Job hunting in a recession

These are tough times for jobseekers.

At the time of writing, more than two and a half million people are unemployed and graduate vacancies have fallen significantly. On top of that, many of the companies who are not actively laying-off staff are freezing recruitment.

That said, the fundamentals of the job market haven’t changed, even if the odds are a little longer. Vacancies are certainly scarcer, but this just means that you have to be better prepared; cast your net far and wide and be prepared to wait a bit longer for your ideal job.

So what are the key things to remember?

1. Focus on your goals
It may sound indulgent to daydream about your ideal career when you’re out of work, but a spell between jobs is actually a great time to step back and think about your long-term goals and ambitions. Plenty of people snap up the first offer they get and find themselves bored and unfulfilled a couple of years down the line. So take time to think, and make sure you’re looking for a job you really want. Our Reviewing your career options page will give you some guidance.

2. Be realistic
It’s great to aim high, but you also need to be realistic. You’re unlikely to leap straight into your ideal job, so keep an eye out for opportunities that could be stepping stones to your long-term goals. Do some research on the impact of the recession, too. Are you looking for a job in an industry which has been badly hit? A job in financial services, for example, might be far harder to get than one in the nuclear industry, which has been relatively unscathed.

3. Mind the gap
Gaps don’t look good on your CV, and a “rest” period of more than a month or so should definitely be avoided. A part-time job or temporary position is better than nothing at all, and could lead on to bigger things as the economy recovers and the company expands. Covering a period of maternity leave, for example, is an excellent way to get a foot in the door. And if you have significant experience in your field, think about whether you could set yourself up as a freelancer (see Starting your own business)

4. Use your network
Most people have a bigger network of contacts than they think. So get back in touch with old friends, schoolmates, family members and ex-colleagues and ask about openings. Try extending your network, too. Instead of just replying to vacancies, take the initiative and tap into the so-called “hidden jobs market” by sending off your CV on spec. Even if you don’t land a job, you will have started a dialogue with a potential future employer. Make sure you’re registered with relevant employment agencies, too, and phone them once a week, just to remind them you’re still looking. Register on networks such as LinkedIn because it could prove to be a great way of finding a job or connecting with people that could give you a helping hand. Other social networks like Twitter are a great way of identifying and chatting to potential contacts in your field.

5. Build up your skills
If you’re short on skills for the job you want, think about going back into full-time study or doing a short course to make yourself more employable. Volunteering is another way to boost your skills. The same organisation that’s unwilling to take you on as a paid employee might be delighted to have your help for a few hours a week as a volunteer, and in return give you valuable experience.

6. Reboot your CV
Are you really selling yourself as strongly as you could? Does your CV make the most of your skills, achievements and abilities? Or is it a tired list of work experience and academic qualifications that fails to do you justice? Check out our guide to your CV to ring the changes. And don’t neglect your covering letter, either. To request hard copies or large print versions of these booklets, email members.careers@iop.org.

7. Stay positive
Filling in application forms, dealing with rejections and a constant lack of ready cash can all be rather dispiriting. But one thing is certain: you’re not alone. So if you have friends who are also looking for work, try meeting for lunch or chatting regularly over the phone - not just to commiserate over disappointments, but to pool ideas and keep each other motivated.

last edited: November 01, 2012