How do you find a job in a time of recession? For careers expert John Lees, the recession and redundancy could provide the perfect opportunity to reassess your life and find your perfect job.
Lees, author of How to get a job you’ll love (see here), says you may have to be more creative in your job search in hard times, but this can open up new possibilities. In fact, people who say they just need a job, any job, are likely to go to the bottom of the pile in a recession, says Lees. The important thing is to know what you want and that means knowing yourself and what motivates you.
You need, in essence, to be proactive. It’s not just about looking for a job in all the normal places. It’s about taking risks, experimenting with options until you find what is right for you rather than staying in a career that may not make you happy.
In his book, Lees talks about how people tend to keep on in the same old same old job even though it isn’t what they want. He claims they stop themselves breaking out of the mould by making excuses – they are worried about making the wrong decision, changing the status quo, making a mistake, but this leads to them letting their career be shaped by accident or accepting second or third best. His book is packed full of exercises to overcome these excuses and find out what really motivates people.
One of the main mistakes people make in looking for a job, he says, is a lack of realism – they wait, for instance, for the perfect job to come along. Instead, they should go out and investigate the kind of jobs which attract them, make approaches to people, ask to see round an organisation, get some work experience on a day off…
A recession, rather like other dramatic upheavals in a person’s life, allows people to review what they want, says Lees. Some will use their redundancy money to set up their own business, he says. In fact, every recession has historically led to a rise in self employment. Others, however, might prefer to hedge their bets a bit by seeking part-time work – and the security of regular pay – while they build their own business up on the side. Some will be attracted to what is called portfolio careers. This kind of option is growing in popularity as technology allows people to work from home more, be their own bosses and work for a variety of different organisations.
“The worst reason to adopt a portfolio career is a recession, though,” says Lees. “You need to go for it because it suits your way of life.”
That means you need to be sure you are suited to working more under your own steam and juggling different jobs. You will probably also need a good range of contacts – most people go freelance or adopt a portfolio career by starting with regular work from a past work contact. You need to have the skill to spot a potential problem in your industry and offer yourself as a solution.
Other types of work are also on the increase, such as homeworking. The benefits are clear. They include more flexibility, more time as you don’t spend dead hours commuting to and from the office and potentially greater efficiency. On the downside, you may feel more isolated. You could also, says Lees, arrange meetings with people doing similar work in your home area. Another potential drawback is that if you are not visible in the office you may be sidelined or miss out on training and promotion opportunities. If you can get a balance between homeworking and office working, for instance, working some days of the week at home only, this could offset the negatives.
Lees is all for flexible working, but says people sometimes send out the wrong messages about themselves which harm their career prospects.
He says in exchange for flexible working workers need to show that they too can be flexible. “If you work very defined hours you are more likely to miss out on things like training. If you can supply a degree of flexibility it will look like you are more committed,” he says. “Being more rigid can be limiting.”
While he understands people’s fears about being exploited if they are constantly working outside their defined hours, he says it is best not too rigid. “Don’t put the focus on flexible working as being restrictive,” he says. For this reason he advises people not to bring up the possibility of flexible working early on in an interview. “You are giving people a reason to exclude you,” he says. If a job is not advertised as being flexible, you may have to do a few months of full-time working in a new post before you ask for homeworking or other solutions in order to build up credits.
Lees says the jobs market has changed dramatically in recent years. The traditional route to a job of seeing an ad in the paper and applying is not the way most people now get jobs. He cites statistics showing only 20-30% of jobs are filled in this way. Other methods, including word of mouth and speculative approaches to companies, are replacing traditional job search methods. More senior roles and more specialised work are even less likely to be advertised.
A key way of getting a job is by increasing your visibility and you should start way before you actually want to make a job switch, he counsels. You can do this via social media, but Lees advises not to rely too heavily on doing everything from the screen. “You need to use social media as an opportunity to get away from the screen as fast as possible,” he says. “Use it as a mechanism to arrange a face to face meeting. It’s about getting the introduction to new people and new groups.”
He says it’s worth spending time with people who know how to use it and making sure you have a good reason for arranging a meeting with someone, for example, to learn something about their job or organisation. “You will be remembered much longer if you meet up and if something comes along your name is more likely to come up,” says Lees.
Another reason for ensuring you are stay visible in the jobs market, whether that is by attending group meetings or through social networking, is in order to keep ahead of the game. Job descriptions and roles are changing very rapidly in today’s international marketplace, mainly due to new technology. There are jobs available now that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. To keep ahead, says Lees, you need to talk to people and network.
However, he says it is easy to think, if you have been out of the workforce for a while, that you will never get back in because technology has changed so much. In fact, most people can pick up new software skills with half a day’s training from a colleague, he says. “Most employers are not looking at these kind of things,” he says, “so don’t draw attention to them. They are more interested in flexibility and people who have the right attitude. It’s about transferable skills. If you are returning to work after a career break what they want to see is that you are interested in the job and committed. They don’t want to feel that you are just seeing the job as a means to an income.”