Ten Ways to Find a Job in the Recession

Job searching can be a daunting task under the best of circumstances, but in today’s market it can seem downright impossible. Let the PreservationNation Career Center be your source for the best preservation-related job postings, along with career advice, professional profiles, and job-hunting hints from those currently working in the field. Here are 10 tips to jump-start your job search in a down economy.

1) If you have a job, keep it!  At least until you find another one and know it’s a sure thing.   That said, don’t let the poor economy scare you into stagnation. Even if you’re satisfied with your current job, always keep your resume up-to-date and take advantage of opportunities to make yourself more marketable. Attend seminars, volunteer for work groups, or participate on a task force. Build your professional network while you have the chance, including making a point of meeting people outside your regular scope of work.    Is your organization cutting back on staff?  Shifting or expanding workloads can be a burden, but new duties may turn out to be resume builders. Be proactive about assuming new responsibilities—not only will it show commitment, but you may be able to snag new projects that will make your current position more fulfilling until the time is right to make your next move.

Corollary to Tip #1  – Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. You may have your dream job now, but layoffs tend to come with little notice and can happen to anyone.  It’s important to diversify your skills throughout the course of your career, so that if you’re faced with having to make a job change, you have a greater array of options. This is especially important in a mission-driven field like historic preservation, where your job choices and perhaps even your college degree have been guided by a passion, but may have left you with very specialized skills (historic building surveys, Section 106 review, AutoCad). Make a point of seeking opportunities to handle administrative functions, data management, budget tracking, fundraising, membership development, and so on. These duties may be outside of your usual scope of work, but having additional skills and experiences will make you more marketable as a job candidate. Having a range of abilities also makes you a more valuable and flexible commodity to your current employer when downsizing occurs. 

2) If you’re actively job seeking, don’t give up.  Despite current fluctuations in economic and unemployment indicators, the job market is still tight overall. That doesn’t mean, however, there are no positions to be had. As a recruiter, I can tell you that even during hiring freezes, organizations have some jobs that still need to be filled, or new jobs that are created by special projects even as other positions are eliminated. Historic preservation has always been a field where many jobs are project-funded, not part of the general budget. 

Also, keep in mind that all those job seekers you’re hearing about in the news are not necessarily competing for the job you want. Candidates from the job segments hardest hit by the recession—financial institutions, construction, auto-makers, etc—aren’t what most recruiters in our field are looking for. Response rates to job postings here at the National Trust have more than tripled in the past two years (from an average of 25-40 resumes per search to 100 or more), but the actual pool of truly qualified candidates is much smaller. 

So, let’s consider some ways to help you get your resume noticed from among those 100s.  Remember that all the basic rules of job searching still apply. And don’t let panic about the economy be your downfall.

3) Quality over quantity: You may be tempted to send out as many resumes as possible, hoping something will “stick.” And there’s something to be said for knocking on a lot of doors. But your time may be better spent focusing on a shorter list of jobs that appear to be the best match or of most interest, and taking time to craft a well targeted resume and cover letter. In his article about why the “shot gun” method doesn’t work, Phil Rosenberg, CEO and founder of reCareered, says, “When you try to be all things to all prospective employers by sending a standard resume to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. Your resume won't get noticed because it doesn't stand out.”   

4) Cover letters count. You may be in a hurry to beat out the competition, but an informal email saying, “See resume attached” doesn’t constitute a cover letter!  And don’t just insert a different company name and job title into a generic form letter. Now more than ever, you should tailor each letter to the job posting to make you stand out as the right candidate for this particular job. 

5) Tailor your resume, too. When I have 100 applications to get through, I usually start by looking at the resumes first and then read the cover letters of the 20 or so I’ve deemed the most promising. So if you haven’t adapted your resume to this particular opening, I may never get around to the cover letter you labored over. 

As Rosenberg notes in another recent post, don’t assume hiring managers are “telepathic.” You can’t send someone your all-purpose resume and assume that the recruiter will somehow magically sense that you’re an ideal fit for the opening. On several occasions, I’ve read a cover letter or talked to someone by phone who sounds terrific, but when I read that person’s resume, it describes a totally different individual. I don’t see any of the skills or experience mentioned in our conversation. The applicant knows he or she has those skills, but hasn’t highlighted them in the resume, which is why it ended up in my discard pile. Take as much time reviewing your resume as you do your cover letter every time you send it, matching the language to key words in the job posting. 

Corollary to Tip #5 - Take the time to have someone else proofread both your letter and resume. That may sound obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I find errors, from simple typos, to glaring grammatical mistakes, to addressing the letter to the wrong organization. A typo can make your resume stand out in the wrong way. While you’re at it, have someone who doesn’t know a lot about what you do, read the job posting and your resume to check for those “telepathic” assumptions. If they can’t readily see the connections, a recruiter may not either.

6) Focus your resume on results and accomplishments—especially revenue-oriented, fundraising, or cost-cutting results. In today’s economy that counts more than ever. The preservation content of your work is important to get across, but in a candidate-flooded market, it’s your demonstrated ability to manage projects and achieve specific results that will appeal most to organizations trying to do more with fewer staff and resources. 

7) Find the right job boards and use them strategically. While it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on some of the big, all purpose job boards like Monster.com or CareerBuilder, don’t get distracted perusing them every day hoping to find your dream job. Ads on these sites are expensive, and small nonprofits usually don’t have extensive, if any, budgets for recruiting. Rather than checking every day, set up an auto-search that will notify you of new postings that fit your criteria. Most sites allow you to post your resume in a database that recruiters may search. But many of these sites don’t even have categories for the kinds of jobs you’re looking for, so you’ll have to expand your search criteria and resume with keywords relevant to preservation—revitalization, urban planning, nonprofits, fundraising, and so on. 

For preservation-related jobs your time is probably better spent focusing on more narrowly focused job boards, such as Idealist.org, which cater to the nonprofit world, or boards such as the PreservationNation Career Center or Preservenet, which are obviously much more career specific. Consider the advantages of becoming a Forum member. In addition to discounts on conferences and products, you’ll gain access to invaluable research and networking tools, plus Forum members receive a weekly bulletin that includes updates on new job postings. 

So, that’s a lot talk about resume prep and targeting yourself to job postings, but what will really pay off is the time you invest in networking, making a name for yourself, and staying current on issues in your field.

8) Expose yourself!  In the nonprofit world, many of your best job leads won’t come from job postings at all. According to Dana Hagenbuch of Experience.com, an estimated 60 percent of nonprofit positions are filled through networking and referrals, and that’s definitely the case for the preservation organizations with which I’m familiar.

Managers at mission-driven organizations want candidates who are committed to their cause. Attending industry events, especially educational programs, after-hours activities, and events that you’ve actually contributed to as a participant, demonstrates that you’re active and connected in your field, interested in keeping up on the latest trends, and willing to invest time and effort beyond the requirements of your job. During periods of high unemployment when there are many candidates for any open position, anything positive that differentiates you from other applicants is an important advantage. 

If you’re switching fields, networking is especially important. Managers are more likely to consider hiring an “outside the box” candidate if there is a personal connection. Networking will also help you meet people in other fields who can provide you with information about the kind of work they do and what skills it takes to be successful.

Of course, the best time to begin networking is before you need a job. As Hagenbuch points out, “networking is an ongoing activity and smart professionals are constantly developing networks throughout their careers. This can lead to additional employment opportunities as well as making you more effective in your job by providing you with professional associates, mentors, partners and resources.” It can be annoying to run into people who are out there glad-handing just to look for a job or showing up at professional associations only when between jobs. Truly effective networking is about building relationships, so cultivate your connections even when you don’t absolutely need them.

9) Be flexible and consider all your options. This may seem counter to the earlier tip about not applying to hundreds of jobs, but it’s not really. Instead, be realistic and realize that right now may not be the time to hold out for the perfect job, at your dream organization, and only in your own field, especially if you’re already out of a job or have a termination date looming. Industry statistics show it can take three to six months to find a new professional level job, or about a month for every $10,000 in salary you’re seeking; but it can take three to five times longer in a bad economy.  So think creatively about the kinds of jobs your skills might apply to.  

Historic preservation may be your passion, but you know what?  There are only so many jobs in the field even in the best of times. So my advice to people looking for these jobs is the same today as it always is. Be resourceful when thinking about where you might find preservation related jobs—nonprofits, for-profits, state or local government agencies (and maybe in, say, the department of transportation rather than in the office of cultural resources where you’d prefer to be working). 

Check out Idealist’s guide to nonprofit job searches, especially the chapter on self-assessment. Think about your skills and assets, your goals, where your flexibility and your priorities lie, and what compromises you’re most willing to make. And keep in mind that, at least for now, preservation might just have to take a back seat to keeping mouths fed.  But sometimes doing what we love as an avocation rather than a career takes the drudgery out of it and we enjoy it that much more.

If you do decide to stick with it professionally, you may need to be flexible on salary, working part-time, or taking positions that are at a lower level than your previous job. My suggestion is not to be too concerned about what this will mean to your future career search. Once the economy picks up and you have a chance to look for your next position, most employers will understand why your career path may have taken an odd turn or two during this period. At the same time, realize that no employer wants to hire someone who’s only in it for the short term. It may seem counter intuitive, but you may need to scale back your resume and undersell yourself. Be prepared to make a compelling case for why they should consider you—why you would find this job appealing, the additional value they’ll get for their money, and what steps you’ve taken that make it possible for you to take a lower paying or part-time job in order to stay in your field (for instance, that you have a weekend job or are doing some freelance work that gives you some financial flexibility).

10) Keep busy. Job searching can be a full-time job. If you’re already between jobs, the bright side is that you have time to devote to a search. Approach it like you would a project at work, planning out a strategy and having a to-do list. Make appointments that get you going first thing in the morning as you would when employed. 

But there will also be lots of down time when you’re waiting to hear back. Use that time for networking, attending events, and volunteering. Take some classes or sharpen job skills, such as learning a new software or developing a personal website or blog that can become part of your portfolio (just be sure the tone, language, and topics appropriate are for professional use). Consider picking up some part-time, freelance, or temp work—not only could it lead to something permanent or provide further networking opportunities and job leads, but it also looks better on a resume than a complete gap, and having at least some income gives you flexibility to keep your job search focused on what you’d really like to be doing.  

Also take time to do the things that you never have enough time for when you’re working full tilt. Renew old friendships and contacts by meeting for lunch. Attend lectures, visit museums, join a book club, or get involved in volunteer work, even if they aren’t activities related to your career field. It can help open your eyes to new directions, as well as help to keep you fulfilled. I can tell you a positive attitude definitely comes across to potential employers. And who knows, that person that you strike up a conversation with at a lecture some evening might just turn out to be a great job contact. Opportunity often knocks when least sought after or expected.

By David Field, Human Resources, National Trust for Historic Preservation