How to Get a Good Job in a Bad Economy: 7 Recession Strategies

Job hunting is tough right now, but absolutely not impossible. The key to finding and keeping work in tough times is the same as in good times: action. The more positive action you take, the better your chances of landing a great gig. Here are 7 tips, and I promise many more in the coming weeks and months.

1. Be smarter, faster and better. I wish I could offer you a magic piece of advice about job hunting and working in a bad economy, a piece of wisdom that I’ve been saving for this type of situation. However, my best advice is to use all of the same job hunting and career management tips I always advise, but do them smarter, faster and better (which, by the way, is the title of a book I co-wrote with the fabulous executive coach Karlin Sloan).

Being smarter, faster and better means:

  • Updating your resume to include examples of how you thrive in challenging times, how you excel at stretching a budget, how you can bring in new clients and new revenue right away.
  • Making 5 calls a day to networking contacts, rather than making 5 a week.
  • Attending one networking event a week, rather than one a month.
  • Following up immediately after you meet someone or learn of an opportunity. Return calls right away, send a thank you email the same day you have an interview, send in a resume as soon as you learn of an opportunity.

In any situation, ask yourself, “What would be the smartest, fastest and best way to handle this situation?” and do just that.

2. Try new strategies. We all get into ruts — going to the same networking events, talking to the same people at our association meetings, setting up the same keywords on the same employment websites, writing the same phrases in every cover letter.


The same old stuff will no longer cut it. As Albert Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.To get a job in a bad economy, you have to cast a wider net and be more creative than ever. Try some new and different keyword searches as you look for jobs online. Challenge yourself to attend networking events in totally new industries, towns or social circles. Start looking in the newspaper if you’ve never done that before. Look for jobs at small companies if you’ve always worked for big corporations (and vice versa).

3. Find ways to make some extra money so you aren’t desperate and panicky. Potential employers can smell desperation and it isn’t attractive. If you are totally stressed out about paying the rent, you won’t be in the best frame of mind to conduct a proactive job search. One great way to make some extra cash without working fulltime is tutoring (for high school courses, college application essays, SATs, GMATs, etc. You can apply to tutor for Kaplan, Princeton Review or advertise your services on Craigslist). Bootstrapper has a list of 77 more ways to make money on the side so you can stay afloat while you look for your next career move.

4. Freelance full-time.  You may find that your “on-the-side” gig turns into a new career. That’s actually how I started my own business as a writer and speaker. It happened during the difficult economic period following 9/11. My dot-com job had disappeared and, while I was networking with former clients and colleagues, I started receiving offers to complete small projects for them. I said yes to anything and everything — I wrote marketing plans, nonfiction book proposals, nonprofit grant proposals, resumes, bios and newsletter articles for an hourly rate. I spoke to high school students, Girl Scouts, Rotary clubs and chambers of commerce. As the months went on, I eventually created business cards, a website, a portfolio and a one-pager about my services. That was in 2002 and I’ve never worked full-time again.

Freelancing, consulting and self-employment are not for everyone, but if you’ve been considering entrepreneurship, now might be the time to make the leap. My favorite “starter” books on this subject are Six-Figure Freelancing and Getting Started in Consulting.

5. Move to a city with jobs. If you’ve been thinking about relocating, you might want to consider a place that is thriving despite the economic downturn. has a list of the best places in the U.S. to “ride out the recession.” I don’t necessarily advise uprooting yourself for the potential of a good job, but if you’ve been thinking about moving anyway or have some very strong leads in a thriving city, it could be a smart decision right now.

6. Move to an industry sector with jobs. If you don’t want to move to a new city, pay attention to the industries the article highlights as growing: healthcare, education, law, energy and government. HRWorld offers its own list of top 25 careers to pursue in a recession and Career Hub shares a ranking of 72 recession-proof industries. Consider expanding your job search into one of these industries. For instance, if you’ve been applying to finance jobs on Wall Street, consider applying for finance jobs at a pharmaceutical company or a university. If you’re interested in management consulting, think about a firm that specializes in healthcare or energy consulting. If you’ve thought about teaching, do it!

p.s. If you own your own business or work for a small company, these recession-proof industry lists will help you determine where to pursue new clients and customers.

7. Help other people. Now is the time to be extra generous in helping other people with job leads, event invitations, networking contacts, advice and moral support. When you see a job listing that’s perfect for a friend, forward it with an encouraging note. Call up a fellow job seeker and invite him over for a cup of coffee and a chat. Barter your strengths (editing, public speaking, outfit coordination) with a friend who has strengths that you don’t. “Paying it forward” makes you feel good and it’s bound to come back to you in kind.

Check back for many more posts in the coming months on how to keep your career thriving in this difficult time. And if you have tips to share, please leave a comment!

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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