Making the Best of It: Professional Career Advice for Navigating a Tough Economy

professional in a suit standing out from a crowd of other job candidates

There’s no question that COVID-19 has caused some major economic shocks—and many issues seem likely to linger. This pandemic has led to furloughs, lost jobs, hiring freezes and a lot of plans being put on hold. Economic uncertainty is being felt at all levels—from job seekers trying to get started in a new career to executives looking to plot a course for the future. For job seekers and recent college graduates, this is obviously not an ideal scenario. Frustrating as it might be, the ups and down of the global economy are largely out of our control as individuals—so what can you do to make the best of it and hopefully reach the other side of this downturn—or any downturn— more resilient? 

For one, you can focus your energy on the things you can control. We’ve asked Elizabeth Lintelman, Director of Career Services at Rasmussen College, to provide her best advice for dealing with times of economic uncertainty.

9 Pieces of career advice to keep in mind during tough times

Whether you’re actively on the hunt for a new job opportunity or just bracing for rough waters, these tips can help you keep steady.

1. Remember you are not your employment status

A job loss can easily leave you feeling a bit unsure of yourself. It’s important to remember that who you are hasn’t changed and these circumstances will eventually pass. “Do not define yourself by employment status,” advises Lintelman. When job searching or just introducing yourself, refer to yourself with your normal job title. Instead of saying, “I’m unemployed,” say “I’m a teacher, a writer, an administrator” or whatever your title is. It’s a simple switch in how you position yourself, but it will help you project confidence.

As the economy changes, your job search might need to as well. If you need to pivot professionally, take some time to reflect on what you enjoyed about your work in the past and use that as a launching point. Are there aspects of your current job that you enjoy that could be applied in other fields or roles? It might lead you down a slightly different career path than you may have had in mind, but flexibility and the ability to adapt matter. Lintelman says this approach helped her regroup during the 2008 recession after being laid off from her job as a recruiter.

“I saw the parallels between my passion and my past experience and was able to translate that into higher education,” Lintelman says. “I have been working in this field for more than a decade and am enjoying it just as much today as I did when I first transitioned.”

2. Master your “elevator pitch”

First impressions matter—particularly in an environment where interview opportunities can be hard to come by. This is where a brief “elevator pitch” that encapsulates who you are and what you’re looking for professionally comes into play. It might seem awkward initially, but give some careful thought about the message you want to send to potential employers and how to hit those key points in a natural way. Having this honed will help you give employers a quick and clear sense of who you are.

"It is crucial for those who are unemployed to be proactive in their job search now and not put it off for a future date."

 “Having an elevator pitch is so much more than just saying, ‘I’m unemployed and need a job.’ It’s the ability to share with others what your passions, strengths and vision for your career are so they have a clear understanding of how they can help support you,” Lintelman says.

It’s not just an in-person thing, either. A honed elevator pitch will help you introduce yourself more powerfully in resumes, emails, cover letters and more. Plus, with more businesses and organizations moving toward remote work and videoconferencing, it’s more important than ever to have a digital presence that’s equally polished online as it is in-person.

“Being able to efficiently articulate your passions and career goals is just as important in-person as it is in a virtual setting,” Lintelman says.

3. Cultivate your online network

Now is the time to reach out to your network. While we’ve all likely spent our fair share of time on social media staying connected with friends and family during this pandemic, don’t forget to keep LinkedIn® in the mix. “First and foremost, you need to be on LinkedIn, have a complete profile and be active,” Lintelman advises.

To build your professional social media presence, you’ll want to seek out and join relevant professional groups, engage with discussion posts and contributing thoughtfully. This can help you make connections with other job seekers, employees and hiring managers. Engaging on LinkedIn can also be good for your own morale—reminding you that you are professional and have valuable thoughts to contribute.

4. Keep your skills fresh

A period of unemployment is a great time to brush up on skills you normally use at work or learn a skill you’ve been meaning to work on. This might mean volunteering, working part-time in a different industry, or taking online courses to add to your credentials.

Lintelman stresses now is not the time to just press pause and passively wait for a change in fortune. “Things are changing very rapidly in this environment. If you’re just sitting back and waiting to see what happens, you’re going to be behind once employers start hiring again,” Lintelman offers.

She notes that she’s already heard of employers asking candidates about what they’ve done to pass the time during this pandemic—having a solid, productive answer to this won’t hurt.

“Being able to demonstrate your initiative by learning or honing a new skill will speak greatly to your adaptability and passion for learning.”

5. Be open minded

It’s natural to want to continue moving upward in your career. You’ve worked hard and you’re ready to level-up. However, your career may not always advance in a straight line. In this economy, it can be advantageous to remain open-minded about career progression.

“Don’t be closed-minded in your job search. Consider different industries, job titles, and levels,” Lintelman encourages. “In this current climate, you may need to take a step back in order to take two steps forward when the economy comes back.”

It’s easy to make the mistake of assuming your career will follow a rigid, idealized path—but getting locked into this line of thinking can cause issues in a tough job market.

“I too often encounter job seekers that have a narrow perspective on what they can do with their education or previous work experience,” Lintelman says.

While some positions may be a slight stretch or departure from your background, keep the focus on what does overlap and how the transferable skills you’ve developed can be applied in this role.

6. Take care of your own mental health

Staying positive and mentally healthy isn’t just good for you personally. Your mental health can impact your job search too. Recruiters and managers aren’t just looking for someone who can check to-dos off a list. They’re looking for a complete person to join their team, someone who fits in with their company culture and can persevere through challenges. Attitude shines through even in interviews. Though this is a hard time, do your best to show your resiliency when speaking with employers.

“It’s so easy to slip into an unhealthy routine where you’re staying up late binge-watching Netflix and rolling out of bed at 10 AM to poke around on a few job search sites where you’ll blindly apply for positions,” Lintelman says.

She notes the importance of keeping a regular routine and treating your job search efforts as a job of their own.

“Job searching is a full-time job, especially so with an increasing national unemployment rate, so the more proactive and positive you can be in regards to your search, the better.”

She also suggests creating a daily “work” schedule with designated times for searching and applying to roles, networking and engaging in virtual professional sites and keeping tabs on positions you’ve applied to. Having a healthy job search work routine can also help make the transition back to the routine of full-time employment easier.

7. Don’t stop applying

Applying to jobs is tough even in good economic times. It can be hard to know if you’ll ever hear back from a potential employer at all. Right now, not hearing back can feel even more discouraging. HR departments are also navigating an uncharted employment market right now. While some have pressed pause on hiring, many are still building out their pipeline of qualified candidates. It may just take longer for them to get back to you right now.

“Something to keep in mind is that there may be a lot of job seekers sitting tight and not proactively applying for jobs due to expanded federal unemployment benefits,” Lintelman says.

While those benefits may be a welcome relief for many, Lintelman believes job seekers should anticipate a flood of new competition as these benefits expire—so the sooner you get active in the job hunt, the better.

“It is crucial for those who are unemployed to be proactive in their job search now and not put it off for a future date. “

8. Join an accountability group

Like working out with others can help motivate you, accountability can help you in your job search as well. Many people—including your friends and family—are likely in the same boat as you. Forming an accountability group or even just having one accountability buddy can make a big difference. You can encourage each other to apply to a few positions every day and follow-up with ones you’ve already applied to. 

9. Prioritize quality over quantity

You only need one job. Though you may be applying to a lot of positions, it’s important that you take the time to customize your resume and cover letter to the specific position and company you’re applying to. The quality of each application is more important than how many applications you’re sending out in a day or a week.

“It absolutely has to be quality over quantity,” Lintelman urges. “It’s not unusual for recruiters to have multiple positions they are trying to fill. If a candidate seems to be randomly applying to all open positions, it can be seen as a sign that the job seeker doesn’t actually know what they want to do and are blindly applying.”

Before you submit an application, do your research about the company you’re applying to and tailor your resume to showcase the crossover between your qualifications and the job’s requirements. “Your application needs to be very specific and strategic.”

You’ve got this

Job hunting in an economy like this can be challenging, but don’t let it get you down. The advice here should give you a solid starting point for taking control of what you can and putting yourself in a position for success.

Rasmussen College offers several services that support students and alumni in every step of the job search process. Learn more about how our Career Services team can help you here.

About the author

Kirsten Slyter

Kirsten is a Content Writer at Collegis Education where she enjoys researching and writing on behalf of Rasmussen University. She understands the difference that education can make and hopes to inspire readers at every stage of their education journey.


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