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15 October 2010

Four Unconventional Job Search Strategies

Has your job search made you feel under-qualified and obsolete? 
AP article* hints that it may not be your fault.

Before the recession, 18 unemployed people competed for every 10 jobs. Now, there are 46.*

Unemployed workers surfing the job market face a string of towering waves.

More competition. The most obvious wave is the number of other applicants. As with recent tsunamis, however, this is only the first wave in a chain.

Stiffer competition. A Widget Technician (WT) competes against other WTs. As the population under the Bell curve increases, it includes a greater variety of WTs, including those who are less experienced or competent and those who are more experienced or competent. Obviously, the WTs who convince ACME Widget Manufacturing that they have the better skills will get the jobs. So the first wave of better-qualified competitors results from the larger pool.

Competition from above. Since Master Widget Technicians (MWTs) compete for fewer MWT jobs, more of them remain unemployed. More MWTs, therefore, apply for lower-level WT positions. The WT has to compete not only against other WTs, but also against more experienced and skilled MWTs.

Job consolidation. Employers down-size not only due to a lack of business, but also to increase their ability to compete in a shrunken marketplace. They cut workers and expect remaining workers to take up the unmanned tasks and work harder, longer, and smarter. ACME Widget Manufacturing wants a Master Widget Technician who also has internal Widget Technician Trainer experience and Lean-Six Sigma Black Belt certification. When the former MWT from Consolidated Amalgamated looks at ACME's job descriptions, he faces not only a scarcity of jobs and a surplus of competition, but also a much higher bar.

Stricter requirements. The push for efficiency drives employers to minimize learning curves for new employees. To achieve this, they want greater experience, a better match between the resume and the job description, and greater familiarity with the company's way of doing business. As a result, more employers cross-train and reassign their groomed, existing employees.

Down-shifting openings. Promoting people from within has an unfortunate side effect of shifting openings to lower levels. When ACME trains a WT to fill their MWT position, a WT position opens. The opening has shifted down one level. If ACME replaces the Widget Technician with a Widget Assembler, the opening downshifts yet another level. Eventually, the job description locks out the laid-off WT from Consolidated Amalgamated because he's over-qualified.

Inflexible qualifications. Whereas hiring managers previously considered an applicant qualified with an 80% match between the resume and the job description, employers now hold out for a 100% match. Human resource specialists say employers who increasingly need multi-skilled employees aren't willing to settle for less. They'd rather wait and hold jobs vacant.*

Fear of commitment. U.S. employers not only ship jobs overseas for cheap labor, but increasingly contract work out to staffing agencies.** Using temporary personnel reduces costs of benefits and makes getting rid of people easier and less expensive if they don't work out or if the economy does not support the position. As a variation on outsourcing, employers increasingly assign lower-level tasks to avoid losing high-value employees.

Deteriorating opportunities. Available jobs pay less. The National Employment Law Project claims that higher-wage industries represent 40% of jobs lost during the recession but only 14% of new jobs during the recovery.***

Advice for the Job Search

1. Give your resume writer more ammunition.
  • Take advantage of seminars and training programs that your unemployment agencies offer. If you can afford it, pay for your own training. 
  • Look for free Internet tutorials, podcasts, and videos. 
  • Hit the Interned and the public library. Read everything you can to increase your workplace skills. 
  • Collect wallpaper. Professional certifications or degrees not only make you compete better, they also open up new options.
  • As you study, write it up. Taking notes and writing reports make more of what you read stick in long-term memory. As you can create a portfolio of blog entries (as I am doing) or e-books, you position yourself as an expert as a side benefit of increasing your skills.
2. Working out issues, increasing your faith, and strengthening your character will increase your confidence during that job interview, keep you motivated during your job search, and make you a more valuable employee.
  • Study self-help books.
  • Take time for introspection. What personality traits or character flaws may have put your managers more in the mood for putting you in the lay-off list? What can you do about it?
  • Go to candid friends, family members, former managers, and former co-workers and ask for the top-five issues they wish you would work on. Before you defend yourself, just bite your tongue. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. (Proverbs 27:6)
  • Go to church to network -- not just professionally, but also socially and spiritually.
3. Volunteer your best skills.
  • Employers want applicants who don't just sit on their butts.
  • Getting out into the community keeps you balanced, gives you purpose, and boosts your mood -- a valuable benefit during that next employment interview.
  • Staying involved with other people builds your networking and your social skills.
  • Exercising your workplace skills keeps you fresh, widens your perspective, and might even lead to a different and more rewarding career.
4. Change your focus. Working to increasing one's qualifications requires time and energy, takes away from time to look for a job, and repulses some people.
  • For a quick transition back to employment or if you just can't stand learning, aim low. Since the job descriptions have changed, you may find your match in a lower level position. It's not fair, but the set-back in pay and grade will cost you less than continuing unemployment; and during the next interview, it will help you avoid embarrassing questions about gaps in your employment. 
  • Since many employers offer training benefits, a lower-level job will give you a better chance to broaden your skills and get back to your previous level once you have a job.
  • You may find another occupation to which your skills will transfer and that might be far more satisfying.
Standard advice for the unemployed focuses on finding jobs, networks, and personal branding. The job market, however, pressures today's job seekers to undertake far more substantial and challenging strategies: changing who you are.

* Rugaber, Christopher S. Unemployed find old jobs now require more skills. Associated Press. Posted by bestlogicstaffing. October 12, 2010, 5:16 pm.
** Madden, Kaitlin. Who’s Hiring This Week, you missed it we got it. The Career Guide. Wednesday, October 13, 2010.
*** Anonymous. Data Brief: A Year of Unbalanced Growth: Industries, Wages, and the First 12 Months of Job Growth after the Great RecessionNational Employment Law Project. March 4, 2011.

Copyright 2010, Richard Wheeler

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