How to Job Search in a Recession (and Massive 2024 Tech Layoffs)

Is anyone having nasty post-COVID job search or career vibes? I want to address that, and how to job search in a recession (or what feels like a recession, or a crappy job market), in this post.

I kind of can’t even remember things pre-COVID. I seem to remember affordable food prices. That’s a thing of the past. I kind of remember a time when housing (rent/mortgages) were not astronomical.

April of 2020 was an interesting month… as was the rest of 2020. I know people who did very well because of COVID, while others were out of work in one of the gloomiest job markets I’ve seen. Honestly, it was a big month for me with regard to my Pluralsight courses (see my 40+ soft skill courses here). The whole word was at home, except for essential workers. Much of my audience, techies, were at home, probably staring at TV or computer screens, during work hours, unable to focus. That’s how I experienced that time.

The world was shifting and we were all trying to figure out what that shift was going to mean moving forward.

Soon thereafter there seemed to be an abundance of online, remote positions opening up. This was a time when techies (especially programmers) could demand a lot… high pay, great perks, etc. It seemed like tech was THE place to be. It felt validating for the years of nerd and geek name calling.

That’s not necessarily the case today. Being in tech is still great but I think there was a lot of over hiring in 2020/2021. And, there are companies who did not survive the pandemic (including state and federal regulations). And there are plenty of people who are in a job search in a recession… or at least what feels like a recession. The massive tech layoffs in 2023 and 2024 have put a lot of people into the job search, which means the supply (of job seekers) feels flooded, while the demand (available jobs) seems to have dried up.

Job Search In a Recession Tip #1: Network

I’d don’t think I’ll ever get away from suggesting networking in your job search. If you are “networking” and it is not working, you are likely doing it wrong. Or, you aren’t doing enough of the right things. Networking is strategic and tactical. I’ve written plenty on this blog about networking. I’ve recommended some great books. The key, though, is to get out there and work on your professional relationships. Practice. Get better. And please, please use JibberJobber to organize and keep track of your network and how and when and why you communicate with them. Doing purposeful, strategic networking can get hairy without the use of a CRM-like tool.

Job Search In a Recession Tip #1: Personal Branding

Next time for doing a job search in a recession is to know and communicate your personal brand. Again, I’ve written a ton on this and have a Pluralsight course about it. This isn’t tricky but again, you need to be strategic and tactical about it. You need to be consistent in your communication. You need to be honest as you figure out what your personal brand is.

Branding, in general, can be tricky. How and what you communicate can be tricky. And, to make matters worse, you are talking (bragging) about yourself, which can be confusing and feel awkward. But, as a job seeker, you need to get really good at communicating who you are, what value you bring, who you serve, and maybe how and why. Knowing those things gives you a foundation for almost all of your communication.

Job Search In a Recession Tip #1: Budget and Finance

I talk about this a little in this blog post: 5 Tips for an Effective Job Search When You Are Broke. It’s critical that you understand what your financial runway is… that is, how much money do you have, and for how long can you pay your bills? Some bills are less important (like, a streaming service) while other bills are critical (like, where you live). Your money has just become a limited resource and you have to take the time to figure out how you are going to live without getting kicked out or losing something you need (like transportation).

While this is something you should have been doing, the importance of doing it now has changed. Knowing where you are at financially can help you make decisions, like perhaps taking a job to hold you over while still searching for *the* job. Or, making a decision about a trip, gifts, or other non-essential things.  When you know where you are at financially you won’t be guessing, and you’ll be able to better strategize, which could provide you a little peace of mind.

Job Search In a Recession Tip #1: Sharpen Your Saw

No matter where you are at in your career you should sharpen your saw.

NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE AT, even if you are unemployed and scrambling for work. Take 20 or 30 or 60 minutes each day to read articles/books, watch courses, teach others, whatever you need to do to sharpen your own saw. This could be in something you do for your day job, something adjacent to that, or something completely different. A great place to do this for techies is Pluralsight. A great place for other skills is LinkedIn Learning. Or go to your library. Or be creative and just find an awesome resource you can really dig into.

Learn to keep a competitive advantage in your career, and for personal fulfillment.

Job Search In a Recession Tip #1: Explore Other Careers

A job search is an excellent time to pause and reflect on what you really want to do in your career. I’ve talked to many people over the years who are open to moving into a new-to-them industry or career. The sunk cost fallacy, which basically says that because you have invested so much into one direction/career so you must stay there to recoup some ROI, has much less weight when you are not drawing a paycheck.

Take an hour, a day, or a few days to really reflect on who you are, what you want, what brings you happiness, and how you want to contribute. This can, of course, be a lifelong pursuit, but right now is a great time to seriously think about this and possibly make some big changes. Who knows, perhaps being unemployed could be the best thing to happen to your career!

One thing I should note about each of these “job search in a recession” tips is that they are all excellent tips for you whether there is a recession or not, whether you are in a job search or not. This is what I call “career management.” Doing career management when you don’t need to will help you have shorter, and more fun, job searches that are inevitable.