This is an excerpt from Mary Lockman’s article Getting ready for that recovery, found in the March 2010 issue of Seattle Woman magazine.
With economic recovery arriving on such an uneven trajectory, it is a good time to be proactive about your career. Here are some things you can do to prepare for what’s ahead.
Get Ready for Bargain Candidates
Seattle still holds sway as one of the most educated urban centers in the nation. One out of every two people holds a bachelor’s degree in our fair city and, with unemployment still high, that means heavy competition for your next job. Employers know this and, with so many eager applicants, they have the luxury of choosing from candidates who would normally not apply.
Bargain candidates usually have more skills than are needed to meet every single aspect of the job description. They have all of the professional relationships and all of the certifications to make for a very short learning curve. Bargain candidates are a sure thing and, in a recovering economy, there are a lot of sure things competing for jobs. If the job you are going after is a stretch for your experience and qualifications, you may not be the employer’s first pick. The good news is that bargain candidates, like all of us, are quickly bored with a job that does not challenge their skills. As soon as the job market loosens up, those overqualified employees will be moving on.
Your Best Tactic: Get edgy with your network. Even overqualified candidates can rarely outbid a “known quantity,” a candidate who is already well-known and well-liked by the hiring manager. Start massaging relationships in the farthest reaches of your circle of contacts under the premise that the less you know about someone, the more likely they will surprise you with their insider relationships. Then get critical with your résumé. Too often we soft-sell our skills, painting vague illusions instead of concrete images of our education and work experience.
Frequently forgotten are the numbers that measure our impact: What size was your budget, what percentage did you save, how many of X did you sell? If you cannot quantify your experience, then future employers will not understand your value. Build that résumé to use now, and hang on to it for later, when the overqualified start moving out. There will be more than one opportunity to reenter this job market.
Get Ready for Two-for-One Jobs
Economic downturns become opportunities for employers to combine job descriptions. If business is down, corporations will naturally try to consolidate employment costs. If business is down AND the market is loaded with overqualified candidates, employers will definitely mold one new opening from more than one old job description. Web design is one good example, an umbrella title for a versatile set of tools that is now required of graphic designers, Web developers, project managers, content editors, and, at times, office administrators. The bad news about the job market is that you will need more skills to return to your old occupation. The good news is that so does everyone else.
Your Best Tactic: This is no time to blame the employer for asking too much. Use current job postings as a guide to critically reexamine your skills. If cross-training is what you need, prioritize that gap in knowledge and fill it on your own time. Employers are less inclined to allow for training expenses and will not wait for employees to bulk up, so it is on you to do it.
Visit the competition by scheduling informational interviews with colleagues, recruiters and hiring managers. Home in on one or two frequently named sources as a stepping-off point for cross-training. If technology skills are what you need, address this through education programs which have evening, weekend, online or fast-track classes geared around upgrading skills. Community colleges are a good place to start, as they are affordable, thorough and usually up-to-date.
Finally, make sure that others know what you are doing. If you are employed, then bring your new training into the conversation as often as possible. If you are looking for new opportunities, get it on your résumé while you are training. Current training is also an excellent highlight for what could be a lifeless cover letter. In a world of too many eager candidates, it is important to be the right person for the job every day.
Get Ready for a Wide Range of Competitors
A wide range of employment sectors lost jobs during our recent downturn. Remember that it started with mortgages, which simultaneously impacted banking professionals, construction laborers and everyone in between. Retirees feel it, and are returning to the workforce in droves, or postponing their retirement indefinitely. New graduates feel it, and are scrambling for earnings in the wake of their parents’ losses. People who were content to work on the margins are coming back to traditional pathways for job security.
For some this was an economic downturn, but for many others this became a personal reckoning, a reassessment of their values in the face of job loss and long-term unemployment. Burned-out professionals are bringing all of their considerable skills to bear on positions they would normally never consider in areas such as health care, social work and other service industries. The good news is that we will likely benefit from this new injection of energy and commitment to our community values. The bad news is that both your skills and your passion may be on the line.
Your Best Tactic: Love what you do. It sounds flaky to say, but in a slow recovery with a lot of competition, if you love what you do, you will intuitively demonstrate that to the advantage of your supervisor, your company and yourself, every day.
If you do not love what you do, be self-critical enough to start asking those hard, courageous questions about where you are going with what you are doing. Economic recoveries can reshape the rules that once governed our lives. Personal obligations change, job descriptions change, and in that ambiguity lies the possibility for something new, energizing and positive. That is when an economic downturn becomes a possibility, not just for bargain hunters, hiring managers and aggressive competitors, but for you, too.
Speaking with economists sometimes feels like speaking with my friend Joel, an Oregon wheat farmer whose discerning intelligence is usually laced with foreboding. So when I see this conservative body of experts give even the smallest sign that economic health is returning, I know that it’s time to start positioning. The mud will dry. Spring is in the air.
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Mary Lockman is a worker retraining advisor at Seattle Central Community College.