The 5 Common (and Lethal) Career Mistakes Most People Make During a Recession, According to Experts

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To say the current economy is intimidating would be an understatement. The Bureau of Labor Statistic reports that 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the initial spread of COVID-19 led to social distancing and shelter in place mandates. Stocks have plummeted (although they're now experiencing an upswing) and according to the I.M.F., the coming recession will be the worst downturn since the Great Depression. 

While recent economic downturns — like the '08 recession or the recessions of the early 1980s —may not be on the same scale as our impending recession, I believe they offer important insights into the do's and don'ts of navigating your career during a time of decline. Recently, I spoke to a host of career experts to dissect the common mistakes they've watched friends and colleagues make during recessions — and how to avoid them for a more prosperous future. 

1. Dropping your dreams.

It can be hard to be optimistic during an economic downturn. But according to career coach, recruiter and Founder Dana P. Hundley, it's to your disadvantage to drop your dreams. 
"One of the biggest recession-era career mistakes people can make is believing they have to put their career goals or dreams on hold," she said. "Recessions absolutely create career challenges and obstacles and change your immediate work needs. You will likely have to be flexible, but this doesn't mean you should forgo your career goals... Careers are not linear, they are fluid... An open mind creates opportunity."

2. Acting like the recession won't touch your industry. 

While it may be briefly beneficial — at least mentally — to ensure yourself your industry or company is safe from layoffs, this way of thinking can be harmful in the long run. Hush Blankets CEO Lior Ohayon has seen the dark side of pretending the recession doesn't exist for you himself. 
"Many colleagues of mine, especially high-level executives and business owners, don't seem to think they have to put as much effort in because they have a solid career, business or skill set that will be untouched by the current crisis," he said. "What they don't realize is that this economic situation has blindsided so many unsuspecting people... Everybody has to work a bit harder and smarter to have the same success they have had before."
He suggests refusing to become complacent and constantly working to develop skills that make you hirable across sectors. 
"In general, we must always be growing, changing and improving ourselves, our habits and our businesses to continue seeing success. In an economic downturn this is even more true."

3. Thinking no one is hiring. 

While seeing news of layoffs can be disheartening, it's important to remember that there are employers out there who are hiring. According to author and podcast host Nicolle Merrill, having the mindset that no one is hiring can ruin your career during a recession. 
"Companies are hiring, just not in abundance," she said. "Career progress takes persistence and resilience, especially in a recession. Keep an eye out for opportunities that improve your career." 
More than keeping your eye out, be sure you're applying consistently. As Hundley said before, not everything you apply to needs to be your dream job — it just has to help you get there. 

4. Putting networking on the back burner. 

Especially during social distancing, the idea of networking can feel, well, distant. But keeping on good terms with colleagues and industry connections is of utmost importance, even during a recession where people often aren't voluntarily moving around, according to Career Counselor Emily K. Frank of Career Catalyst. 
"The mistakes I saw in 2008 and am seeing again now are mostly that people aren't actively searching and aren't networking," she shared. "Even in the worst economic times, there are employers who are hiring and many more who are looking to hire in the future. When people aren't staying active in their search and within their networks, they become invisible to those employers."
Set yourself up for success by continuing to attend networking events and reaching out to colleagues, even if it feels like they aren't much help. After all, according to Frank, you never know what opportunity lies around the corner. 
"Studies continue to show that upwards of 80% of jobs are things people find on the so-called hidden job market. That is to say, the jobs aren't posted or advertised online. That means that people who find these jobs are being referred by people they know, hearing about them in professional organizations, and getting tapped to move up from volunteer or entry-level positions."
Good to know, especially with such a competitive market. 

5. Waiting until things are dire to take action. 

So say you don't think your industry is untouchable but you still don't feel the need to get your job search on right now. Biron Clark, Founder of, would say that's a bad impulse.
"The most common mistake I see is not being ready to begin a job search if needed. It's much better to be prepared for a layoff and not end up needing it than to be laid off and not be ready," he said. 
How can you make sure you're ready?
"Updating your resume and collecting a few recommendations can save you hours or days in the event that you do need to job search and can give you a head-start if you're part of widespread layoffs during an economic downturn," Clark shared.