Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Getting a Job in a Tough Economy

It's all over the news: The world markets are plummeting, and it's more than likely that the United States will be in a deep recession. It's not good news to job seekers, especially the soon-to-be college graduates. It's much more difficult to find a job in a tough economy. If there is no immediate need for employees, employers will establish "hiring freezes" until times get better. If there is an immediate need for employees, employers will be very particular.

Just because it's more difficult to find a job in a tough economy doesn't mean that it's impossible to get a job. In the recession of 1992-1993, with unemployment rates similar to what they are now, I was able to get a job shortly after college graduation.

What can you do to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack?

  • If you are not graduating college/university just yet, get an internship in your field, or get a job in your field

    Generally, employers think that work experience is more important that GPA/QPA (but your GPA/QPA is important for landing internships, so you shouldn't slack!). The person who did two years worth of internships in his/her field with the GPA/QPA of 3.25 will get hired over the person with a 4.0 GPA/QPA with no experience in his/her field of study. Employers understand that for an entry-level position, there is going to be a learning curve, but they also want someone that doesn't require "hand-holding" in a professional environment. Internships give students practical experience in their field, as well as experience in a business environment.

    Another option, especially for those in your 3rd or 4th year, is to get a job in your field. It may not be your ideal position, but it still counts as experience. Plus, it will allow you to "get your foot in the door" of a company. Typically, companies will try to fill positions from within before placing the ad on Monster or Dice. When the ideal position becomes available, you have a better chance of getting the position. For example, if you are studying network engineering, find a position as a help desk or desktop support analyst. Most lower-level help desk/desktop support analysts only require 2 years education. Many IT personnel have gotten their start at a help desk.

  • Develop a career portfolio

    If you are unsure of how to create a career portfolio, read the following article from
    Quint Careers

    Many in the arts and entertainment business already have this, but what about those in other fields? In my opinion - everyone, regardless of the field, should have a professional portfolio. What is a career portfolio? It is a book, media and/or website that contains samples of your work as well as any special accomplishments, such as professional certifications, patents, newspaper articles about your accomplishments in your line of work, and awards. (Note: for those of you in technology, you should also either have a web site where people can see samples of your work, or you should have a list of links where you have published your work).

  • Gain experience (and build your social network) by volunteering

    Volunteering your services helps you gain practical experience in your field. If you are volunteering for a major organization, like a place of worship or a not-for-profit organization, you can also possibly meet contacts that may be able to help you find a job in your field. It's not just about what you know - who you know is a major factor of finding employment. It's estimated that about 60-80% of people who find jobs find them through people they know. Even if the people you meet are not in your field, they may know someone that can help you.

  • Practice your presentation

    Presentation counts. Period, full stop. If you don't make a good presentation at your interview, you won't get the job regardless of your record. Presentation is the total package. It means: a firm handshake, confident (but not arrogant) speaking, good answers, interest in the company, and making a nice appearance. Part of the interview process is a lesson in sales. You are selling yourself to the company. You are trying to show the company why they should hire you. There are numerous articles and television shows advising you how to dress for an interview, so if you are unsure of how to dress for the interview, read the articles or watch the shows. If you can, work with your career advisor or mentor on practicing your interviewing skills. They can advise you on how you speak, how you carry yourself, how you answer, and how you pose your questions.

  • Develop a secondary professional skill that will distinguish you from the pack

    Examples of secondary skills:

    - A second language

    - For computer and technology majors - another major in a business or medical field

    - Oral and written communicator

    - Knowing basic IT skills and troubleshooting techniques if you are not an IT person

    I know that most of you would probably think I'm being a little too elementary by mentioning the word "professional", but I'm sure that there would be one person out there that would think that being able to smash beer cans on one's head counts as a secondary skill!
    Why is having a secondary skill important? In order to remain competitive, businesses usually look for people who can contribute more than their skills to help the company grow. In the case of technology, non-technology businesses who need IT people want people who are more than just "geeks" - they want people who also understand "the business". You need to know more than your field. A highly valued secondary skill is knowing how to communicate in a second language because many businesses deal with international markets.

  • If it's financially feasible and you are an undergrad, get the advanced degree.

    Companies are upping the ante with a job position's education requirements. Jobs that only required a 4-year degree at one time are now requiring a graduate degree (Master's or Doctorate). If you are financially able to continue your education, do so. It will be helpful to your career in the long run.

  • Consider contracting or "temping"

    Some people may turn up their nose at this suggestion, but this is actually a good opportunity, especially in the tough economy. Companies may be reducing their spending, but there are projects that must be completed. For human resources, it is cheaper to hire contractors for the duration of the project than it is to hire employees for the project. If you join a contracting firm or a temporary agency, you will probably find work quicker than you would finding a full time job. Contracting or "temping" also has its benefits: it is a nice opportunity for those who want to gain experience in working in different businesses or environments, and it is ideal for someone who is not quite sure in which industry s/he want to work.

  • Keep your financial and criminal nose clean

    For most of you, this is common sense. In these tough economic times, this is NOT the time to get a DUI, nor it is the time to "max out" on your credit cards. Many of you know that companies do felony criminal background checks on you. However, some will do misdemeanor criminal background checks on you as well. For example, if you are applying for an outside sales position (you go to client sites to sell product), and your driver's license is suspended because of a DUI, you will probably not get the job. Some of you may also be aware that companies now do credit checks on potential employees to indicate how responsible the potential employees are. In some cases, if you have poor credit, the company will not hire you. During your final two years in school, stay out of criminal trouble, follow a strict budget, and pay your bills on time.

    If you do have a felony conviction on your record, you may want to read this article on seeking employment with a criminal record.

    What if it's too late? What if you have something recent on your record? What if your credit is poor? It doesn't necessarily mean that you won't get a job, but it does mean that you'll probably have a more difficult time finding a job that most. For example, if you have a misdemeanor conviction for shoplifting, you will more than likely not be able to get a job in a financial institution. If you have poor credit, you may have a difficult time getting a job that has an expense account because the lending institution will not grant you a credit card, even if it is the business's account. You should start making an effort on cleaning up your credit report. If you have a misdemeanor on your record, you may not have to worry too much, but you will need to be aware that it may disqualify you from certain jobs. However, if you have a felony on your record, you should read the article that appears at the right hand side of this paragraph.

  • Keep your social networking site professional

    I have written an article on this blog about this topic (It's in the archive), but I think that it's worth mentioning again. While pictures of you acting silly while you're drunk or high may impress your friends, it won't impress your future employers. This is also not the time to publish provocative pictures of yourself in states of undress, unless you are trying to get a job as a model. You may also want to be careful about what you write on the blog.

    This is the time to change the focus of your social networking site to become as an business advertisement for you. Use it to publish samples of your work and to tout your achievements in your line of work.

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