Long-Term Unemployment: The Advice You Really Need

Is the U.S. facing an end of work? For many job seekers who've been unemployed for more than a year, the prospect of finding a new job seems impossible. They need radical career advice that answers difficult social questions about how to live in a world without work.

Last week I received via a PR person some career advice for job seekers courtesy of Kathy Kane, the SVP of talent management for staffing firm Adecco Group North America. The tips, listed below, seemed particularly suited to job seekers who've been out of work for a long time. For the purpose of this blog, I'll define "a long time" as a year or more. 

The sad reality is that legions of people (around 2.5 million, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Labor Department) have found themselves unemployed for such lengths of time. That's about 20 percent of 13.1 million people in the U.S. whom the Labor Department counts as unemployed. 

Kane's tips are sensible and certainly well-intended, but I wonder: Are they really going to help people who've been out of work for more than a year? I would think that by the time someone has reached the one-year mark, they've probably encountered similar advice and have been putting it into practice.  

I suppose these tips could be just the thing a tired job seeker needs to read on a day when he is feeling particularly discouraged, to inspire him to redouble his efforts. Still, I wonder if, after a year of unemployment, job seekers need different advice. 

Employment statistics and hiring practices suggest that finding a job gets harder the longer one is unemployed. If employers won't hire anyone who's been out of work for a year or more, what are those individuals to do? What are their options and next steps? How do they envision or make a life without  work? Those are questions that job seekers need help answering. 

Honestly, I hate to even suggest these questions because they make me feel like I'm telling people who've been out of work for a long time to give up on finding a job. I don't mean to do that. Of course people can find jobs—and good ones at that—after being out of work for a year or two or even three. Former CIO.com blogger Mark Cummuta got his dream job after being out of work for two-and-a-half years, and I know plenty of other IT directors and executives who landed solid jobs after long battles with unemployment.  

That said, I think it's prudent to put contingency plans in place. If macroeconomic forces are creating in the U.S. a society composed of a relatively small, elite workforce on one hand, and a large pool of unemployed individuals on the other, we need to answer some important social questions. What do professionals do when they can't get meaningful work? How do they make a living? What do we do as a society when the number of "knowledge worker" jobs is finite and small? What are your thoughts on these questions? 

As promised, here are Kane's job search tips, taken verbatim from an email from a PR person: 

  1. REASSESS yourself. Make an inventory list of your skills, strengths, competencies, passions, experiences. What do they say about you? How can you tell a contemporary story about you to today’s employers? What do you bring to the table that is needed in today’s work environment?
  2. RENEW the presentation of YOU for potential employers. Does your resume really do a good enough job? Can you include additional materials that represent your accomplishments? Does your presentation convey how you can create value for future employers? This is much more important than communicating that you can complete the tasks of a job.
  3. RESOLVE to treat job-seeking like it is a full-time job. It is easy to become discouraged or complacent. People who really work at this full-time are more likely to be successful. Include in your efforts lots of reading and research about potential industries, companies and jobs. Include networking. Find new sources of job opportunities. Just don’t watch soap operas or do the laundry.
  4. RECONNECT with people you know or have known in the past. The start of a new year is always a good excuse. Don’t start out with a request to help you find employment. Rather, reconnect as an old friend would – find out how the other person is doing. See if there is anything you can do for them. They will most likely offer to help, if they can, without asking when they hear you are looking for a new job. Use social media as much as possible, but don’t discount the value of a good old-fashioned phone call or lunch meeting.
  5. REFRESH your knowledge and skills. The longer you are out of work, the more likely the perception that your knowledge and skills are out of date. Don’t let this happen! If you need to stay current on new technology in your field, take a class or attend professional development meetings. Read and research every day about what is going on in the field or industry you specialize in. There are plenty of websites to choose from. Follow thought leaders in both major and smaller media. What are they talking about? When you use this new knowledge in interviews you sound smart and contemporary, and you help to downplay any concerns.
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