Over the years, one of my greatest pleasures in running Career Horizons has been to witness the extent to which my “alumni” are willing to give back and contribute their wisdom to other folks — complete strangers, even — who are following in their footsteps and trying to line up new employment opportunities in the Puget Sound area.  Along these lines, I recently e-mailed a group of my former clients who had all successfully landed new jobs during the past year, asking them to contribute any advice or tips that they thought might be useful to folks currently going through the career transition process.

The response to this note has been tremendous and I’ve already heard back from numerous people, offering some great suggestions and some sincere words of support to those who are currently in the hunt for a new assignment.  Before I compile some of the shorter responses together into a single posting, however, I wanted to first run one detailed response I received in its entirety — since the author (who we’ve agreed to keep anonymous) has offered up a number of excellent pointers that I’m excited to pass along:

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Dear Matt:

I sympathize with your clients completely.  We’re in uncharted waters and it is an unsettling situation for businesses and individuals across the board.  For a job hunter, much of this can seem to be out of their control.  If they are working with you, they’ve already made a very good decision.  My advice is:

•    Focus on what you can control, which is your day-to-day activities and your own attitude; press forward no matter what the headlines say because that is really all you can do.  Don’t make excuses, you just have to dig in; stay away from doomsayers and professional complainers.
•    Measure your activities like calls, contacts, networking events and make sure you hit your numbers; focus on the numbers to track and motivate yourself; you may have to keep at it over longer period of time and in order to make it sustainable you have to know where you are and not let up – the numbers will tell you.
•    There are opportunities in a downturn but you have to know where to look; my neighbor is the CFO for a large chain of pawn shops and they are having their best year ever.  Bankruptcies, liquidations and similar situations require skilled people in lots of areas to bring them to conclusion. Network with bankruptcy attorneys but this is only for certain types of people, as this work can be depressing if you let it get to you.
•     Companies take advantage of downturns to get rid of poor performers. I did.  So, there is selective hiring going on despite the headlines. Some of these positions may be “refilled” more by networking and word of mouth.  If you have particularly incompetent acquaintances that have good jobs, find out more.  They won’t last long.
•    There is going to be downward pressure on salaries and compensation in general.  You may have to settle for something less than you hoped.  Be realistic and know how long you can hold out.  You can upgrade later, but right now getting employed again may be more important than the dream job.  Long term unemployment is not good for anyone.  Capitalism is cyclical, things will eventually come back and when they do, you’re better off if you have a job and have not run thru all of your savings.
•    Major companies that mandate force reductions are often required to hire internal candidates for any positions that open up.  It can take them a long time to work thru internal candidates even if they have advertized the position externally.  Smaller companies can and will make decisions more quickly, particularly if you have the experience and skills set they need.  Many small companies purposely hire mid-career employees because they do not have means to provide the training internally.  This should be good news for mid-career people but it does mean they need to change their focus away from big companies.
•    Businesses that depend on consumer discretionary spending (Starbucks comes to mind – a $5 cup of coffee?) are probably going to get worse before they get better.  High tech, venture capital stuff is also probably pretty dead.  Look at the larger political changes afoot to see where the next winners are coming from.  Infrastructure construction looks like the sweet spot for the Obama administration – they are going to create jobs through public works and financing of private development.  Read up on Obama’s economic recovery plan and there should be some good clues there.

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My sincere thanks to the individual who took the time to share all of these great tips (you know who you are!) and I look forward to bringing you some further words of wisdom in the near future from my other alumni who have  been kind enough to send in contributions…