Plonkee, my colleague from “across the pond”, e-mailed me recently with a question about the recession. She wonders what job prospects are like for recent (or soon-to-be) college graduates. Unfortunately, with unemployment at its highest rate in a generation, prospects are not good. And those who are unhappy in their current positions are reluctant to quit because they’re afraid they won’t be able to find a replacement. Last week, for example, Jill shared the following story:

I am wondering how to handle the ramifications of the ailing economy. I recently agreed to accept a job with my current employer that extends my responsibilities and gives me full-time work instead of just part-time.  I know I should be grateful that I’m not out of work, but this job is not what I want to do as a career. Since I made this decision, I have been unhappy. 

I am a recent graduate and can’t find work in my field except temporary jobs with no benefits and less pay.  I opted not to pursue these due to the fact that they were temporary only — no possibility for permanent employment.  I just don’t know what to do. 

I don’t want to be stuck at this job that I accepted, and which makes me unhappy, but I don’t want to jump into anything that isn’t as secure as this. Are others making similar compromises? How are they handling it? Do you or your readers have any advice?

Disclaimer: For help answering this question, I approached Michael Hampton, the director of Career Development at Western Oregon University. Even though I haven’t set it apart in any way, the advice below is his.

Even though the job market is rough, keep in mind that people still retire, transfer, or get fired regardless of the economic conditions. Job seekers — employed or unemployed — can use the same techniques to increase their chances of securing a job, or transitioning into something more meaningful.

  • The first step is to network. Let everyone you speak to now that you’re looking for work. (Well, don’t tell your boss, obviously.) Get your name out there and increase the number of people who are helping you find a job.
  • Now is a great time to schedule meetings or informational interviews with people who are doing the type of work you want to do.
  • Keep a positive mindset. Be that person who is optimistic despite the realities you face.
  • Be ready to talk about yourself. Identify three to five talking points that highlight specific marketable skills you will bring to the work place. These highlights might include strong communication and interpersonal skills as well as a strong work ethic.
  • Create projects in your current workplace that you can complete and profile during your job search.
  • If unemployed, volunteer in the type of work environment that matches your goals. This will keep you updated on the current technologies and terminology,
    allow for networking, and build a portfolio of work samples.

As you establish and maintain a strong network, you will learn about open positions before they are publicized outside of the business or organization. Stay informed by keeping up with local news and read your area Business Journal. Keep updated with association sites connected to your particular industry of interest.  Know who is laying employees off or who is actually hiring. See if you can utilize the career development or career services office of your alma mater or the state employment division.

One of the most challenging aspects of being under-employed or unemployed is mental attitude. Hiring managers can sense when someone feels down-and-out, and will avoid bringing those candidates into the workplace. It’s a negative cycle that can quickly snowball to the point of permeating all areas of your life (finances, relationships, health, spirit, etc.). Seek help from trusted friends and family to prevent your challenging employment situation from defining you in a negative light. Remaining confident in who you are and what you have to offer will be refreshing to the employer when that “right fit” job is discovered.

This advice is great, but I think it would be useful for Jill to have feedback from people who have first-hand experience. Do you have any tips for finding a good job in a bad economy? Should Jill remain at a job that makes her unhappy? Should she take a risk and look for something new? Should she go with a temp job? What’s your advice?