The mantra of those who remain in a workplace that demands more for less: "At least I still have a job." Employed or not, though, San Diego's treacherous economy requires you to continually look for opportunities.

Meet Chris Billante of La Costa, who was subjected to layoffs twice in two years. A quality assurance engineer accustomed to a six-figure income, Billante developed a systemized approach to securing his employment at the start of the recession. He considers himself lucky to have recently scored a new job at Del Mar–based Certona Corporation, which serves more than 150 e-commerce retailers by optimizing and personalizing the online shopping experience.

Luck played a part in his success, Billante says, but finding employment in a depressed economy is more likely due to his job-seeking strategy—which he's willing to share.

Plan Ahead

When the economy indicated looming layoffs, Billante started saving. "The recession has taught me to accumulate a buffer of money," says the 39-year-old, who has a mortgage and supports a wife and two young children. "When we go into crunch mode, all extra expenses get cut. It's about not buying clothes or taking vacations. My kids are used to Mom or Dad buying them a book. But now it's ‘No, we're going to the library.'"

It's critical, Billante says, to have a multipronged approach to your job search. He advises keeping your résumé current, establishing a network and tuning in to the type of job that makes use of your personal skills. At one time, he received offers on LinkedIn. But as the economy spiraled downward, Billante learned to routinely seek out work, rather than wait for employers to contact him. He posted his résumé on numerous job sites, including and He contacted and stayed in touch with recruiters, who wanted to "keep the conversation going," because Billante was not only a credible applicant with a range of experience but a former manager who was able to recommend others.

"Some recruiters are really good, and some are really bad," Billante says. "There are national recruiters who basically scan the area, as opposed to locals who tend to know companies personally. They push your résumé, but you have to interview with them first. They might do a background check, just to make sure you have recommendations, and they call past employers. Those are the good ones

—they conduct due diligence."

But remember, recruiters are inundated with the best of the best, and it's an employers' market.

Last year, the U.S. economy hit 70-year highs for layoffs and foreclosures. Federal stimulus funds have applied a tourniquet to the bleeding housing market and a Band-Aid to education layoffs, but those programs are slated to end next year. The University of San Diego's Index of Economic Indicators predicts the local labor market will remain weak for months, with a bottom expected by the first half of 2010.

Still, there are good jobs to be had, with a little luck and a willingness to adjust to current conditions. The first step is all about disconnecting from the past and analyzing who you are in the present.

Reinventing Yourself

Some job searchers have left positions after decades of serving the same industry. Their work defined them. Those individuals might benefit from a job coach or other professional who assists in a transition that can be as painful as a divorce.

"A common mistake is not recognizing that you are in charge of your career," says Jordan Goldrich, a principal at CUSTOMatrix, Inc., a multidisciplinary coaching and consulting firm. "The previous contract between you and your employer—the one where you remain loyal and are rewarded with job security—has been broken. Each person needs to know what his or her strengths are, assess what is coming down the pike and prepare to be valuable, based on the current economy."

Goldrich also serves as a faculty adviser and instructor at San Diego State University's "Coaching for Organizational Excellence" certificate program. He says some executives get stuck when they try to prepare for a job change, because what helped them succeed in the past can be an obstacle when they're  attempting to fit a different company culture. "It's not unusual for people to reach a place in their careers where they have to really change what it is that got them to where they are in the first place," says Goldrich, who specializes in leadership and management.

The former New Yorker came from a family whose communication was direct and to the point. He became vice president of an entrepreneurial company, and his management style served him well

—until the organization was bought by an insurance company. Goldrich lost his job.

"Looking back, I was not paying enough attention to relationships," he says. "Executives get to a certain level because they're driven. They stop at nothing to get results, but then it becomes about relationships. A no-nonsense, get-it-done type often believes he shouldn't have to change that style and that other people shouldn't be so sensitive."

Career coaches recommend getting input from past employers and close friends. Today's applicants need to stay up-to-date on their skills, be aware of their social presence (for instance, it's always a good idea to get an outside opinion before posting pictures or videos on the Internet) and research the hiring organization.

"I like it when people get creative at show­casing their skills, but what job-seekers need to ask themselves is: ‘What are my strengths and weaknesses?'" says Spencer Dettman, general manager of the San Diego branch of "Talk to people who know and understand you.

"I also recommend people look at the company through the resources that are out there and then customize themselves. Tell a potential employer why you would be a good fit. Out of 100 people who apply, most sound the same. If you customize a cover and follow-up letter, you'll stand out."

Find Someone on the Inside

Back to Billante, who found his new job at Certona Corporation posted on Craigslist. He says the size of a company should be taken into consideration. Résumés typically go directly to a human resources department, but if the company is very large, it can be months before an applicant receives a response. Billante suggests finding someone within the company and making direct contact.

"You apply online, but you also use friends in the industry or get contacts within the company who will push your résumé or say, ‘I know this guy, and I can vouch for him.' That's a way to get past being one in a bucket of résumés."

San Diego–based Red Door Interactive, an Internet presence management firm, has been listed among the Best Places to Work by the San Diego Business Journal for the past three years. The company's employee-referral program gives them an advantage.

"We trust our employees to know who will fit better than anyone else, so it means the most when a current employee recommends someone to join us," says Amy Carr, executive vice president of human resources.

"Ideally, our employees encourage good people to join us, and those good people respect the recommendation by getting to know us, our industry and our clients. For prospective employees who don't already have an introduction into the company, we do everything we can to make it easy for them to keep tabs on us, our clients, our personality and our culture."

The Good News

Dettman, who joined in 2006, says the real story isn't necessarily the doom and gloom we read about. "A lot of organizations want to hire good people because they know those employees will build their business," he says. "People are always looking for great talent."

So it's not about applying for jobs you don't qualify for, or taking any position you are offered, just to survive. Billante says he made a Superman-like effort to keep his skill set fresh, and to network.

He utilized every skill he had developed, including a background in project management, to present himself to employers. Certona is a "great fit" because his job provides challenges and an opportunity for growth.

"You always have to be a self-starter and feel self-assured about how you approach things," Billante says. "And it's about volume. You just have to be persistent and follow every lead."

 The Dream Job

Many know Loren Nancarrow as the former weatherman at KGTV Channel 10, where he also did live segments on environmental issues, taking viewers to San Diego's backyard gardens and rainy days on the beach. Last year, new management wanted Nancarrow to skip the green talk and become what he describes as a "suit in front of a map"—for a lot less money.

Nancarrow, in his 50s, declined, and spent the summer unemployed. He reevaluated what was important to him and decided he would find work advocating for environmental change. He posted his thoughts and ideas on his own Web site ( and began networking. In the fall, Fox 5 asked Nancarrow to do a gardening series. He now can be seen during the 6 p.m. newscast, providing all sorts of Earth-friendly gardening tips.

Early this year, he also accepted a job offer from Marty Reed, CEO of Sequoia Solar, a solar design and installation company, where Nancarrow now heads business development efforts and acts as a company spokesman.

"Sequoia Solar is an amazing company that under-promises and over-delivers," Nancarrow says. "For so long, I've operated in a vacuum. I'd prepare my TV stuff, talk to groups, write blogs, books and articles, but it was difficult to know if anyone was hearing me or the other voices carrying like-minded messages. I'm getting such a kick out of meeting all the innovative people working hard to get us away from imported fossil fuel. There are so many remarkably intelligent people making daily breakthroughs."

Who's Hiring?

While many organizations are waiting to see if the economy improves before making a commitment to hire full-time workers, some San Diego companies are better positioned to scout for talent in 2010. Economists predict the federal government will trigger a turnaround by providing funding for military research, green technology and the defense industry.

"Companies like General Atomics, Raytheon and Cubic Defense Applications will be receiving contracts," says Donna Fremed, a member of the San Diego Recruiters Roundtable and founder of Strategic Human Resources Consulting. "Specialized engineers will get jobs, even though they might have to reinvent themselves, because environmental engineering is big. And San Diego already has several companies in the healthcare information business that may receive grants."

Phil Blair of Manpower in San Diego and Imperial County, sees a small increase in hiring temporary help, often the first sign the worst is over. He says telecommunication industries, healthcare technology, biomedical companies and marketing organizations will be among the first to hire.

"Networking is critical," he adds. "It's not who you know, it's who you know who knows someone else. There are jobs out there, but many are not advertised."

Qualcomm and Scripps Health were recently listed in Fortune's annual "100 Best Companies to Work For" and are currently hiring for a range of jobs. Scripps, for instance, is seeking experienced patient-care providers in the areas of nursing, imaging, rehab therapies and pharmacy. 

Get a Job

In conjunction with the San Diego Science Festival, the University of California, San Diego is hosting a free career-development night, March 23, 5-8 p.m. at the UCSD Extension Sorrento Mesa Center, 6925 Lusk Boulevard. Workshops led by UCSD Extension faculty at the career night include: The Changing Landscape of Biotech in San Diego; Mapping Your Career Advancement Path; Healthcare IT; Career Transitions; Green Jobs; Data Analytics; Casual Gaming; Career Options in Healthcare; and Financial Aid for Continuing Education. All workshops are panels with representation from instructors/advisers, industry professionals, professional associations and alumni. The event is sponsored by ESET and Life Technologies. More info:

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