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Job seekers told not to give up hope in '09
[January 05, 2009]

Job seekers told not to give up hope in '09

(Providence Journal, The (RI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 4--The new year has arrived, but good news for job seekers hasn't come with it, at least not yet. Most economic forecasts project a bleak employment picture for at least the first half of this year, and possibly longer. So what can people looking for work, possibly wearied and discouraged last year, do to find jobs in the new year?

We spoke to job experts about the employment outlook, and asked for their advice to people looking for work in the coming year.

"People have to learn how to search smart," said Sandra Powell, director of the state Department of Labor and Training. "People don't always know how to look for jobs today. The old ways might no longer work." Powell said the savvy job seeker needs to combine time-honored techniques, such as networking, with newer methods, such as knowing how to create an online resume.

Powell said the Department of Labor and Training maintains four career centers, in Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and West Warwick, that provide a wide range of services, including workshops on resumes, interviews, and job search techniques.

--The Jobs Picture: Rhode Island ended last year with an unemployment rate of 9.3 percent, among the highest in the country. The number of Rhode Islanders unemployed in November was 53,100.

A report released in November by the New England Economic Partnership, written by Edinaldo Tebaldi of Bryant University and Edward M. Mazze of the University of Rhode Island, predicted unemployment in the state could rise to 10.3 percent by the middle of next year. Job growth in Rhode Island, the report said, is not expected to arrive until 2011.

"No question the job market in Rhode Island is bleak, and the projections are bleak," said Julian Alssid, who lives in Barrington and is director of the Workforce Strategy Center, based in New York.

Powell said the Department of Labor and Training is aware of economic projections, but doesn't issue them. "Our job is to help people, whether the economy is in the doldrums or not," she said. "We try to get information to people about some of the things they can do to find jobs."

Nationally, the employment placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, based in Chicago, said more than a million jobs were lost last year and said it projects more of the same this year, as employers continue to respond to weak consumer and corporate spending. John Challenger, CEO of the company, said the national unemployment rate is now 6.7 percent and it could rise as high as 9 percent before economic conditions improve.

Challenger said there are a few areas of stability, even growth, across the nation, including health care, pharmaceuticals, discount retail corporations such as Wal-Mart, and agriculture. (People still need to eat, he said, even in a recession.) Finally, the federal government is going to need an influx of personnel, both to replace impending retirees and to help manage the enormous financial bailout being put into place.

--Where the Jobs Are: Paul Harden, manager of business and workforce development for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, pointed to health care -- even though the sector lost 300 jobs in November's employment report -- and information technology as two areas of relative strength in the Rhode Island economy.

Some sectors that have been targeted by the state as having high growth potential have been hit hard by the recession, Harden said, particularly construction. Boat building, he said, is starting to slow down, and biotech is mostly in a research mode, as opposed to production. Education hiring has been hurt by budget cuts at the state and municipal levels.

Waffles P. Natusch, president of the Barrett Group, a career management and consulting company in Warwick, said that in southwestern Rhode Island and nearby Connecticut, the last decade or so has seen an erosion in defense work, while casino jobs at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have grown rapidly. Now, though, that trend is reversing itself as the defense sector remains fairly strong, while the casinos have been shedding jobs as business has slowed down in the economic downturn.

Electric Boat announced last month that a new Navy contract should increase employment at Quonset Point from 2,000 to 3,000 over the next few years.

--The Obama Factor: Many job experts are speculating about what effect President-elect Barack Obama's proposed stimulus package will have on employment. Challenger said some form of government stimulus is "inevitable." The new president will have a Democratic Congress to work with, he said, and there's even a consensus among many Republicans that government action is necessary.

Harden, of the Economic Development Corporation, said spending on infrastructure, such as bridges, would help Rhode Island's construction industry, and would make more sense than just handing people a check to spend on, say, a new flat-screen TV. Money spent on a construction project, on the other hand, will provide jobs and leave the state better than it was before. Construction work also has a "ripple effect" that helps suppliers and subcontractors.

Harden said money for environmentally friendly "green" technology is another area that could affect Rhode Island employment, although the specifics and timing are not as clear as the plans for repairing bridges and roads.

Education and Training: Traditionally, enrollment in colleges and training programs increases during difficult economic times, as people seek way to make themselves more employable. Many job experts say this is the right time to improve your job skills, whether you already have a job or not. If you do, and your employer provides in-house training or tuition reimbursement for training outside the company, you should try to take advantage of the opportunity.

Alssid said it's a good time to consider how the skills you have on one job might translate to another. "The difference might just be a [educational] certificate away," he said. Alssid recommended a Web site called O*NET ( that offers an online analysis of the compatibility between different jobs.

Powell said the Department of Labor and Training has grant money available to pay for training for those who qualify, with more than 170 programs participating. For information, go to and click on "WIA approved training" in the right-hand column.

Of course, taking time out for training isn't always practical for people whose immediate need is to support themselves and their families. Challenger thinks it's best to concentrate on getting a job first, then trying to upgrade your skills.

"It's impractical for many people," Challenger said. "It's risky, because it can take your eye off the ball. Maybe if you are in your 20s, it's a good idea, but for many, they need cash flow, and this can represent a huge cash-flow hit. . . I don't think it's the right thing to do at this time. Try to get the job first."

--Get Away from That Computer: Certainly computers have a role in any job search. Many companies, for example, require that job applications be sent online. And computers can be used for networking through social sites such as LinkedIn. But job experts warn that simply sitting in front of a computer scanning the job boards all day long is highly unlikely to find you a job.

"We used to have a 9-to-5 rule, that between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. you should keep the computer off," Natusch said. "People who sit in front of the computer and send out 400 resumes a day are just going to drive themselves crazy. You need to be talking to people. You need to be in front of people," he said.

Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA career center at Northeastern University, said that, in this economy, not all jobs get posted online. What's more, applications sent via a job board are going to be competing with hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, and are less likely to end up in the hands (or on the screen) of the person who is actually doing the hiring.

--Network, Network, Network: Almost everyone interviewed placed this at the core of the job search. Talk to friends, family, former colleagues, church members, online groups, alumni from your high school or college. Join community groups and volunteer organizations. Don't be shy. Let people know you're looking. "You have to have people in your corner, which means going to their corner," said career counselor and author Adele Scheele.

And don't forget the neighbors. A study recently released by Duke University found that neighbors are important sources of job referrals. The study, published in last month's issue of the Journal of Political Economy, found that people who live on the same block are more likely to provide job referrals to each other than to people who live on nearby blocks.

Alssid pointed out that Rhode Island's compact size and relatively dense population provides a natural advantage when it comes to networking. "I've only been here for a year and a half, and I've come to realize there really is just a degree or two of separation between people," he said. "It's perfect for networking."

--Be Flexible: In a depressed job market, you might have to be willing to change your location, what industry you work in, and what duties you perform. It might even be necessary to take a job that doesn't quite match your dreams.

"You might have to take a job you don't really want ? sometimes the perfect job, and the passion and purpose, will have to wait," Scheele said. "You still have to feed yourself. Try to do it in the best spirit you can. Do it without loathing. And build yourself up for the better job, so when the right job comes along, you're ready."

Challenger said job seekers shouldn't get tied into just one industry. It's the job function that defines what we do, he said, not the industry where it's being done. You should also consider expanding the geographical area of the job search, he said. Thanks to the growing popularity of telecommuting, that might not necessarily mean having to move.

--Be Prepared: Research and preparation can go a long way toward a successful job hunt. Sarikas said job seekers should identify the kinds of positions they want, figure out where those positions might be available, and then research those companies so the job pitch is on target. Know what the company goals are, where its growth is coming from and how you can contribute. A key part of research, job experts say, is to find the person who actually does the hiring for the job you want.

"Think of it as a marketing and sales campaign," said Natusch. "It's not a personal thing. It's business." But Natusch said the sales process still requires a personal touch. "Nobody ever hired a job application. Nobody ever hired a resume. There's a personal element involved. You want a job in a restaurant? Then go to that restaurant."

Harden also said job applicants need to be able to market themselves. Perhaps your skills are not a perfect match with a particular job. It might still be possible to persuade them that the skills and experience you do have are transferable to the new job. Harden recommended that job applicants go on as many interviews as possible. Many people haven't been on a job interview in decades, he said, and a little practice never hurts. ("That first interview can be very intimidating.") Plus, he said, you never know what an interview can lead to. Maybe you're not right for one job, but your interviewer just found out about another one that would be a perfect fit. Maybe you can find out what other people in the same industry are doing.

--Don't Lose Heart: "A depressed economy can create a psychological depression as well," Alssid said. "People need to realize there are opportunities out there, and then figure out a way to find them."

Scheele recommends finding a "job buddy" -- someone, outside your family, whom you can contact every day to go over the job search. The contacts don't have to be lengthy, Scheele said, but they can go a long way in relieving the isolation that people sometimes feel when they're looking for work

Natusch said that, just because the overall economy is down, doesn't mean that jobs don't exist in Rhode Island. "Companies are still out there. The world hasn't come to an end. Companies are still doing business, and some of them are still growing."

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Providence Journal, R.I.
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