job success during recession pandemic 2x1Samantha Lee/Business Insider

  • The coronavirus recession is the worst we’ve seen in a long time, with unemployment exceeding even the figures from the Great Recession of 2008-09.
  • If you’re going through a hard time in your career, you’re not the only one. Millions of Americans are suddenly out of work, and those still holding jobs are seeing their workplaces undergo major changes.
  • Business Insider has written the ultimate guide for career success during the recession, designed to help no matter what stage of your career you’re in.
  • We’ve collected expert advice for everything you might be facing during this challenging time, be it job hunting, career changes, caring for your mental health, or asking for a promotion.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories

The coronavirus pandemic has turned a job seeker’s market into a period of joblessness for many Americans.

Major companies such as Boeing and IBM have laid off thousands of workers. And for those who have jobs, the future is still uncertain.

It’s been nearly a century since we saw a recession this serious. In June, the unemployment rate was at 11.1%, down from the 14.7% peak in April but still well above the 10% rate in the worst days of the Great Recession.

In New York, Los Angeles, and other major cities, the unemployment rate is near 20%. And the pandemic has led to the worst GDP slump in US history, with GDP falling at an annualized rate of 33% in the second quarter.

This will test people in every sector of the economy, including workers suddenly out of a job and those beginning to worry about the security of a position they’d perhaps taken for granted.

Though it may not be ideal, it’s still possible to find professional success during an economic downturn. Business Insider collected the best insights from career experts and successful professionals across industries to guide your career through this recession.

Click through the table of contents to get to the section right for you, or just read on through.

Table of Contents: Static

Where to start if you’re out of work

It’s never easy to be out of a job, but there are steps you can take to help you land on your feet.

Your professional network is probably more willing than ever to help you right now, so don’t hesitate to message your professional contacts and ask for career advice.

David J.P. Fisher, the author of several books on sales and networking, suggests posting on LinkedIn three to five times each week to build up your personal brand. He recommends sending an email to connections, updating them on your career and how they can engage with you.

When reaching out, don’t be afraid to acknowledge the situation at hand. LinkedIn career expert Blair Heitmann recommends using this opening line: “First and foremost, I want to ask how you are doing. This is certainly an unprecedented time, and I hope you are healthy and safe.”

If you’re unsure how to proceed from there, you can refer to this template to reach out to people in your network.

You should also take advantage of online professional-development resources. There are courses on everything from creative thinking from the Imperial College London to writing a résumé from the State University of New York. LinkedIn Learning and Udemy’s online career-development course series also offer databases with skill-building programs. Here’s a list of more courses that can improve your professional prospects.

This is also a good time to review your résumé, ask your colleagues for references, and update your “brag book,” or your collection of professional accomplishments and praise from managers and clients.

Where to start if you have a job but want to leave it

A recession isn’t a great time to leave your job, but if you work in a toxic environment or your daily responsibilities are taking a toll on your mental health, it’s not impossible to find a new role.

Even if you’re still at the job, you can start researching new opportunities and get in touch with people in your professional network. If the demands of your job are preventing you from spending enough time on the search, you can consider shifting to a part-time schedule and spend a few days of the week job searching.

Give some thought to how much you’re willing to risk to make a career change. Before deciding to leave your current job, identify the aspects of your career that excite you and the areas where you want to grow. Consider having a discussion with your manager about your position.

You might want to consider industries and positions that haven’t crossed your mind before. Some have been hit harder than others. Hospitality and service industries saw the greatest job losses in April and continue to struggle, but jobs in nursing and software engineering are predicted to experience the greatest growth in years to come. So think broadly about your skillset, and ask yourself how you could apply your skills to a field you might not have considered previously.

Erica Keswin, previously an executive coach at NYU Stern, recommends engaging in an exercise to find where your skills may be a fit. You can start by writing down all the skills you’ve used in previous jobs and pinpointing which could be relevant in another job. Learn more about the exercise here.

Know your market value

Leveraging your market value — that is, the estimate of how much you could expect to earn based on factors like job title, skills, years of experience, and location — is key when entering any discussion about your salary.

Popular job-hunt and salary resource sites PayScale, Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth, and Indeed allow you to input the considerations for your market value and in return give you an estimate. If you want to cross-reference this data, you can consult the “Occupational Outlook Handbook” from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for a resource of average occupational salaries and typical education and experience levels.

Be careful not to take these figures with too much finality. Instead, use them as context to enter salary negotiations and start an open-ended conversation.

Job boards and online resources to target

Following are some remote-focused job boards to help you find work quickly.

  • Flexjobs offers listings for a variety of remote jobs in a number of industries, and, as the name suggests, many have flexible schedules. (The site requires a paid account at $15 a month.)
  • Jobspresso.co is best for people seeking remote work in marketing, tech, writing and editing, and customer service.
  • Remotive.io is for anyone looking for a remote job at a startup.
  • Skipthedrive.com offers entry-level work and listings for bilingual people, as well as listings for those who can code in Python, among other skill sets.

You can also create your own listing and let recruiters reach out to you.

  • Parachute allows people who were recently laid off to add themselves to a database that recruiters can consult when hiring. The site is particularly useful for people in tech, and lists recently laid-off employees from companies like Grab, Lyft, and Airbnb.
  • Layoffs.fyi links to a spreadsheet of laid-off people, primarily in tech startups, that you can add yourself to. The site provides weekly roundups about which companies are laying off their workers so that you can stay informed.

Once you’ve found a role that you could be a good fit for, it’s time to look over your application materials and make sure they stand out.

Polishing your cover letter and résumé

On the perfect cover letter

Try to find out who you’re addressing. If the hiring manager’s name isn’t listed on the job posting, look for the person who created the post, find out who you’d be reporting to, search the recruiting agency’s site, or reach out to someone who has a similar role at the company you’re applying for to ask.

If, after some sleuthing, you still can’t find the hiring manager’s name, “Dear Hiring Manager” is probably the least-bad option. Whatever you do, avoid “To Whom It May Concern,” which comes across as formal and impersonal. And limit your cover letter to one page — ideally just four paragraphs.

You can stick to a template, but don’t make your cover letters too generic. Instead, adjust your tone to match the culture of the company you’re applying to.

On a standout résumé

You’ll probably have the best luck creating a new résumé each time you apply for a job. Always use keywords, because it’s likely that your résumé will go through a tracking system before it’s in the hands of a hiring manager. Career site Zety has a list of the most important keywords that systems are likely to search for, including “Java,” “Python,” “English,” and “technical.”

Include your hard skills, but soft skills — or nontechnical skills that influence your work — are also crucial. Think communication, organization, and creativity.

Consider adding an extra section at the end detailing achievements like additional language skills and certificates. According to Zety, including an industry-specific certificate puts you ahead of 73% of applicants. Career service site Glassdoor has compiled a list of some of the most useful certifications to pursue depending on your field.

Acing video or phone interviews

So your application materials brought you to the interview stage — congrats! As the pandemic moves more interviews online, there are steps you can take to make sure that you shine during the virtual interview.

If your interview is taking place over video, prep your space. Look for a well-lighted space, ideally with natural lighting. If your home setting just isn’t ideal for professional display, some conferencing apps allow you to blur your background or upload another image, but it’s always best to use a quiet, well-lighted part of your home to let the interviewer in.

Before your call, make sure you know how to use the conferencing app and test out your camera and microphone. It never hurts to provide your interviewer with a backup phone number.

During the call, try not to obsess over your own image in the corner of the screen, and instead try to maintain eye contact through the camera to show your engagement. And since internet connection can vary, it helps to speak slowly with pauses to avoid awkward starts and stops.

Then, just as you would after an in-person interview, follow up with a thank-you email.

Sending follow-up messages

You may have left the call, but your work isn’t done without a follow-up.

Send a thank-you message within 24 hours of your interview, and try to write something beyond just “Thank you!” To make your follow-up stand out, highlight the best parts of the conversation you had with your interviewer, and restate why you’d be the perfect choice.

Whatever you do, make sure to send the email. A follow-up signals your interest in the job and your initiative in continuing the conversation with the employer. Jessica Liebman, the executive managing editor of Insider Inc., won’t even consider candidates who don’t send follow-up messages after an interview.

If done right, your follow-up will be a professional reminder of why you deserve the role you interviewed for. Here’s a sample template you can refer to when following up.

Caring for your mental health during the job search

Research shows that long-term unemployment can take a real toll on your mental well-being. It can even change aspects of your personality. Business Insider’s Shana Lebowitz reported on a study that found unemployment can lead to lower scores on tests assessing agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to new experiences.

It’s important to care for your mental health during the job search. Reach out to friends for a socially distanced hangout. Take some time in nature to calm your mind. Try practicing some thought exercises to change your mindset.

Proven techniques from clinical psychology can help during the topsy-turvy process of finding work. To that end, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, can also be a helpful tool to cope with difficult times. The goal of ACT is to achieve psychological flexibility to cope with challenging circumstances like unemployment. When encountering a negative thought, for example, ACT suggests that people pause to acknowledge and separate themselves from the thought.

In the case of dealing with unemployment, ACT can help people shift their frame of mind from self-deprecating thoughts and fears (“I’m not good enough to make a career change” or “I’ll never find a job again”) by separating themselves from these thoughts and learning to deal with them from a more objective standpoint.

Here’s more on ACT, and how you can apply it to your daily thought process to care for your mental health.

Asking for a raise or promotion

You can still negotiate that dream raise or promotion during a recession.

If you think it’s time to take the next step in your career and get promoted to a more senior position, make sure your managers are open to supporting you and set a timeline to measure your progress. It’s also critical to think of a backup plan and decide what you’ll do if you don’t get the advancement you’ve been hoping for.

It’s also possible to ask for a raise in your current position. Before planning to make the ask, step back and consider the specific situation of your company. If you’re in an industry hit particularly hard during the pandemic, it may be wiser to hold off. But even if your company or industry is experiencing growth during this time, it’s important to wait for the right time, like an annual review or performance check-in.

Remember to also frame the conversation around your concrete skills and projects delivered, rather than what you want. Plan your monologue and rehearse it so that you can be confident in your pitch, and resist the urge to backtrack.

Recession-proofing your career

Difficult economic times can cause you to question the professional value you bring to the job market. But it’s more important than ever to bring your strengths into the spotlight.

Work on enhancing the soft skills you already have — authority, energy, and warmth are crucial to navigating a recession.

You can also develop a channel to share your ideas. Building a platform like a blog, newsletter, or podcast will help you to build a lasting professional reputation and increase your exposure. And building up a sizable following will come in handy the next time you’re looking for job opportunities.

You can also try coaching people in an area similar to your field of expertise. Start to coach friends and acquaintances for free to build up your experience, and before you know it you’ll be landing your own paying clients and a side hustle to help keep you afloat during the recession.

It’s never easy to navigate uncertain times, let alone the strange territory of a pandemic recession. But now you’ve equipped yourself with the advice to help steer your career through the worst of it and come out on the side of success.

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