What to Do When You Really Need a Job
Sometimes all the talk about career ambitions, refashioning yourself for the future and doing what you love is a luxury — sometimes you just need to get back to work. Perhaps your unemployment benefit or (often way-too-stingy) severance has run out. Or you tried to jump back into the job market after taking time off to raise kids or help out an elderly parent, and you’re not having much luck rejoining your previous field. Whatever the reason, sometimes you just need a job — and soon — and in this competitive market, you’re starting to become more than a bit anxious and frustrated.
First, you’re not alone — as recent unemployment statistics showed, millions have dropped out of the job market, having become so discouraged that they’re no longer actively seeking jobs. (Indeed, the unemployment rate’s decline to 9.5% in June from 9.7% the previous month, even while the nation lost 125,000 jobs, is attributed to the fact that many people left the labor pool.)
And, the good news is that the metro D.C. market (including D.C. itself, northern Virginia and Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard counties in suburban Maryland) remains one of the nation’s best places to find a job, with the number of job seekers per opening less than in any other metropolitan area in the country in June. The trick, hiring experts say, when you really need a job is to be extremely practical and focused, and to lower your expectations and ambitions — this is about getting something now and figuring out what you really want to do later.
Here are some tips:
*Find something to tide you over. If you’ve been looking for a while in your field without much luck, your luck isn’t likely to change any time soon. Consequently, to bring in a paycheck (especially if you’re the primary breadwinner in your household) you may have to take a job much below your skills and experience level for a while. Yet the satisfaction of bringing in a paycheck — almost any paycheck — and getting back into a work routine after being unemployed for a stretch likely will outweigh your frustration at doing something that wasn’t part of your game plan. Consider the time-honored tradition of actors and singers in New York and Hollywood waiting tables, tending bar and driving cabs while they audition to land their next film or show. Think of your short-term job like that. And just like the actors, try to find work that allows you the flexibility to go on job interviews during the day — retail jobs in malls or bookstores often have night or weekend hours, and an office job may be a good bet as you could interview on your lunch hour nearby. It’s not forever, and you don’t even need to put it on your resume — yet if you’ve been unemployed for a while, having a job is a whole lot better than no job. And so often it happens that once you start working again, opportunities in your field have a way of popping up.
*Get focused, and fast. When beginning a job hunt, professionals are advised to think about what they want to do and where their skills can translate — it’s often recommended that they consider the “big picture” and remain open to a lot of possibilities. But when that hasn’t landed you something in your field, you need to narrow the landscape and become extremely practical. Look only at companies where there are immediate openings that you’re certain they are filling. Work your network and look at listings for positions for which you’re very qualified and could jump right into. And when you land an interview for these jobs, make it crystal clear that you could start right away and that you could handle the duties right off with little training — this isn’t a time for talking about “coming up with something” that could fit your larger ambitions. Focus on the reality of the here and know and landing something right now.
*Don’t look or seem desperate, especially now. It’s one of those cruel facts of life that when you’re feeling down on your luck, you have to act as though everything is fine, or no one will help you. But that’s how it works. If you approach former colleagues and others in your network telling them you need a job and will take almost anything, they’re likely to become very uncomfortable and ignore your calls for help. But if you ask people to put you in touch with people who may be hiring — and say you want to get to know a particular company or field better — they’re likely to help open some doors that could lead to jobs right away. You don’t need to say that you’ll take something below your skill level; that’s implied. For instance, here is a way to approach a former colleague in this situation. “Jim, I’d like to meet for coffee next week as I’m gearing up my job search after having done some free-lance work for a while. I’ve decided I want to get back into an office and want to come back up to speed on what’s happening in the world of — whatever. I’d really value your advice on how to get back into that world, and who may be looking for some good folks now.” That way you’ve made it clear you’re looking for something immediate and you’ve implied you’re not going to be terribly picky — but it sounds like you’ve made the decision and you’re in control. People like winners and those who are going places — and they want to help them out. Desperation makes people uncomfortable; it’s that simple.
*Consider temporary work. Many, many people who have taken temp jobs have been able to turn those into permanent jobs. And even if the job isn’t directly in your field, you may be able to benefit from contacts in those offices who can put you in touch with others who are hiring for full-time jobs. (See Nov. 18 post, “The temptation of temp work.”) The big temp staffing agencies — Kelly Services, Robert Half International and Manpower — are looking for professionals now, you can easily find them online. The pay may be low and the job duties may be several rungs below what you did in your previous job, but you can learn some new skills, make some good contacts and the field says it all — temporary. This isn’t forever, it’s to get you on your feet. Also, ask around among your contacts, some organizations are looking for workers to take on a temporary assignment for a few weeks or months, and the pay often isn’t too bad — especially if they need someone right away. Often, if you get a foot in the door, you can push it open further — bit by bit — so that it leads to a position that’s more in line with your ambitions.