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Oct 28

Breaking Through Long Term Unemployment

Posted in Career Article, Tips & Tricks, Workforce Issues/Update at 11:52 am

The news is filled with grim reports about long term unemployment. With the length of the average job search getting longer, job seekers are finding it increasingly difficult to get back to work. Yet there is still plenty of hope. Today, the stories of three workers who were long-term unemployed but eventually found work. For each of them, there was a key turning point that made the difference.

 Discovering a Job Search Weakness:  As a mid-level sales rep Carlin wasn’t worried when he was laid off in the economic downturn. He had confidence in his ability to sell himself and felt his skills were versatile enough that he would quickly find something new. Despite his great connections, and the many job leads that came his way, Carlin was frustrated to not be offered a job even after a number of interviews that felt very positive to him. Troubleshooting his job search we realized:

  • His skills were in demand and he was finding job leads
  • His resume effectively communicated his value because he was getting invited to interviews
  • Following interviews, he was often told he was the runner up for the position

Conclusion: Carlin was not interviewing as effectively as he thought. Though he had a lot of faith in his communication abilities, being consistently invited to interview but not getting the job indicated a problem. Carlin focused on improving his interview skills including doing practice interviews, learning to listen more carefully before speaking and correcting body language issues. Uncovering and fixing this trouble spot was Carlin’s turning point and he was soon offered a position.

Lesson learned: Don’t assume you have mastered any given component of job search. Look carefully at your success at each stage and practice and improve in areas that may be stalling your search.

 

 Banishing the Perception of Stale Skills:  Sharon decided not to jump right into job search after she was laid off her job as a project manager. Instead she enjoyed a little time off before deciding to return to work. Unfortunately her 14 month work gap classified her as “long term unemployed” and she was told by a recruiter that her skills were perceived as “dated”. Sharon got little or no response when submitting her resume and quickly realized she had a problem. Though her skills were as sharp as ever, she was perceived as stale. Here is what she did to turn things around:

  • She volunteered to manage a fundraising campaign at her son’s school and documented her success at managing a large team of volunteers and raising and impressive amount of money.
  • She took a course at a local community college to gain new certification in project management. Some of the course was review, given her experience, but she picked up some new techniques and got new certification to add to her resume.
  • She offered to mentor a recent college grad who was just learning the ropes in project management and documented her success and coaching and leading others.

 Conclusion: Sharon added her new productivity and achievements to her resume to cover her employment gap with successes and a certification. In the course of her new activities, she made a number of direct professional connections, including one who led her to the job she ultimately landed.

Lesson learned: Say busy, and productive while looking for work. Demonstrate continued growth, learning and achievements so you don’t have a gap on your resume.

 

 A Change in Focus:  In 15 months of job searching, Sandra estimates she applied to more than 2000 jobs. That got her 12 phone interviews, 3 in person interviews but not a single job offer! Discouraged, she couldn’t figure out what she was doing wrong. She worked hard to locate and apply for jobs found on job boards, industry bulletin boards, print sources, and Craig’s list. She was determined not to be overly selective in what she applied for and, as the months went by, she resolved to apply for anything remotely related to her work experience as a network administrator. Despite her hard work, Sandra had no job. Her job search was missing a key component: Networking!

  • She was sending out applications blind with no connection or insider edge.
  • She was focusing her time exclusively on locating and applying for open positions.
  • She was measuring her productivity based on number of applications sent out.

 Conclusion: The turning point for Sandra was when she began to focus on networking instead of advertized jobs. Measuring her success based on contacts made, instead of jobs applied for was new for her and she initially struggled with this new way of gauging productivity. But soon she began to receive tips about hidden job opportunities and when she applied for jobs, she had contacts who could introduce her to the company and help advance her candidacy. Her rate of interviews went up even though she was applying to fewer jobs. Two months after her turning point, she was hired and back on the job.

Lesson learned: Focus on networking! Don’t count how many jobs you apply for. Instead, work to make connections that will help you find the right one.

 

 If you are part of the “long term unemployed” or supporting someone who is, there is a turning point that will change your job search and put you on the path to employment. Don’t give up hope. Instead focus on examining each aspect of your job search for weak spots and blind spots, leading you to your turning point.

May 13

Return to Work After Retirement

Posted in Career Article, Tips & Tricks, Workforce Issues/Update at 10:33 am

Donald Sayner considers himself lucky. At 69, he’s working because he wants to, not because he needs to. For many older workers today, this isn’t the case. Rising healthcare costs, inadequate financial planning and rising living expenses are a few of the many reasons people are working longer.

As someone who retired and then rejoined the workforce, Sayner, a career counselor, understands the mental anguish, depression and frustration older workers who expected to retire may feel. That’s why he started Jobs in Transition, a job club for retirement-age professionals still in the workforce. The workshops are offered through St. Paul-based Quality Career Services, an organization that offers job advice, counseling and networking opportunities for job seekers.

“A lot of people heading into their golden years are unable to live the life they thought they would be able to,” says Sayner. “This is forcing would-be retirees to deal with an entire set of life challenges they aren’t prepared to face.

Follow a New Career Path

Sayner encourages job seekers to reconsider early passions they may not have pursued for one reason or another. He says finding a job or career path instead of just a paycheck can be the key to workplace happiness at this stage of life.

“Sometimes searching for work in the field you spent your life trying to earn a living [in] just isn’t going to work out,” says Sayner. “Don’t get into a rut where you believe you are too old to change direction. Now can be the best time to look at a new career, to do something you always dreamed of doing.

Melanie Keveles, a certified business coach who has helped older workers find passion and meaning in their current jobs or new careers, often follows the theories discussed in The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them by Richard Bolles.

In the late ’70s, Bolles predicted we would outgrow the idea that there were three stages (or three boxes) in our lifespan -– the learning stage, the work stage and the retirement stage. Bolles suggested that we were moving into a time when those stages would merge, and we would experience lifelong learning, work and play.

“For those people who for whatever reasons find themselves having to go back to work during what they had dreamed would be the stage in the life that they would be retired or playing only, it helps to recognize that such a leisure-only phase is just not always practical anymore,” says Keveles.

Get Motivated to Go Back to Work

Keveles admits it’s hard for retirement-age workers to get motivated for work when they feel underappreciated or that they are not contributing in a meaningful way while their peers enjoy retirement. But it’s important to make the most of the situation, Keveles says. The first step is overcoming the mental barriers. Keveles suggests that by becoming receptive to the idea that working can coexist with learning and playing as you age, you might find that working again can:

  • Provide an opportunity to find meaning and accomplish things that are compatible with your values.
  • Give you a reason to get up in the morning and a community in which to operate. Isolation can be deadly as you age.
  • Help keep your mind and body active.
  • Give younger people an opportunity to get to know more older people, thereby fighting stereotypes that suggest we lose our usefulness, creativity, imagination and productivity as we age.
  • Keep you engaged. Examples of people working into their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s have shown us that people who work into these later decades often outlive those who fully retire.

Shifting your perspective is the first step, and it could be the beginning of a new and rewarding career

May 13

Cover Letters Build the Case for Workers Over 50

Posted in Career Article, Tips & Tricks, Workforce Issues/Update at 10:28 am

“The cover letter is dead.” You may have heard this pronouncement from friends or colleagues, who cite the trend toward electronic submission of resumes and the ever-shrinking attention span of application readers as reasons.

But according to those who think deeply about the particular challenges facing job seekers age 50 and above, the statement can be reversed: “Long live the cover letter!”

The cover letter is an age-neutral communication that can build a bridge from your impressive career achievements to the prospective employer’s specific needs and help punch your ticket to a job interview.

That’s why experts recommend using cover letters (or cover messages, for electronic submissions) to introduce professional connections, project youthful energy, demonstrate writing prowess, and — to set the stage for an upbeat interview — adroitly dispense with challenges such as resume gaps and requests for salary history.

Customization Is King

Because older workers have so much to gain through the cover letter, customizing the message to the opportunity is particularly important. “People send me the same cover letter that they sent to the last 10 positions they applied for,” says Sarah Hightower Hill, CEO of Chandler Hill Partners, a career search strategies firm. “That’s just crazy.”

If possible, start the letter with a reference to a professional colleague who connects you to the prospective employer. “Lead with the person who refers you,” says Carleen MacKay, a practice leader at staffing firm Spherion Corp. If you’ve chosen the connection wisely, you’ll vastly increase the chances of getting your resume read.

Now use the cover letter — a faceless, ageless message — to communicate your core qualifications for the job opening. Resist the temptation to cite years of experience or encyclopedic knowledge of your industry’s history. Instead, concentrate on recent, specific accomplishments that make you a match for the job.

Also use the cover message to showcase your business writing skills and familiarity with the language of your industry or occupation. You’re likely to have emerged from the US education system before it descended into its present state of mediocrity, and this should show in your writing.

Confront Difficult Issues and Put Them Behind You

If elements of your resume might raise substantial questions for its reviewers, it’s best to address these in the cover letter, where you can carefully calibrate your response — without revealing your age.

“It’s important to get stuff like resume gaps out of the way immediately,” says Brian Drum, CEO of Drum Associates, a search firm. The second half of the cover message is a good place to do so.

“If salary history is a requirement of the job posting, one must address it, and not superficially or deceptively,” says Hill. For older workers, especially those who want to deemphasize the high salary band they’ve reached in recent years, “it is appropriate to say, ‘Through my career, I’ve earned salaries in a range from…”

Finally, have a trusted colleague read through your cover letter to check the tone and avoid embarrassing spelling, grammar and other errors. After all, crafting an important document with care is one of the skills that can help make the case for your candidacy ahead of younger competitors.

May 13

Part-Time Jobs for Older Workers

Posted in Career Article, News, Workforce Issues/Update at 10:24 am

“Your company won’t always take care of you. So you’ve got to take care of yourself.” That sobering advice, from syndicated career advice columnist Jim Pawlak, is hitting home with an increasing number of men and women who were raised to believe that doing a job well translates into a lifetime of security but instead find that job security is rare. 

Older workers are discovering this firsthand. Though workers older than 45 make up 25 percent of the workforce, they represent 35 percent of the long-term unemployed. And the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, says that while some laid-off older workers find comparable jobs, many accept pay cuts of up to 20 percent just to return to work. 

The good news is that older workers may have fewer financial obligations than younger colleagues. Children are out of college, and homes may be paid for.

For these men and women, a part-time job may be an answer, although it will probably mean taking a more junior position, because, as Pawlak notes, there are no part-time positions in management. Part-time jobs are more likely to be lower-level positions in industries like retail and healthcare. And even for these positions, older workers must still brush up on computer skills and evaluate whether they need to expand their skill sets. But with a bit of insight and creativity, older workers can land part-time jobs that provide stimulation and challenges — and pay more than minimum wage. 

Flexibility Can Pay Off

Steve Reilly spent three decades in information technology, but when work in that field dried up, he turned to real estate. He enrolled in the necessary courses, researched firms in his area, and sold himself as someone with both technical and organizational skills. “It’s different than getting paid for work every day,” he says. “But I love the challenge of helping people -– not organizations –- deal with problems.”

 Michael, who asked that his last name not be used, had to dumb down his resume to get work in a Phoenix frame shop. Thirty years of hiring engineers and running MIS projects priced him out of similar work in a stagnant field flooded with younger, cheaper employees. So he turned to his earlier background as an artist, called himself a high school graduate and landed a job.

His hours vary, but he’s made himself valuable because he volunteers to work any shift. He’s earning less than he once did, but he’ll soon be a manager.

Dave Harrison and his wife, Marianne, were also looking for work. They weren’t laid off, but after retiring in their late 50s and moving to Florida, they wanted to work again. In their new community, they networked and asked everyone they met for advice. They applied for full-time positions. When granted interviews, they offered to work part-time to help prospective employers save money.

Eventually, Marianne got her job as an aide in an academic office that way. Dave’s job as an assistant in the office of a youth sports organization was advertised as part-time. 

The key is that “we took jobs where the tasks were less than we could handle, and the pay was less than we hoped to earn,” says Dave Harrison. “We knew if we got our foot in the door, we would earn our way to more responsibility and more pay.” They set a target of one year to prove to their employers that they could do more than they were hired for and should be compensated accordingly. 

They proved themselves indispensable. In less than a year, Marianne was managing logistics for a graduate MBA program while her husband became executive director of a 1,200-player program.

“No one would hire us part-time at a salary we deserved,” he says. “We had to prove our value during the first year, and swallow our pride about wages.” 

Advice for Older Job Seekers

Dave Harrison recommends a few strategies for older workers who are looking for work:

  • Examine all potential job opportunities, full-time and part-time.
  • Accept less-than-desirable assignments.
  • Give an employer more than expected.
  • Give an employer enough time to appreciate your contributions before asking for more compensation

Lastly, he stresses the importance of working in a nonbureaucratic environment. “You want a place that is small enough so that one person’s efforts can be seen and acknowledged,” he says.

Jan 11

America’s best and worst job markets

Posted in News, Workforce Issues/Update at 2:49 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As 2011 gets under way, Washington, D.C. — flush with government and government-supporting jobs — has the healthiest labor market among major U.S. metro areas. By one estimate, there’s roughly one advertised job opening for every unemployed worker in the D.C. region, which includes parts of Maryland and Virginia. The nation’s capital has an unemployment rate of just 6 percent, according to the latest data. That’s the lowest among the country’s largest 50 metros, and 3.4 percentage points below the national average. 

Of course, Washington’s status as America’s best job market could change if Congress slashes government spending, as many Republicans have pledged. But it won’t be as bad as the situation in Las Vegas, the worst major metro area in which to go job-hunting these days. Bucked by the real estate bust and downturn in tourism, Sin City’s unemployment rate is 14.3 percent. A year prior, it was 12.5 percent. In Vegas there are more than eight unemployed workers for every job opportunity posted online, according to the monthly Job Search Difficulty Index compiled by job search engine Juju.com. 

These two metro areas top Forbes’ 2011 lists of America’s Best and Worst Job Markets, which provide a current snapshot of labor markets across the country. The areas with the most promising employment situations — at least for now — tend to be government hubs like D.C.; Austin, Texas; Oklahoma City; and Hartford, Conn. In fact, six of our top 10 job markets are state capitals.

 ”State governments haven’t necessarily been hiring in large numbers, but they haven’t been laying off,” says Brendan Cruickshank, vice president at New York City-based Juju.com. Recent jobs reports released by the U.S. Labor Department highlight that, national, employment in the health care sector and temporary work has also trended upward in recent months. 

The metro areas that have fared worst: those where construction and real estate, tourism and manufacturing have played a large part in economic growth. Think Miami, Orlando and Detroit. But just as state spending can buoy employment in some capitals, state budget problems can also weigh heavily on unemployment. In Sacramento, Calif., for example, the unemployment rate in November (the most recent month for which data is available) was 12.6 percent. By Juju.com’s estimates there are more than five job-seekers for every job posted online in Sacramento. The state’s budget crisis has a widespread effect; we count four California metro areas — San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Riverside — among the tough areas in the country to find work. 

To compile our 2011 lists of America’s Best and Worst Job Markets, Forbes relied equally on the latest metro unemployment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and on Juju.com’s monthly Job Search Difficulty Index for Major Cities. Moody’s Economy.com provided additional analysis for the trends in each labor market on our lists.

The BLS data show the percentage of people are not able to find a job among those who are actively looking for work. JuJu.com’s index culls as many as 4 million job listings from other online job search engines and compares those openings to BLS’ unemployment figures for each metro. The index shows how many job-seekers there are per opening. We examined only the 50 largest metros, since big cities are most likely to offer the greatest opportunities for employment. 

With a 7.8 percent unemployment rate, Baltimore, Md., enjoys some of the government spillover from Washington, D.C., less than an hour away. The military’s base realignment plans are also expected to bring more jobs to Baltimore, which also has a thriving research and health care sector, thanks to Johns Hopkins University.

Aside from being the capital of Texas, Austin has a number of assets that have helped it weather the economic downturn: It’s a state capital and major convention center, home of the University of Texas and a tech hub. In October local officials announced that the area will become home to a new Eco-Merge Green Corporate Center devoted to producing new technologies. Juju.com reports that in December there were 2.39 job-seekers for every online posting in Austin. 

Orlando, Fla., is among the 10 worst job markets in America, with an unemployment rate of 11.9 percent and 4.27 job-seekers per available position. 

Boston, where the unemployment rate is 7.4 percent, is another state capital bolstered by the tech, health care and education sectors. According to Moody’s Economy.com, state budget problems and a restructuring in the financial services sector could weaken Boston’s growth in the short run, but it’s expected to pick up by the end of the year.

Even if a metro area appears on our list for worst job markets, it’s not necessarily doomed to high unemployment forever. For example, although San Diego, which leans heavily on the defense sector for jobs, could be affected by military budget cuts, a future focus by the Pentagon on the Asia-Pacific region could also provide a long-run boost to the area. For now, however, San Diego’s unemployment rate remains at 10.4 percent, above the national average. 

Miami, where there were more than nine job-seekers per posted opening in December, is still struggling to recover from the real estate bust. But in the coming months a boost in trade (due to the region’s close ties with Latin America) and tourism could bring a swift reversal of fortune. “Miami’s recovery will be among the fastest in the nation, housing issues notwithstanding, says a recent analysis by Moody’s Economy.com. 

Creating jobs in 2011 will be the top priority for the new crop of policymakers who just took office across the country. The task is made easier by stock markets that are now trading at two-year highs and temporary certainty around tax rates, which businesses like. But tight state budgets could provide a hurdle for some metros as they recover. Every lawmaker in the land is aware that national unemployment has been near 10 perent since 2009. They’ve got their work cut out for them.

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