Category Archives: Strategies for Reducing Stress

Agony and Elation: Searching for Work in a Turbulent Job Market

Nicole Davidson

Nicole Davidson

When Geraldine announced this topic to the writers a few weeks ago, I was concerned. I had been in the job market since late October and it wasn’t going well. Specifically I was concerned that I would unable to keep a fault-line of bitterness and anxiety from permeating my entire piece; particularly difficult, given the way those feelings were permeating my entire life. Who was I, this unsuccessful job-seeker, to put together pieces of advice for this next crop of competition in the market? I struggled to come up with an article title that wasn’t “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”.

Yet, as I am writing this, I have (finally, incredibly) received a job offer. I have suddenly become worried about forgetting how difficult it was to get here, and how much I went through, since receiving what now feels like a long-awaited gift. I do not want to be blinded by my own elation; certainly it has not yet sunk in.

With that said, I do have some current, relevant advice for all the job seekers now entering this turbulent market.

Prepare yourself. In my second year at BCIT, I entered into a class where our teacher spent the entire first class giving us information on the job market we were about to enter. It was significantly doom-and-gloomy, and I remember thinking that surely this teacher was exaggerating to try to encourage us to get started on our job-searching and networking early. I specifically remember zoning out to stare out the window, feeling unassailably confident. I had excellent grades and I had relevant experience (though not specifically under an HR title, an issue that would plague my job search considerably). That memory has been a torturous one over the last six months.

The job market you are about to enter is extremely competitive. Particularly in entry-level HR, several jobs that I interviewed for informed me that they had received over a hundred submitted resumes that they whittled down to 5 for interviews. A recruiting agency I worked with told me that HR and marketing are currently the most difficult fields for grads to break into. The competition is huge, the jobs are few, and employers value experience far more highly than education. This was very consistent with my experience.

When I say that my advice is to prepare yourself, I don’t mean in the sense of resume-editing or networking (though those are important in their own right). I mean mentally. The most difficult part of this process has been dealing with the steady stream of implicit and explicit rejection. I wrote down every job I applied for- the company, the closing date, and the position- and watched the days tick by with often no contact at all. I never counted how many I had done, but I’ve counted for you: I applied to 86 jobs. That was in five months- during the month of December, I stopped applying because I couldn’t find any new postings. Out of 86 applications, I received 7 email rejections, 3 phone-screen interviews, and 5 in-person interviews. I made it to the second round of interviews twice. Basically, around 80% of the jobs I applied to I never heard back from in any way. Of the mix of interviews I did, about half got back to me about whether or not I had moved on at all; with one job,  I went through separate two hour-long interviews and an hour-long test, and in the end they emailed me a three-sentence letter that began “Dear Applicant” to tell me of my rejection.

Basically, you need to be ready for this to potentially happen to you. Build up your support systems, whether it is a group of friends you can commiserate with, or a partner or close family member that you can tell your frustrations to. Don’t internalize it; this is a reflection of the market, not of your worth.

Get professional help with your resume. I had always believed that as a strong writer I would easily be able to write a good resume. This turned out to be incorrect. As it happens, a good resume is specific only to the person reading it. With that said, I highly recommend getting in touch with a recruitment or temp firm and asking them to help you with your resume. If you know someone who is a recruiter or hiring manager, you’re set.

After I re-did my resume, the responses I got tripled. I had gone two months with nothing, and in one week I suddenly had three interviews. The changes I had made seemed minor to me, but made a big difference to the people who were reading my resume.  While my first resume had been technically (and grammatically) sound, there are tips that you can only get from someone who spends hours a day looking at resumes in your field- and those tips are specific to the field.

Watch this video. I was surfing the internet one day reading news articles and blog posts about the difficulty finding a job (including this poignant one– I repeated the idea of the “strange alchemy of being in the right place at the right time” to myself for weeks) when I stumbled upon this video. At 20 minutes, it’s a little long, but you need to watch it all the way to the end to get the impact.

I am not the kind of person who quickly or easily buys into things- I am most likely to be the sceptic, heavily grounded in logic and realism. I bought into this. I followed her suggestion for the three interviews I went to in the one week. I went into them feeling just as nervous as usual, but when I left, I felt more confident than I had in the past. I won’t spoil it for you, but I highly recommend it.

The last piece of advice I can offer is to do your best to stay positive and be patient. The right job is out there, but it may take awhile for you to find it. In the meantime, lean on your friends and family for support. Take time out to do things you enjoy. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Best of luck to all of you.

Related Pages:

1. Coffee Shop HR World Café: What Three Pieces of Advice Should Post-Secondary Grads Take to Heart?

2. It’s a Big World Out There, New Grad! by Christine Ramage, CHRP

3. What Three Pieces of Advice Should Post-Secondary Grads Take to Heart? by Bonnie Milne, PhD

How to Start the New Year Off Right

We have all seen the toll those big company lunches, piles of goodies in the break room, late nights with friends and personal life overload has on employees over the holidays. To compensate many times we see reduced work days, employees cashing out overdue vacation, and taking banked days in lieu; without a doubt productivity lowers and everything seems to wind down into slow motion- many offices are running on a skeleton crew and it seems like everyone is taking part in the Christmas cheers (asides from Finance who is preparing for the impending doom of year end wrap up)…

So how can we prepare ourselves for the rapid ramp up that the New Year brings? Try these few things:

1)      Before leaving for vacation leave yourself a ‘welcome back’ note reminding your refreshed (recently un-hibernated) self of key tasks coming down the pipe.

2)      Tidy up your workspace. It’s always nice to come back to a clean desk that is well organized than a stack of papers and chicken scratch memos you have long forgotten about and can no longer decipher.

3)      Add an extra day to you out of office. This is a sneaky one that allows you pre-manage expectations on you to reply to emails allowing you an extra day to read, flag and prioritize your emails.

4)      Schedule a meeting with your team before you break for the holidays to ensure everyone is on the same page for the New Year. Nothing is worse that having a plan in place that becomes bottlenecked due to a lack of resources.

5)      Set yourself outlook reminders. Do your 2013 version of yourself a favour and schedule your first week back now while everything is weighing on your mind. This reduces stress now, and helps bring back the flow then.

6)      Wake up early and hit the gym. A great way to work back into our early morning routines (and now tight dress pants) is to stay active over the holidays and not stay too much away from our normal sleep patterns.

These tips are ones that have been shared with me, and ones that I put in to practice anytime I step away from work for more than 3 days; it allows me to feel at ease when away from the office but also helps me ramp back up when I return and leaves me feeling prepared and not blindsided.

Happy Holidays and New Year to everyone!