How to Make A Strategic Career Move During An Economic Downturn

As we’re navigating a world of home-schooling and contact-free interactions, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what our future reality will be. That’s especially true for companies that had to pivot quickly by moving operations remotely and changing how they interact with their clients and employees. And if you’re currently looking for work, it’s hard to see LinkedIn’s sidebar updates and not ask: Are companies even hiring?  Should I continue to look for work?  Is it risky to join a company right now?  While we don’t know what the long-term global impact will be from coronavirus, we do know what hiring and job searches look like in a time of economic instability. With any down market, there’s going to be a tightening around hiring, but there are also opportunities to make a career move if you’re in an active search. Here’s what you should know about the current search environment and how to make the most of it.

Set Realistic Expectations

Even though the hiring headwinds are stronger against potential candidates, the job search is still the job search. What is changing, though, is the balance of power with more job seekers than opportunities. In a boom market, candidates have had the luxury of multiple opportunities, negotiating attractive compensation packages, and title and salary growth opportunities because there wasn’t enough talent in the market.

“With any down market, there’s going to be a tightening around hiring, but there are also opportunities to make a career move if you’re in an active search.”

However, with unemployment rising, candidates have to set realistic expectations of what their defined search criteria looks like in the current market. That means leveraging the skills you do have, instead of seeking stretch opportunities, given the enhanced competition on the market. Excellent job opportunities still exist, but there’s going to be more of a balance in the hiring process compared to the last 5-7 years. It’s also important to know that even bullish companies may find a candidate after a long interview process, want to hire them, and ultimately, decide to put the brakes on the offer in the ninth hour due to the evolving economic landscape. Understandably, this leaves a candidate feeling like they wasted their time or disappointed because they became emotionally invested. Regardless of what the market looks like, it’s vital to continue looking for other opportunities during the hiring process, even if a position looks like a sure thing.

Assessing a Company’s Hiring Philosophies and Needs

Despite the market shift, some companies are still hiring, but how they are hiring largely depends on their philosophies and needs. Some candidates are skeptical about applying for a position, even if a company has an approved requisition they’re recruiting for right now. But if it’s a newly created position (created since roughly 4/1/20) to support current operations or future growth, it’s not as risky an endeavor as someone who was hired in January or early February 2020 before the pandemic was announced. Headcount is under intense scrutiny now, much more so than earlier in the year. Consequently, If an opening hasn’t been put on hold, and a company is actively recruiting for it today, chances are it’s a critical need, and it’s unlikely a candidate would be hired in May 2020 and then subsequently laid off. As with any search, it’s in your best interest to do your due diligence. When you reach the second or final round interview, here are some essential questions you should ask your hiring managers:

– Why is the role open?

– Is this a new position or a replacement role?

– Is hiring for this role contingent upon anything?

– How will the company react if the business outlook worsens?

– How has the company reacted in previous market downturns?

Probing questions like these could easily be seen as negative, so make sure the dialogue is balanced. Conducting due diligence, while also putting your best foot forward, is a delicate balancing act. You want to convey your interest in the role, while also showcasing your thoroughness in the interview process (and protecting yourself). If you ultimately decide to withdraw from the hiring process, you want to be the one making that choice, not the hiring manager.

Have a Multi-Pronged Approach

With limited job openings, it may seem logical to hone in on a single strategy to be more efficient in finding new opportunities. But now, more than ever, your job search should have a multi-pronged approach because there is no one way a company will find talent.

“Now, more than ever, your job search should have a multi-pronged approach because there is no one way a company will find talent.”

On one hand, you could assume that because the economy’s down, companies aren’t going to use external recruiters, so you shouldn’t continue to build those relationships. If a company has their own internal team and typically hires through their online inbound applicants, are they now going to use external agencies at all or a mix of both? The answer is, it depends. Companies who are expecting their business to thrive in the current environment, and have a robust internal recruiting team, will probably rely on that team for most requisitions.  However, some companies will reduce their headcount growth plans, and in turn, the size of their talent acquisition team, and thus engage external resources on a case-by-case basis for recruiting needs. This is particularly true for technical or niche roles that are better served by specialty firms. Over the coming months, companies will constantly be reassessing their hiring plans and also their investment from internal to external recruitment, so don’t expect a one size fits all approach. This downshift in the market will also allow companies to upgrade talent and make confidential replacements if there is more available talent on the marketplace and they’ve had a difficult time hiring. Those positions will be filled through a relationship with a recruiter because the companies won’t be able to market the search themselves. Yes, the hiring process will look different for the foreseeable future, but there are always opportunities for strong candidates. Stay curious and active with your search and the channels you’re using to market yourself because companies will continue to acquire talent through a variety of resources.

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