In the current economic conditions, we seem to be getting closer and closer to a recession and the job market is going to tighten. Competition for good jobs will increase as the number of skilled professionals, laid off from their companies and recently graduating from college, flood the job market. Most companies will begin to reconsider their hiring plans and many may stop hiring altogether as they wait for the current crisis to pass. And while the Internet has made it easy and convenient to post your resume online, it has also made it difficult for job seekers to stand out from the competition. During a recession, even the basics of a job search can change. CVs have to be customized, cover letters have to be more strategic, obtaining interviews becomes more difficult and salary negotiations become more sensitive. Job seekers have to adapt if they want to come out ahead.

If you want to maximize your chances of landing a great job during an economic slowdown, then follow the best practices outlined below for conducting a job search when times are tight.

  1. Forget the “shotgun” approach

You’d think by now people would have realized that the “shotgun” approach to finding a job just doesn’t work, but there are still people that browse through the job adverts, submit their CV online to thousands of companies using automated CV submission services, and they let a few good friends know they’re in the job market. Every Monday they get up and submit the same non-customized CV to any and all jobs that they’re even slightly interested in and then they sit back and wait.

During a recession, or downturn in the economy, the shotgun method becomes even more attractive to job seekers because it makes them feel like they’re doing something, even though at the end of the day their efforts are in vain.

During the best of times, the shotgun approach is nominally effective at best, but during a tight job market, where employers have their pick of candidates, it usually does more damage than good. Using the shotgun approach turns into a commodity, just another job seeker with the same old skills who doesn’t stand out from the crowd. When you post the same boring CV everywhere you position yourself as just another job seeker, not someone who can make a meaningful contribution or provide an employer with value for money. And when you send the same CV to everyone, you become nothing to no one.

2. First focus on the company, then on the job.

One of the greatest struggles that job seekers experience when searching for a job in a down economy is anxiety. They’re so anxious to find another job that they get desperate and as a consequence lack focus. They feel like they can’t slow down to develop a realistic strategy and apply to as many positions as they can, as quickly as they can. Securing a new source of income becomes the number one goal. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, “haste makes waste” — and this couldn’t be truer than for job seekers who don’t slow down long enough to develop a plan.

It’s quite common for job seekers to initially be driven by fear. Fear is a normal human reaction, but unchecked it can be a disaster for your job search. Don’t let fear be your driving source for finding another job. If money’s tight, sit down and review your finances. Cut back on expenditure, talk to friends, and family if you need a little help, but slow down and put together a plan that is based on common sense, a plan that focuses on both the short-term and long-term. Develop a strategic job plan that takes into account your experience, your unique skills, and talents. Use strategies that play to your strengths and help set you apart from others in your industry. Set realistic, achievable career goals, and then stick to your plan. You’ll find a new job faster by developing a plan that differentiates you as a candidate and that focuses on how you can help employers succeed, rather than by sending your CV to every employer in the world.

If you’re simply making a job change within the same industry, putting a good plan together may only take a few minutes. If you’re planning on a career change, then it may take a little longer. Make sure that as part of your plan you focus on specific companies. Employers are interested in candidates that are interested in them. It’s important to know which job you want and are qualified for, but employers are going to be more impressed with candidates that really want to work for them. Once you know which direction you’re headed in, make a list of all the potential employers that fall within the scope of your career goals. Then do your due diligence and learn everything there is to know about each employer. Develop a custom CV for each employer. And go out of your way to communicate with each employer why you’re the best fit for their company, and the job they’re offering.

3. Focus on growth industries and specializations.

Your chances of finding a good job (and keeping it) increase when you focus on job opportunities in growth industries. This is especially true during a recession when many industries are experiencing layoffs. If you’re a construction worker, you may want to consider looking for a new industry or specialization if your industry has been hit hard by slow times.

Once you’ve identified a few industries you’re interested in working in and the region(s) where you’re willing to live, start by selecting anywhere between 5 and 15 companies in those industries and regions to target. Narrowing your job search to just a handful of companies will allow you to perform the research necessary to identify and connect with decision-makers at each company. Focusing your job search in this manner is much more effective than following up on every job opening you see on the Internet.

While you want to focus your job search efforts, it’s also important to be realistic. If you only focus on getting a job at one or two companies, you may be limiting your options too much. You should also select industries that make sense. If you’ve spent the last four years in construction, it’s probably not realistic to make a quick switch to healthcare — even if it is a thriving industry. Spending too much time focused on the wrong areas can sap your resources and your confidence. If you’re struggling to figure out what direction to go, you may consider taking a career assessment.

4. Step outside of your comfort zone and consider new options.

There are many job opportunities out there that go unnoticed by the majority of job seekers. In addition to large corporate companies, that make there are a plethora of jobs available in more non-traditional business environments such as spin-offs, non-profits, fast-growing private companies, and even start-ups. Many of these sectors not only offer great job opportunities, but they provide a stimulating atmosphere where you can be involved with cutting-edge technology and innovative projects.

Many people shy away from seeking job opportunities with venture-backed start-ups for fear they are too volatile, but the upside potential offered by most start-ups can provide substantial long-term career benefits — such as stock options, raises, and career advancement. Start-ups are also a good stepping stone for other career opportunities down the road.

5. Compete effectively with consultants.

In uncertain times, companies often turn to consultants and independent contractors to acquire services and fill positions previously held by full-time employees. Consultants, typically are less expensive than full-time employees and do not require the same long-term commitment. Using consultants rather than employees also helps companies quickly scale up or down, in response to swings in the economy. Consultants often have the same experience as full-time employees and are often able to bring to the table skills and knowledge captive employees don’t have.

Consultants are also viewed by many employers as experts in their fields, and as such is expected to make an immediate and meaningful contribution to the company. They’re typically brought on board to address specific issues and resolve problems the company is facing. And since consultants and employees cost about the same to employ, employers expect employees to also bring an immediate and meaningful contribution to the company.

In order to compete with consultants, job seekers must convince potential employers that they can hit the ground running and deliver meaningful results quickly. One of the most effective ways to do this is to show a prospective employer that you’ve delivered results in the past. Your CV, cover letter and any other communications should describe how you’re able to solve the problems and issues a company faces.

6. Focus on revenue.

During a recession, companies are particularly focused on revenue. Money is the lifeblood of a business and without it, all operations cease. While you may not be applying for a sales position, any sales experience or expertise you bring to the table is going to help you secure a job. Both on your CV and during your interview, highlight any contribution you’ve made to business development, pre- and post-sales support, cross-selling and upselling, partnership development and partner support. Not only will you show prospective employers you can make a meaningful contribution to the cause, but you’ll set yourself apart from other job candidates.

During a recession, companies also focus on expenses. The higher their expenses the lower their bottom line. Your second job is to help employers to see you as an asset, not an expense. Both on your CV and during your interview, highlight any contribution you’ve made to lowering expenses. Go out of your way to help prospective employers see you have worth more than what they have to pay to hire you.

7. Use your CV the right way.

There is a right way and a wrong way to use a CV. The right way will help you get an interview and your foot in the door. The wrong way will land your CV in the bin and a job opportunity missed. Your job is to develop a CV that provides recruiters and employers just enough information to get their interest and desire to learn more about you — nothing more, nothing less.

For a CV to be truly effective, it must be designed to address three different audiences at once: the CV screener (usually a junior HR employee), the senior recruiter (who is looking for certain skills and experience), and the actual person doing the hiring (typically a hiring manager who makes the final decision).

So the “one size fits all” approach to CV development is a thing of the past. Serious job seekers must customize their CV for each new job opportunity. Customizing your CV is even more important during a recession or tight job market where competition for each opening is intense and employers are looking for specific skill sets, experience, and abilities.

CVs must also be results-oriented. Your CV should scream, “I [your name] can deliver measurable, meaningful and significant results”. Anything less just isn’t going to get you the good jobs. Instead of writing your CV as a job description–as so many job seekers do–develop it more like a proposal. Use your CV to explain how you’re going to help your target employer address and/or overcome specific challenges and issues they face. Demonstrate how your leadership experience and managerial skill is going to help them take advantage of new opportunities. Make sure your CV helps potential employers see how you’re going to directly contribute to their bottom line. Most resumes are self-indulgent and try to position the job seeker at the “top dog” in their industry. Employers only care about what you’ve done and accomplished as it relates to what you can do and accomplish for them. Make sure your CV speaks to your employer’s needs, not to your ego.

Also, use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to make your CV keywords from the job specification and from your research on the firm and the industry. You want your CV to repeatedly stress “company insider” terms and keywords can differentiate you and your CV from all the others.

After putting all that time and effort into your CV, it would be a shame for a recruiter or hiring manager to reject it on the basis of a spelling or grammatical error—or to have it get trapped in a spam filter.

8. Try to be perfect.

With so many job seekers available, recruiters are being told to keep looking until they find an exact match. Candidates who are landing positions in today’s economy are—by strategy or by luck—perceived to be “ideal” candidates. Such ideal candidates are confident and they’re genuinely passionate about the job, company, and industry.

To make sure you’re playing your A-game on interview day, spend time beforehand scripting and rehearsing your answers to interview questions about your strengths and weaknesses. For example, you could explain how you developed staff beyond providing company paid training. Did you serve as a mentor?  Did those individuals you trained go onto be successful in the company?

9. Be prepared to be flexible. VERY flexible.

The job market is not the same across the country. Some provinces are creating more new jobs than others. You may need to move. If international work appeals and is open to you, consider work outside of the country.

In addition to being open to relocating, you may have to bend over backwards to get a job or impress an employer. You could offer to work as a consultant to start, in a temp-to-perm option. Or if the role is more junior than you were ideally looking for be prepared to take it on with the guarantee of a review after 6 months. Companies are looking for solutions to problems and if you can be flexible and be that solution, even if it means doing something you are not passionate about so that you can get into the company and prove yourself, it will be worth it.

10. Plan for the long term.

Don’t stop your search until at least 30 days after your first day on your new job. It’s not unheard of for employees to have contracts terminated during the probation period, not because of their performance, but because the company is struggling. Consequently, some job search experts recommend that new hires keep interviewing for other jobs during their first 90 days at their new employer since that’s a standard trial period for new hires during which employers can let them go for any reason.