Job Search Lessons From the Great Recession

Job Search Lessons From the Great Recession

Peter Weddle

While unemployment is rising and times are still hard for many Americans, recent glimmers of hope in the economy indicate that maybe, just maybe this Great Recession is finally reaching its end. This is a very difficult time for both employed and unemployed workers alike, and one that will likely be remembered for years to come. But beyond the horror stories of layoffs, failing companies and collapsing home prices, what will we learn from this time?

Cataclysmic events often alter our perception of the world around us. This was true during the Great Depression, and it will be true once we emerge from today's recession as well. Some of this will help to create a new "conventional wisdom" about what happened and why, but more pertinent to today's seekers are the lessons we will learn about how best to survive and prosper. These are the things we wish we'd known before the economic decline, and that will help us navigate the new employment landscape that will emerge once things begin recover.

Each of us has our own personal lessons from this time that we will take to heart. In addition, however, once the recession ends and hiring finally starts to improve, there are four basic concepts that every job seeker will need to follow in order to find a successful and fulfilling career:

In today's turbulent economy, employers have no idea what's coming around the corner. They may promise job security, but they can't deliver it. Because of this, counting on steady employment is a surefire way to wind up jobless and unprepared for the demands of the employment market. Instead of job security, a far better objective is to strive for career security – the ability to stay employed in a career of your choosing, regardless of economic conditions as a whole. Unlike job security, this is a state you create for yourself. You don't rely on some employer's supposed "loyalty" to you; rather you anticipate changes in your career and focus on the new skills that you'll need to keep pace. This way you can adapt to the ever-evolving job market in a way that benefits you.

Most managers mean well, but if you wait for them to recognize your accomplishments you're likely to be disappointed. Some have the social skills of a brick, while others are too worried about their own security to take care of yours. That's why it's important for you to keep track of your own "career victories." Sure, it takes a little effort to maintain a record of what you've done and how well you've done it, but that account will give you more satisfaction than most managers ever will. Don't just write it down; also review it regularly. Take the time to remember what you've done, reward yourself when you deserve it or give yourself a little counseling if you've let yourself down.

Sadly, today many people find themselves unable to disengage from work, either due to fear of appearing lazy or the "over-connectedness" created by laptops and smart phones. The impact of this on both performance and well being is already acute, and likely to get worse. In a knowledge-based economy, your worth is measured not by your connectivity, but by your contribution. And your contribution suffers when your mind and body don't get enough rest.

The conventional approach to career management has been to keep your head down in your work, and surface to take stock once a year – during your annual performance review. That approach was dangerous then; today, it's a one-way ticket to the unemployment office. The only safe course in a turbulent job market is to develop career fitness the same way you develop physical fitness. You have to commit yourself to building up the strength, endurance and reach of your career every single day. After all, you spend one-third or more of your day at work – shouldn't that time be just as rewarding as the rest of your life?

  1. Seeking job security makes you vulnerable.
  2. Recognition is something you give yourself.
  3. Working tirelessly is a sure way to get tired.
  4. Taking care of your career is the best way to take care of you.

As workers, we've acquired many insights from the current recession. But beyond just these personal lessons, if we don't begin to share what we've learned and begin to help each other understand how the workplace has changed, we'll never be able to truly prepare for the employment market to come.

Formerly the Chairman and CEO of Job Bank USA, Peter Weddle is an HR consultant, recruiter, author and commentator with an international reputation. He has authored or edited more than two dozen books, including "Recognizing Richard Rabbit: A Fable About Being True to Yourself", "Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System" and "WEDDLE's 2009/10 Guide to Employment Sites on the Internet". In addition, he oversees WEDDLE's, a print publisher specializing in the field of human resources. WEDDLE's annual Guides and Directory to job boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the American Staffing Association to call Weddle the "Zagat of the online employment industry." Peter Weddle is also CEO of the International Association of Employment Websites.

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