My Sept 27, 2009 blog, Leveraging University Education into Careers for the New Economy, provided recommendations for students looking to structure their coursework in a way that would increase their odds for getting a job. But what about knowledge workers who have already graduated and now find themselves among the 9.7% of the workforce that is unemployed, or the 16.7% that is underemployed? What can these people do to maximize their prospects?
Some professionals, such as engineers, nurses, statisticians and, to a lesser extent, math and science teachers (to the extent they are out of work), generally have few problems in getting a new job. These and other specialty-skill job openings (including some high-skill blue collar jobs, such as for precision welders) are, in fact, going begging for qualified candidates. Similarly, some metropolitan markets, such as Washington D.C. and Baltimore (which employ large numbers of government, medical and defense workers), still have tight job markets. Unemployment remains at a relatively low 6.2% and, according to a Wall Street Journal article, there is one job opening for every unemployed person. Even this, however, doesn’t help those that don’t have sought-after skills.
For the most part, jobs are tough and they are going to remain that way. The Labor Department, for example, calculates fewer job openings in July than any time since it started tracking these numbers in 2000. In fact, the current level of 2.4 million job openings are half of the number from the mid-2007 peak.
Some metro areas–especially Detroit—are in particularly tough shape, with unemployment rates of up to 17.7% and as many as 18 unemployed people chasing every opening. And to make matters worse, the combination of factors such as plummeting home values, a dearth of home buyers, diminished savings accounts and limited availability of credit, make it difficult for people to move to locations with better (or at least less worse) job prospects.
As bad as things are now, few economists expect things to get much better any time soon. Speculation and growing evidence suggests a jobless recovery in which companies will rebuilt inventory and address initial demand by increasing the hours of current employees and, where necessary, hiring part-time and temporary workers. Most firms prudently plan to await solid, demonstrable, sustainable increase in demand before hiring new workers.
What should a laid off professional do? Give up and stay at home? Hardly. Even if current prospects are slim, shutting down a search and dedicating time to watching TV instead is self-destructive—both to one’s current attitude and to future employment prospects.
As I see it, everyone in this position should take some combination of five steps:
- Continue and expand your networking, both physical and virtual though the use of online social media.
- Keep your existing skills current or go back to school to learn new skills in fields that promise to offer better job prospects;
- Learn technical skills that complement those of your chosen career (especially relevant IT, math and science skills) that will allow you do deliver higher levels of value;
- Document your skills development efforts so that when you do get an interview, you can clearly demonstrate the currency of skills, your adaptability and ambition; and perhaps most importantly,
- Diversify or adapt your search strategy by positioning yourself as a temporary or part-time solution to a pressing employer need, rather than as a full-time employee.
This fifth step will be difficult to for many to swallow. It will, however, be particularly appropriate over the next 6 to 12 months as business begins to expand and corporate profits increase, but as companies, uncertain of the future, remain skeptical of committing to new expenses.
True, this approach will probably entail lower pay, little or no job security and no benefits. Worse still, it may make it more difficult for the under-employed to search for a full-time position. On the positive side, however, this strategy will allow you to position yourself as a low-cost, low-risk solution to a company’s staffing needs, rather than be part of the problem of increasing overhead in an uncertain economy. It will also give you an opportunity to prove yourself (for when the company is ready to hire), allow you to bolster your resume and (hopefully) learn new skills.
Moreover, selling yourself as a part-time solution to a pressing problem will also be great training for what many laid off professionals will find to be their best long-term career opportunity—becoming a consultant or starting your own company.