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What Got You to Recovery Will Get You Through a Job Search

4 tips for success in a tough market

As a person in recovery, you have no doubt been down at various points in your life. You’ve wondered if you would ever be able to pull yourself out of the depths of addiction or the despair of co-occurring mental health issues. You’ve most likely been down in a practical sense, too, struggling to survive, keep a roof over your head, hold on to a job, or stay in school.

You’ve also been up. You’ve risen above your problems and done what you needed to do to get better. But now that you’re in stable recovery, you might find yourself facing another challenge: job hunting during a shaky economy, global crisis, or other challenging situations.

Difficult times call for a more sophisticated approach to job search. Consider these four ways to bump your search up to a more advanced level.

1. Mine Your Mind

You cannot control the economy, and you cannot control an organization’s hiring process, but you can control your actions, reactions, and attitude. Sound familiar from your addiction-to-recovery journey?

You can choose to dwell on doom-and-gloom economic news, ruminate over employers or recruiters that don’t get back to you, curse hiring freezes, and mourn rescinded offers. Or, you can determine what you do have control over and adopt a growth mindset, as defined by psychologist Carol Dweck.

Our brains are quite malleable. When we practice being strategic, are curious, and work hard at something we’re trying to achieve, we actually strengthen and grow our neural pathways. When this brain plasticity is coupled with the belief that challenges are opportunities for meaningful change, and when you feel a sense of belonging among successful peers, a growth mindset starts to guide you. This can lead to increased motivation and achievement, helping us persevere and be resilient (Ng, 2018).

2. Feel Their Pain

Some organizations implode during an economic downturn or other crisis. Others explode with growth and unprecedented volume they aren’t prepared to handle. Both have pain points. It’s your job to find that pain and show how you can help make it all better.

Mark S., a marketing executive seeking work in a new city, having just relocated before the COVID-19 pandemic, came to me for career coaching. He wanted to build on his outstanding track record of helping businesses grow. His resume and LinkedIn profile were well crafted but screamed “new”—new product development and launches, new internal start-ups, new brands, new campaigns. That would serve him well for addressing rapid growth in industries that boom during a pandemic or down economy. But for everyone else, he needed to tone down the “new” and play up the “re”—repositioning, rebranding, and relaunching of products and marketing strategies. Finding businesses’ pain points is enabling him to approach companies and his network with solutions to their problems rather than passively watching for job postings to materialize.

3. Give More Than You Expect to Get

May I have 15 minutes of your time? Would you pass my resume along to your department head? Job searching inevitably centers around a lot of “me, me, me,” which can feel contradictory to your values in recovery in which supporting others is key. Your job hunt can and should consist of more than requests for yourself.

Figure out ways to offer your expertise on a pro bono basis to a business or non-profit, or simply offer your time and compassion as a volunteer, friend, or colleague, with no expectation of a direct return for you.

It’s easy to say you don’t have time to give, because you need to put all your time and energy into your search, on top of your recovery. The key here is to realize that giving back is part of a search. You’ll be putting good juju out in the world while building visibility and expanding your network.

4. Hunker Down for the Long Haul

During the Great Recession of 2008, I worked for a global outplacement firm. We provided career transition services to people laid off from corporations and large non-profits. From individual contributors to C-Suite executives, our clients landed jobs during one of the worst markets in history. It wasn't easy or pretty, and it often took much longer than usual, but they got through it.

The key is to take the long view. Assume from the beginning that a job hunt during a down economy is going to take longer than you want. It will tap your emotional and financial reserves. To make it easier to endure, think ahead about minimizing your risk and worry.

If you’re currently employed and had planned a search before the economy tanked or the crisis hit, consider sheltering-in-place in that job. You might not like the job (if that’s an issue, see my Psychology Today post, "How to Like a Job You Loathe"). Maybe you’re undervalued or underpaid. But it’s employment.

If you're not employed, consider taking an interim job if finances are a concern. Temporary or contract work might help tide you over. This is also not a time to worry about any job being beneath your skill level, professional stature, or pay grade. An interesting thing about everyone living through the same crisis is that when the crisis passes, you won't have to explain why you went from a hotel guest services manager to delivering groceries and tutoring math online. Our shared experience as humans in a crisis is a great equalizer when it comes to career pivots and resume oddities.

Call upon the resilience and positive attitude that has served you well in recovery, and you’ll ace your job search even during a difficult market.

© L. Michelle Tullier, Ph.D.

Author’s note: A version of this article, written for a general audience rather than a recovery-specific audience, was originally published on LinkedIn May 20, 2020, as "Upping Your Strategy in a Down Economy—Advanced Job Search Tips."


Ng B. (2018). The Neuroscience of Growth Mindset and Intrinsic Motivation. Brain sciences, 8(2), 20.

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