The labor forecasts are dismal, predicting steep increases in additional layoffs with hiring being relatively stagnant. These statistics are enough to depress any job seeker.
However, if you’ve been applying online and hearing crickets, you’re not alone. An online job search may feel productive, but it’s actually one of the most competitive and least successful ways to search for new employment. Afterall, since more than 70% of the available openings are in the hidden market (aka, not advertised in public), applying online means you’re competing with 100% of job seekers for 30% of the available roles. The odds are already against you.
So, the trick to finding new employment in a tough job market is to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing and search for work in places the majority are not also looking.
Here are some places where job seekers have found success that you may not have considered:
- Boomerang. If you’ve not heard this term in relation to careers, then it may be something you have overlooked in your current job search. A boomerang role is when you return to a previous employer after working elsewhere for a period of time. The benefits of this to the company include hiring a “known” employee who is familiar with the company culture and tools, and also brings new ideas and skills. While many companies aren’t hiring for full-time roles during the pandemic since the future is unknown, they still have many projects to complete, so a former employee who knows the systems and processes can be a great contract hire. How to do it: Reach out to the people you know who are still at the company and get the insider scoop of how the pandemic has impacted the organization and what new problems have arisen. Listen to learn if there are any outstanding projects, new challenges or opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way based on your prior experience. Then, make a direct proposal. It could be a win-win in the short-term, and even potentially in the long-term.
- Your inner circle. While it’s true that many opportunities come from what Granovetter defined in his 1970’s research as “weak ties” (those people outside of your inner circle), it’s often your strong ties who make the introduction to those individuals, usually with a glowing endorsement. But if they don’t know what you’re looking for specifically, they can’t be an ambassador for you. You may believe the people closest to you understand your brand and specific market value, but likely they only know the highlights (e.g., general field, perhaps company name). This means there’s an opportunity. How to do it: Have a formal conversation about your career with individuals in your network. First, ask if there’s anything you can help them with, and then share your career goals with a specific ask. Not an ask for a job, since they likely don’t have one or else you’d have known about it, but rather an introduction to someone in their network, or any information they may have on a company you’re targeting, or perhaps a request to do some digging at their company to see if anyone has projects or needs help in an area where you have expertise. Make it easy for others to help you and those in your inner circle will do everything they can to try. Commit to follow up every few weeks.
- Projects, contracts and gigs. When unemployed, many look for full-time work, mistakenly believing that it’s more secure than a contract. This is a false assumption in an “employment at will” State, so don’t overlook opportunities that may help to get your foot in the door (the hardest part of a job search!). Contract work is an often overlooked segment of the job openings, so just by opening up to these roles, you’re already ahead of the game. The major benefit of these roles is having the chance to show a company first-hand the valuable skills you bring to the market. Also, you’ll learn new skills and build new network contacts, which can help with your career down the road. How to do it: Whether searching online or through your network, don’t limit your search criteria to only full-time roles. Check out some of the sites like FlexJobs and SoloGig as well for ideas. When connecting with your network (preferred method), mention that you’re open to both full-time and project work. Others may assume that you aren’t open to short-term employment, so be clear in your outreach.
- Hang a shingle. Although this isn’t for everyone, if you have an expertise in an area that others are willing to pay for, you may consider starting your own business or side hustle. For example, if you have recruiting experience, you can help job seekers create resumes or hone their interviewing skills by joining LinkedIn’s Profinder. If you have a CPA, maybe you can help individuals or small businesses that need accounting assistance through Freelancer.com. If you’re a tech whiz, offering to help others build websites or increase their SEO on social media might be a great temporary gig. Maybe you’re handy and can sell your services on sites like TaskRabbit. Creativity and determination can open a door you hadn’t considered before. How to do it: Assess your skillset and the problems the market is facing to find the overlap. Start with people you know to assess if your idea is viable (a broad sampling) and to shape your ideal customer and marketing pitch. Create a free website (or use already existing social media like LinkedIn or Facebook) to create an online presence so others can learn more about your services and inquire. Also, considering setting up an LLC to protect your personal finances, and be sure to follow the Federal and State tax laws .
- Send a proposal. This is something I’ve seen work, but you need to be targeted and do your homework. Identify a company you would like to work with and do an analysis of the market, customers or industry that could be helpful to their business. You can also research challenges the company is tackling and send ideas of what may be helpful. In order for this to work, you need to know the industry well and put some effort into the proposal you create. Also, be prepared that it may not lead to a direct offer, but could impress the decision-makers enough to keep you in mind for the future. How to do it: Pick one or two select companies in an industry you know very well. Identify a problem or an area that may help the company increase revenues, and then build a strategic plan. The key is to approach this project as if you’re in a leadership role at the organization. If you can learn non-proprietary information from an insider, that can certainly help. Then, compile a proposal with ideas (including cost analysis, potential obstacles, competitor analysis, ROI, etc.) and network to find the appropriate decision-maker to send it to.
- Follow the news trail. Although it’s easy to get distracted by the doomsday and political news on social media, make it a habit to follow the business news. Often there are hints about an organization’s hiring needs long before they’re ready to draft a job posting. If you currently only follow mainstream media, consider local business journals and industry publications relevant to your field. You’ll likely be surprised at what you can learn. How to do it: Narrow down your market and start to follow the companies (or targeted geography, etc.) you’re interested in. Set up Google Alerts, follow companies on Twitter and subscribe to publications that align with your targets. Look for information that indicates a potential need for new employees including restructuring, expansion, changing regulations, new products or services, a shift in leadership or strategy, a different customer base, etc. Follow the chain to identify what potential opportunities these organizational shifts may create and start networking your way in before these roles get taken or published to the masses.
- Change industries. If your industry is one that has been crushed by the pandemic, it may be time to stop waiting and start investing in a new industry. Fortunately, an industry switch is one of the less difficult career changes because you can rely on your strong functional skills to pave the way. How to do it: Identify peripheral industries such as vendors, feeder fields or those with a similar customer base as a place to start. The more you know about the field, the easier it’ll be to convince an employer to consider you. Another option is to look at industries that are growing during the pandemic and will likely continue to such as supply chain, pharma, and communication technologies. Then, research the challenges, customers, competitors and outlook for the new industry so you can clearly map out how your functional skills translate to profitable returns.
- Find people at booming companies. Since not all positions are posted online (up to 70%), look at people you know in your network who are currently working at companies that are benefiting from the impact of the pandemic. Organizations like Amazon, Zoom and Netflix are raking in the profits from the changes in societal norms and may have roles that appeal to you. Also, look at places or services that you’ve been frequenting more during the pandemic. The wine industry, certain types of manufacturing plants and technology companies can barely keep up with demand. How to do it: Be creative and talk to others to learn what is happening. Often our small world isn’t representative of what is going on in the larger environment, so be a sleuth and get curious. When you discover something of interest, be direct with your network contact that you would appreciate a referral and tell them why you’ll make a reliable employee. It’s okay to take a “bridge” role, but if you’re asking someone to spend their social capital on you, they need to trust you won’t tarnish their reputation.
- Temporary agencies. Depending on your experience doing temporary work, you may have skipped this option in your search, but don’t be too quick to judge. While multiple one or two week roles strung together may not be ideal, often reliable temps can progress to juicier assignments (e.g., 3 – 4 months for maternity coverage), and many agencies staff temp-to-perm roles and even some permanent positions. In addition, you’ll likely get some guidance with your resume, and some agencies even offer benefits after a time. How to do it: Check out The SMB Guide’s top ranked staffing agencies, as well as local or regional agencies. You can usually find reviews online to help you choose, so do your homework. Also, never pay a staffing agency. The company that engages the agency to hire workers is responsible for payment, so walk away if asked for money. Lastly, treat the interview like you would any other full-time professional role – dress the part, show up on time, prepare for the interview, bring your paperwork and know your availability.
- Online customer service. What used to be considered a probable scam is now a booming business, especially as more companies embrace remote work. Of course, you’ll always want to do your due diligence (offers that sound too good to be true often are, especially if they reach out to you directly, ask for inappropriate personal information or require money to join). However, with the growing virtual workforce and increase in technology services, shipping and other online services, these opportunities are growing. How to do it: Check out websites like LiveOps, Working Solutions or Upwork or look for these roles at large companies with customer service departments. These jobs can often have flexible hours, and if your assignments aren’t full-time, you can continue to network and look for other opportunities while earning money and building new skills.
The keys to securing employment in a down market include being open, using your network, getting creating and being willing to directly ask for what you want. A fortunate silver lining of the pandemic is that many individuals are hungry for connection and are building new relationships (or rekindling old ones), and people want to help. They can only do that if you do the heavy lifting, figure out your targets and take action.
So, invest in yourself, do your research and let go of ego. If you start to do the opposite of what other job seekers are doing, you’ll soon notice others who are envious of all the opportunities coming your way.