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Working for the Work

Job search strategies for any economy.

By Robert Shannon

Working for the Work

Recession-Proof Jobs," the headline read.

Really? Does such a thing exist?

Let's face it: the job market is tight these days. The unemployment rate grew more than 2% in 2008 to a 15-year high of 7.2% as of December 31, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Not only that, the U.S. Conference of Mayors projected recently that major metropolitan areas like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago will be among the hardest hit in terms of job losses for 2009.

Rising unemployment, big cities losing jobs at a faster rate than the rest of the country . . . sounds like "recession-proof jobs" is more of a tease than a promise.
In an article published by Forbes, Sophia Koropeckyj, an economist at Moody's said, "A lot of people won't have the luxury of going for their first choice in a down economy."

For what it's worth, various publications and websites addressing this topic listed computer science, engineering, energy, and environmental specialists (like engineers and other scientific positions) as being among the so-called "recession-proof" areas.

But, as a philosophy instructor of mine once shrugged, "So what?"

How does that change your job search strategies? In a strong economy, do you think recruiters are going to cold-call you and ask you to please, please, please send them your resumé?

Conversely, in a down market like today, are companies completely shutting down their recruiting efforts? Are they not rethinking the way they do business and looking for fresh minds with fresh ideas? Don't they want young employees educated in the latest theories and technologies to thrive in their new, leaner environments?

The answers are obvious. And your course of action is still the same: you make yourself more attractive to your employer of choice than every other person lined up before and after you at on-campus interviews and at on-site visits.

When it comes to your first job search, the same rules that applied 10 to 12 years ago still apply today. Good economy. Bad economy. Common sense and diligence never go out of style.

You're already making yourself more valuable. If you're reading this publication, it's likely that you're on your way to a college degree. Guess what? Remember that 7.2% unemployment figure at the top of this article? That's for the total working-age population. For those with college degrees, the figure drops to 2.3%.
So there's step number one. All the other steps? They're just as easy if you're willing to put in the time and effort. They are the cornerstones of any job search at any stage in your career.


Are you ahead of the curve when it comes to internships and other practical experience that relate to your career? Nothing beats that. Nothing will prepare you for an interview like experience. Nothing will resonate more with an employer than someone who can talk a real game and not just recite what they've heard in the classroom.

Know Yourself

Speaking of talking a real game, never go into an interview cold. What's going to happen when you hear "tell me about yourself" or "why do you want to work for our company?" Will you stumble and search for your words? Or will you confidently and comfortably deliver a clear, concise response? Work on it. Get used to talking about yourself—if you're not already—in a professional manner. If you don't know what you can bring to an employer, it's a good bet that the employer won't know either.

Know Your Potential Employer

Be able to take the interview beyond the rudimentary. Remember that the interview is a dialogue and if you're letting the interviewer drive the bus, it's probably not a good interview. If you can't come up with questions more engaging than "How many employees do you have?" or "Where are your offices located?" you're going to be looking at a disbelieving, albeit sympathetic, face. Understand the issues facing the company and the industry. Reference relevant current events that might affect the industry. In short, talk like a pro.

Read Your Resumé, Then Read It Again

The more you look at your resum, the more likely it is that you'll find an error—spelling, grammar, a missing word, a wrong date, etc. Keep refining it and updating it with all your current information. And when you think you're done, walk away, come back, and read it again. Same thing with your cover letters and thank you notes. Always give your documents the once-over twice.

Keep At It

Even in a strong economy, nothing is a sure thing. You might have nailed that on-site interview and really hit it off with the hiring manager and your potential co-workers. But guess what? Things change, stuff happens, and the job offer went to somebody else. Or the position was eliminated. Or who knows what. Just make sure you don't get hung up on one particular job. Yeah, times are tough. You just have to work at it a little harder.

Remember, it's not about finding a job that's recession-proof, it's about making yourself recession-proof.

Robert Shannon is a freelance writer in Chicago.

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