A little less than two weeks ago, I was called into my boss’s office on a Friday afternoon and he began the conversation with those dreaded words: “There’s no easy way to say this…”
It’s the worst feeling in the world, especially when it had nothing to do with your performance, the company just needed to downsize. Unfortunately, it’s an all too common reality these days. After my initial freak out, I put all the advice I’d collected in career classes, seminars, and school workshops into action. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m still looking. But I’ve been told to get ready because it’ll take a few months at least. *cringe*)
Get the word out.
The old wisdom was that you shouldn’t let it be known that you’re unemployed because it makes you look desperate or weak. But with unemployment still hovering around 8% nationally, and 20% for twentysomethings and recent college grads, that stigma has really gone by the wayside. Other people must just be embarrassed. It’s not the easiest thing to admit.
But how can anyone recommend you for a position or provide you with advice and connections if they don’t know you’re looking? Swallow your pride and put a message out on Facebook. Keep it brief and positive and make sure to ask that people keep an ear out for opportunities. Message friends individually if they’re in your field or you know them to be well-connected.
Don’t bother with Monster and CareerBuilder.
The most important fact I can share with you is one a career coach stressed with me: 80% of all open positions are never listed online. And by the time they are, about 200 people or more have applied for the position as well. Most companies don’t even look at your resume until a program has searched your documents for keywords and found the correct amount, then it’s forwarded on to HR.
I’m not saying job search sites are useless. Post a detailed profile, resume, and cover letter and apply for relevant jobs. You have nothing to lose. Just don’t make that your primary method of searching and don’t spend a ton of time on it. Instead you should start by applying directly to companies where you know people and can direct your resume and cover letter to someone specific rather than just the generic HR department.
Network: all. the. time.
So if 80% of positions are never listed, how do they get filled? Well, obviously, a lot of positions are filled by promoting from within. But the bulk of it comes the old-fashioned way: someone who knows someone. The reality is that a vast number of people probably have all the right qualifications, education, and experience to do that job. The rest is just personality fit and getting in the door.
Keep business cards in your purse every place you go so you can hand them out anywhere, anytime. You never know who you’ll run into. Don’t have any? Check out VistaPrint.com – they have tons of professional templates that are customizable. They’ll print and ship hundreds of cards for around $10-$20.
Get on LinkedIn (if you’re not already) and update your profile. Ask for recommendations from former employers, professors, and colleagues. Message mentors and friends explaining your situation and asking for advice. Forward them your resume if you think they can help. I always felt awkward about this until someone told me, “Almost everyone will be flattered you asked and want to help.” Since then I’ve found that it’s absolutely true.
Join a career group
Every profession has networking, career, or trade groups and if you’re a woman or minority there are even more for you. Since I’m in Public Relations, I joined the Public Relations Society of America and New York Women in Communications. Some of the benefits of membership was free career coaching, mentoring programs, seminars, and private job listing databases – all for about $100. This is how I’ve gotten some of the best advice and connections. If you went to a school with some clout, utilize alumni networks.
Besides doing good work and keeping you busy, volunteering for relevant causes can give you skills to add to your resume and help you meet people who might know of professional opportunities. That career group your joined probably has committees you can get involved with. Or maybe you’re a media relations expert who really loves animals. Volunteer to do community and media outreach for a local animal shelter. This can come in especially handy if you’re in that weird limbo between positions when you need to gain more experience to be hired but you can’t gain experience until someone hires you.
Start a project
Why do you think I started this blog? I’d been gathering ideas and designs for a while but I never had time before. It’s been really satisfying to find my voice and do something I actually want to do for a change. It’s keeping my skills sharp and it’s a great way to showcase my abilities to prospective employers. Plus it just makes me happy. Find something you enjoy that can also translate into your professional life.
This may all seem a bit hypocritical since I’m only two weeks into the experience. But this is the best of the advice and information I’ve gathered so we’ll figure it out together. As I gain more insight I’ll share it here, and if you have any advice I’d love to hear it as well. Good luck!