Being unemployed, my primary activity is job searching. Since the last time I did this, things have changed.
Back in 2004, I was less well organized. I kept a list of all the places I applied in a Word document, with notes, and it ended up 50 pages long. Also, I was less experienced with targeting my resume.
This time, I used a spreadsheet. Much easier. I color-coded it—blue for No, purple for No Reply, yellow for In Progress or Interviewed, and light orange for Other (job was cancelled, was bogus, etc.).
Targeting isn’t much good when there are hundreds of resumes for the same position, and only one opening. In January 2005, I got a rejection letter from an employer who mentioned that they got 150 resumes for a posted position. These days, you don’t even get that. And it’s more like 300-400 resumes.
In 2004, online job boards and even the newspaper ads had tons of job listings. Unemployment benefits require a minimum of job contacts made each week—in my state, it’s three. I had no trouble meeting that requirement.
This time, there are weeks where I struggle to find those three. I don’t believe it’s worthwhile to apply to jobs I know will not make ends meet.
For example, a large local healthcare employer posts certain positions that, even without coding and billing experience, I am more than capable of doing. They start at minimum wage. In my state, that’s $7.50 an hour. For a 40-hour week, I would still be down $200-250 a month. Oh, I could do it, if I stopped eating. And teleported to work. Gas and car insurance? Nope.
Nor should I apply to jobs that are way over my head. All that does is clog employers’ inboxes and make me look unfocused.
In 2004, there were still jobs that offered full-time status, benefits, and even chances for advancement. Many of them did not need a college degree, and if you had one, you might get slightly better pay.
Now, even entry-level positions want a bachelor’s. For those who don’t have one, things just got a lot tougher. Mid-level jobs are gone, like skilled manufacturing positions that were available to high school grads and offered a decent wage. They’ve been replaced by low-paid, part time retail/service jobs.
I have two degrees, and I’ve had jobs that any reasonable, intelligent high school graduate could do. Of course, that depends on the office, and the grad him/herself. I think employers are looking for organizational and time management skills they assume college graduates have learned. They either don’t have time to look at experience and transferable skills or don’t care.
In 2004, work responsibilities were more fragmented—that is, an office had a receptionist AND an accounting assistant. That was the case with my last position.
Now, employers who have cut their staff to the bone have combined those jobs into one, and renamed them “Administrative Assistant,” or “Office Support.” They’re looking for one clerical worker to do everything.
Accounting ain’t my thing. I have problems with numbers. If I could have picked one thing I do poorly, it wouldn’t be that. I may have to go back to school to work around this issue.
In 2004, when I applied to a position, it was an actual job, posted by a company who wanted someone to stick around for a while. I even had an interview with someone who told me “We’re looking for a long-term employee.” I didn’t get the job because I was still in school, and they thought I would bail. Wasn’t planning on it…I had a house to feed.
Now, employers are posting jobs with temp agencies. They don’t want actual employees. More are using temps short-term or keeping them on for a long time to avoid paying benefits. I’m afraid the Affordable Care Act is only going to make that worse.
Last time I was unemployed, I temped. It helped, but it’s so unreliable—you can never be sure if there will be work, or for how long. I tried it this time and all I could find were very short-term assignments. Some agencies contract temp-to-hire, however, so if all else fails, I might find a job that way.
The recession has changed things in ways we didn’t imagine. As in any situation, survival boils down to who can adapt, not who is best at the status quo. Like Dory in Finding Nemo says, just keep swimming.[Editor’s Note: If you enjoyed this article you can read more of Liz’s “unemployment adventures”: How I Could Have Been Prepared for a Layoff, Unemployment Adventures: Shall I Ditch This or Keep It]