Dear Job Seekers,

Looking for a job can be challenging. Looking for a job during a recession can feel like the end of the world!

I feel your pain. I graduated during the previous recession, in 2008. Between 2008 and 2010 the job market was terrible. People were losing their jobs left and right. Small companies were going bankrupt, large companies were slashing their staff and those companies remaining were reducing work hours and salaries to barely a living minimum. With little work experience and a master’s degree, I was over-educated and under-qualified to compete with those laid off with experience willing to work for little pay. This was the time when I had to learn to swim or drown, to persist or to give up, to feel like a victim or determinately to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward towards my vision of professional success.

Below are seven practical steps I implemented in my job search during the 2008 recession:
1. Create a unique representation of yourself.
2. Expand your job search.
3. Keep an online presence.
4. Connect with alumni organizations.
5. Connect with professional organizations.
6. Do volunteer work.
7. Participate in a competition.

1. Create a unique representation of yourself.
Discover what makes you special and showcase it.

Recruiters and HR get many applications, especially now that there are more people looking for jobs. I have personally reviewed job applications and, after a while, they can get quite boring and forgettable. What can you do to stand out on paper?
– Write a thoughtful cover letter where you can let your personality shine.
– Add a summary of you and your desired position. Tell the person on the other side what you are passionate about.
– Think about a visual component to your resume; maybe in your favorite color.
– Select precisely what part of your body of schoolwork you want to present. Just because you worked on something, doesn’t mean it is always helpful for application purposes. Ask others for their opinion.
– Be bold and don’t be afraid to be different and catchy. At first, I used to consider my being from abroad to be a disadvantage. Then I decided to present it as an advantage. For example: I am open-minded, ambitious and bring a unique perspective to the table. What is it that you can offer? Illustrate it to help you become visible in the sea of applications.

2. Expand your job search.
Pages such as Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Craigslist are the absolute minimum. Yes, even Craigslist! I know it is old-school, but think of the person who might be hiring. They might know and use this website for their search of candidates. At one point I found a very good job in my field on Craigslist. Don’t exclude any option. In addition to job search websites look up companies you like and apply directly on their websites. Some companies don’t need to advertise and use only their own platform to receive applications. Make use of them. Opportunities can appear in the strangest places. Keep an open mind, keep seeking them out and the doors will open for you.

3. Keep an online presence.
Applying for jobs is only one part of the picture. Give opportunities the chance to find you. Post a thoughtful summary of what you are looking for, resume and other supporting materials everywhere you can think of so that potential employers and contacts can find you. A thoughtful LinkedIn profile is a must. It is possible that you might receive scams or opportunities that do not interest you, however it is also possible for real opportunities to present themselves. I had several legitimate company owners, who don’t post their job openings, reach out to me directly after having found my resume and contact information online. Creating a simple webpage is another way to showcase your work, personality and unique abilities. Post on your social media. It is ok to be vulnerable and let people know you need help. Reach out to family and friends and stay front and center in their mind, so they can support your search as well. You never know what will stick.

4. Connect with alumni organizations.
Staying in touch is very important and can maintain your motivation. Learn from what others are doing and be creative with your search. Connecting with others in your alumni organization can give you opportunity to discuss job search tactics, receive an up-to-date information on salaries and other helpful insights. This is a form of networking where meaningful professional bonds can be formed. The world is a small place. You never know who might become your business partner in the future. Do not sever the relationships with professors. They get contacted by the industry, may have businesses of their own and can help you land a job. I had very well-meaning professors who recommended me to their friends and colleagues in the field. Be active, stay in touch and form new relationships. All of those have the potential to help you in the short and long term.

5. Connect with professional organizations.
You already have valuable contacts. Reach out to them for help.

Professional organizations are often in touch with local companies. Reach out to them frequently, so they keep you in mind when an opportunity is available. They are there for you. I was very lucky to gain a valued ally in my professional organization, who sent job openings my way and distributed my resume to employers. Attend events (virtually or in person) and get your face in front of people. Once, after attending a lecture, I started a conversation with the lecturer. We ended up connecting on a common topic of interest. We remained in touch and not long after I received a job offer from that person’s company. It is one thing to send out resumes and impress on paper, but it is much easier to relate with someone in person.

6. Do volunteer work.
While you are waiting for employment, keep gaining experience in your field.

The easiest way to gain experience while searching for a job is by volunteering. There are many organizations out there seeking help. While you will not get paid, you will be gaining valuable ‘post-graduation’ work experience lines to add to your resume.
I volunteered extensively during the hard times and contributed with design projects as well as actual field work. I served the community and at the same time made great contacts, some of which I still maintain after 12 years. Any additional line on the resume can help put you ahead of the competition. And let’s face it, you will be positively impacting your community, which is very rewarding.

7. Participate in a competition.
Keep your eyes open for the opportunities available in your line of work.

The architecture industry provides opportunities to participate in design competitions. They can serve to expand your portfolio, can inspire you and keep those creative juices flowing. Competitions helped me to not get too bogged down by rejections. In some cases, competitions can present a chance for professional recognition. I remember participating in a competition for a design project in an underprivileged community in Redhook, Brooklyn. My submission received an honorable mention in the local American Institute of Architects’ design exhibit. That became another line on the resume that helped excel me forward. Even if you are not an architect, there might be a creative outlet in your profession. Find out what it is and participate.

During the recession of 2008 many of the people switched to different careers paths. Applying the steps above and persevering led me to multiple opportunities and employment in the field I love. Presently, I am competing with fewer people in my profession and job opportunities keep flowing my way, even during this new recession. Fortunately, I have a job I love for a company that cares about me and my professional development, a turn of events I could only have dreamt of during the hard times. The initial struggles have shaped me to become a dedicated and creative problem-solver. I have come out on the other side a sought-after worker and a winner in my own right.

I hope you can tackle the steps, persist and become a successfully employed professional. I know it is possible and believe in you! You are a winner in the making!

Ana Koleva, AIA, NCARB

Ana Koleva, AIA is a Project Architect in Cooper Carry’s New York office. She is originally from Bulgaria, studied architecture at the Brandenburg University of Technology, Germany and the University of Virginia. Ana has lived in three countries and 12 cities and has traveled throughout Europe, North America and South America.  Ana’s life experiences support the unconventional ideas she brings to the table. She values continuous learning and sharing experiences to help others.  The desire to help others succeed inspired her to write this letter to job searchers.