5 Strategies to Win your Job in a Global Recession

By Catherine Cunningham - Career Specialist - Australia

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When I graduated from University many years ago, I never expected it to be easy to find work. It was in the middle of a recession and jobs were very scarce. Today, our current and post-Corona-virus world looks like it could well be a case of…

Everything old is new again.

Younger workers typically have more trouble finding and maintaining employment in a recession. In the US during what Australians call the Global Financial Crisis, although the unemployment rate for all workers peaked at 10%, the rate for workers between 16 and 24 years old rose to 19.2%.

Apart from the obvious immediate negative impact, if you miss out on these entry-level jobs, it’s very hard to catch up.

There’s no quick recovery

Research has found that US college students who graduated during a recession earned 10% less the first year after completing their studies than would otherwise be expected. And the effects continued for the next seven years - many graduates had no choice but to take jobs that paid less, which meant that any salary increases came off a very low salary base.

What can you do to avoid being caught up in this global disaster? To paraphrase the Australian response to the GFC…

Go hard…go early… and go technical!

Tip #1: Go Beyond Graduate Level Technical Skills

If I were looking for a job today, I’d be asking myself what skills a second or even third year-out employee would have. Then, I’d make sure that I attained them.

I was in my late twenties when I completed post-grad studies in Accounting – older than most of the other grads. I had switched from teaching French to a new industry sector and a new technical area and was determined to hit the ground running once I started my next job. So, I completed every single problem in every chapter of the Accounting manual to properly understand both theory and practice. My tutor thought I was bonkers.

What I noticed in the following few years in the workplace was that I had a grasp far beyond my peers who had learned enough to do well in the exams, but promptly forgot it all afterwards.

You can access more advanced content via free online courses including MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), EdX classes (featuring free courses from MIT and Harvard), and free Microsoft training and tutorials, as well as sites like coursera.org.

In addition, check out resources to improve your ability to master recruitment aptitude tests. I once worked with a Chartered Accountant who failed the numeracy component of his job application. He was mortified! Don’t let it happen to you. Just Google it and you’ll find plenty of support to improve your skills.

Tip #2: Keep up to date with technological changes in recruitment

As part of your research into best practice résumés, you have probably come across the issue of Applicant Tracking Software (ATS). This is a serious matter. There will be so many applicants applying for each role, organisations are likely to use ATS to screen candidates at the first stage of recruitment.

What is Applicant Tracking Software?

ATS is software that sorts through thousands of résumés to determine which ones are the best fit for the role advertised. It runs keyword searches and checks that qualifications and other pre-determined criteria are met by a candidate before it decides whether to score the résumé high enough to warrant a real person reading it. Some ATS can also draw information about you from your social media profiles, so a prospective employer can get a much fuller picture of who you are.

ATS were first used by large corporations that receive thousands of applications, but smaller businesses are now also using them. There are over 200 in the market today, used by around 80% of employers in Australia – so you really do need to factor them into your job search methodology.

What to do?

For each job that you are applying for, find out whether the prospective employer will be using an ATS or not.  If they are, send them your ‘ATS’ résumé.  There are plenty of blogs with detailed advice on how to modify your résumé.  Here are just a few of the areas you will need to vet:

  1. Font: Not all ATS can read .docx, PDF, RTF, and JPG formats, and many fonts cannot be read
  2. Acronyms: acronyms can be confusing for the ATS
  3. Logos: The ATS may not be able to read logos or extract data from them
  4. Headers, Footers, TextBoxes and Tables: Some ATS cannot extract information from them and the field that the ATS is attempting to populate will appear blank
  5. Gaps in your career chronology: Some ATS programs will penalise résumés that do not have all periods of time accounted for
  6. Contact information: Some ATS are programmed to look for postcodes so failure to include your address may result in your application not being considered
  7. Brevity: Some ATS measure how often you reference a desired skill set so failing to elaborate on previous role activities will penalise you
  8. Keywords: State-of-the-art ATS technology relies on contextualisation so isolated use of keywords will not advantage you

Why the need for two résumés?

You might want to take a shortcut and simply use your ‘ATS’ résumé for all job applications.  I don’t recommend this.  The ATS version is not likely to look as attractive and many people won’t read a document if it’s ugly.  Further, your ATS résumé may be quite long in order to overcome issues involved in Point 7 above. A real person reading your résumé might be put off by repetition and length.

Develop two persuasive résumés that propel you into the interview as a prime candidate: one for a real person and one for the dreaded Applicant Tracking System.

Tip #3: Hone your communication skills

Employers will be able to insist on candidates having the whole box and dice: both technical and soft skills. Your soft skills will generally have developed over time to where they sit currently, but you still have time to make a difference to your communication skills. No employer is going to say, ‘We’re not going to hire you because you write too well’, but they could say the opposite so it’s an important area on which to focus.


Start improving your literacy and ensure that it is suitable for a sophisticated workplace. Here are three key areas to work on:

  1. The tone of written language.
    One of my employees used to start every email with ‘Hey Catherine’ and it always jarred. Do you know how to choose the correct level of formality when writing an email to a colleague?
  2. The correctness of written language.
    My nephew came back from studying in Canada a few years ago full of enthusiasm about being trained in grammar. He claims that he is not as smart as his peers but that his strong language skills have set him apart. Calum has a PhD and was awarded one of only three Australian Fulbright Scholarships in 2019, so I’m not sure that I’d agree about his intelligence, but he’s probably right about the grammar.
  3. Vocabulary range.
    English has more than 1 million words to choose from which allows for outstanding clarity in communication. It is critical to choose words carefully but it is impossible to do this if you do not have much of a range to start with. Once you are in the workplace, you are more likely to persuade people if you can used nuanced language, so there is an added benefit to expanding your vocabulary.

Tip #4: Start a Job Ready Group
This works just like a study group. By tapping into the energy, knowledge and strengths of others, each individual member of the team benefits. The aim is to implement effective job search strategies so that you all win a good job. To avoid competition within the group, join up with fellow students who are targeting different industries to you or who work in a different technical field.

Establish a Job Search plan with key deliverables. Meet once a week in the early stages and meet at least once a month until you all have work. Target the following areas:

  1. Résumés
  2. LinkedIn profiles
  3. Cover Letters
  4. Job Search Strategies: networking & cold calling
  5. Interviews: phone, video, selfies, face to face

Tip #5: Tap into available expertise

Make sure that you are operating at a Best Practice level. I spoke to a young client the other day who had made five attempts to win a place in the paramedics. He admitted that he had no idea about how to sell himself well in an interview in the early years and, as you could imagine, bitterly regretted his lack of preparation.

There are no excuses these days with excellent information available at your fingertips via the Internet.

In relation to résumés, here are a few guidelines to start you off. Briefly, a résumé needs to:

  • Look stylish and have internal logic in its heading and spacing
  • Contain well-written, compelling evidence of your worth
  • Meet the length rules of your culture (hint: Aussie résumés tend to be longer than US ones)

Each element of your Job Search outlined in the numbered list above will need the same high level of expertise. Divide the task up among individual members of your Job Ready Group and get started.

What Employers Want

There are so many elements to consider when applying for a job. Yet, in essence, an employer will assess three elements:

…CAN you do the job

…WILL you do the job, and

…WILL you fit in.

In the past, the negative effects of graduating in a recession did not affect everyone the same. Highly skilled graduates, those graduating from more selective colleges and universities or who majored in fields that usually lead to high salaries, tended to recover early hits to their earnings by changing jobs and employers once the economy rebounds. And these differences were magnified after recessions.

It’s too late for you to change your technical field or your institution, but you CAN become a highly-skilled graduate. Cover off on all five elements of this blog and you’re off to an excellent start.

Go Class of 2020!

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