GOOD times or bad, businesses have to continue, and they will still need manpower to run them.

However, in the current economic situation, there are far fewer job vacancies.

What makes it especially challenging is that there will be more applicants for every advertised vacancy, and employers are reviewing every qualified candidate to meet more stringent requirements.

To survive the job search in such times, job-seekers have to change their strategy.

While traditional newspaper advertisements and online job portals will continue to be the key sources of employment prospects, job-seekers will have to look beyond to explore other channels to discover hidden opportunities.

Here is how to get a headstart in your job search:

Get real

With more people being affected by corporate restructuring and downsizing, being retrenched is becoming a reality of life.

Job-seekers should not feel ashamed of their circumstances.

If you have been laid off, it is vital that you come to terms with the situation and start your life afresh.

To begin your job hunt, try to mobilise your contacts, such as friends and ex-colleagues, to help you be on the lookout for new employment leads.

Network, network, network

Many career advisers maintain that networking remains one of the most effective job search strategies.

These days, whenever a job opening surfaces within an organisation, the human resource (HR) department usually circulates this piece of information internally first and encourages staff referrals for suitable candidates.

If there is limited success, employers will then advertise the positions to the public.

Use this to your advantage. Get first-hand information about job openings in organisations from your business associates or ex-schoolmates who are employed there.

During alumni get-togethers, professional affiliation or even recreational club events, make it known that you are in the market for a new position.

A referral or favourable recommendation from a senior executive could also increase your chance of gaining an interview and landing a job.

Another way to build contacts is to become a member of professional networking portals such as LinkedIn, XING and Spoke.

As these sites are popular with professionals, many headhunters and recruiters use them to network and source for potential candidates.

Know your recruiter

It pays to build a relationship with and know your recruiter better, regardless of the market situation.

Many people reject calls from recruiters during boom times, thinking that they should only contact recruitment agencies or search firms when they need a job.

This is a misconception. It pays to get to know a recruiter and let him get to know you, your strengths and your goals. This way, he will call you first whenever there is a suitable career opportunity.

Community groups

Community groups such as the Community Development Councils and NTUC Women’s Development Secretariat are very active in organising workshops and recruitment drives to assist unemployed professionals in their job search.

These events equip participants with job-hunting skills and link them up with prospective employers.

They are excellent settings for you to meet potential employers and find out more about the available openings.

Cast your net wider

Besides registering with online job portals such as ST701.com or eFinancialCareers.sg, you should also visit corporate websites.

In the midst of cost-cutting and budget constraints, many organisations are using their corporate websites to advertise job vacancies.

This enables you to apply for jobs directly with the employer who may not have made the vacancy public.

Career fairs

Career fairs and recruitment drives are some of the best places to get an interview and, eventually, a job.

To yield the best results from attending these events, find out the available job opportunities at the event either from the event website or organiser.

When at the fair, approach the recruiters or HR practitioners, give them your customised resumé and secure an interview on the spot.

Employers seldom conduct on-the-spot interviews, so you must capitalise on these opportunities during the event.

Read between the lines

Even as newspapers carry reports of shutdowns and retrenchments, they are also a source of job opportunities.

Be alert to articles featuring senior management of good performing companies who reveal that their organisations are expanding and increasing their headcount.

Don’t wait for the advertisements. Write to the company for information on when they will be hiring and what jobs will be available.

Job searching during a downturn can be a daunting task, so stay focused and optimistic.

Apart from a sound strategy, invest some time and effort to update your resumé and your professional image. Looking the part of the seasoned professional will help to make your job search a more fruitful one.