15 Ways to Set Yourself Apart in a Recession


Recessions aren’t fun for anyone. But they do provide some unique opportunities.

If you’re looking for a job during a recession, how do you stand out, further your career? The process isn’t all that different than at any other time, except that there should be emphasis on certain activities. With all the competition you’ll probably have for positions, you need to stand out amongst candidates.

The tips provided below, in two categories, might apply to one or more of the following career modes:

  1. Just graduated or soon graduating.
  2. Currently employed and not looking.
  3. Currently employed and looking.
  4. Laid off and looking for work.
  5. Self-employed/ freelancing/ contracting.

Currently Employed and Not Looking for Work

1. Be prepared, stay ready. Changing jobs during a recession might not be a smart move, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. It’s essential to your career to be ready for opportunities, in the even jobs will be cut where you’re currently employed.

  • Keep your resume updated. Don’t wait until you change jobs internal or get laid off. Having an up-to-date resume ready at all times means being quick to apply to new opportunities. Make your resume available online on all the big job sites. Consider setting up your own website or blog and post your resume there as well.
  • Build your network. Start networking and don’t stop. Set up accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and use them accordingly. Start adding people you know, then ask for referrals and introductions to connect with people you should know.
  • Ask for recommendations on LinkedIn and return the favor, for people that you know – especially if you’ve worked with them.
  • Keep improving your skills on your own time and dime. Company educational programs might survive the recession. If not, learn on your own and test your knowledge.

2. Be visible. Don’t hide in your cubicle/ office.

  • Be seen working. Quiet, shy or otherwise invisible types often go first during layoffs. Make sure you stand out at work in a positive way. The wisdom is that it’s easier for managers to fire the quiet type who say very little – unless they’re essential. However, if you get work done and stay in your boss’ eye, you’ll be present in his/ her mind.
  • Help colleagues. Helping coworkers is yet one more way to stay visible, as well as strengthen various skills and show that you’re a “team player.”
  • Ask. If you hear rumors of job cuts coming, protect your job by asking your manager what s/he is looking for from employees.

3. Show initiative. There’s an old saying that it sometimes easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. This wisdom can be applied in countless positive ways when it comes to the workplace.

One way is to volunteer. Volunteering for projects at work is also another way to avoid being invisible. Volunteering outside the workplace helps you to gain other perspectives, which is a great skill if you ever want to get into a management position. It’s also to have on a resume, because it also shows initiative on your part. That is, no one forced you to go volunteer your valuable time and yet you did so anyway. Alternatively, you could help others in you position learn job seeking skills, maybe even teach them.

4. Develop leadership skills. If you’re not already in a management position, it’s worth developing your leadership skills. You never know when a career opportunity might arise. Focus first on building your confidence, then on solving problems that go beyond your job scope. Learn to listen when you interact with people. Participate in conversations without saying anything. Learn to boost the confidence of colleagues.

5. Be a bootstrapper. Even if you are not managing a team, think like a bootstrapper. If you see opportunities for your employer to save on operating costs without cutting corners, make a list and ask to present it verbally to your manager. Some possibilities: free software or trial versions of software from reputable companies. Staggered work hours, or more work-from-home options.

Currently Looking for Work

Whether or not you’re currently employed, success in looking for work requires taking a proactive approach.

6. Have a job-seeking routine. Finding a job during a recession might sometimes seem like an insurmountable task. However, any large goal is intimidating unless you break it down into smaller, achievable parts.

  • Have a plan. Don’t just decide you’ll look for work, plan. Where will you look for jobs? How many opportunities will you apply to each day or week? How much time will you spend? Will you be doing some skills upgrade to increase your job prospects? Will your financial situation limit you in job-seeking? How? Is there any way around these limitations?
  • Track your milestones. You need to see that you’re making progress towards the goal of a new job. Are you satisfying elements of your job-seeking routine? Or have you been skipping over some of the steps. It’s easy to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” when it comes to things we don’t want to do. But by keeping track, you improve your chances of catching up on job-seeking tasks.
  • Be selective. Constantly scope out opportunities, but be selective to where you apply. If you wouldn’t a particular job or be employed in a certain company, why apply? Your dislike for a job or company will be evident in the work you do.
  • Stay in touch with colleagues. Keep in contact with people you know from work, from current or previous jobs. They can keep you apprised about what’s going on. You never know when a contracting opportunity might arise, or positions will open up. Unless there’s a good reason against doing so, a company you’ve worked for is probably more likely to hire you as a contractor than someone who has never worked for them – providing you have the skills they need.

7. Be flexible and adaptive.

  • Analyze your career. Consider a change of career to something more recession-proof if necessary. If you’re in survival but still want a job you can at least enjoy, consider work that’s peripherally related to your dream career.
  • Be adaptive. Monitor trends even more closely than you already do. Keep open to additional opportunities. Maybe some of your business offerings can be tweaked to take advantage of current economic conditions while benefiting your target market. Brainstorm all the additional opportunities you have or can find with your current skills and business offering.

8. Redefine yourself. If you are not the career person you want to be, now is as good a time as any to decide what you want out of your career. In fact, it’s a better time than any, because knowing what you really want may make the difference between finding something you can be passionate about or just getting another job to weather the recession.

Learn from your mistakes. If you made mistakes in previous jobs, do something about it. If you can’t rectify the situation, go learn the skills or methodology that you need to know to avoid the same situations in the future.

9. Build your skills, improve your education. If you’re lacking in some skill that will help you compete for a specific type of job, build up your skills. Take further education, workshops or a degree.

  • Get an advanced degree. Or additional certifications. If you’re concerned about taking time out for classes, consider an online degree program. Online programs give you flexibility and other advantages. You can work at your own pace and schedule. That you’re enrolled in an advanced degree program should count for extra points in a job interview, so make sure you point this facet of your education out on both your resume and cover letter.
  • Develop soft skills. It’s essentially free to build skills such as brainstorming, mind mapping, diagramming, forecasting, critical thinking, and problem solving. These are skills, as a collective, that can make you stand out against even people with more work experience.
  • Learn a another language. Being multilingual might earn you a salary premium, but not necessarily a significant one. However, knowing more than one language can open up your job options – especially in other countries.
  • Build other skills. Focus on new skills that are in demand, and create your own opportunity to prove your understandng of that skill.

10. Develop analytical skills. The ability to analyze and interpret data gives you an advantage, since it seems not to be a skill that’s commonly, widely stressed in traditional education. Just having analytical skills is nearly as valuable as having experience using them. Use your analytical skills to study trends and predict the needs of your niche/ industry and the businesses/ managers who might hire you.

11. Show your expertise, prove your knowledge. Thanks to the Internet, today’s workforce has an opportunity to prove at least some of their expertise.

  • Get noticed as an expert. Prove your understanding of a topic by writing about it online. Supplement articles with podcasts and/or vodcasts and screencasts about related topics. Blog about your niche/ industry, produce podcasts, vodcasts, interviews, predictions, solutions, reports, ebooks. (While some companies frown on public blogging by employees, you can do this while you’re searching for work.)
  • Help others to understand. Teaching a topic also helps you to solidify your understanding of it. If you can write “how-to” or “tips” articles with confidence, then do it to build your expertise. Education is also an industry that weathers recession well. If you can demonstrate your ability to disseminate concepts – maybe on a website or blog – there may be side opportunities for you to teach or give workshops.
  • Teach. Teaching has an amazing benefit: it solidifies your knowledge of a topic. It also builds confidence, which helps when you are in interviews, or even writing job cover letters. If you don’t have the opportunity to teach, then consider answering questions on sites like Linked Answers or Yahoo Questions.

12. Change your focus. If you current efforts are working for you, change perspective.

  • Focus on related careers. Research your industry more carefully to find any trends in growth or decline. You might have to set aside your dream career for now and look to something related that you will still enjoy.
  • Focus on areas of growth. Some industries expanded in 2008 and are expected to grow in 2009. Determine if there’s a match for you in one of these areas.
  • Focus on new locations. While job relocation funds might be low, the cost of living in some regions might justify moving from where you are now. As a college graduate (or near-graduate), you’re probably in a more flexible position to move than someone with a mortgage and family.
  • Focus on the employer. Is your job search employer-centric?
  • Focus on others. Watch out of for opportunities for others. Why is this beneficial to you? According to job seekers, referrals from friends and acquaintances are the most common way that they found work. No matter how cynical you might feel, what goes around does come around – good and bad.

13. Be entrepreneurial-minded. Being salaried doesn’t mean you can’t think like an entrepreneur.

  • Look for opportunities. Can your skills fit in in industries that still grow during a recession? Do some online research and make a list of such industries. Determine how you can adapt your skills. Be open to working on a contract-to-hire basis.
  • Create opportunities. For example, write about your job-seeking strategy on a blog; share the tools and methods you are using. If there’s enough of a market for it, discussing these techniques for a specific industry. Reveal the resources you’ve found. Talk about how you use online social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn), Twitter, and other tools. This sort of activity could lead to speaking gigs at conferences, consulting/ freelancing gigs, or even long-term employment.
  • Leverage your position. If you received compensation as part of your layoff, brainstorm all the ways that you can leverage these funds. Maybe you have enough to launch a startup business and the timing is right.

14. Be patient and persistent. You can’t have just one of these qualities and expect to get far in a job search.

  • Be patient. Even if you’re leveraging friendships to get job referrals, the process still takes time. Often, a hiring manager will know they want someone but have to do due diligence and complete all the scheduled interviews. If you feel it appropriate, followup with those interviewers whom you felt reacted positively to you “asking for the job.” Word your email or letter carefully. E.g., “Thanks again for the interview. I just wanted to reiterate that this job is one that I would really enjoy. If there is any further information you need from me, please do ask.”
  • Be persistent. Like many successful people, keep in mind that finding work during a recession might play out to be a numbers game. There just might be many opportunities listed that you feel you’re qualified for, but for a variety of reasons, you’ll not be considered.

15. Stay calm, stay positive. Sounds cliched, but if you at least attempt to consider another perspective, you might find the value in being positive. Staying positive includes managing the words you write (cover letters) or speak (interviews). Being negative puts you in a frame of mind where you fail to recognize opportunities.

Don’t get discouraged by a single rejection. It’s not necessarily about you; someone might have been more qualified. Staying positive will show in everything you do, just like being negative would.

Source: Online Colleges Blog – onlinecollege.org