Archive for July, 2010

The Stigma of Being “Unemployed”

When the current recession began, I recall brainstorming with many other career professionals about whether the huge round of job cuts would lay to rest any stigma associated with being laid off.  The majority agreed that, in light of the unprecedented economic conditions resulting from financial market collapses, employers would likely view layoffs as beyond the control of most candidates.  A year and a half later, two recent articles made me want to re-examine the issue of stigmas laid off job seekers face.  The first addressed job seekers describing how they feel such stigma now, while the second documents where some employers flat out instruct the unemployed not to apply.

Since I deal with both job seeker and employer points of view, I’m inclined to believe this may reflect more of a labor market struggling with unprecedented numbers than a growing discrimination against unemployed people. Three factors to consider:

The increasing lengths of unemployment periods. I know from tracking Bureau of Labor Statistics that currently nearly half of those drawing unemployment benefits have exceeded the initial 27-week period. As recently as 2007, only seventeen percent reached this length. Employers reviewing résumés and applications are not accustomed to seeing such long gaps in unemployment. During normal times, such long periods have been viewed as a red flag for employers and many may be falling back on such biases since they have no other baseline. It will take successful performances by employees hired after long gaps to erase such long held biases.

Unprecedented volume.  Yes, the current economic conditions favor employers. But they now receive unprecedented levels of résumés and applications. It’s not only high unemployment numbers driving this. The Internet allows so much more access to company web pages, local announcements etc., making applying for jobs just a mouse click away. Evaluation methods employers previously used to reduce the résumé pile down to manageable levels barely scratch the surface today. Additional criteria must be applied. While one article cited cases where unemployed candidates were told not to bother applying, such cases appear isolated. More commonly, employers may increase the level of qualifications or factor in previous or salary requirements to whittle the pile down.  

There must SOMETHING wrong! We all struggle with reconciling misfortunes that happen to us. Some tend to want to blame things outside of themselves, certain that employers are discriminating against them due to age, gender, race, ethnicity, unemployed status-you name it. Others assume they must be a making a mistake or have a flaw somewhere in their search strategy.  I want to share with you the experience of a C-level executive I recently worked with I’ll call Gil. A few months ago, Gil landed after a search that lasted more than two years. Countless times, we reviewed his approach to opportunities that had not resulted in an offer. Based on everything he read and was told about job search, Gil believed he was doing all the right things, but could not understand why no offers had come.

Shortly after he accepted his position, the company authorized filling two new positions in his department. During his extended search, Gil built a very strong network, even going as far as facilitating his own semi-monthly professional networking meetings. In addition to the standard company recruiting channels, he put the opportunities out to his network as well. The response amazed him in terms of both the volume and quality of the candidates expressing interest. As he proceeded through the hiring process, he was impressed at how each candidate followed all the protocols he had both read about and encouraged in his group meetings.  Having gone through such a search himself not only gave him a special empathy for those he did not select, but a better understanding of how tough a labor market we face today. He witnessed several dozen talented people present themselves very well and do all the correct protocols, but had to select the one best suited for his needs and company. Gil made sure he reflected how difficult a decision he had while offering encouragement to those not selected. Plus he also realized the volume and quality of candidates forced him to clarify more about what he believed was most important for the position rather than introduce arbitrary criteria just to cut down the numbers.

Summer Job Search II-When Is a Break Needed?

Now that we’ve completed the 4th of July weekend, a hot topic in many conversations over the next several weeks will be vacation plans. Obviously, hearing this becomes an added burden on those without jobs. Many unemployed people have canceled any vacation plans purely for cost reasons. While financially prudent, they shouldn’t forget about a primary reason vacations originated in the first place. People that work hard for several months need a break. Well, working VERY hard is just what many unemployed have been doing for quite some time.   

Many, if not the majority of job seekers I have spoken to, describe at least one job search in their careers as the most difficult project they have ever worked on. Even in a strong economy, finding the right employer with a match for your talent can take extraordinary time and effort. Combine this with the financial stress and uncertainty that often accompanies the process, it’s no wonder many name this among their greatest challenges faced.

The record levels of unemployment we now have began in late 2008. Currently, nearly half of those unemployed have been so for more than six months. So for more than half a year, millions of Americans have been tackling one of the most challenging projects of their careers; finding a job in the most difficult labor market our nation has seen in twenty-five years.

Any worker that has spent the half a year or longer on a particularly demanding project would now be talking about how badly they need the break provided by an upcoming vacation. Many of their co-workers and family would agree. We can all recall times in our careers witnessing instances where not taking a needed break has resulted in burnout, whether it happened to ourselves or to a colleague. We then probably witnessed a subsequent negative impact on performance resulting from this burnout.

I understand and commend the financial prudence that lead many unemployed individuals to scrap any vacation plans for this summer. However, someone in a protracted job search must be cognizant of possible burnout, because a resulting decline in performance on job search will likely extend the search even more. The first step may just involve allowing yourself to take a break, since it will not turn you into a job search slacker.

Remember you have technology on your side. I’ve heard many unemployed job seekers argue against taking a free or low cost that day trip because they’ll worry about missing a potential call. Amazingly, they never would hesitate to schedule a full day of job interviews due to these concerns. You have countless opportunities to check your voicemail and email remotely. Plus, in all likelihood, following up the next day will not kill your chances. 

For a low cost getaway, accepting a long-standing offer to spend a weekend at the home of a friend or relative might prove to be just what the doctor ordered. Do not assume it makes you a free-loader or something to be pitied. Consider the fact that were the situation reversed, you would welcome the opportunity to provide a close friend or relative such a needed respite.  Also, rest assured that concerned parties will respect how much you want to discuss your search once you let them know.