Tips for Staying Afloat in a Grim Job Market

Career expert Lindsey Pollak on finding work when the odds are against you.

January 29, 2009, 1:22 PM

Feb. 4, 2009— -- If you walked around midtown Manhattan during the summer, you might have seen the financial executive, in his late 40s, who paraded around in a sandwich board declaring "Experienced MIT Grad for Hire" and handing out copies of his resume.

A few months later, you might have come across a group of job-hunting, 20-something recent graduates promoting their skills though sidebar advertisements on Facebook and links to their online resumes.

What intrigues me about these methods is not just the guts these job seekers displayed. It's the different generational approaches to self-promotion. The baby boomer gravitated to in-person, face-to-face networking; the Millennial went right to the Web.

If you are looking for a job in the current recession, my best advice is to borrow from the playbook of both of these self-promoters: combine "old-fashioned" methods with new technologies.

Diane K. Danielson, my colleague and co-author on the book "The Savvy Gal's Guide to Online Networking," calls this a "clicks and mix" strategy, and it's an important marketing strategy if you're looking for a new position.

Here's why: Young adults are competing in the job market with much more qualified people who have been laid off and need to find any job they can. At the same time, older professionals are competing with younger workers who are willing to be hired for less money and security. And, in this economy, every job seeker has to try every job-hunting method available.

Here are some self-marketing tips for job seekers of all generations:

Make sure your technical and communication skills are as strong as possible. If necessary, take a class or get some coaching in any area for which you're not 100 percent comfortable. For an older professional, this may mean familiarizing yourself with social networking tools. For a younger professional, this may mean joining a Toastmasters club to work on your public speaking or conversational skills.

Engage a "kind critic" to honestly assess your image as a job candidate. Find a professional you trust -- a friend, former colleague, family member, etc. -- who will be really honest with you. Ask this person to tell you if there is anything you need to know: Do you say "like" or "you know" too much when you talk? Should you dress less "frumpy"? Do you come across as bitter or entitled? It's important to know how others perceive you so you can address any areas where you're getting in your own way.

Become an active user of LinkedIn has become the most popular and valuable professional social network, but it won't work unless you work it. First, set up a complete profile including key words a recruiter or business owner might use to find someone like you. Join professional networking groups on LinkedIn to build your connections and become part of conversations about industry news. Demonstrate your knowledge in the "Answers" section of the site to make even more connections and display your talent. Scour other people's profiles to look for companies you may want to apply to, job titles or professions you didn't know about, professional organizations where you might network and people with similar interests who might be willing to offer you some job search advice.

Finally, use LinkedIn to help other people with suggestions, job leads and moral support -- the more people you help, the more people will offer to return the favor and help you.

Network face-to-face. While online networking is very important, still the best way to make a strong impression is in person. There is a perception that younger people are more comfortable communicating online, so it's especially important for millennial job hunters to demonstrate that they are comfortable face-to-face.

No matter what your age, make sure you are networking across generations to maximize your chances of finding out about any and all opportunities. Don't be afraid to attend a young professionals event if you're older than 50 or a "Don't retire -- rewire!" event if you're younger than 40.

Sometimes you have the best chance of making a memorable impression when you're an outsider -- as long as you are polite and gracious, of course!

Play up your assets, whatever they are. If you are an experienced professional, then talk about your maturity, deep industry contacts and excellent judgment. If you are a recent college grad, emphasize your energy, enthusiasm and technical savvy.

Don't ever put yourself -- or your age -- down. Don't make fun of your age, joke that you'll be working for someone who could be your son or laugh about how "clueless" you are. If you're comfortable with your age and experience level, others are likely to respond in kind.

Whatever your age, skill level or experience, always remember that self-marketing is about building on your strengths and addressing your weaknesses. So, be confident, be willing to learn and keep a positive attitude. Self-marketing makes a big difference in a difficult job market.