March 7, 2013

Timing is Everything!

I recently had lunch with a friend whose daughter is going to graduate in May.  She said that her daughter is planning to take six months off before starting her job search.  Alarm bells went off in my head… REALLY?!

Last week  I had a brief conversation with a student who told me it was too early for him to look for a job.  He is only a sophomore and he didn’t see the need for a job yet.  ARE YOU KIDDING?!

Companies look for people with experience.  Companies like people who take initiative and get out there early.  They wonder about people who have never worked or who have been out of work for more than 6 months after graduation or a layoff.  Freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior – it doesn’t matter!  YOU NEED TO GET A JOB – for the summer at the very least!

My daughter, Elizabeth, did internships every single summer.  When she said she was going to take the summer to “rest” between her undergraduate degree and starting an MS in Urban Planning, I said, "No, you need experience in a city planning environment to round out your experience."  So she networked her way into the City of Sacramento’s City Manager’s office and had the best summer ever - splitting her time between the Planning Department and the City Manager’s office.  Besides gaining valuable experience, she developed an excellent professional contact network.  Letters of reference still come from the people she spent that summer with.

Here are the facts: The average length of time it takes to get a job is 3 to 6 months and the best time to be looking for work is in the spring or summer when more hiring occurs than at any other time of the year.  Things virtually shut down from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day as people celebrate the holidays and companies rein in on hiring – watching their bottom lines at the end of the year.

That young woman who thinks she needs a 6-month break after graduation is looking at nine months to a year before she enters the job market...  And that is if the recovery holds. By my calculations she will be starting her job search in the middle of the dead zone.

Recession and recovery - The cycle repeats itself over and over again. The recessions last longer and the recoveries are shorter and weaker. The economy is unpredictable.  In my observation the economy is a series of cumulative events that cluster together to form a multiyear year cycle.

I have a five-stage barometer that I have relied on for decades to describe the hiring cycle:

Stage 1  - Forget it and go back to graduate school, there are no jobs

Stage 2  - Must walk on water

Stage 3  - Must have a Master’s degree or a Bachelor’s degree plus experience

Stage 4  - Must have a Bachelor’s degree plus good communication skills

Stage 5 - Must have a Bachelor’s degree and a heart beat

I believe we are currently in stage three.  We have not seen stage five since the late 1990’s...

In any market, finding a job is a challenge.  It takes time, a plan, and it takes perseverance. You have to land your resume in the right places, go through multiple interviews with multiple companies, and then finally you get hired. For government jobs, getting hired frequently takes 6 months from exam to actual hire.

For most people entering the job market right now, it is going to be a life long process.  You will be looking for a job many times because jobs no longer last a lifetime. Companies operating in a global marketplace react quickly to economic changes. When there are no projects, they start laying people off.  It is a corporate survival thing.

So, should you just sit and wait for someone to call just because the market is good?  NO!  You need to be just as active in any of the five stages.  Even at stage one, the really aggressive candidates get jobs… Working hard is part of the deal when it comes to job seeking.

What should you be doing?

Here are the 5 elements of a good, proactive job search:
  • Develop an awareness of what industries are growing and what organizations are likely to be hiring. Read the news; keep up to date on the research in technical journals; follow your field online; and get the facts.  Figure out what social, political, economic or technological changes are going to create jobs. For example, right now many organizations are anticipating huge retirements and have to hire immediately. Big crises also create jobs: fires, floods, bridge failures, energy shortages, an aging boomer population, etc.
  • Focus in on what you are really good at and what really interests you. Start with identifying your most motivated skills, knowledge areas, and interests. No one gets hired for being mildly interested in something. What are you passionate about? What do you love doing? What did you love learning about? What knowledge do you have that you want to apply?
  • Organize your job search! Develop a database and keep track of all of your job search contacts and documents. Then, construct a job search binder with dividers. Include a calendar, to do lists, contact section, application section, and ideas section. Get A to Z indexes and include them where necessary. Put together a “daily to do” list. Knowing what you will do tomorrow is important because if you waste your time, you waste your life…
  • Develop a solid job search strategy. It should include a combination of networking, web job seeking, job fairs, resume posting, and professional activities. Network with faculty, alumni, friends and anyone you’ve met who could lead you to the perfect job. Post your resume on the Career Services Office web site. Watch JETX for jobs. Join your professional organization.
  • Develop your professional job search presentation. You will need to have a fabulous resume, a professional interview outfit, job related correspondence templates, a portfolio of your work samples and writing samples. This is no time to be cheap. You will have more confidence if you look good on all of these levels.
This is the backbone of my career planning classes and my book, “The Serious Job Seeker”. If you can, take the class. If you don’t have time, get the book and get moving.

No one has any idea how long a recovery or a recession will last.  When companies are hiring you need to get on board!  When jobs are scarce you need to network even harder.  There is another economic uncertainty and you need to get in before another storm hits.