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How Does the Recession Affect Your Job-Hunt?

By Christopher Schonberger

Graduating from college and stepping into the “real world” is always a daunting transition, but let’s be honest: things are realer than ever for recent grads trying to hop into the job market in the midst of a worldwide financial meltdown. Due to some abstruse connection between “Wall Street and Main Street,” a bunch of crappy mortgages and a healthy dose of financial panic, many industries are experiencing a hiring freeze and companies are having trouble keeping up their payroll.

The “why” of all this is certainly interesting, but if you’re a senior or recent grad job hunting right now (or fearing that you might become the victim of cutbacks at your company), the more pressing question on your mind is, “What the hell should I do?” Move to Tahiti? Start gambling? Work on a screenplay in your parents’ basement? Honestly, those aren’t bad ideas. But there are also ways to make sure you use this time wisely and put yourself in the best position to strike when the iron starts to heat up again.

Consider All Options

This campus recruiting season, it’s more important than ever to think beyond the career fair and consider the full gamut of jobs. Believe it or not, some sectors are still booming, so don’t just throw in the towel and assume that you don’t have a shot.

“The strongest challenges we see are in finance,” says Andy Rabitoy, Director of Career Services at Emory’s Goizueta Business School, who noted that marketing and consulting have still had a strong presence at campus recruiting events. Not all industries are struggling.

"During a recession, it's important to be flexible and open to considering alternative career paths," says Alexandra Levit, author of How'd You Score That Gig - A Guide to the Coolest Careers and How to Get Them. "There are many industries that continue to flourish despite the state of the economy, and it's those where jobs are most plentiful at this time." In her newsletter, Levit lists a number of fields that should remain stable (or even grow) during the economic downturn, including health care, education, accounting, and even gambling (e.g., working in a casino, not playing blackjack with your savings). Information technology (IT) is another safe bet.

That said, most ’09 grads can pretty much bank on the job market being pretty slow next spring and summer. If you aren’t getting any interesting offers, it might make sense just to go straight into grad school. (But be warned: grad school applicants are on the rise, especially for M.B.As, so expect tough competition.) You could also take the opportunity to do something life-enhancing, like a stint with the Peace Corps or Doctors without Borders. The added benefit of working for one of these organizations is that you can get receive aid on your student debt repayments. Whatever you do, make sure you're creating a story, so that when you do land an interview, you don't have to respond, "looking for a job," when the interviewer asks, "what have you been doing for the last couple of months." Doesn't, "volunteering for an organization I always wanted to donated my time to while explore career options," sound so much better?

Pad Your Resume

The problem being a first-time applicants is that you're no longer just competing against other college students and recent grads. Instead, you’re up against career-changers and more experienced workers who have been laid off and forced to enter the job market again.

If you haven’t had any internships or volunteer work in your field of interest, you’re not doing yourself any favors in a tight job market. You may need to start out as an intern and work your way toward a full-time offer—think of it as a trial run rather than an internship, and try to make yourself indispensable so that it becomes easier for the company to keep you around than watch you walk away.

Hedge Your Bets

If 150-year-old companies like Lehman Brothers can go belly up, you’d better reassess your definition of “job security.” Karen Bloom, a recruiting specialist at Bloom, Gross & Associates, advises seniors who have accepted offers through campus recruiting programs to hedge their bets. “Don’t stop interviewing,” she says. “If you do stop, be sure to stay in touch over the year with your second and third choice companies.” Bloom also stresses the importance of knowing where you stand in the company during rough time. “Find a person in the company where you have accepted a position whom you can trust and will keep you posted on what is happening there internally so that you don’t have any surprises next May.”

Another essential factor in any job market (but particularly a tight one) is to network. Many great jobs are never even advertised, but rather filled internally or through referrals. (A survey conducted by Right Management suggests that nearly 50% of people found their jobs through networking contacts; only about 5% of positions are filled through people responding to wanted ads.)

“Never stop making connections and friends,” advises Rabitoy. “It’s far more secure to get a job through a referral: friends, family, sororities/Fraternities, and any organizations you’re a part of.” And while you should certainly get involved in a professional networking site like LinkedIn or Doostang, you should also try to make as many face-to-face connections as you can.

Finally, accept any interview opportunities that come up, even if you are happy in your current position. The first reason is that interviewing is a learned skilled, and any chance to practice will serve you well down the line. But also, staying in touch with other companies will help keep your options open should you need to make an unexpected move.

Bottom Line

According to Challenger, Gray, and Christmas report from 2007, the average job-hunt took four months. These days, experts predict it could take even longer, so don’t lose faith or go in with unrealistic expectations. Graduating during a recession is bitter herb to swallow, but landing that first job will feel all the more sweet when you pull it off.

©2010 Gradspot LLC