Overcoming Fear, Finding the Right Job-Search Tools

With the nation in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and an unemployment rate at its highest level in a quarter century, fear has become palpable. Even for the 90-plus percent of us still employed, job safety is now a relative term.

On Wednesday’s special town hall event, Where the Jobs Are, our team of employment experts had one job: to arm you with the right tools and strategies you need to find a job should the unthinkable happen—if it has not already.

Overcoming Fear

Dr. Doug Hirschhorn, an executive trainer and peak performance coach, said that fear is always at the heart of any economic crisis—and it's more evident now than ever. But the people who find success in a downturn—those who are able to turn disadvantages into opportunities—all have one thing in common: They understand that fear is an emotion and are able to embrace and compartmentalize it so it cannot prevent them from achieving what they want.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the numbers, Hirschhorn said. Whether it’s the latest Dow close or the monthly unemployment report, none of us has the ability to control the macro issues at work in this recession. What we can control is our own personal job searches—our networks, our resumes, our skill sets.

Eventually the downturn will pass, and when it does, you can position yourself to have a stronger position in your career than you did when the markets were at their highs and unemployment was at its lows.

Reset, Retrain, Relocate

Positioning yourself to be nimble in a volatile economy and job market starts with re-evaluating your expectations. If you are one of the millions who have already been laid off and are having trouble finding a new job, it may be time to set the bar a little lower. At the town hall, we profiled a man who had a comfortable executive career until it became a casualty of the grim economy. Instead of spending months wallowing in unemployment, he took a job as a janitor at a friend's store to keep food on the table for his family. It’s an extreme example, but many people are facing similar dire situations.

If you find yourself forced to take a job at a lower salary where you may have to do remedial work to make ends meet, don’t be ashamed, Hirschhorn said. Remind yourself that it is only temporary.

Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor put it best: It doesn’t say what your job is on your paycheck. The money you take home is just as green as the money from your old job.

On an emotional level, a temporary “reset” or “survivor” job can take a toll. You can temper that by working on your off hours on finding a job in your field, sharpening your skills or volunteering within your field.

Jim Citrin, executive recruiter at headhunting firm Spencer Stuart, refers to this as putting an umbrella over your activities. By taking several proactive steps at once, you will be moving forward even if the economic tide is going against you, and the pressure to find a new full-time job that you love will be less when you know you already have a paycheck coming.

You may also find that your opportunities skyrocket if you open your job search to more places around the country. Maybe you will need to take a longer commute or even move your family to get a new job. But by broadening your horizons, you are staying on the offense and, again, it does not have to be a permanent change.

Stacking the Odds in Your Favor

Suppose you finally land an interview at a job in your field. Should you consider offering the employer a pay cut up front to increase your chances of securing the job? Our experts say no.

There’s a time and a place for discussing salary, Citrin said, and it’s never in initial interviews. If you sense that the employer has trepidations about hiring you because of your salary requirements, then you can get creative if you really want the position. Tell them you are willing to take a lower guaranteed compensation if they will give you the opportunity to work extra hard for a bonus. Convey that you are willing to make concessions to be a part of the team—but only say it if you mean it.

Regardless of the state of the economy, there are certain interviewing techniques that are timeless in their effectiveness. Showing enthusiasm for the position and company, being knowledgeable about the business, remaining positive no matter what and explaining why you can help the employer’s bottom line are all examples of easy ways to increase your odds.

Hirschhorn added that body language is a decisive piece to the job-landing puzzle that many candidates overlook. Ninety-three percent of our communication is done through non-verbals, according to Hirschhorn. So you can have all the skills required for the job and if you shuffle into the interview with your hands in your pocket and eyes on the floor, you may as well consider yourself out of the running.

Boomers for Hire

Baby boomers are being hit with a double whammy. After paying their dues over decades in the workforce, more of them are out of work and forced to fight off their younger, tech-savvier competition for the available jobs.

Experience and a good salary are the marks of a successful career, but now those things can be working against you if you’re 45 or older. Ignore your age, said Jeff Taylor. There’s no need to make a big deal of your age to a recruiter. Instead, brand yourself as a “learning” executive or employee. Take classes in your field, stay on the cutting edge of innovation outside your business and play up how your career experience can help the company, not hinder it.

Jim Citrin offered these tips for boomers: find a way to tell your prospective employer that you do not need health benefits or convey that you do not need a staff to get things done. Either of these concessions could be the tipping point in your odds of scoring the position over someone younger.

Questions? Comments? E-mail us at townhall@cnbc.com