the circle of support that exists out there.
After having done everything you can do, rest in the "provision principle," a belief system that says "I have everything I need" and helps you to manage your mindset so that it's positive and open to opportunities. It's important to discern the difference between needs and wants, of course. Further, it's important to recognize that provision for our needs is sometimes delivered in packages different than what we expect, so keep your eyes (and heart) open!
See also these Job-Hunting During a Recession Articles for Job-Seekers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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)quintcareers.com.