I graduated from college in 1990. Yes, that was a long time ago. It also happens that we were in the midst of an economic recession that started in July 1990 and finished in March 1991.
At the time, it seemed that it wasn’t the best time to hunt for a job, or frankly, to be considering starting a business, but that’s exactly what I did.
In hindsight, and many years later, I came to appreciate that starting a business during a recession was probably the best time to do so.
I opened the doors to my business in September 1991. I remember walking into my new “office,” which was really the basement of an old apartment building, and saying out loud, “let the phones start ringing.”
Unfortunately, the phones didn’t start ringing. Not for a long time anyway.
It took countless hours of walking floor to floor, from building to building in downtown Toronto, canvassing most of the firms to solicit business. I was kicked out of more buildings by security than I could even count.
Building a business, especially in the midst of an economic recession, certainly wasn’t easy. I became a master at handling rejection but knew that perseverance would pay off. Although it eventually did, it took quite a few years before I felt like I could financially breathe.
In and around that time, my girlfriend, who is now my wife, was planning on moving to Toronto. She also needed a job. She applied to four jobs and received four job offers before even moving to Toronto.
I’m going to share with you her secret on how she received four job offers within one month during a recession and my secret to finding new clients.
The Secret to Finding a Job During a Recession
Over the course of my almost 30 years running a business, I interviewed probably over 1,000 people and reviewed many thousands of resumes.
During that time, there have been maybe a handful of people who have actually stood out. In fact, I can’t think of a single resume or job applicant that did what my wife did. And when I explain to you what she did, you will agree too.
And I’m not just saying this because she’s my wife (although I am biased).
Before I let you in on her secret and what she did to find a job during a recession, let me take a step back for a moment and explain that I’ve spoken with many individuals over the years who were looking for work.
When you ask them what they’re doing to find a job, they’ll tell you that they’re sending out countless resumes. Some will even explain that they’ve sent out over 100 resumes, maybe more, and haven’t even received a single call from an employer.
Is that you? If the process you’re using isn’t working, perhaps it’s time to think of another approach?
I’m sure you’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
So if your method of looking for work or clients or ways to build your business isn’t working, or is producing marginal results, then maybe it’s time to try something different.
If you know that we’re in tough economic times and that a typical employer is going to receive triple or maybe more times the number of job applicants and resumes than they would otherwise have received, how can you make your application or resume stand out?
You Must Be Different
You must somehow differentiate yourself from the crowd.
My wife was looking for a job in marketing or advertising. The firms in the marketing and ad space are creative types who build ads and campaigns that need to stand out.
She knew well in advance which firms she wanted to work for. She did her research. She studied the advertising industry in Toronto and figured out which firms were the best employers with the best reputations and clients. She narrowed her search down to four firms.
She then figured out who the main contact points were for each firm.
She put together an ad campaign that was very targeted and then approached those four firms specifically. She didn’t just call and hand off a resume.
She built a masterpiece.
Four masterpieces actually for four different companies/jobs.
She hand-constructed a 4 ft high X 1 ft wide custom box with 3 levels (drawers), and inside each drawer was a very clever message. She then delivered these boxes to the respective companies.
On the top of the box were the words “ARE YOU LOOKING FOR … ”
Inside level one was the following message (Someone who is organized and full of ideas). She then laid out six lightbulbs.
Then level/drawer 2 (which says “someone who is willing to go the extra mile”), and inside the box was a map and a toy car driving from point A to B (because she was moving from a different city).
And then inside level/drawer 3 was her resume, a helium balloon, and the following message (and if their resume is over and above the rest, then make your move, and make this call, because that person has a head for advertising).
She hand-delivered four of these boxes to the four firms she wanted to work for. Within two days, she had interviews lined up with all four firms, and within two weeks she had her pick of four job offers.
All this happened during an economic recession.
It took probably five hours to create each box, and granted that is a lot of time to spend on each application, but remember, they were targeted. And her return on time invested was 100%.
Of course, there are many ways to express your creativity. Leah Bowman designed a Lego box resume with the message “build the perfect account service intern”, and she secured a job working in advertising in Chicago.
At the extreme end, Adam Pacitti got frustrated after sending 250 resumes and decided to buy a billboard. Not only did he secure 60 interviews, but, he was also featured on BBC, CBS, CNN, and many other places.
Building a Business During a Recession
In the meantime, my business was just getting off the ground. The benefit of starting a business during a downturn is that I wasn’t encumbered by all of the processes that were built into my business. There was no need to pivot considering I was starting a new business, with new technology and ideas.
I needed customers though. But, I didn’t have an advertising budget.
So, I approached most of the large local and national newspapers with my new business idea, and eventually, the free press paid off. I was on the front page of the Toronto Star (article below with the “Supplier Listens” title), Globe and Mail, Financial Post, and in at least a dozen other publications, all within five months.
The press loved the idea of a new business being started by someone young, and during a recession. They were looking for good news stories.
The phones started ringing, and from there, I managed to propel my business forward.
Damn the Recession, Full Steam Ahead
Does it really matter that we’re in a recession?
If you’re looking for work, find the companies in your city or industry who are thriving, and if the businesses have fewer than 500 employees, do something creative and send a message to the CEO.
If the firm has more than 500 people, then connect with the most senior relevant hiring person.
You need to figure out something creative that will make you stand out from the crowd.
Mass emailing hundreds of resumes and/or sending garbage messages on Linkedin isn’t going to do the job. If anything, you’ll lose your opportunity to create a positive first impression.
And when you do send your resume, you MUST make sure that you don’t have any typos, formatting, grammatical, or spelling mistakes. That’s a super quick way to get your resume thrown into the garbage.
And the same holds true with your business.
When you’re presenting a proposal to a client, you need to make sure that the proposal stands out in some creative way. I never just presented a quote to a client. It always had to be the best and most creative quote before it would leave my desk.
You’ve got to be different. Unique. Now especially is the time you need to stand out. The typical employer that is hiring is going to receive many times the number of resumes they would normally have received, so, how are you going to make your resume and job application stand out?
Again, you must be different.
And when you do start that new job, you’ve got to be that person that goes the extra mile to get the job done.
So many people continue to do ordinary things, day in and day out, and then wonder why nothing extraordinary ever happens to them.
You need to stand out in some way. And that’s the same whether you’re applying for a job, or running a business. Be unique. Different. Memorable. So much of the world is ordinary. Be extraordinary.
Put your mind to something, and don’t stop until you accomplish your goal, and yes, you too can find a job during or build your own business empire, and yes, even during a recession.