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July 27, 2010

Unemployed Grapple With New Job-Hunting Techniques

by Jeff Swicord

President Obama signed a bill last week extending unemployment benefits to 99 weeks.  The extension will affect 1.4 million unemployed Americans and help ease the longest bout of joblessness since the great Depression.  Our reporter visited a career counseling center outside Washington D.C. to get a feel for what job seekers are going through.

Vanessa Bridges is one of 14.6 million unemployed Americans:

When the economy hit its recent downturn, she was laid off from her job as the Director of Business development for an architectural firm in Washington D.C.

Now, she is trying to reinvent herself as an events planner.  But the recession has touched every segment of the economy.

"It's just has had an enormous impact on everybody on all levels," said Vanessa Bridges. "So it is not just one person losing their job out there, it is entire companies that don't exist any more."

Vanessa told us searching for a job in today's market is tricky.  She sought help from the Maryland State Professional Outplacement Assistance Center, or POAC, which is funded by the state Department of Labor.

POAC offers seminars in everything from resume writing and online job searches, to how to market yourself.

Vanessa says one of the most important things is learning how to apply for jobs on the internet.

"If you haven't looked for a job in the last two or three years, it is radically different than anything you could imagine," she said. "It is not just going and writing your little resume and mailing it, even looking in the newspaper.  Everything is online."

Nancy Fink is the Assistant Director of POAC.  She says today's job searches must be conducted on multiple fronts.  Things that might have been optional in the past for job seekers are now mandatory.

"Obviously they need to do the resume piece, but they have to be well versed in social media," said Nancy Fink. "They should be on Linkedin, they should be on Facebook.  They need to be doing face to face networking.  They need to be active with their alumni associations."

The odds are not in the job seeker's favor.  According to the U.S. Department of labor, there are five unemployed people for every job opening in the country.

We sat down with six unemployed people.  All are highly-educated management-level professionals who previously earned six-figure salaries.  We asked them to talk about the obstacles they are facing.  Milly Probst, a former call center manager, told us her experience and salary history are scaring off potential employers.

"It actually happened to me yesterday, I was at a job fair, that was the first thing out of the recruiter's mouth: 'oh, you have such an impressive resume,'" said Milly Probst. "And I don't want to dummy myself down [make myself seem less intelligent] so I put exactly what I have done and what I have achieved and what my titles were.  But I am starting to think I need to change that."

All the participants felt that job security is a thing of the past because companies and corporations are cutting expenses by shedding high-salary employees.  They told us the future is in entrepreneurship and private consulting.  Pamela Robb was a management professional in the non-profit field.

"I think that where we are going is to the 'gig' kind of thing," said Pamela Robb. "What am I doing today?  With whom am I doing it with today?  And half way through, who am I going to be doing it with in six months when this contract is up."

Nancy Fink says most of the people who go through her organization's programs will eventually find a job.  But they may have to lower their expectations, take on multiple duties, and work for less pay until the economy fully recovers.