If you’ve just been laid off, you have no choice but to start a smart job search immediately (and more on that below). Ironically, if you’re currently employed and not looking for work, you probably should be.
Evidence is everywhere to suggest that few people enjoy true job security today. That doesn’t mean the best strategy is to go out and look for a new job if there are no signs that layoffs are under consideration at your current company. What if your boss found out you were looking for another job? Probably not good.
However, some job recruitment specialists point out that you cannot get in trouble with your boss for networking, which is something you can and probably should be doing even if there’s no inkling of layoffs at your company. (It’s on our list of 10 Things To Do If You Still Have A Job.)
Your goal is to attend events (and use networking sites such as Linkedin) to keep your face and name out there in your business circle, visible and near the surface of that circle’s collective conscience. At the same time, you want to widen that circle of contacts as much as possible. These are people you’ll likely call on to help you find a job if your current position vanishes. They’re more likely to want to help you if they remember you as the friendly public relations guy at last week’s chamber mixer than if you call them out of the blue for the first time since that corporate communications convention six years ago.
While it’s probably not a good idea to overtly go job hunting while you’re still employed, if you have good reason to believe layoffs are imminent, all bets are off. Maybe your boss won’t be thrilled to learn you’re looking for another job, but who can blame you if he or she is about to let you go?
Whether you’re about to lose your job or already have, here are the steps some well-known job placement firms recommend:
1. Decide exactly what kind of job you’re hunting for: Give yourself a critical job-skills analysis. What types of businesses use people with your skills? Maybe you want to shoot for a job very much like the one you just lost. Maybe it’s time to shoot for something slightly higher in the corporate food chain. Maybe you’re more likely to find similar work in a different industry. You’ll have to make those decisions, but do make a decision.
2. Create a 30-second elevator speech about who you are and what you can do: Keep it short and snappy. You’ll be using it on busy executives who might be able to help you find work. Polish it to perfection while you’re at the networking events you still should be attending.
3. Make a list of 100 people who might be in a position to offer you work: These don’t have to be close friends, but you certainly can start with your friends and acquaintances, if they’re potentially in a position to help you.
Once you’ve made the list, call each one of these people up. Tell them how you happen to be contacting them (“a friend suggested I call you,” or “I’m familiar with your company and thought you’d be a good person to talk to,” or whatever the case may be). Now, give them your 30-second elevator speech – tell them who you are and what you do.
4. Now ask them the question: “Do you know someone who could use someone like me?” By phrasing the question this way, you lessen their discomfort in the somewhat likely event that they personally aren’t looking to hire someone with your skills. You aren’t asking them directly, so they’re off the hook. Of course, if they are looking for someone like you, you’ve given them the perfect opening to say so. You’ve also given them at least a little incentive to help you with your job search, even if they don’t know anyone who’s hiring people with your skill set. “I really don’t know anyone who’s in the market for someone like you,” they may say, “but you might ask Mr. X.” Or, if they say they don’t know anyone who is looking for someone like you, you can then ask them for names of people they know, with whom you could talk.
Once you do reach someone who says they may be looking for someone who does what you do, ask when (not if) you can meet. At the meeting, be your most charming and intelligent self. A good impression may land you the job.
A friend of mine, laid off in 2006 from a marketing job, made extensive use of this strategy, but didn’t find a new corporate position. Instead, she kept meeting people who were in need of her skill set – for specific and occasional projects rather than full-time work. So she took the clients she’d just been dealt, and formed her own marketing business. Which brings us to…
5. Be flexible and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to you: Not everyone would be able to translate their skills into their own business, however, starting one isn’t as complicated as it might seem, so don’t dismiss the idea out of hand. In fact, when you’re out of a job and looking to replace lost income, try not to reject anything that could lead to more work, without analyzing the possibilities.
Beside starting your own company, there are other alternatives to traditional 40-hour-per-week jobs. One, used with increasing frequency by large companies in the petroleum and other industries, is to make hires on a contract basis. I know several people who have been hired on individually as contractors for large firms. Some have been working the equivalent of full-time hours (and sometimes much more). Others tend to work on a per-project basis, with the contract ending when the project is finished. One downside to contract work is that contractors aren’t regular company employees, and thus don’t receive benefits such as health insurance. But the rate of pay can be very good, especially if you have some specialty skills that are hard to come by.
More frequently in recent years, the big companies that use contractors are turning to agencies that specialize in providing such workers. This generally results in less pay for the individual contractor, since the agency is taking a cut. However, some of the agencies offer at least minimal health-care coverage. And if you establish a reputation with such agencies as being a good hire, they’ll help you find more contract work if your contract position with another company expires.
Most major cities have two or more well-known contract agencies serving major industries. Do some research and find out which ones serve the industries in which you are interested. The same goes for recruitment firms; in a major market, there are usually at least one or two with good reputations for serving each major industry segment, and you should get to know the people at these firms.
Finally, being flexible means that you should seriously consider the possibility of relocating to another city, if jobs of the type you seek are more widely available somewhere else. Yes, moving is full of hassles. But so is long-term unemployment. Do the math and weigh your options in light of what’s best for your family.
6. Extend your job search online: Make sure you’re acquainted with online job sites that serve your local market and serve your industry. Learn to search these sites quickly and efficiently, and check them frequently. The early bird often gets the job.
The online job-search scene has changed a lot just in the past couple of years. For starters, many big-city newspapers have lost their former positions as the No. 1 place to look for local jobs. In a lot of cities, Craigslist has taken over the local online classified market. OK, if you live in a Craigslist market, start there.
You’re likely to find that your local paper has partnered with Yahoo Hotjobs or a similar service. Add that to your list of online places to check, if the search results seem worthwhile. Another huge national online job-search site with which you probably should be familiar is Monster.com. But friends of mine recommend a couple of online job-search sites that do a good job of aggregating job listings from numerous other sources: Simply Hired and Indeed.
Another online job-search source that’s often overlooked are the official government job banks maintained in all 50 states. Here’s a list with links to all 50, plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.
Last, but far from least, check local chapters of well-known industry organizations. For instance, if you’re a public relations manager in Houston, you must make yourself familiar with the Houston PRSA Job Bank. In some cases, local industry associations learn of and list new jobs before they’re advertised elsewhere.
7. Be persistent: Finding a good job takes time in any market. Given the current dysfunctional economy, it is logical to expect that your job search could easily take six months to a year, and maybe more. Work to surround yourself with positive people, maintain your presence at local networking events, continue adding to your original list of 100 people, stay flexible and stick with your strategy.
And, if you’ve tried other tactics that worked for you, please share them in a comment below.