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Here are some tips on job hunting in a downturn. First, reach out directly to the boss

After my job in finance was made redundant during the recession in 2001 (I was 33 years old), I sent out at least 200 job applications within the space of three months.

Here are some tips on job hunting in a downturn. First, reach out directly to the boss

Many bosses are a lot more accessible now so the space may be a little more crowded but it’s still worth reaching out directly to them for help, says the author. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t hear back.

After my job in finance was made redundant during the recession in 2001 (I was 33 years old), I sent out at least 200 job applications within the space of three months.

Unfortunately, the “hit rate” of these applications was dismal — I was called up for six interviews at four companies and was still unemployed six months after I was retrenched.

For someone armed with a recently-earned MBA (with a pumped up ego to boot), it was an especially hard and bitter pill to swallow. Everything took a beating, including my confidence.

When I realised the odds were stacked against me — there were way more job seekers than there were jobs available — I decided I needed a smarter approach and created a marketplace that is a lot less crowded, and one that I can compete more effectively in.

Instead of responding to job advertisements only, I made an initial short list of five target companies I was interested in working for. After researching them thoroughly, I wrote directly to the heads of these companies.

For someone who was relatively junior at that time, I had some reservations approaching the “higher-ups” so directly but went ahead anyway.

Nothing happened for a couple of weeks. And then, I was invited to meet a partner of one of these companies, who offered me a job after I went through a few more rounds of interviews with his team.

I redeployed this tactic for a second time, when I returned to Singapore after an overseas stint and was looking for a job amidst (yet) another recession — this time it was during the severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003.

Of course, I also contacted recruiters and responded to job advertisements.

A recruiter who specialised in banking and finance told me flat out that no one was hiring, but it didn’t stop me from writing directly to the chief executive officers (CEOs) of the three local banks because they were on my target list.

I heard back (indirectly) from one of the three CEOs — apparently he had passed on my letter to his direct report along with a note that read “please meet this guy”.

A few weeks later, I started working at the bank in a communications job I had little direct experience in. This also marked a mid-career switch for me, and the start of a fulfilling journey that lasted 17 years.

Going straight to the top worked on both these occasions because I was able to distance myself from the crowd and get the attention of people with influence at a time when most of them were not as easily accessible.

Many of them are a lot more accessible (via social media platforms for example) now so the space may be a little more crowded but I think it’s still worth reaching out directly to them for help. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t hear back.

People are generally willing to help, especially if you make it easier for them.

Be respectful of their time. Think of it as an “elevator pitch” during which you have less than 30 seconds to make an impression.

Doing your research beforehand is key, as it will help you craft a more personalised pitch that “speaks” to them.

This may include how you feel about the company’s purpose, its latest key developments, your potential shared associations (for example schools attended) and interests (for example advancing diversity and inclusion).

It’s also important to be concise about how you can contribute.

If you are looking for a job during this crisis, I’d also suggest you consider the following:

Get a referral.

This is one of the best ways to get your applications considered because recruiters (and hiring managers) are most likely swamped with way too many applications with similar qualifications.

They are more likely to pay attention if an application was referred to them by a colleague for example — I know, because I did that as a hiring manager. This is also backed up by LinkedIn data which suggests that you are four times more likely to hear back from a recruiter if your application was referred.

Be one of the early birds that catches the worms.

As a hiring manager at LinkedIn, I saw about 200 applications for each job opening we posted — in just three or four days. I’d imagine the picture isn’t not too different elsewhere.

It’s important to have your “pitch” and career details up to date so you can act before the window of opportunity is closed, like it did for a friend of mine.

She needed time to spruce up her LinkedIn profile before responding to a job advertisement she had seen a week ago. By the time she was ready to hit “send”, the recruiter had already stopped accepting applications.

Diversify beyond your comfort zones.

It makes a lot of sense to look in the industries you are familiar with. But doing so exclusively may limit your chances of getting a job as other companies in these industries may also be laying off employees.

Consider casting your net wider to include other industries (assuming you are interested in them) for which you may have transferable skills (such as communications, digital marketing, health and safety), as it helps improve your odds of getting a job.

Network and spread the word.

Think of your contacts as additional pairs of “eyes and ears” for you (and vice versa) and let them know you are in the market for a job. At the very least, it keeps you up to date with what’s going on in your professional world.

Most importantly, stay positive as there may be more rejections than invitations to interviews (because there are more job seekers than there are jobs available), and it may take a while before you land a job.

You need to have the right energy levels to go the distance in case the search process isn’t quite the sprint you expected. Good luck!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Roger Pua has more than 25 years of international work experience, and was most recently senior director of brand marketing and corporate communications at LinkedIn. He has also authored and published a book that sheds light on living with dementia in the family.

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work career Jobs office Covid-19

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