finding opportunity in a crowded job search

*Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series about how to conduct a job search, especially when transitioning from one career to another in a tight job market, such as the current one due to COVID-19.

If you’re in the midst of a job search, I’m not going to sugarcoat this moment. With today’s uncertain employment market, finding work is challenging. Just as some industries are contracting, multitudes of people are simultaneously looking for a job. We’re experiencing stress on multiple fronts, and it can feel overwhelming. But if you know where and how to look, there are numerous work opportunities to be uncovered.

Now, more than ever, a job search has to be approached with clarity, determination and creativity. In order to meet this new reality, I’ll be offering ways to expand your job search strategy so you can stand out in a crowded marketplace.

tip 1: acknowledge reality, take a deep breath and move forward with your job search

Over the last few weeks, clients have repeatedly said to me, ‘No one is hiring now, so why bother.’ This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Despair is the enemy of a successful job search, draining confidence and momentum. If a similar ’no one is hiring’ thought pops into your head – and it’s understandable that it might – shut it down. It may take a bit of mental gymnastics, but each time you hear that negative, inner voice, replace it with this affirmation: ‘I will do what it takes to find a job.’ It’s okay if that feels hokey. Practice makes perfect.

Related content: what to do after you’ve been laid off.

tip 2: research industries that are expanding

The current health crisis has created enormous loss for certain industries. But, at the same time, there are companies experiencing explosive growth. The most vital part of your job search right now is twofold: researching companies that are expanding their capacity and understanding where you might be able to add value. To jumpstart your process, here are a few categories of growing industries and opportunities:

  • delivery of goods
  • distance learning
  • virtual meeting platforms
  • telehealth
  • select manufacturing (e.g., production of masks, ventilators, sanitizers and yes, toilet paper)

Your to-do list: Expand this list with more industries, and then add specific companies that fit into each category.

tip 3: brainstorm to find a match for your skillset and experience

Brainstorming is a useful technique to generate ideas to solve problems. It often takes place in a group setting so as to expand the pool of ideas. If you’re in a job search, think about creating or joining a mastermind group, which is a peer-to-peer mentoring group, to brainstorm with others in a similar situation. You can also brainstorm with one other person (for example, a career coach) or even do so alone. In any case, the key components are the same – clearly identifying the problem, allowing yourself to free associate and doing so without judgment.

For now, the problem at hand is identifying the connection between your professional experience and skillset within the industries that are experiencing growth. 

As an example, let’s start with the first industry on the list – delivery of goods. Your initial response may be, what does my work experience have to do with that? I can’t load or drive a truck, or deliver packages. And that’s precisely what one of my clients said when I suggested this exercise.

Scott was a senior director of a division at an online e-commerce company when he lost his job, and as it happens, he was in their automotive department. I encouraged Scott to do some free associating, and within a short time, he started visualizing all the extra delivery trucks on the road right now, and how those fleets will need to be maintained with an abundance of automotive parts. Maybe there could a way he’d be useful to that enterprise. With that first thought, we brainstormed about who he could contact for further exploration.

Carolyn is another of my clients, and was a project manager at a university until her department was downsized. She realized after some prodding that the school who employed her has a version of a distance-learning program already in place, and she has contacts who work in that department. Within a week of our conversation, Carolyn had scheduled phone meetings with two relevant people in her network.

And here’s a slightly different example of brainstorming with a client: Karen was a leading candidate for a job that recently was put on hold, a common scenario these days. After our brainstorming session, she remembered that she’d managed a global division at her former company during the 2008 recession. The position required her to deliver winning results, despite a bare-bones team and meager resources, and build it back up when the economy got better. This is such useful experience in the current job market. We discussed how it should be front and center in all her messaging, including her resume, LinkedIn page and in talking points during interviews.

tip 4: be flexible and bold in your job search

With Karen, I discussed another important strategy for the current employment climate: flexibility. Yes, Karen was disappointed when a promising job was put on hold. But we brainstormed ways that she might still be able to add value to the company, even if it wasn’t full-time work. Given her essential experience leading a team during an economic downturn, she might consider offering to do consulting services or contract work right now, which would require less of a financial commitment from the company during this uncertain time. After our conversation, Karen drafted a proposal and is waiting to hear back.

Now that almost all work is remote, I’ve encouraged many clients to expand their geographic parameters when it comes to how far they’d be willing to commute. And for some, I’ve even suggested they might consider a job in another region altogether. It will be awhile before most of us are back at a physical workplace outside of the home, and by then, companies might be more open to remote employees.

Related content: 7 ways to approach your job search like a salesperson and win.

tip 5: is this your entrepreneurial moment?

Starting a business isn’t easy under the best of circumstances, and particularly now, given all the limitations we’re living through. But, if you continue to hit the wall with your job search and there’s an entrepreneurial idea catching fire in your head that suits the times and current restrictions, it might be worth exploring.

Start off by testing the idea with a few preliminary steps. These include clearly identifying what specific problem your idea solves, your target customer and the costs of bringing your idea to the marketplace. Even as you explore a potential business of your own, you can continue to look for more traditional employment.

tip 6: gratitude builds resilience

In this time of unprecedented uncertainty, with so much beyond our control, there is one way we can be in charge: taking time out for gratitude.

My wake-up routine, first and foremost, now includes a moment of appreciation for another day of good health. I think about how my freezer is stocked with delicious food, I’m able to take walks in the neighborhood and even though it’s rainy this week, warmer weather is on the way. I’m also grateful for Jeff, a senior mechanical engineer, who while looking for work, is volunteering with a group in Portland to make face shields for medical professionals. I need these daily reminders to keep me strong.

If you’re in a job search, staying optimistic and resilient are the cornerstones of success.

wendy braitman, PCC.

career development coach

15 April 2020

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