By Esther Hanscom, Hanscom Consulting (New York City)
Last month, the New York Times published an article entitled “In Job Market Shift, Some Workers Left Behind.” Catherine Rampell reported that for the last two years, the weak economy has created an opportunity for employers to do what they would have done anyway: dismiss millions of people who were displaced by technological advances and international trade.
This article struck a chord with me because I work in the recruiting industry and hear about the woes of the unemployed masses on an almost daily basis.
One in particular is a neighbor, a former banking HR generalist who has not procured full-time work for over 2 years. “Jane” is in her early 40s with a University of Chicago undergraduate degree and is now at the end of her 401k savings. She fears losing her rent stabilized apartment on the Upper East Side soon, and her attempts to sell her Burberry coats on Ebay recently have failed.
She has come very close to being hired for a number of HR jobs. But in the end, the hiring managers always decided to go for someone who had more computer experience, more hands-on experience in talent acquisition, or with employee benefits. In the past, companies may have been okay with a generalist skill-set that was short on specifics – but no more.
She has also complained about age discrimination being a factor for her dismissal 2 years ago from the six-figure job she held – less than a month before her 40th birthday. Unfortunately, she hasn’t kept her technical skill-set up to date on HR programs and has failed to develop a niche skill-set within the HR field, instead vaguely seeking out “high level strategic HR opportunities.”
A few strategic high-level HR opportunities do exist out there, but even here Jane would not be able to show proper educational credentials (say an advanced business or HR degree).
Despite her protests that she has looked at “all job possibilities,” something tells me that unless she considers drastic career moves to procure enough of a salary to pay her bills in the short-term, she and her dog will be moving into a relative’s apartment or worse, a cardboard box. Being flexible in her next career move might require one of more of the following options, at least in the short-term.
If you’re in Jane’s boat, what can you do? Here are my tips to get back that senior-level job.
- Consider Temporary Employment
In March 2010, recruiters said that temporary hiring had continued its upward trend. Employers were – and still are – looking closely at their business activity for the year. A lot have opted for a non-committal staffing route like temporary hiring, at least until they feel significantly more secure with their company’s profits and future in the new economy. Although many previously employed full-time works may tsk-tsk at a temporary assignment, it can open the doors to a company that they’re seeking to learn more about, or to a permanent position.
- Upgrade Computer Skills (ASAP)
Today’s companies are not just looking for general proficiency with a PC, but technical proficiency with industry software. Make sure you’re up-to-date with the latest versions of office software as well. If there’s a technical certification you can get, go for it – it’ll improve your chances of getting that job.
A recent Wall Street Journal article “The Laid-Off Can Do Well Doing Good” showcased three executives who say their charity work during unemployment has given them an opportunity to network, give back to a favorite non-profit, pick up new and valuable skills and advance their careers in ways that they hadn’t considered while employed in their professions. Volunteering can open new doors and help you make new connections, while keeping your business skills fresh.
Work the network you’ve built throughout your career. Your friends and acquaintances might not know you’re looking for a new role. Don’t hide it – let them know you’re looking and need some help. Take them out to lunch or coffee and find out what you can do to land a new position. And of course, don’t forget to update your Linkedin profile and make sure any social networking you’ve done is workplace friendly – put your best face forward.
Lowering the price of those Burberry coats on Ebay will only get you so far – you need to get back in the workforce. At the same time the Labor Department in February 2010, reported over 8 million jobs had been lost since the recession started in 2007, President Obama declared that “we are climbing out of the huge hole that we found ourselves in.”
Workers are being displaced. But are they being left behind? Not if they’re motivated to adjust their skills, education and reality level for the new economic workplace environment. Swallow your pride, refresh your skill-set, and look for jobs in unexpected places.