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Ask a Recruiter: How Can a Recession or Economic Downturn Affect My Career?

What to expect in the short and long term

Photo courtesy of Jouwen Wang

Amid the coronavirus crisis and subsequent layoffs and looming recession, InHerSight asked Dana Hundley and Jenna Richardson, cofounders of Career Cooperative, to discuss how economic downturns affect short-term job prospects and careers in the long term. These are their answers, in their own words. Are you a recruiter with job advice to share? Email our managing editor Beth Castle at beth@inhersight.com for consideration.

What’s your elevator pitch?

We are the cofounders of Career Cooperative, an Oakland, California–based boutique consulting firm that empowers clients to face career transitions, professional growth, and recruiting with confidence. We consult with companies to attract diverse talent through impactful recruiting and interview strategies and support employees through career development. We started working together at a recruiting agency, and through our combined more than decade in full-cycle recruiting, we’ve worked with hundreds of candidates and companies and learned a lot in the process. When you have a focus, understand your value, master the magic of your story, and build a supportive and diverse community, the realm of possibilities is endless.

Many current job seekers and new college graduates are rightfully concerned about the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. Can you speak to how economic downturns affect immediate job prospects? 

Needless to say, it’s not the most ideal time to enter the workforce for 2020 grads. Economic downturns affect the types of industries hiring, types of roles available, the amount of roles available, and the number of candidates applying for roles. Since recovering from the 2008 Great Recession, we have been in a “candidate market” in which job seekers have plenty of roles to apply to, are typically in multiple interview processes during an active job search, and can be deciding between more than one job offer. An economic downturn flips that, meaning there are basically less jobs for more people. 

New grads who have a set plan for their career, and specific types of roles, companies, or industries they are focusing on, may find that opportunities are either not as clear or not available at all. That said, there are likely yet-to-be-determined career paths that will be born out of this chaos. In 2008, this meant the bloom of the gig economy. Who knows what creativity the challenges of social distancing will spark?

Read more: How to Get a Job After College: The Complete Guide

What about more long term—how does a recession impact career trajectory?

Entering the workforce or navigating a career transition during a recession forces you to think completely differently about what is possible. A recession does not mean that you have to give up on a career or even put it on hold; it just means that your career trajectory is likely going to look a bit different than you thought, and that is okay. In fact, it can create some pretty incredible opportunities to push yourself in ways you wouldn’t typically have to and experience roles, companies, and industries you would have never even considered before.

I (hi, just Dana speaking here!) graduated at the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007 and not only lived through my own career journey, but also witnessed my friends and peers’ impacted by a recession that was out of their control—it has definitely had a lasting effect on my career. It took me a while to find a job, and then I stayed in the role much longer than I probably should have because I felt like I needed to. The foundation of my career was built during a recession, and has shaped not only the way I work, but how I inherently think about what I want and need out of work and my career. I have learned to embrace the fluidity of my own career and find value in all its transitions (which has been a huge benefit as a recruiter, hiring incredible talent with nonlinear career paths!). I also learned how to dig in and make a lot out of a little, which has given me the flexibility to take risks in more abundant times and ultimately led me to cofound my own business!

Read more: A Survivor’s Guide to a Recession: 4 Crucial Areas to Focus on Now

What are some ways women can stay focused on their dream careers and competitive in their industries even if they get off track for a little while?

Reflect and assess. Make checking in with yourself a regular practice so you know what is working, what’s not, and what you need, and you stay focused on the long-term goals, which can sometimes mean changing the end goal depending on what’s working. What you are doing now is likely not forever, so how can you benefit from your current situation? Is there an opportunity in your current role to get involved with projects or take on responsibilities that align with your career goals? If not in your current company, look for resources that are available outside work—courses, educational opportunities, or volunteer work in the field you are interested in. 

Stay focused by also staying positive, look at the “off track” as an opportunity to gain new experiences and skills. Keep building your community toward your dream career. Take the time to add your new experiences and skills to your job search documents, so you are always ready to jump on opportunities as they become available.

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Can I Job Search During Coronavirus?

What are some benefits, if any, of diverging from your chosen career path?

Discovering a new career path you didn’t know about or hadn’t considered. Expanding your skills, experience, exposure, and community.

Economic downturns will always breed innovation; necessity creates opportunity. When we think about what our world and community needs right now— connection and access to resources that maintain everyone’s health and safety—new jobs, companies, and industries will come out of that. Diverging from your chosen career path could put you on course with an emerging path that doesn't even exist right now. 

Some of the most interesting career paths aren’t linear, they are full of twists and turns that lead to great learning opportunities and multi-dimensional skills. Regardless of how topsy-turvy your career can seem, every experience is part of your unique story, and you learn and gain something from each one of them (even if it’s learning what you don’t want). 

Read more: I Learned How to Be Happy at Work

How can women best position their current job experience for new roles outside their fields?

Focus on the value you bring as an individual, identify transferable skills, and highlight the soft skills that are beneficial to all industries. You can count on examples of resilience and adaptability being incredibly valuable in uncertain times like these. Diversity of thought that comes from different types of experiences is always valuable—speak to your added value of different perspectives, skills, and/or complimentary proficiencies from different industries. 

Read more: 8 Interpersonal Skills to Get You Ahead of Your Peers

You mentioned new or unexpected careers and jobs are often born out of recessions. How can women stay on top of growing job and industry trends?

Talk to people, engage with your community and ask questions about what they are seeing in their companies, industries, and communities. Pay attention, in moderation, to the media—focus on business and what economists are saying and predicting. And while you are doing all this, pay close attention to how you feel; what is exciting to you about what you are learning? An economic downturn means you may need to be flexible about where and what your next role will look like, but it doesn’t mean you should shut down the part of you that wants to be excited about the work you're doing.

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By Beth Castle

Managing Editor, InHerSight

Beth Castle is on staff at InHerSight, where she writes about workplace rights, diversity and inclusion, allyship, and feminism. Her bylines include Fast Company, Charlotte magazine, The Charlotte Observer, SouthPark magazine, Southbound magazine, and Atlanta magazine. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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