Finding a Job in a Recession: What to Do if Youve Been Laid Off

by Andrew · 16 comments

The unemployment rate is at 7.2% and 11.1 million people are unemployed. The job market is flooded with insanely talented people. And you just got laid off.  $@%^#!

Even in a strong economy job-hunting is a stressful ordeal, but the prospect of finding a job in a recession can be downright depressing.

This is perhaps the best time to expand your subject matter expertise by earning certification or an advanced degree from online colleges and universities, but if that’s not an option, here are some things you can do to drastically increase your chances of finding a job in a recession:

First, and this is huge, I would argue that every business decision is based on at least one of only 3 factors: increasing revenue, cutting costs, and increasing efficiency. When a hiring manager looks at your resume, it doesn’t matter how great of a school you went to or whether you spent 6 months or 8 years at your previous job, those things are all just ingredients that combine to form an impression in the mind of hiring manager of whether or not you’re capable of helping the company generate more revenue, cut costs, or be more efficient.

As you sit down to update your resume and write cover letters, and at that next interview, keep in mind that you absolutely need to convey at least one of the following:

  1. I can help your company generate more revenue
  2. I can help your company cut costs
  3. I can help your company be more efficient

Sell yourself! And don’t just SAY you’re qualified to do one of those things, provide clear examples of how you’ve done it in the past.

1. Go Back to School

If you can even remotely afford to pull it this off then forget job-hunting and go back to school. Even in the best of times, expanding your subject matter expertise by earning certification or an advanced degree is important for upward mobility, but it’s true now more than ever. If a degree or certification could help you in the long run, start working on it right now.

  • Make it work. Work full-time or part-time at the best paying job you can find, and spend the rest of your time focusing on the long-term by advancing your skill set.
  • If you can afford to take a break from employment to work on a degree, do it. By the time the recession rebounds you’ll be primed to hit the ground running.
  • If you still need to work full time, then try going to school at night. Or, if you can subsist on a part-time job, try working nights and going to school full time.
  • There’s more financial assistance out there than you think.  Start by filling out a Federal Application for Financial Student Aid, and talk to a counselor at your education institution of choice

If you absolutely can’t swing going back to school right now, then turn the table on cost-conscious employers by pitching yourself as a lower-cost, increasing-value team player. In this economy, every company is looking someone who can add value, cut costs, and manage the tough times.

2. Start Your Own Business

Again, this isn’t the right approach for everyone and not everyone is ready to pull the trigger, but if you’ve been thinking of starting your own thing then now is the perfect time do it, particularly if you can find a way to profit off the recession.

Read these posts for a perspective on why now is actually the IDEAL time to start your own business:

1. Start Now: 6 Reasons Why This Economy is Good for Startups
2. More Reasons Why Now is the Time for Hatching Something New
3. 2009 Will be an Economic Engine for Change

3. Consider changing your profession or industry.

Just because you have years of school behind you doesn’t mean you have to stay in the career path you started with.  There’s a huge world of opportunity out there, but it might be on a path you never considered.  Think about a change.

  • Focus on growth industries and specializations. Picking an industry that is still growing or is predicted to grow during these difficult economic times increases your chances of landing a new job and decreases your chances of getting laid off again. Some of the top growth industries are:
    1. Computers/IT
    2. Energy
    3. Health care
    4. Federal government
    5. Legal (attorneys)
    6. Aerospace manufacturing
    7. International business
    8. Security (physical and systems)
    9. Education
    10. Environmental
    11. Science/R&D (Though not at Pfizer right now!)
  • Select 2 or 3 industries along with the region(s) you’re willing to live, and then target the top 10 companies in each industry and region and go to town.  Spend more time focusing on your target companies than the spray-and-pray method of replying to every job post on Craigslist or CareerBuilder

4. Network Your Ass Off

Get off your butt and make friends, now. HR experts say that 80% of jobs are filled through networking / referrals.  If you’re battling against 11.1 million other Americans to find a job, and 80% of jobs are landed through networking, then do you see how important this is?

Have you ignored invites to join LinkedIn, BrightFuse, or other professional networking sites? Now is the time to join and milk your connections. Here are some of the major players:

  1. LinkedIn
  2. BrightFuse
  3. Spoke
  4. Plaxo
  5. Ecademy
  6. Xing
  7. YorZ
  8. Ryze
  9. Care2
  10. Gather
  11. Naymz
  12. Networking for Professionals

For more info on social media networking tips, John Boyd at Sales Management 2.0 posted a great article last week on using social media to find a job in a down economy.

5. Take a Step Job

A step job is the job you take while you are still working towards your next career job.  It might pay less, or have a smaller title, or even be embarrassing (delivering pizza to your neighbors?), but it puts food on the table and gets you out of the house. (JibberJobber)

6. Try Part-Time or Freelance Work

“Rather than one ‘job,’ think in terms of multiple positions. Breaking in [to a new job] may be easier if you aim for part-time work within a company,” advises Katy Piotrowski, career counselor and author of “The Career Coward’s Guides.” “Line up multiple part-time positions and you’ll benefit from more job security; if one position evaporates, you have the others to fall back on.”Moreover, it will pad your résumé and your wallet.

Rachel Weingarten, author of “Career and Corporate Cool,” recommends job sharing or taking over for someone on maternity leave or during the holiday crunch. “A lot of people don’t want to commit full-time skills to a part-time or temporary gig. In this economy though, it can allow you to not only try on a job for size, but to also improve your skills, impress a potential long-term employer and network like crazy with people in your chosen industry,” she says. “Instead of nervously waiting for the right full-time career, you can potentially make something better happen in the short term.”

7. Get Used to rejection

You’re going to be rejected. A lot. So get over it now. In this market it’s not about you, it’s about the economy and the 11.1 million other people hunting for a job. Expect the worst: you might not find a job until you’ve submitted your resume for the 1,000th time or had your 17th interview, so don’t give up prematurely.

8. Be Willing to Settle

All bad markets are temporary. Having a job in tough times is very much a bird in hand situation. Take what you can get, even if it’s a step down. It’s better to have a so-so job now so the paychecks keep coming in and you’re still gaining experience. This is much preferable to holding out for your dream job for months or even years. The opportunities will be there again soon, and when they are, you can land the dream job then.

9. Use Every Job Hunting Site You Can Find

Maybe you’ve had better luck, but I have absolutely never found a solid job lead on Careerbuilder or  Those are by far the two largest job sites out there, but increase your chances by hitting niche job boards and smaller sites. There are many more job sites than I’ve listed here, but these are some of the best:

  1. Craigslist
  2. Dice
  3. MediaBistro
  4. FutureStep
  5. Indeed
  6. TechCrunch’s Crunchboard
  7. Wall Street Journal’s Career Journal
  8. CollegeRecruiter
  9. SoloGig
  10. AllFreelance
  11. Freelance Switch
  12. Go Freelance
  13. Yahoo! Hot Jobs
  14. Guru

Do you have any tips for how to find a job in a recession? Leave a comment and let us know.

Photo credit: h_haenen