We are living in the midst of the deepest recession in human history. The International Monetary Fund expects a 3% decline in global GDP this year, the European Union’s economy will contract by 7.4% and perhaps most pessimistically the International Labor Organization expects an equivalent of 305 million full times jobs to be have been lost by the end of June. In every direction, there is a new story of doom and gloom.
I have seen this before, although on a smaller scale.
I graduated with an MBA diploma from INSEAD in France, at possibly the worst time – in July 2009, during the last great recession. Since the crash of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the last 18 months had led to a worsening economy with millions of jobs being shed.
Personally, I had a tremendous challenge on my hands. I needed to land a job after a significant financial investment in the MBA. I had no prior professional networks in Europe, having lived previously in South America and India. I had no existing work permit, requiring any hiring company to sponsor me, which was considered an administrative burden. Finally, I had very little time on my hands to build up opportunities and networks, having to balance a grueling business school agenda while nursing a 4-month old baby.
Yet despite these seemingly insurmountable hurdles, I managed to land 5 job offers on graduation: Three written offers and two verbal: in FMCG, Manufacturing, Energy and Telecom, all based in Europe. An incredible outcome that still surprises people when I talk about it.
I know many of you, who will graduate this year or have been impacted by job restructurings, face the exact same challenge. In this article I share detailed tips on what worked for me as a jobseeker, while adding some insights from my present experience as a Career Strategist.
If you are a jobseeker today, there are 5 things I recommend you think about:
1. Don’t follow the herd. A lot of my fellow graduates were very focused on either consulting or finance jobs, which in the normal course are available with ease to anyone graduating from the school. However, the changed reality meant that there were too many candidates chasing a diminishing number of such jobs. I changed my strategy to stick to the devil I knew – Human Resources. Since almost no one else was expressing this as a preference, it made me stand out. So do think about what jobs may be out there that are not in vogue and that you are suited for or have previous experience in, as your starting point.
2. Think like a Chief Marketing Officer: I treated my entire job application process the way a CMO approaches a marketing campaign. What is my key messaging, what is my USP, what is the value I bring, what this means to the hiring organisation. I created a brochure of my achievements and even had a tag line (Yes, I had a tag line on my CV in the CV book!). Differentiating yourself in this climate is even more crucial than ever, so do start applying all those marketing lessons you took in your courses.
3. Double down on your strengths: Forget weaknesses/development areas, we all have those. Focus instead on what you are strong at and bring that to the table. Drawing on my HR experience, I knew that I was exceptionally strong at building one on one rapport. Hence rather than interview on the phone, I assertively pushed for in person meetings with every recruiter or company that I could, even if it meant travelling to where they were at my own cost. Once I was in the room, I knew I was doubling my chances of success. Be clear what your strengths are and put them right in front.
4. Ace the interview: When you get an opportunity, give it your absolute best. As a recruiter who has interviewed thousands of candidates, it still surprises me how unprepared a majority of candidates come to any interview, making common mistakes that causes them to be rejected. Here’s a video on lessons I’ve learnt from being in the interviewer’s shoes, on the seven things that recruiters look for and the 21 most important questions they ask, to evaluate you.
5. Become aware of your Inner Game: I have worked intentionally to supercharge my inner game and focused on a mindset of abundance – “Yes! she got a job, I can too!” as opposed to a mindset of scarcity – “Oh no, she’s got a job, there are less jobs for us now”. And also listening to the softer, calmer voice that says “Hey, you got this” as opposed to the alarming, loud cacophony of “What are you going to do? This is so scary!”. The concept of the Inner Game has been painstakingly explained by Timothy Gallwey in his eponymous book, which is a bible for sports stars to enhance performance. I highly recommend that book as a Career Coach.
I can’t stress enough the importance of this last point. Everyone is talking about these ‘unprecedent times, these challenging times, these uncertain times.’ Overstating the obvious has a very dangerous repercussion: we start believing that the doom and gloom is never going to end. And we stop caring about showing up, about being the best version of ourselves, because in our heads we have given up before we even start.
According to this Forbes article “How Optimism can help your career” : those who are aware of their inner game and having an indestructible positive outlook, bounce back more easily from difficult situations—they are more resilient and keep doing great work toward the next opportunity.
No matter how difficult it looks, don’t forget your destination. Your breakthrough may take some time, or it could be just around the corner.
If I could land five jobs in 2009, so can you in 2020.
About the author:
Sonal Bahl is a Career Strategist and founder of Supercharge, a Career Advisory firm. A former HR Director, she has served for almost two decades in HR leadership roles in leading firms like GE, PricewaterhouseCoopers and others in Europe, Asia and Latin America.