Employees working in a modern office.
More workers are finding themselves out of a job (or becoming worried they might soon be) as a string of high-profile companies, mostly startups and in tech, have moved to freeze hiring or even to slash workers and rescind job offers.
New unemployment claims edged up to an eight-month high last week. Initial unemployment claims increased by 7,000 to 251,000 in the week ending July 16, making the four-week moving average rise by 4,500 to 240,500, according to the Department of Labor. Those numbers are still a marked improvement from last July, when the four-week average of unemployment claims hit more than 405,000. And the actual unemployment rate in June (the last month reported) is still a rock bottom 3.6%.
Still, fears of an impending recession have made nearly 80% of Americans worried about their job security, with almost a quarter of workers extremely concerned about their job security, a recent survey found. With more cuts expected in the near future, you might be wondering how to prepare in case of a layoff, or what to do if you do lose your job.
1. Maintain and expand your network
“Relationships can always expedite your success,” says Kimberly Brown, a career coach and author of Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love. “I know someone who may be unemployed may not want to hear that…but they are literally the only thing that can expedite your success in that way because if someone’s able to put a word in when there’s 1000 applications, and you have a contact there, you can at least get an interview.”
Brown says she wishes that during her time working in college career development offices, she provided students a more structured approach to maintaining relationships.
“It doesn’t have to be a big thing to maintain a relationship,” she said. “I think people will think that you need to meet with folks once a quarter, you need to have a one hour conversation once a month. Maintaining a relationship doesn’t necessarily look like that, there’s so many different ways to keep top of mind, even something as simple as being active on LinkedIn.”
2. Reach out to past recruiters
Interviews with past job-and job offer-losers demonstrate that maintaining relationships with recruiters can be key.
For Patrice Ju, founder and lead coach at Carpe Diem Careers, the current wave of layoffs are reminiscent of the job cuts many, including herself, experienced during the Great Recession. “I was devastated and in shock. I didn’t think that that could happen to me,” Ju said of losing her first job out of college in 2008. But her first step of reaching back out to recruiters she had been in touch with during her initial job hunt proved advantageous.
“One of my tips is, if possible, to stay in touch with old recruiters, because you never know where you may land down the road,” Ju said. “So I reconnected with a recruiter, reconnected with my friends that were then working at Deloitte, and was able to get some interviews and then eventually got the job offer.”
Ju’s story is similar to that of Jenna Radwan, who previously told Forbes about her experience losing a job offer due to the economic downturn. Radwan was able to quickly land on her feet because she reached back out to previous recruiters she’d been working with during her job search — one of whom offered a position that she ultimately accepted.
3. Keep learning
Ju has offered career coaching for more than 400 individuals across all types of industries but one piece of her advice always remains the same: “keep your skills up to date” and always keep learning “so that if something does happen to your role or to your job, you can easily and quickly pivot and interview and then show a future employer that you are still very competitive in the current marketplace.”
Ju earned an industry-based certificate during her time between jobs, something economist Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, says can help job seekers stand out from a crowd of applicants. “It makes you look more like an experienced worker somehow.”
Earning a certificate is one way to stay competitive as a candidate and keep your skills up to date, but so could be going back to school or learning on your own. But make sure “whatever it is you’re doing will yield something,” says Brown. She suggests looking at job descriptions to “make sure you’re doing and gaining those skills, whether it’s public speaking, or coding, or writing, communications.” She adds: “Whatever it is, make sure it’s directly correlated to the job and is not just a nice-to-have skill [because] you can get the nice-to-have skills from having a really great mentor or a coach.”
Brown says that if you choose to go back to school — as many people did during the Great Recession — make sure it’s to a program that will help you land your next job, whether it’s through a robust career development office, alumni network or job placement program. Indeed, Carnevale says, many people view education as “a safe harbor from recessions and bad economic news” — and for good reason. Hiding from a recession in college “is not only safe, it improves your position when you come back into the labor market,’’ he says.
Zachary Herrmann, executive director of the Center for Professional Learning at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, says that he has found the networking that comes from participating in one of their programs to be “remarkably valuable.” In other words, it’s not just what you’ll learn in some professional or continuing education program. “So much of the value that comes from engaging in some of our professional learning programs, is the ability to form networks and relationships with other individuals in the field,” Herrmann says.
4. Hone your interviewing chops
“When people are getting laid off, it’s hard to not feel desperate,” Brown said. “And while you may be desperate, I think it’s really important that you don’t convey that in interviews and in conversations and still keep your conversation skill-based.”
Brown recommends the STAR (situation, task, action, and result) method when answering behavioral interview questions, meaning job applicants describe a specific situation, the goal they had, what steps they took to reach that goal, and what the outcome was. She stressed that answering questions with the STAR technique might not come naturally, so people should practice telling stories that showcase professional success.
“If you have not interviewed in many years, don’t think that you’re magically going to put those shoes back on and it’s going to be fine. It’s not going to be fine,” she said. “You don’t need to test it when the stakes are high. So you have to practice. Whether you’re practicing with a friend or just yourself, make sure you know what are the stories that showcase you being successful? What are the stories that showcase you being resilient and navigating through a problem? What are the core stories that really share who you are and what you’ll be able to do? The secret to interviewing is that most of the time, all these doggone questions are the same.”
5. Be open-minded
Brown recommends staying flexible during a recession, particularly for recent graduates. “We have to think a little bit more long term when there’s a recession [about] how can you build skills now or take a step now that will allow you to do exactly what you want to do later,” she said. For example, if you’re able to get your foot in the door of a company you want to work for, but maybe in a different field, be open to that, and “when things get better make that transition” to what you’d rather be doing.
In some instances, being laid off might provide the time to consider changing industries or doing something slightly different — in which case practicing interviewing and practicing “communicating your skills” and how they would benefit a different type of company are paramount, says Ju.
Herrmann echoed Ju’s advice, encouraging individuals who were laid off to reflect “on what it is that they’re passionate about, the impact that they want to make [and] the type of organization they want to work for.” He added: “If they do want to make a transition, that might require developing new skills, interacting with different types of people or different types of organization. It might require some work, but that work might ultimately prove to be important in the long run.”