I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, it seems to be something that no one likes to talk about, ALL DAY LONG, in EVERY MEDIA OUTLET POSSIBLE… but there’s this recession thing going on. Yeah, I know, it sucks. Fortunately, while DC isn’t immune to the economic forces of recession (just ask anyone in the 8.8% unemployment rolls) , we do have some built-in resistance to it. Our big employers aren’t banks or automakers. The government still has to run (and experience turnover with a new Presidential administration). The country still has to get defended. Grant money still has to get awarded. Many of the WLDC authors were just remarking amongst ourselves this weekend that we’re busier than ever at our respective jobs- and we range quite a bit. There IS work in DC.
You just have to know how to find it and keep it. Fortunately, I used to be a recruiter, and I can give you some advice that will work whether you’re a cube-monkey at the will of one employer, or a freelancer with a dozen bosses across as many companies.
1. Document, document, document. Write down what you accomplish, if it saves money, what your employer gains from it. Don’t be a jerk about it, but be sure your manager is aware of how valuable you are. This is good for two things- the more valuable you are, the less you look like the proverbial fat that gets trimmed come budget time. Keeping your head down won’t do you any good if it means people are wondering what the hell you do all day. Also, this is great stuff to talk about your your resume, which brings me to…
2. Update your resume, even if you have no intention of needing it. Despite your best efforts, the hammer can still drop on you. Believe me, updating your resume when you don’t have a paycheck coming in can be a panic-inducing exercise in self-doubt. Updating it when you’re still employed, however, means you don’t have the added pressure of needing a job OMG RIGHT NOW while you’re trying to figure out how to present your qualifications in the best light.
3. Spruce up your online persona. Google yourself- is this what you want a potential employer to know about you? Excise the usual culprits- drunken photos, messy breakup stories, etc. You don’t have to remove it all, but you DO have to use privacy settings on things like Facebook to regulate who gets to see what about you. Again, do this while you’re still employed to give anything embarrassing time to work itself out of the first few pages of search results. Get a friend with some web and search engine knowledge to help you build a simple website that collects all your best professional information in one easy place. Put the URL on your resume.
4. Networking is NOT a dirty word. No matter how much money Monster and CareerBuilder spend on Superbowl ads, the best way to find a new gig is not by casting endless resumes into the anonymous sea of the major job boards. The best way to find a new gig is for someone who already knows you and how smart you are to introduce you to someone who is looking to hire someone just like you. The only way to position yourself for this wondrous turn of events is to get out there and make friends in your field. The time to build a network is before you need one. DC in particular shines in this area- it’s a town full of people who build relationships as part of their jobs. Participate in discussion lists. Go to seminars and presentations relevant to your field- you might pick up some knowledge you can use, but you’ll meet other people who do what you do. Get to know them. Share knowledge and resources with them. Invest in the relationships, so that if you have to send out that, “Friends, I’m looking for a new opportunity” email, they’ll already be confident recommending you to their colleagues. And if a recruiter reaches out to you? Be nice, even if you’re not interested. A good recruiter knows everyone in town and can be invaluable if you need a new job, but his reputation is based on the quality of his recommendations, so he won’t back a known jackass. Well, not often, anyway.
5. Keep an eye out. Who has lots of postings coming through on that mailing list you’re on? Which recruiters are hanging out at these networking events? Do any of these things sound like work you’d be interested in doing? Even if you have a stable job, even if you’re very happy in it, always be aware of what your options are… just in case.
It all boils down to this- get ready now, while your bills are all paid and you’re sleeping at night- so you won’t have to scramble to get it all done when the paychecks stop coming. May you never need to put your plan into action, but you’ll be in a better position for having one. Good luck!