7 Job Searching Tips during a Recession

Illustration of a woman sitting at a desk and working on a laptop, with a line graph in the background

Nothing prepared you for job searching during a recession, let alone in the middle of a pandemic. You started scouring for possibilities months ago, and yet the options to apply for the job you truly want are scarce. The thriving job market seems like a bygone era, and now you’re probably wondering what the future holds.

Take it from two Gen-Xers. My former coworker Rebecca Kanter and I know what it’s like job hunting during the crux of an economic downturn. During the 9/11 recession, we were in college with our sights set on entering the job market. We watched as employment opportunities dwindled and family and friends lost jobs. We felt disillusioned.

Sometimes it was difficult to maintain hope when the employers who were hiring didn’t see our potential. Self-doubt would creep in, even though we knew we were facing unfavourable circumstances beyond our control. But we weathered through those challenging economic times and persevered.

Little did we realise those obstacles to finding a job were forcing us to develop strategies to stay mentally agile and competitive. Here are some tips we learned that may help you in developing an optimistic outlook and build resiliency in your job search going forward.

1. Adjust your expectations

As unemployment claims continue to rise, the number of people vying for open positions does too.

You may not obtain your dream vocation right away but remember that any job is income and a title to place on your résumé.

Our first jobs weren’t what we had originally hoped for but turned out to be essential building blocks in our careers. One of us started out in a part-time job that eventually turned full time, and the other in an unexpected field. Like us, you may find some elements of work – that you hadn’t considered before – enjoyable, and this may open new career pathways for you.

2. Focus on skills development

If you’re successful in finding a job but it’s not exactly what you had in mind, take note of the skills you’re developing. What is it you’re gaining from this position? What can you carry forward that will help you transition into the type of job you want?

Many skills are transferrable to other positions and fields, especially soft skills such as communication and teamwork. Even some technical or hard skills can be applied elsewhere or leveraged as a baseline for learning new ones. A track record that shows a willingness and ability to learn new proficiencies is also valuable to employers.

If you’re still encountering difficulties looking for employment, rescan those job descriptions for areas where you have skill deficiencies and see how you can acquire them. Many online education sites offer free courses. Also, check into what online class subscriptions might be available to you via your local library. While the thought of adding education or training on top of a job search may seem daunting, do keep in mind a class is short-term and one more may provide the edge you need.

3. Remember that it’s not always personal

Of course, you should put your best foot forward throughout the entire job application process. You want to optimise your chances of getting the job. But if you don’t get selected for an interview, keep in mind that sometimes it’s not about you.

There are politics and policies at play behind the scenes. You might be up against an internal candidate, facing the unfair odds of nepotism or be at the mercy of an unqualified and clueless screening committee. Even if you’re the most qualified candidate for the job, they may not be able to see it. So, don’t be deterred by an employer’s silence to your submission. Just move onto the next job application and consider it their loss.

4. Explore opportunities outside of your hometown

Sometimes while job hunting, it’s necessary to cast a wider net to increase the options available to you.

Consider if entering the job market in another city, county or even country is doable for you. You may have to move away from the comforts of your hometown for a little while, like we each did, in order to pursue the type of opportunities you want. Try conducting some research to see what areas have low unemployment rates, and which occupations are projected to grow.

Opening up your job search strategies to include a new location might be the key that unlocks the door to employment. And you may discover the added bonus of new friendships, like ours, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

5. Connect with something or someone you care about

If you’re feeling powerless in your job search, think about the power you do have to connect with others now and improve your community. Pick a cause you care about. Educate yourself, discuss it, join a group or volunteer. Find a mentor.

In this way, you’ll be networking and creating experience for your résumé. Your outreach efforts might also help you in stumbling upon a hidden job market. Like what happened for us, following these tips may help to expand your overall job prospects in the future.

6. Take a break from job searching

Though it sounds counterintuitive, think about taking a break from job searching for a few days or even a week. Searching for a job can be a full-time job in itself. And just as you would with work, it’s important to take breaks and vacations for your wellbeing.

Dealing with rejections and scrolling through jobs boards only to see repeat postings can wear on you. We found taking these time-outs in our searches to be essential.

So put away the résumé, cover letter and endless job boards from your mind for a while. Allow yourself time to enjoy the outdoors, engage with a personal hobby or socialise with friends. By stepping away for a period of time, you’ll be able to return to the job hunt with new vigour and fresh eyes. Perhaps the short mental respite will allow you to find mistakes you previously overlooked or come up with a new game plan for securing employment.

7. Know things will get better

During a recession’s tough job market, there may be many times when you feel up against a wall or that you’re not advancing as quickly as you would like. But know this: things will get better.

You’ll eventually catch a break and you’ll be stronger, wiser and sharper from this experience. You’ll be that much more prepared for opportunities that arise as the economy bounces back.

Don’t be discouraged by the foreboding news headlines, the online articles forecasting doom and gloom, or by anyone’s judgement of where you are in your search right now, including your own. The beauty of time is that it brings perspective.

Midway through our careers and having faced the lows of job searching during a recession, we’ve learned that there’s no one right way to build a career; everyone has their own unique path. We’ve come to understand that the instances, when our pursuit of employment failed to meet our expectations, were just steppingstones along the path to where we would end up. And who knows where that is? We're still stepping.

What are your go-to strategies for job searching during a recession? Join the conversation below and let us know!

This guest post was written jointly with Rebecca Kanter, MPA, an experienced director and analyst of education programmes at museums and higher education institutions. She is also a writer. Her work can be found in the current edition of The Acorn Review.