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Job hunting in an economic slowdown
Sunder Ramachandran & Dr MB Athreya
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December 17, 2008

Reports of companies laying off thousands of employees globally have made many young professionals skeptical about the job market. There is a certain amount of insecurity and uneasiness amongst professionals today as all signs point to an increasingly unwelcome economic outlook in the coming months.

With the recent downfall of some big banking players, the employment markets globally are in turmoil. Facing a layoff is fast becoming more and more a real prospect for many professionals. To keep your job, you need to work smart not and do whatever it takes to make sure you are crucial to your company.

But you must also have a plan, in case your organisation thinks you are not so crucial or efficient. Here are some suggestions to help you in the job search process in these difficult times:

Treat the job search process as a job
If you are unemployed, your focus or the interim job now is to get a new job. That means that you must dedicate part or full time hours to a structured job pursuit. Set a schedule everyday for networking with peers, finding leads and openings, preparing customised resumes and cover letters and finally sending them across to prospective employers.

An astute sense of focus will give you better results and enable you to find a job faster. A job search will involve picking up the phone and making cold calls, appearing for several interviews, facing rejection etc. A structured approach will make it easier for you to handle these new variables in your life.

Open up your mind to new sectors / jobs
You're sending email blasts to get the word out. You've researched companies of interest and tapped into your network. But still no results. To get back out there, earn some income and re-build your confidence, you may need to broaden the jobs that you'll consider. Take some time to set both short-term and long-term goals. Do you want to work toward a new career path? Do you need to find a job right away?

Based on your professional and personal needs, form goals directed toward your next employment move. Sometimes setbacks can hold the gem of an exciting new opportunity. For example, let's say you enjoy designing websites for friends and you have your own blog. You've dreamed about taking this hobby to a professional level. Does the ending of your current job give you the chance to go for your dream? You may opt to work either full time or part time while you get trained for and launch a new business. There are many ways to make it happen. Look for the opportunity in the setback. 

Always be looking
Never just sit quietly in regret. You are in charge of your own career. Contact hiring managers to ask questions by phone or in person. Or try contacting someone in a department of interest and see if they'll chat with you for 10 minutes about what it's like to work there.

Network. Contact colleagues for job leads. Set up lunches and coffee meetings to let people know you're searching. Friends and colleagues can be your greatest allies in finding work. 

Research companies before interviews. Even reading a press release about a new product the company created can let the interviewer know you did your homework.

Follow up with prospective employers. After an interview, call the person who interviewed you, send an email or a hand written thank you note. Re-emphasise your commitment and enthusiasm for the job.

Industries to target
While all sectors are affected, to some extent, by the current problems of the global economy, some are doing relatively better and professionals may target such sectors. First, the FMCG sector is a strong "defensive" industry. The demand for the daily consumption goods is less elastic both on income and on price levels. It is therefore, not surprising that their share prices have fallen much less, about 30 per cent, from their recent peaks, compared to 90 per cent in the Realty sector. 

Other such sectors, still growing, are Telecom, Pharma, Power, Power Equipment and Financial Services. Take an inventory of your skill sets and see if you need to educate yourself further. It is a fact that the more education you have, the more money you can make in your lifetime. A downturn is a good time to head back to school and learn. There are several management and other short-term programmes that are offered these days by several leading institutions. Education opens the door and shows that you are a learner, able to stay the course, and have a measurable knowledge in your field.

Recommendations to those who have been laid off recently
Those laid off as a result of the downturn should stay calm. It is not the end of the world. In the current globalised one market world, all countries are subject to business cycles. There will be rRecessions and recoveries. Indian professionals are relatively more fortunate. India, like China, is only experiencing a "slowdown", not a recession, which is defined as a fall in GDP. 

Indian growth is forecast at about 7 per cent this year, and 6 per cent in 2009-10. So professionals should search for jobs in the sectors identified above. Use spare time for learning; tooling up; personal and professional growth. Reduce expenses.  Defer whatever is possible. Start saving for the next big downturn. Draft a comprehensive standard CV, reflecting experiences, learnings and competences. Package it well. But, truthfully.

Identify the sectors, where your skills have relevance and value. Shortlist the companies with potential. While you may ideally want to work for the top companies, be ready to start with a reasonable job even in a medium or small company. "Lower your expectations about what you're going to get. When your gut feeling says to take the job, do it. Don't let pride get in the way." Do not stall. You never know where the position will lead. 

Being in a job makes it easier to trade up later. Use multiple channels -- job sites; placement firms; responses to ads; direct applications; leveraging suitable contacts, etc. Before each interview, do good home work on that company. Take some training in job hunting. Don't appear desperate. Stay optimistic. The upturn will come.

Sunder Ramachandran is a Managing Partner at WCH Training Solutions, a New Delhi-based training and consulting firm. Dr MB Athreya is a renowned management thinker and advisor. He was formerly professor at IIM Calcutta, and at the London [Images] and Scottish Business Schools.

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