Q&A: Unemployed and navigating a new job market

April 10, 2009

If you recently lost your job and are in search of a new one, you might be inclined to turn to head hunters or staffing agencies for help. But before spending money to make money, you would be wise to check out a local resource here in Chicago: the YWCA. The Economic Empowerment Institute at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago provides services from a professional coach who can: help you learn new skills, improve your application techniques and give general advice on how to proceed with the job hunt. Below, Associate Director Cynthia Anglin answers questions about getting back on your feet and how the YWCA can help you do that.

1. For individuals who have lost their jobs, what advice do you give for retooling resumes?

When providing advice to people who have lost their jobs, our YWCA Economic Empowerment Coaches offer many tips to help make our clients' resumes stand out. We emphasize to our clients that resumes have a primary purpose -- to get you an interview. HR managers often review hundreds of resumes a day. For this reason, resumes should be well-formatted and bulleted to ensure readability. Hiring managers will often pass over a resume rather than spend time reading paragraph after paragraph, even for the most qualified candidates. We also encourage resumes to be accomplishment-based. Employers are more interested in your successes in a job rather than your general job responsibilities. For example, "Increased company sales by 50%" is much more impressive than "Served as member of sales team."

2. What are the biggest concerns about the new job market for people who have been employed for years or decades and are now unemployed?

Generally, for people who find themselves recently unemployed, their biggest concern about the current job market is having the skill set to be able to compete. Lapses in employment can be great opportunities to sharpen skills. We often suggest our Economic Empowerment Institute clients enroll in classes during this time to improve computer or trade skills. We also remind our clients that many skills are transferable across jobs, and they could benefit by being open to other career paths if opportunities present themselves. We encourage our clients to stay optimistic and do their best not to become discouraged. Contrary to popular opinion, job searching can be less productive when done every day. Searching for jobs every other day or a few times a week is a good way to give yourself a much-needed break from the ups and downs of job hunting.

3. What trade or graduate schools do you recommend for sharpening people's job skills?

We believe there are many great learning institutions here in metro Chicago that individuals can use to increase their current skill set, ranging from universities and community colleges to trade schools and community organizations. Our Economic Empowerment Coaches work with clients to research institutions and classes that are specifically suited for their content, scheduling and pricing needs. Currently, the YWCA offers computer classes for beginning and advanced students. The YWCA also works with the CARA Program, Kennedy King College, Olive Harvey College, Chicago Women in Trades, and HSBC -- North America to provide additional training for the YWCA's Economic Empowerment Institute clients.

4. If I am a middle-aged individual competing against college graduates and twenty-somethings in the job market, how can I sell myself successfully to potential employers?

Finding a job at any age is always about playing to your strengths. One of the obvious strengths for someone older is experience. I advise people to look at their experience as a positive when applying for jobs. Maintaining initial salaries can be a challenge, and we encourage individuals to be flexible in this area if possible. However, all things being equal, employers often choose the more experienced candidates over other candidates. Being organized and consistent are good skills to have when searching for a job. Set aside set times on certain days of the week to look for jobs. This will help you keep to a regular schedule. Also keep track of where you apply and when. This can keep you from re-applying for companies and positions that might not be suited to your background and skill set.

5. Where are you seeing people have success in the job search: which industries, using which tactics, selling themselves in what ways, using what interview strategies?

We are seeing people be successful in all industries. Someone in every field is always hiring even during this downturn in the economy. The most successful people, however, are those who effectively use their networks of family, friends and former colleagues to find employment. Many jobs currently available rarely make it to internet or newspaper postings. If you have a particular employer in mind, call to see if the company has a public job board. This can also assist you in knowing what jobs might be available that aren't being advertised. Websites like LinkedIn can also assist people in using their professional networks to the fullest. As far as interview strategies, make sure you read the job description for which you are applying thoroughly. During your interview, we encourage our clients to use phrases and words mentioned in the job description in your responses. This will reinforce to your interviewer that you have the qualities they are looking for in this position.