From the outside it seems like anything but the right time to look for a new job, or even make a career change, especially for those who are in steady, reliable employment.
During the past few years the media has been a constant stream of advice on how to find and keep a job that is recession-proof, to the point that it seems crazy to do anything but burrow in for the long haul. But this idea ignores two very human elements in the equation — namely, job dissatisfaction and/or the long-held desire to find that dream career.
There is, in fact, hiring going on. The job market may be more competitive than in the past, but there are definitely opportunities. In fact, for some workers hard times may be exactly what’s spurring them on to make a change.
So just how does one start a job hunt or career change in the midst of a difficult job market?
It seems to be a mixture of tried-and-true job-hunting strategies, doing one’s homework and understanding where employers are coming from these days. Despite what has been going on in terms of layoffs and cutbacks, for example, they do not exist simply to chew employees up and spit them out.
"It’s not as if employers are the enemy in tough times. Employers are also facing difficult choices, and employers want to succeed and they do want their employees to succeed. That’s a dangerous and negative and self-fulfilling mindset for job seekers to get in, that companies and employers are the bad guys," said Charles Purdy, senior editor for the employment website Monster.com.
Las Vegas-based Sawyer TMS Talent Management Consultant Douglas Pilar-ski, who is hired by companies to find top-level executives for jobs in the United States and abroad, notes that companies have been cutting back at all levels, but there is always turnover and certain positions are constantly needing to be filled.
"(The companies) are not broke, they’re waiting for an uptick to start hiring publicly. But they still have turnover and they still have to hire executive people," he said.
"The rule of thumb is the unemployment rate at $150,000 and above is something like 4 percent in the United States, and so that means companies are always recruiting talented leaders. The leadership jobs are always full."
In terms of lower-paying positions, the unemployment rate is higher. In fact Nevada’s overall unemployment rate was 13 percent in November. But the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation releases regular data to provide a clearer view of what is going on. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also offers projections on future employment trends based on specific careers, not to mention the articles published by magazines, newspapers and websites.
To narrow it down even further, the College of Southern Nevada offers a Career Coach link that lists not only local job openings but current trends in the valley’s job market and average salaries, whether it be in the field of engineering or public relations. Just go to the CSN Career Services home page and click on "Career Coach" about halfway down the page.
Taking those first steps
Once someone has made the decision to find another job, the best thing to do is stay put. To leave a job that provides security during the search for a new position just doesn’t make sense, according to the experts. Not only does the current job offer security, it is a chance to work on building a positive employment history.
"I tell people, if they have a job, stay employed and then do the absolute best they can do with the job they have. … Focus on accomplishments, focus on building value for your position, focus on building relationships," Pilarski said.
The next step is to take a good look in the mirror, to consider issues such as the importance of the financial versus personal rewards of a career and what it is about the current job that is dissatisfying. It is also important to temper the dream of finding a new path with a dose of reality.
If anyone understands the last point it is Kelly Wuest, the College of Southern Nevada’s director of Career Services and Re-entry Program. She sees people looking for career changes all the time, whether it is someone who has been laid off or someone simply looking for new opportunities.
Many are not prepared for the schooling required to make the switch to a career in health care, for example, or computer sciences. They can’t just walk into a biology or calculus class and succeed, she said.
"So a lot of people don’t realize how difficult it can be and they don’t really make the full dedication and they’re just not academically prepared," she said.
The college does offer a TypeFocus test to anyone who contacts the career services office, a test that looks at personality type, values and interests as a tool to help someone find a career path that fits. The school has a testing center to look at basic math and English skills as well.
Wuest also notes that job seekers can check out the CSN classes on Channel 70 to get an idea of what kind of work is involved in specific classes and get a glimpse of the skills needed for specific careers. There is also nothing wrong with signing up for one class, she added, rather than jumping in as a full-time student and getting overwhelmed.
Finally, Wendell Staszkow, interim director of career services at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, points out that finding a career that offers a sense of personal achievement can also be critical to someone’s success.
"If you go to work every day and you’re miserable, it’s really a tough existence," he said. "But if you love what you do and it’s interesting, and you feel that there’s some self-satisfaction, I think that goes a long way to making it a successful career. Be prepared, and when you get that opportunity, you’ve really got to seize it and just put your best foot forward."
Nuts and bolts
So what are the nuts and bolts of landing a job in the midst of a difficult economy? How does one stand out when there are so many running around on the playing field, trying to catch the long pass?
One of the first things to remember is to concentrate on the basic strategies of landing a job, strategies that have changed little over the years. No. 1: Get the resume right.
According to Purdy, many job seekers don’t update their resumes more than once a year, which is a "huge mistake." It is important to tailor a resume for specific jobs and even look at the key words in a job advertisement.
Many companies, for example, use resume-reading software as a first line of review, which means if those key words don’t pop up, the candidate may never even make it past the first cut. This can simply be a matter of changing words such as "supervise" to "manage," he said.
He also recommends that instead of having an objective section at the top of a resume, which in the past was basically a way for someone to state their career goal, a prospective employee can have a summary section that specifically states what they have to offer a company based on its needs.
"I think one of the best formats for a modern resume is, right underneath your name, a title saying exactly what you are and what you hope to achieve," he said.
It goes without saying that a resume should be written as if an employee understands what the company is looking for, and how he or she will be an asset based on both past experience and the prospective employer’s needs, experts noted.
For Pilarski’s job candidates, it can mean using terms such as "reduced operating costs, increased profits, streamlined operations, eliminated duplicate work or effort," he said.
No matter what field, however, it all comes down to a resume that is forward-thinking as opposed to one that simply rehashes past accomplishments. "Does it read like a job description or does it read like this is what I did with the job that they gave me?" Pilarski said.
And then there is the cover letter, the introduction to the resume that many job applicants fail to update or simply do not put much effort into.
"For each employer you should be addressing how you would meet their specific needs and they need to see that," Wuest said. "There’s so many people out there, you’ve got to be competitive in that way. I mean, if you can’t write a good cover letter then I’m probably not going to talk to you."
A good cover letter will address some highlights in the resume, talk about the prospective employer in specific terms and sometimes provide a glimpse into a job applicant’s personality, she added.
As far as the interview, it is more important than ever to be prepared, and this includes understanding what the company is all about and what questions might be posed by the interviewer, Staszkow said. The interview is so important that UNLV’s Career Services department offers students the chance to take part in mock interviews, which can be videotaped for later review.
"Companies, in general, are still looking for that person who walks in the door and just kind of knocks their socks off right away, that they see personality-wise and experience-wise and confidence-wise, this is someone that we want in our company that’s going to either meet the public or be able to work with the people that are already there, who can really contribute to our company," he said.
"I think the days of someone who just comes in and works the 9 to 5 and goes home, well that may not be quite what a company expects now. They need someone who is really going to show the initiative and the wherewithal to be a really contributing member of that company so that everyone that they employ is fully contributing, and that’s just what companies expect now I think."
Finally, one of the most common mistakes job candidates make during an interview is, believe it or not, failing to give the interviewer a chance to talk about themselves, according to Pilarski.
"Here’s what everybody misses and that is when the interviewer says, ‘Well what questions do you have for me?’ And you say, ‘Oh, you answered all my questions.’ Well actually, you just lost your chance to bond with that recruiter.
"So what you should say is, ‘Well, what accomplishment are you most proud of in your work?’ Or, ‘What do you like about working for ABC Company?’ Or, ‘Tell me what the customers like about doing business with so-and-so company.’ "
Socializing — in the best way
One of the best ways to find a new job is through work and personal connections. In fact, networking is practically essential in a tough job market.
"The primary thing about networking is that most people look at professional networking in the wrong way; they only do it when they need something," Purdy said.
But networking is about "giving, giving, giving," he said, so it needs to be a continual effort. Purdy advises that employees spend about 15 to 20 minutes a week thinking of the people they are connected to and how they can help them. It may mean passing along articles or sharing information about job openings.
"So you’re much more likely to be recommended for a post than someone that hasn’t been heard from for six years," he said.
Using tools such as the professional network LinkedIn, which gives employees the chance to post online professional profiles, is helpful as well, but when it comes to blogs, Twitter and Facebook, Wuest advises caution.
"One thing that I tell students when they come in is that social media has to be used as your friend," she said. "It shouldn’t be something that eliminates you from a job, it’s something that should be helping you. To be aware of what you’re putting out there on the Web and that once you put it out there, it’s there. People can then find it. Even if you’ve taken it down, a lot of times people have linked on to it or they grab your picture, so we talk about their security for the social sites where they’re talking with friends, and who they should be approving."