There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t receive scores of phone calls and e-mails about the same issue: finding a job. Although recent reports may claim that the Great Recession has come to a close, the jobless rate is expected to reach double-digits in 2010. Moreover, the U.S. Labor Department reports that the jobless are looking for work for longer periods of time: 35.6% have been out of work for at least 27 weeks or more—the highest level since 1948. As for African Americans, the old adage still holds true that when America gets the sniffles, we contract pneumonia. The black unemployment rate stands at 15.4%, and continues to rise.
Jobs are just tougher to find. According to the Labor Department, current job seekers exceed openings 6-to-1. From the beginning of the recession in December 2007 to July 2009, available positions have dropped 45% in the West and South; 36% in the Midwest; and 23% in the Northeast. Openings have declined 47% in manufacturing, 37% in construction, and 22% in retail. Even sectors demonstrating growth potential—such as education and health services—have realized a 21% drop this year.
I share these figures not to provide a bleak outlook but to emphasize that the job market will be a lagging part of the economic recovery. You should also realize that a number of positions will not be coming back. Therefore, you must be more vigilant than ever in your job search. You can’t afford to wait by the phone. If you’re discouraged because you haven’t been employed for some time, I urge you to stop sitting on the sidelines. You, in fact, have a full-time job. It’s gaining employment. The requirements include strategy, sacrifice, patience, fortitude, discipline, and, most of all, a positive attitude.
Be clear: The rules have changed. You can no longer engage in just the traditional channels. Employers are flooded with thousands of applications; at Black Enterprise, our human resource department receives more than 100 inquiries each week.
So where do you start? First, fully leverage professional and personal contacts you’ve made at past jobs, in your industry, from school, through philanthropic work, and on the golf course. No venue should be off limits in identifying opportunities. The most dynamic networking can be found through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These outlets will expand your presence, reach, and information flow.
When you finally get that interview, distinguish yourself from the pack in presentation and connection with a company’s products or services. Do your homework and intimately know the corporate culture. I always tell young professionals not be so smooth that they don’t display genuine enthusiasm. Remember, you only get one chance to make a great first impression.
Today, employers thoroughly scrutinize prospects from the mailroom to the executive suite. Be prepared to take rigorous skills tests and psychological exams just to gain consideration. It’s not enough for you to look good on paper. You must be ready to audition on the spot.
Flexibility is paramount. Sacrifice may come in a title change or the ability to relocate. More professionals are finding they may have to commute hundreds of miles to secure or keep a job.
My advice to those who are employed: Don’t even think about getting comfortable. In keeping your job, the same rules apply. Each day, cement your reputation as a valuable, top-performing employee; expand your network; and make necessary sacrifices. Years ago, executives were able to maintain their status through a relationship with a senior manager who served as their champion within the corporation. Today, you need an array of mentors and sponsors who realize your value. If you have only one such supporter and he gets pink-slipped, you may follow him out the door.
It may take time for you to gain that prime position. In some cases, you’ll find it requires taking a step back today to move forward tomorrow. I’ve always found, however, when you take a step—no matter how small it may seem—opportunity will most certainly follow.