Lower returns in the stock market, slower-growing GDP, less enthusiastic consumer spending—they're all characteristics of the "new normal." By now, the implications are pretty clear for investors and business owners, but workers may be less clear on what a slow-growth economy means for them on the job, or on the hunt for a job. Here are strategies for navigating the peculiarities of an economy that could last the next few years:
Be patient. These days, companies are slower to invest and slower to hire. Even rockstar employees will have to work harder to convince companies to bankroll ambitious projects. "For those people who do have the big ideas, [return on investment] is going to be absolutely critical," says Brad Karsh, president of JB Training Solutions, a management and business skills training firm. Given their extreme uncertainty about the near future, companies will likely be more amenable to making an investment that pays off in seven months than one that pays off in seven years.
Most companies are also no longer doling out annual raises or annual promotions, which means workers need to be patient about advancement in earnings and position. One thing that's slowing down the process: Upper executives aren't moving around as much as they used to. "It used to be you'd lose 25 percent of your [vice presidents] every year, let's say, because they'd go to other companies or start their own," Karsh says. "Well, more people are like, 'I don't want to leave.'" Even top employees are turning down offers from outside companies because they fear taking a risk on a new employer in such an uncertain economy, Karsh says.
Workers who are on the market should be prepared for a longer interview process. Companies are increasingly asking candidates to interview with multiple people at the company and asking them to return for multiple rounds of interviews. "One thing I tell people is, 'Don't take this personally,'" Karsh says. "It's just a function of the economy." Even though the process can be grueling and frustrating, it's critical that job seekers stay fresh and enthusiastic—still smiling and prepared with questions at the eighth interview. Some may be frustrated with companies that can't make a decision, perhaps feeling that the company is giving them the runaround. Employers need to be forthright with candidates about their plans, capabilities, and timetable, Karsh says.
In your job search, take the time to tailor. Some job seekers are applying to hundreds of jobs, but if inundated hiring managers can't easily spot the relevance of your experience to the position they're filling, they'll breeze right past. Career expert Ellen Gordon Reeves often speaks to groups of job seekers and says she is still finding that many people are not presenting themselves well—making no effort to tailor their resumes and cover letters to the jobs they are applying to. "Everybody fears rejection, so they don't really pitch themselves," Reeves says. Her advice: Put yourself in the hiring manager's shoes. Imagine what you would think of your resume if you were hiring for this position. Would the job experience listed look relevant to you? If not, spend some time recasting your work history and your skills. "Write for the job you want, not the jobs you've had," Reeves says. If you're doing this well, with your resume and cover letter, it should take at least a day (if not more) to apply for a single position. But it's so much more effective than blindly submitting your resume that it's worth the time it takes.
Leverage your relationships to find openings. Unfortunately, many job openings are impossible to find with your computer. Companies are skipping posting openings online so they can fill positions without scavenging through the onslaught of (often ill-matched) resumes. A new survey from ExecuNet found that companies and executive search firms are posting fewer executive position openings online this year. Firms said that only 22 percent of positions paying $200,000 or more are being posted on job boards or websites, compared with 30 percent in 2008 and 24 percent last year. In a different survey of recruiters, 92 percent reported that they believe in a "hidden market" for executive positions. Recruiters are relying more on their networks, as well as searching internal databases and doing their own research.
[View more career and job-search advice at U.S. News Careers.]
Look to add value constantly. As an employee, whether you're bringing in new money or you're saving money, you need to be adding value monetarily, Karsh says. "If you work in sales and you can say, 'I increased my client list by 25 percent, I increased my sales by 50 percent,' that's the sort of thing that employers are looking for right now—anything that can affect the bottom line," Karsh says. "If you're not in sales, you can affect it by saving the company money." Find savings opportunities by refining a process, or even suggesting a cheaper way to, say, buy or use office supplies. One tip: Put your suggestions in an E-mail so you are sure to get credit for them.
Find fresh advice. There are a lot of people in the world offering career advice better suited for the job market of the previous decade. In this markedly different economy, old advice may very well cause damage. Sometimes the changes are minor, but they can make you look out of touch. For example, adding the line "References available upon request" can make your resume or cover letter look out of date. "It goes without saying that your references are available upon request," says management consultant and U.S. News contributor Alison Green. "It would be really odd if they were not."