Friday, February 18, 2011

An Attempt to Scare You into Working Harder to Land a Job

We all like reassuring news. So when job seekers read the headline: "Unemployment down to 9%," the feeling is, "Well, 9% is bad but a little better, so maybe it won't be so hard to land a job."

Anecdotally, my career counseling clients are having a much tougher time than ever trying to land a decent job, and two analyses of the unemployment statistics explain why. The self-serving government statistics grossly underestimate how difficult the job market really is:

The Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News wrote THIS, and this week's, Business Insider contained THIS even more frightening piece: 19 Scary Facts About Getting a Job in America. I too wrote on this topic.

The Business Insider report concluded with, "Getting a job today means going up against terrifying odds."

Yes, if a job seeker is a star and/or has a powerful network, s/he will find a job without undue pain. But the more typical job seeker must face today's reality that to land a decent job, you may be in the fight of your life. I say this knowing it's scaring you but I'm finding that most job seekers still delude themselves into thinking that the normal job search efforts that worked in the past will still work. I want you to be employed, so I feel I should try to shake you from your complacency.

Today, average, let alone below-average candidates must do an A+ job search: some combination of compelling cold and warm contacts with employers who are not advertising jobs, outstanding internet/social media presence, cover letters and resumes that prove, not just assert, your ability to be a superior employee in the applied-for position, and perhaps most important, knock-em-dead collateral material. Examples: A salesperson sends 50 great leads he'd call if hired. A CFO describes the top 10 trends in C-level financial work that would be crucial for that company to consider. An applicant sensing a fluid job description, writes a post-interview thank-you note that tactfully proposes a reinvented job description that would be better for the employer and for which the candidate is an ideal fit.

I wish I could say, as I have in earlier years, that a moderate, steady, well-targeted job-search will usually work. Unfortunately, today, everything has changed. We are forced to ratchet-up our efforts...significantly. Alas.


ST said...

I started looking for a full time job in the early 1980's and it was the same thing ... you couldn't use "want ads", etc. Unemployment almost hit 11% in 1982. That was the year I first read "What Color is your Parachute", and I credit informational interviewing with finding my job. Not, finding the job (I sent out a bunch of resumes), but with landing it because I knew more about the field I was going into (actuarial science) than my math major competition (I only had a minor) because of all the actuaries I talked to about the field before looking, and learning what it took for the job.

Granted, the unemployment rate hasn't been as high until now. So, it depends on how long you've been alive if you've already heard all this.

The other problem is there isn't enough qualified candidates for some technical positions, regardless of outsourcing to other countries. The mass unemployed aren't qualified. The employed are looking for something better and won't take just anything. So, openings stay open. Yes, we don't want to go through a bunch of resumes if we don't have to. Much better to have a friend recommend someone and fully back them.

Resumes are hard to get through. Poorly written, too long (10 pages?), too short (I honestly can't tell much from one page). It's really hard to tell the "real" qualifications from a resume.

I "test" people ... in the interview with logical questions that simulate the work we do. That's the proof I need to see if they can think the way they need to think. I realize they are under the gun and might not think as clearly as if sitting alone at their desk and concentrating. But, it's an indication. It's also a working interview, I try and work with them to get through the thinking process, just like we were in a brainstorming meeting at work.

And that's great (re: the articles), the unemployment rate is actually higher because a computer program added "phantom" growth (extrapolation) that was incorrect. Just like the computer programs that concocted all those mortgage financial instruments that finally burst. We pretty much never learn, we just ride the cycles.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

ST: no blog? Great comment.

Leonard said...

Back in 2008, a writer named Marcus L'Estrange, in the Australian online magazine Crikey, reported on the deceptive way in which that country's government counted the local numbers of unemployed. This situation hasn't changed since then:

"There are currently two million Australians who are unemployed and are chasing 182,000 vacancies ... we can add at least 400,000 who work between one and 14 hours who are counted as being employed. The vast majority want to work more hours. They are counted as being 'employed' in Australia, but in many other countries would be counted as being unemployed. For example in Singapore or Germany you have to work 15 hours or more in the survey week to be counted as employed. The person who works an hour a week in Australia has the same status in the employment statistics as one who works 40 hours!"

Frankly, many - if not indeed most - resumes in my experience are so misleading and so uncommunicative regarding applicants' real strengths, that if I were an employer and had a shortlist of possible candidates, I'd prefer to look up those individuals' Facebook pages. Those are likely to be more honest than anything they might write in a resume.

K-Man said...

The game-playing in Australia with unemployment figures that Leonard cites occurs in the US too:

1. If you work as little as one hour per week, US labor stats count you as "employed".

2. If you have been unemployed for over a year, US labor stats count you as having given up looking for work, so you are dropped from the unemployment count.

3. If you are an unemployed $75,000/year engineer and manage to find a job as a part-time security guard at $8 per hour, US labor stats count you as an employed security guard, not as an unemployed engineer. In other words, there is no provision to check for underemployment.

All three phenomena push the true unemployment rate down from its true level and disguise hopeless situations in some career and professional fields. Some reckon that the US unemployment rate is not 9%, but perhaps 25% or more, when taking these into account.

And instead of being suckered into paying $100,000+ for a technical (engineering or science) bachelor's degree because of phony claims by self-interested corporations of shortages in these fields, potential students could make more rational choices about such majors by knowing the true employment picture after graduation. Which is that immigrants on special visas and offshoring have killed many such jobs for American citizens... Many in the industry agree that the better-paying tech jobs simply aren't soming back. That's on top of all the industrial and factory jobs that departed years or decades ago.

Work harder to land a job if you wish, but don't expect great results in any event. Our best days are over; the better jobs are overseas. Learn Mandarin if you want one.


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