How to navigate the unstable job market
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly job numbers. The economy added 117,000 jobs in July — far more than were added in May and June, but still short of the 250,000 jobs economists say need to be added monthly in order to make real progress towards lowering the unemployment rate.
Both of these signs point to one thing: The economy is still unstable. For those looking for jobs, competition will remain high. From those who have jobs, a lot will be expected.
Because this is our current economic reality, we have no choice but to continue to adapt to it. Job seekers must continue to find ways to set themselves apart from other applicants, and job holders must continue to prove their worth to their employers.
Whether you’re looking for a job or looking to keep the one you have, here’s how to succeed in today’s unsteady economy.
Don’t apply to every job you see: Not only is this a waste of time, since employers look for position-specific, targeted résumés, but it creates a false sense of accomplishment. You may have applied to 20 jobs today, but if you were only truly qualified to do two of them, then you’re not making as much progress as you think you are.
It’s better to spend more time on the fewer applications for the jobs you are actually qualified to do.
“Research the job announcement, so you know the skills and experiences they’re looking for,” says Richard Deems, Ph.D., author of “Make Job Loss Work For You.” “In your cover letter make sure you mention each qualification they want in the same order and with many of the same words they have used.”
Though this method may be more time-consuming, it will also be more worthwhile in the long run.
Quantify accomplishments on your résumé: Whether you’re a salesperson, a nurse or a graphic designer, it’s possible to quantify your achievements, something that gives clarity and adds weight to your résumé.
Not sure how to get started? Deems offers the following process:
- “Write down what you’ve been doing on the job, as specific as possible.”
- “For each item, ask ‘So what?’ Keep asking until you come up with a result.”
- “Put the results in some measurable form, whether it’s dollars, percentages or just plain numbers.”
- “Write a one-liner beginning with an action word (reduced, created, increased, etc.) about what you did and include the specific results.”
- “Keep refining the one-liner until it really catches your attention.”
Create a personal brand: “Personal brand” is a buzzword for a reason. Having one is arguably the best way to boost your job search. TheWorkBuzz recently did a two-part series on how to create a personal brand, which you can find here and here.
Prepare for your interviews: Nothing good ever came from “winging it,” at least as far as job interviews are concerned.
“Research the organization and the key people — even if you won’t be meeting with the top leaders,” Deems says. “You should know their products and services, new products and services, where they are located, recent mergers or acquisitions, and something about the key people. Look for a button titled ‘Investor Relations’ or ‘About the Company.’ Spend some time researching.”
It’s also important to prepare answers to common interview questions like, “Tell me about yourself,” and “Why should I hire you?” As a response to the latter, Deems suggests something along the lines of: “First, I have the skills and experience needed to get the job done, and done very well; Second, you have the reputation as being a great place to work and that’s the kind of place where I can invest my time and energy; and Third, I want the job.” Of course, you should personalize your answer with specific details.
Communicate with your supervisor: Keeping an open line of communication with your supervisor can benefit you in more ways than one.
For example, says Nick Balletta, CEO of TalkPoint Communications, a company that provides webcasting and virtual meeting services, “If you’re working on a project or assignment, ask your boss or supervisor about your progress along the way. If you are off track, it’s a chance to realign. If you’re on track, it’s an opportunity to remind your boss how valuable you are.”
Asking for more responsibility is also a good strategy. “With responsibility comes more autonomy and more empowerment. That said, there is no free lunch, so expect to be accountable,” Balletta says.
Find a mentor: “If you’re new or inexperienced, take advantage of the knowledge base around you. In this environment, the people who are more seasoned are survivors. Learn from them. More often than not, they will be happy to help,” Balletta says.
Having a mentor can also be advantageous in case of company layoffs. If your mentor is within your company, you’ll have an advocate in your corner. If the person is outside your company, you’ll have a great networking contact should you find yourself on the chopping block.
Learn the business: Even if you’re not in a sales role, understanding your company’s business objectives can help you identify opportunities to do your job better.
“Too often, employees who are not in front-line teams lose focus on the business, or worse, never take time to learn the business,” Balletta cautions. “So if you’re in a less public-facing position like accounting, operations or IT, for example, keep in mind that the business is driven by customers. Learn who the customers are and how your company services them. If you learn the business, people will treat you like you’re in the business.”
Treat everyday like it’s an interview: “In speech, in actions, in attitude, in demeanor, in tone, act as though you’re interviewing for your current job. Once you feel comfortable, then act as if you’re interviewing for the job you want,” Balletta says. “Serious people get taken seriously.”
Want to know more about surviving and thriving in the current economy?