Staying Motivated in a Tough Economy

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It’s the second half of 2003: Layoffs have slowed, the worst of the recession is behind us, and some sectors—such as health care—are actively recruiting. But high-tech companies remain in a holding pattern; labor analysts predict that little hiring will occur in the tech sector until there are more definitive signs of an economic recovery. What does this mean if you’re a software developer who has been looking for work for six, nine or 12 months? Even if you feel like giving up, now is the time to tackle the job market with renewed enthusiasm. Just as you don’t know how long your job hunt will last, you also don’t know when a chance encounter might lead to an employment offer. The keys to success are preparation and a positive mental attitude.

Keeping Yourself Afloat
It’s easy to stay motivated when you believe in yourself, but it’s hard to believe in yourself when job applications and resume submissions don’t always result in interviews. In a tough economy, competition is fierce, but don’t let repeated rejection affect you at a time when you need to project confidence. Look beyond your job search for validation. Volunteering your services is a rewarding way to remind yourself of the value of your skills. Nonprofits can always use technology help—offer your expertise with Web site or database development. Even an afternoon of teaching basic computer or Internet skills at a career center can buoy your perspective on an otherwise bleak day.

Another way to stay motivated is to hit the books. Have you been thinking about learning XML, C# or the .NET platform? How about something more far-reaching, like a course in software requirements analysis or software project management? The blessing-in-disguise of unemployment is that you finally have the time to pursue your own development. Taking classes not only provides you with a feeling of achievement, but it also increases your marketability as you gain new skills. Still not convinced? Consider it from a potential employer’s perspective. Both nonprofit work and continuing education show that you have made the most of your downtime. They demonstrate that you’ll be a motivated employee, so be sure to highlight these efforts in your cover letter or resume.

Finally, raise your self-esteem by taking stock of your accomplishments. A good exercise is to list all your achievements—professional and personal—and then list the skills and attributes you displayed in each. You’ll have a clear picture of your strengths, which you can then draw upon during interviews.

Have Confidence in Your Strategy
Having a sound job-hunting strategy can feed your motivation as well. The key is to vary your techniques. If you’re doing everything you can to land a position, you know it’s only a matter of time before you catch the eye of an employer. What constitutes a good strategy? Varying your techniques is probably the number-one thing you can do. Don’t just search online—read the new classified ads in the newspaper. Network and knock on doors. Look beyond what’s familiar; if you’ve always worked for a private company, consider government job listings. At a time when everyone is applying through e-mail, make yourself stand out by sending an application package through traditional mail. “Wow” the hiring manager by including work samples, a CD containing a program you wrote, positive quotes from customers or colleagues about you, performance reviews, anything that will show that you are exceptionally qualified. Pull everything together in a neat portfolio.

You’ll want to stay involved professionally, too. Join user groups, attend developer association mixers, seek out free-lance work or subscribe to tech-oriented mailing lists. E-mail discussion groups can be a lifeline, helping you keep up on industry trends, alerting you to unadvertised job openings and providing a way to network between meetings. If you have the talent for writing or speaking, submit articles to technology journals or teach an extension course. Both endeavors can raise your profile as well as provide an income.

Another tactic is to set specific goals: “I will apply for three jobs every day this week.” Competition can be motivating, even if you’re merely challenging yourself. When you reach a certain goal, be sure to reward your tenacity with time off doing something fun.

Stay Connected
Reach out to employed professionals in your circle—colleagues and former co-workers. You may be surprised at how many people want to help you with job referrals, references or cover letters. Ask someone you admire to look over your resume or help you with mock interviews. Getting another opinion on how you’ve been conducting yourself can be enlightening.

Above all, remember that your career is only part of your identity. If you feel yourself burning out on the job hunt, take a few days off. Reconnect with friends and loved ones—people who care about you whether or not you’re employed. Maintaining balance will refresh your enthusiasm and help you continue your search until you find your next position.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia and offers online job search services at


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