Monday, April 12, 2010

Slow Dance on the Outside: Unemployment and Career Change

It's not great out there, as anyone looking for a job will likely confirm.  Employment is on the rise (slowly), but unemployment was stable at 8.2% for the month of March (yes, that might seem a little odd, but to economists, employment is not merely 1/unemployment).

As part of my job, I meet with lots of people who are out of work.  These are people who have contacted me about a specific job opportunity, people I have met at seminars and training sessions, and people who are contacting ant recruiter they can to find job leads and advice.  Some people have been out of work for a few days, some a few weeks.  Others have been searching for months or years.  Some people have a regular tour that brings them back into work-life semi-regularly: the monthly check-ins, the seasonal job fairs, etc.

I've always told people that one of my favourite aspects of recruiting is that it is my job to get people jobs.  When I can help - either with a job offer or with advice - I do.  I don't treat my insights into the local job market as some sort of proprietary treasure; sure, I use it in the execution of my duties, but it's a public good.  Giving it to someone else robs me of no utility.

Unfortunately, there are some people whom it is quite difficult to help.  They have antiquated skills.  Their absence from the workforce can be measured in years.  Sometimes, they've been beaten down by their prolonged job search and they're not the dynamic candidate they used to be.

This is where things get hard.  This is when the sad nature of the employment industry emerges.  There comes a time when there is no more advice that you can give a candidate.  The person has already re-vamped their resume.  They have a targeted, focused, intricate job search methodology.  They treat finding a job as their full time job, putting in nights and weekends to finally add that next item to the Work Experience section of their resume.  These people are earnest in their search, and lacking no zeal.  Unfortunately, their field may have passed them by.

I work, for the most part, in IT.  I find people for web development projects, Information Management, network architecture, and a host of other IT-related jobs.  This is not a field you can just hop in and out of at whim.  If you disappear for any length of time, the demands and the standards of the industry will be beyond your sight.  Your skills will have atrophied.

There comes a time when we, as recruiters, will have to tell you that, in all likelihood, you no longer have a future in your chosen field.  It's tough for us to say, but we say it to be helpful.  Dishonest optimism will be of no service to you.

If you have been out of the IT industry for more than a year or two, your skills are, likely, outdated or rusty.  In this situation, you will not be a fit for any jobs that require any sort of hands-on work.  There are a lot of people out there who have only recently lost their job, and whose skills are up to date.  They will have an edge over you.

If you worked for one company for many years or decades, and this company, which was once cutting edge, is now a lumbering, dying dinosaur (*cough* Nortel *cough*), your skills - no matter how recently you used them - could very well be outdated.  If you specialize in a fading technology, your chances of success in landing a new job are dim.

So, when I meet you, and you're wondering about what you should do, I'll give you some advice.  You can take; you can ignore it; but know that I'm giving you an honest assessment.  It may be time for a change.  This could mean a career change (someone who used to work in web development can sometimes slip into technical recruiting - just ask this guy).  This could mean going back to school to learn new skills.  It could mean starting over at the bottom wrung as a junior employee.  It could mean moving to a new city.

But if you've been looking for a job for two years with no success, something has to change.  Something drastic.

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