Job Hunting in A Recession

Nikki Bregman

June 28, 2020

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It's happened before, and it's happening again - the US and world economies are spiraling into what is, at best, a recession. Recessions are scary and bring with them a variety of challenges, often the most daunting of which is finding a job. Job hunting is draining enough during an economic boom, but whether you're a recent grad, a laid-off worker, or simply someone seeking new career opportunities, it can be downright discouraging during an economic crash.

The semi-recent 2008 recession provides valuable data on how the job market responds to turmoil in the economy. Technology jobs are often considered "recession-proof," but job statistics from the 2008 recession indicate otherwise - in 2009, technology jobs made up 21 percent of total lost jobs in Silicon Valley, in contrast to 13.6 percent prior to the recession. In 2009, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers reported that all types of engineering jobs were decreasing faster than other professional jobs.

In the past, people laid off during economic downturns were recalled following a financial rebound. Today, American companies are far more "cold-blooded" in their approach. The majority of jobs added during the rebound are new positions, rather than rehiring old positions. These new positions take longer to create, so job growth is slower. The specters of outsourcing and automation are particularly terrifying during a recession, when companies are looking to cut as much fat as possible.

The good news is that the dot-com bubble burst of the early 2000s, coupled with the 2008 recession, may have culled vulnerable tech companies, leaving the robust business models that survived more equipped to deal with current economic turmoil.

When it comes to job hunting, experts recommend that you focus on what you can control - your own actions. Fixating on the economic environment tends to be dispiriting and will do little to improve your current employment circumstances.
So how do you job hunt in a recession? Well, the truth is, it doesn't look all that different from job hunting during a boom economy. With limited openings and more applicants, you'll have to do everything in greater volume - more applications, more phone calls, more networking. It's important, however, to not sacrifice quality for quantity. As openings become more competitive, the care you put in will stand out.

Customize your resume and cover letter for each position to show that you have researched the role and the company. Many employers pass applications through computerized filters before they're even seen by a person, meaning that, no matter how qualified you are, your hard work may end up in the virtual trash bin, unread by human eyes. To avoid this, phrase your cover letter and resume to specifically include keywords from the job listing. This is doubly helpful because it allows HR workers less acquainted with technical language to easily recognize that your resume checks the required boxes.

This is also a great time to widen your search and consider less-than-ideal positions. Be more flexible and look at opportunities in sectors you might not have considered before. Chances are, your skills are far more versatile than you think, and a persuasive cover letter can go a long way towards convincing potential employers that your skills will transfer well.

Consider applying for positions that seem out of reach; women are less likely than men to apply for jobs they believe they don't have all the qualifications for. A Harvard Business Review article summarized a common attitude observed in a study of female job applicants: "[Women] didn't see the hiring process as one where advocacy, relationships, or a creative approach to framing one's expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications." Job applications are an exercise in framing yourself in the best way possible. The way you present your experience and skills can be as important as the skills themselves. So, let go of fear of failure and advocate for yourself.

Although you can land a job without having 100% of the stated requirements, if you are missing essential skills or knowledge, you don't have to just accept your deficiency. A period of economic uncertainty is a good time to increase your value to potential employers by educating yourself through online courses and professional development materials.

There's no shame in freelancing and taking on gig economy jobs to help bridge financial gaps while you search for more permanent employment. Most of all, it's important to ask for help from your network. Reach out for virtual coffee chats, network over LinkedIn, and make sure to reciprocate and pay forward any help you receive. Don't forget that WITI has a fantastic network of resources, coaching, and networking opportunities available for members at

Bio: Nikki is going into her senior year at Cornell University studying Information Science and Philosophy.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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