Experts seem to agree that we’re in the midst of, or are soon headed into, a recession. Workers of all kinds are sweating it: Can their current pay keep up with soaring prices? Will they be furloughed or laid off? Will they lose clients from their gig work or small business?
It’s no surprise that a recent survey of more than 1,200 professional workers by JobSage found that only 1 in 10 Americans is working their dream job right now. Over half felt that such a job was unattainable in this economic climate. Their biggest barriers, they said, were a lack of: the right experience, education or network.
But are these workers’ perceptions based on a current reality? Historical data sheds light on what happens during recessions. Regardless, there are concrete steps you can take to get closer to that dream job, despite the economy.
What can history tell us about finding work in a recession?
Historically, it’s much harder to land work during a recession, but a slew of emerging factors point to some new realities this time around. No two recessions are alike, so no one can say how any one recession might affect switching jobs or careers. Additionally, the current downturn is already bucking several usual trends.
After the end of the 2008-2009 Great Recession, it took five full years for the job-switching rate to return to its pre-recession numbers. But during the months-long 2020 recession, most workers who were laid off or quit their jobs in the Great Resignation, found other work quickly.
That was then; now, we’re in new territory. We have an unprecedented combination of factors: the nation’s sudden and sharp economic pain caused by the pandemic; the changing ways that workers perceive work; the ways companies hire today; the exploding numbers of gig workers; and a tech landscape that’s constantly in flux, among other elements.
It’s always the right time to prepare for what’s next, though. Economists and job coaches alike agree that making a plan is never more crucial than during an economic downturn, especially one as unprecedented as this.
Don’t wait for a crisis, when it’s much harder to activate yourself. In this new economic reality, no one can tell you when or how hard your sector might be hit.
Action is the antidote to overwhelm
Looking for work even in good economic times can be overwhelming. When we feel anxious or threatened, evolutionary instincts urge us to duck into a cave or curl in a ball. A fine tactic against saber-tooth cats; not so useful for job-hunting today.
Action is the antidote. This means much more than brushing up your resume or business plan, or hoping for a lucky break. This is the time to make your own luck, and making and executing a detailed plan is the way to do it.
The approach is three-pronged: Plan and set detailed goals, beef up your network, and expand your skills or education.
Those three actions don’t exactly sound innovative, but we’re taking into account the gaps that the JobSage survey respondents mentioned most, and how it all fits into the economy, market and tech landscape of right now.
Small acts of planning, making connections and acquiring skills accrue over time, just like saving a few bucks here and there does. It’s hard to see how, say, spending 45 minutes a day wisely can get you to your ideal job. But if that’s what you’ve got, you’re still working toward your goal, though the more time you can put into it, the quicker you’ll see results.
Map out a plan
Start by mining specific data on what you want, as well as your skills and gaps, industry, current and prospective contacts, and trends that you might want to take advantage of. Brainstorming is the first step in this data mining, which will then help you focus your plan of action. From here on, think of every idea, every trait you discover in yourself, every business contact, and every piece of research, as a part of your data collection that moves you toward your goal. Mind-mapping, a form of brainstorming, can get you started.
You have to know what you want. You might think you have a clear picture of that already, but the more details you can brainstorm, the more solid and actionable your plan will eventually be. You want details about your product or service, about its target market, about what you want your life to look like and about contacts that can help you get there.
Next, assess your skills and gaps, using the brainstorming tools. What solid skills or knowledge can you bring to your new venture? What skill gaps could you reasonably work toward filling? How does your unique hook, skill, product or niche fill a need in the marketplace, and how can you make it stand out? While many people think of creating a brand as something a business does, you can use many of the same steps to make yourself stand out in the marketplace.
Collect more data about yourself to optimize your schedule. Where are your productivity sweet spots? What’s your best time of day for thinking, outlining, assessing, researching, making phone calls or writing messages? When are you the most creative? These are some of the new ways that workers are thinking about their work; along with work-life balance, they’re taking into account for themselves the when and how of getting work done.
Now you’re ready to schedule, using specific goals. Do you need to bring your resume or business plan up to date, to fit both your own experience and new market realities? Schedule tasks like making new industry contacts, working out new job-search or gig-work platforms, or researching ways to beef up your skill set.
Your calendar should include intermediate- and short-range goals, and specific times for each small task involved.
In your long-term planning, create a “data-collection” mindset for every interaction and step you make.
Ramp-up your networking
Since an estimated 85 percent of new jobs come through connections or word-of-mouth, networking may be the most effective tool you have in this economy. You’ll increase your chances of getting your resume or business plan read, or acquiring more business. Take some time to examine your network, and expand or tweak it to accommodate the marketplace. Even if you haven’t done much networking, getting started is easier than ever, given the explosion of online job search and networking sites.
Even the secondary tier of peoples’ social networks can be helpful in finding work. So mine those networking sites or your social apps for information about those secondary people, see where you have industry interests in common, find a detail you connect with, and make an introduction by messaging about that detail.
Networking or job websites can also help you find in-person networking events. But know how to approach these get-togethers: A networking event is not a place to ask for a job, nor is it just a place to circulate your business card. What you’re looking for is personal connection, so introduce yourself as you go, and make polite inquiries about peoples’ businesses or industries. A brief chat can yield data, so it might help to make notes as you go.
For networking to be functional, it needs to be reciprocal. Be open to hearing from anyone you contact in the future.
Pick up skills, education and experience
Workers in that survey about finding a dream job cited a lack of skill, education and experience as primary deficits holding them back. There are more ways to acquire these than ever.
You might not want to assume that the skills you thought you needed to compete a year ago are the same ones you need today. So before you decide how you need to beef up your skills, look for market trends: Scan job boards, industry journals and websites, and visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to understand current market trends that can focus your research.
Most community and technical colleges offer classes online, and offer certifications in some industries. Additionally, there are many other online options for skill- and knowledge-building, often at no cost, or at least a lower cost than at a college.
LinkedIn offers hundreds of courses, and is but one of many online business education platforms. Udemy and others also offer an array of skill-building courses for any career.
Technology makes it easier than ever to pick up skills and education toward your ideal job, often for free or at a low cost.
Making it work for your specific situation
Whether you want to stay at your workplace but do new work, look for a job at a new company, start or expand gig work, or start or expand your own business, you’ll need a tailored strategy.
Sticking it out at your current employer
There is some wisdom in staying put in a recession, since they can last anywhere from a few months to a year and a half.
If you want to stay put, but could use a change, ask your manager to work with you to explore options; think of this interaction as a fact-finding mission. They don’t know you’re interested in other work unless you say so. Are there alternate duties that could freshen your role, or other positions opening up that haven’t hit the job boards yet?
Worried about furloughs or layoffs? They’re not just about seniority. Managers will start letting go of less-productive workers, too. Career coaches suggest that, in tough economic times, employees should work at their highest level, aiming to make themselves indispensable.
There are exceptions: Start looking elsewhere if your organization seems unstable, if layoffs are rumored, or if you just need to get out of there.
Moving to a new organization poses tougher challenges during economic troubles. Yes, hiring slows, but managers also stop posting openings on major job boards as their inboxes flood too fast to keep up with the resumes of laid-off workers.
This is where your contacts and networks come in. Ask questions in your circles about what’s happening in their industries and companies. They can tell you not only about job openings, but trends in their workplaces that could point you toward in-demand skills.
Remember that jobs can arise from your secondary network. If you start and maintain regular contact with the associates of your associates, it’s possible that you’ll find out how to get your resume in front of the right people without relying on now-unreliable job boards.
Starting or expanding gig work
The number of freelance workers in the U.S. is about 59 million or 36 percent of the total work force, according to Upwork. And that number is expected to grow, according to Statista, with 86.5 million freelancing in 2028. That’s almost 51 percent of the entire U.S. workforce.
Gig workers are self-employed freelancers of any kind and typically do temporary, part-time work for multiple clients. Could your ideal job involve gig work?
Gig workers have an advantage in this economy: Although their hourly rate is usually much higher than an employee would earn, they’re less costly in the long run, since they’re temporary and cost the client no overhead, like hiring, training, insurance and other benefits. Businesses are more likely than ever to hire them for projects that a laid-off worker would have done.
There are many online platforms for finding gig work, from delivery, catering and home improvement to specialized-skill areas. Freelancers engaged in professional work also lean on their networks or ask good clients for referrals.
The number of part- and full-time gig workers is exploding right now, and could offer a route to surviving this economy while moving you toward your dream job.
Starting or growing a business
There are some advantages for newer businesses in this economy: It’s tougher for established businesses to pivot or innovate in hard times; cost-cutting is cheaper and easier than looking for new niches in the marketplace. That gives a startup with a good idea room to compete, if they can find those niches, and successfully market to them.
Consider Airbnb: It was started during 2008, during the worst of the worst economic times since the Great Depression. During the time, Airbnb bet that people with spare space would be eager to make a few bucks, and that people would still be able to travel if they could save on lodging costs.
They saw a niche opening, with a new market, and offered a win-win. While your idea may not be the next Airbnb, you may have a unique skill or product idea that you could slot into this economy.
Niche businesses enjoy other benefits. They can keep expenses down by specialization. Their target markets are much narrower than larger businesses, and it’s easier than ever to research who and where that market is, and how to reach them.
Let’s say you have an idea for a service or product that can solve a problem, even perhaps a problem created by economic conditions. If you have the resources to get it going, there’s every reason to believe that you can. You might start it up as a side hustle. You may even want to keep it that way. But with endless resources, like social media, free online courses to fill in any gaps in your business knowledge, all the available public data on any industry, and advice on how to get started, you can move quickly to put together a business plan and tweak it as the market rapidly changes.
Now is the time to find that dream job
There is no question that we’re in an economic rough patch, and it’s likely to get rougher. But anyone who takes the time to understand the fast-changing marketplace, map out a detailed plan (even if the goalpost has to keep moving), and to act on that plan in whatever increments they can will be in a better place to respond to whatever comes next.
These are good habits to cultivate at any point in your career. But they are utterly essential right now, and likely the only way to move you toward finding or making that ideal job for yourself.