UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Column: I Can’t Find the Job I Want. What Do I Do Instead?


 I have spoken with many people over the last year or so who have been laid off in this very difficult economy and have faced some very difficult questions. For example:

Should I continue to pursue the same type and level of position I held previously even though no one seems to be hiring or should I take any position I can get in order to pay my bills and maintain some level of financial stability?

When the economic upturn finally takes hold and companies begin hiring again, will employers understand this interruption in my career path and recognize my skills and potential value?

If I have to take what seems like a “step down” in my career, will my compensation ever return to my previous level?

Clearly, individual circumstances vary and no one answer is correct for everyone. That said, here a few suggestions that can help you navigate and deal with our continuing difficult economy and job market.

Immediately eliminate the term “step-down” (and any other words like them). Before applying for or interviewing for other positions, eliminate words like these from your thinking and vocabulary. Nervous people often say things they didn’t mean to say in the heat of the moment. Conducting networking conversations and job interviews can be anxiety provoking experiences; you certainly don’t want anything to slip out that could offend a hiring manager or recruiter or damage their opinion of you.

Conduct a multi-level job search. Although the reality of paying your bills may force you to pursue jobs that are quite different from your previous position, don’t stop searching for the type of job you held previously. This multi-level search will surely be more time consuming, but it can help you remain connected to your previous environment and help you to be in the right place at the right time should the right opportunity arise. If you are applying for positions for which you may seem over-qualified, make sure you adapt a version of your resume for this aspect of your search. For example, don’t begin your profile with “Over 15 years of experience in financial management roles…” if the job description calls for 7-10 years of experience.

Strengthen your bridges with recruiters, don’t burn them. While interviewing for one position in a company, you also may end up hearing about and/or discussing a higher level position that is available (which may not have been advertised). While not always the case, some recruiters who say that they will keep you in mind for other positions actually mean it! Several alumni have told me that they have been called back to interview for a higher level position because the recruiter remembered them from earlier interviews. Keep in touch with recruiters from companies that really interest you and reiterate your strong interest in the company. Sending brief emails every 3-4 weeks to reiterate your interest can keep you in “top of mind”.

Conduct due diligence on the career path. If you decide to accept a position with less responsibility and compensation than your previous position, try your best to do so with a company that has a track record of recognizing outstanding performance and promoting from within. Be sure to talk to several people in the company to learn where they started and how their careers have grown in the company. In 3-5 years, could you be in a position several levels above this one and that will allow your compensation to be at or above your previous level?

Excel at the job you have. Regardless of the exact role, do your absolute best at EVERY task you are asked to perform. Develop a reputation within the company that will help them see you as a person who can clearly add value to the company now and in the future.

I hope these suggestions have been helpful. Please contact me at john_worth@unc.edu if you have any questions or would like to arrange an appointment.