May 3, 2008
How to hunt for jobs when you've been out of work too long
The Wall Street Journal
David K. Marshall was laid off in October for the second time in two years. The 61-year-old credit manager fears the worsening economy will leave him jobless longer than his last six-month bout.
"I am discouraged," he frets. "I really would like to get back to work."
Marshall's misery has plenty of company. About 18.3 percent of jobless Americans in January had been out of work for at least 27 weeks.
The figure far exceeds the 11.1 percent who had gone as long without work when a recession began in March 2001. These individuals often battle pinched wallets, age bias and depression.
Facing a similar predicament? Don't lose hope. Smart strategies could revive your stalled job search and boost your sagging spirits.
The key: Treat your hunt like a business problem. Package yourself based on a frank reassessment of your strengths and weaknesses.
You can target possible employers better by figuring out and promoting what sets you apart. "Build your personal brand," advises William Brown, a senior managing director for an arm of DBM, a New York human-resources consultancy.
Ask yourself and acquaintances, "Why is this product not selling?" recommends Dave Opton, CEO of ExecuNet, a career and business network in Norwalk, Conn.
One reason may be a flawed résumé.
"Make sure that your résumé is doing the job," says Damian Birkel, founder of Professionals in Transition, a nonprofit group in Winston-Salem, N.C. Even tiny fixes enhance the document's appeal, such as an easy-to-read format and plenty of white space.
Similarly, "a subtle variation in font choice can sometimes help a résumé stand out from the crowd," suggests Alex Douzet, a founder of TheLadders.com, an employment Web site.
Listing your cellphone and private e-mail address signals you're ready for employer contacts outside normal hours. Your career summary should be specific enough that HR officials can easily pinpoint your abilities.
At my request, Birkel revamped the résumé of a woman who lost her job in September. Her version had vaguely stated she is a results-driven service professional with strong interpersonal skills.
The revised résumé's career summary describes her as a "senior administrative professional with extensive experience in office management," including training, payroll and logistics.
The 51-year-old woman started using the new résumé last month. It did land her more job interviews.
But when a big drug maker offered her a temporary administrative post -- based on her old résumé -- she grabbed it. She and her husband, a railroad worker, had exhausted their savings.
Other long-term unemployed people frequently waste too much time looking online.
"Posting résumé on job sites should be the smallest part of your search," because you rarely land positions that way, says Annie Stevens, a managing partner at ClearRock, a Boston outplacement and executive-coaching firm.
Nearly two-thirds of applicants find work through networking, ExecuNet surveys show.
You could enlarge your circle of face-to-face contacts by doing community service, accepting a temporary job and participating in trade groups that mainly serve the employed.
Sharon Harrington, a purchasing professional laid off in July, has pursued all three.
Among other things, she helps to rescue and care for abused animals. She and a fellow volunteer were cleaning paddocks of recovering horses when that woman agreed to submit Harrington's résumé to her boss at a food marketer.
Harrington, 53, interviewed for a customer-service position there.
She says she lost interest when she learned about its low pay but will explore more-lucrative openings within the concern.
Meanwhile, she's temporarily working for a big airline where she held the same interim purchasing role after a 2003 layoff.
And she solicits introductions with other potential employers during monthly meetings of a nearby chamber of commerce.
After you've been jobless for months, you also should meet with your references again and review what they tell hiring managers.
Stevens advocates drafting an informal outline of your prior duties, accomplishments, departure rationale and the reference's expected endorsement.
David Marshall laid out his job goals with each of his references after his latest job loss and says he plans to update them about his search.
Birkel adds that mature job candidates like Marshall can overcome any age discrimination by emphasizing their work ethic, dependability and experience.
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