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Job hunting in a recession

January 13, 2009

At breakfast yesterday I overheard 3 guys at the next table talking about how their company might not make it past February. They sound like they were in some IT related field. One of them was flipping thru the classifieds section of a newspaper. They left when I was halfway through my breakfast.

I feel for them. In times of uncertainty, the job market will be vicious. The jobless must now compete against those who fear they may be downsized.

You must already know that companies won’t offer jobs because they pity you. Not when they themselves are forced to cut down. If they have any vacancies at all, its because they have urgent problems to solve and it will cost them a lot more money if they’re left unsolved.

In other words if you approach job hunting today with a ‘business as usual’ mindset, you’re a dead duck. I’d like to suggest something to beat the queue using that important point.

1. Know the battle

This is going to be a bit radical. Put aside the classifieds. Do a quick study on what companies are struggling with when they downsize. What part of their operations will they change or shut down? What are the consequential effects of those changes? Will processes need to be redefined, KPIs changed, new challenges managed? This will require a bit of homework and yes, a lot of thinking (too bad if you’re one of those who prefer not to “think too much”.) You need to stop thinking like an employee and start thinking like a consultant.

Once you understand the real on-the-ground issues related to transition, prepare a good and realistic storyline of how you can help. Be specific with your goals and what you can do for them. Use figures where you can. Saying, “I can help you cut down 40% of your project delivery costs” is a lot better than saying, “I can make things go smoother”. Note that you need not be an expert or try to pretend to be one. If they wanted a real expert they would’ve gone to Price Waterhouse already so its good enough to know just the main points and highlight any related experience you might have.

2. Seek the target(s)

Find a company that shows signs that it’s about to have a mess and will require cleaning up. Help wanted ads are a great source but not the only one. You see companies in the papers crying out SOS every day. Those are your targets. You might have more success with mid-sized companies of 100-150 employees. Small companies (<20 employees) may be tough. They may prefer to just cut losses and close while XL-sized companies will usually opt for high flying consultants.  The middle target is your best bet. But there’s no harm trying for any size. And by the way, there are reasons why companies may prefer to use outsiders to do some of these things than their own employees. And be prepared for short-term contracts.

3. Make contact

Write to the CEO and make him a clear offer to help, using the points from #1. List the potential problems you believe he might soon face (not that he doesn’t know it; he just needs to know that you know) and what you can do to help him ease the pain. A two-page cover letter to the CEO is sufficient. DO NOT attach your CV. This is to prevent the CEO’s scretary from diverting your letter to HR. Fax your CV separately to HR and mention that you’ve touched base with the CEO separately. At times like this, NEVER write to the HR Manager for an unadvertised post because chances are, a) he or she doesn’t deal with unadvertised vacancies and your letter will go to the dustbin, b) he or she already has a tall stack of applications to handle and yours will go to the bottom of the pile.

4. Use your firepower

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Its time to pull a favor or two from a friend who knows someone high enough to bring your letter directly to the CEO with a personal note of recommendation.

Good luck in your hunt.

One more thing. Companies in dire straits will usually throw their weight behind just a couple of things –  increase sales or cut costs. Or both. You need to show you can help in one or the other. Your stance should be “What can I do to help you” rather than the usual employee mindset – “What can you give me.”

If there’s ever a time to stand up and look like you’ve got it in you, this is the time.

By the way I don’t believe in going for advertised posts because you’d be fighting against what, 10,000 other applicants, half of whom are more experienced than you. Focus on unadvertised posts. Don’t be afraid to knock on the door uninvited.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2009 2:21 pm

    That’s why I don’t really pay attention to jobstreet or jobsDB. The competition will be too tough. Not that I don’t have confidence in myself, but with 1000 applications, I really doubt it’s that easy to get noticed. Also, during such period, people really need to change their mindset. Your company might hire you as a programmer 1 year ago, but time has changed and you need to be more than that now. You need to know other things besides what you have been hired for. This will increase your overall value to the company, and will broaden your horizon too.

    Don’t be rigid. Stop saying that you are not hired to do this n that. If you don’t do it, someone else will.

    Jobstreet type of co’s seem to be growing like mushrooms these days. Human trafficking must be a lucrative business, LOL. 😀

    The first challenge is to get noticed by the prospective employer. How to do that at a time when thousands are clamoring for the same attention, one needs to think outside the box for that.

  2. January 14, 2009 9:53 am

    Stalk the bosses 😛

    Only if she’s a hot chick.

  3. January 14, 2009 5:15 pm

    Talking about desperate measures; my girl who recently graduated was waiting around for some response from jobstreet. The few that responded ended up fruitless. I had to jump in to the rescue and sent an SOS to an online buddy. He came up with a few choices for her and she’s now working.

    She’s handling a wider responsibility than what she was trained for, i.e. design management instead of just doing the designing. It seems, these times, management abilities are more important. It’s not her ideal job but I told her to hang on to it until better times.

    Yes, management is a skill that’s sorely lacking everywhere, and one usually measured by experience. Good that you were able to pull some strings and that’s my point – in these times, a personal introduction is worth its weight in gold. I’m happy for your daughter.

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