career advice

5 Steps for Retooling in the New Job Market

I’m not sure if we should call it the “new” job market or the reduced, redefined, elusive job market.  Too many people who have worked for years with relevant skills and valuable experience now can’t find employment where once their talents were in demand.  This dilemma isn’t limited to the industrial workforce that has watched American production ship out to foreign shores. For twenty years there has been public debate and wringing of hands over teacher shortages and the lack of trained nurses.  Today there are licensed teachers and RNs that in some regions, can’t find work.

This condition of not-quite-depression and not-quite-recovery has created a job market where employers are reluctant to hire, government agencies are facing budget cuts, and talented people are running out of unemployment benefits.  A lot of frustrated unemployed people have had to redefine their goals.  When it comes to looking for work today, sometimes that means redefining your personal skills.  Instead of looking for a position that fits your experience, try redefining your skills to fit what’s out there.  Here are a few suggestions for realigning your abilities to match a morphing economy.

•    Conduct an Inspection of the job market: You can get a pretty good idea of what job titles are in play by combing online listings, which is worthwhile just to learn what’s out there.  Those listings aren’t the best option for seeking work but they provide the skills associated with the jobs that are open.  For example, a lot of companies are looking for “organizational development” professionals.  Never heard the term?  In many cases, it’s code for someone to manage a downsizing project that requires distribution of an established workload to fewer employees.  In other cases it means cranking up a business function that is new to a company trying to navigate a newly flattened global business climate.  Anyone who has managed a staff, has written an operations plan or has simply devised a daily work plan in an office can illustrate their organizational development skills by adopting the language these job descriptions are written in.

•    Talk to a placement specialist and learn what sells: This is the other part of your research assignment.  Spot a job listing on a recruiter’s website, send off a resume and follow it up with a call.  It has been my experience that these people talk to professionals for a living and they are generally willing to talk to one who may not fit the position they are trying to fill.  They’re always looking to add contacts and people with placement potential, so they’ll spend some time talking to a person who isn’t on their radar screen currently.  That’s how to learn what you’ve got in the job market or some sector of it; and what skills are critical for consideration.  If you’re going to become a chameleon in the job market, you need to know what colors are popular.  Recruiters are great resources for resume keywords, for a snapshot of local hiring trends within their specialty, and for a sense of where you might best fit.  In this case, it’s free advice with some value.

•    Decide what is within reach: When you begin to understand the language of the jobs marketplace you’ll begin to grasp where the opportunities lie and what might match your skills, your experience, your interest – or hopefully, all three.  You may also find that there are NO jobs that meet your existing curriculum vitae, which means that you begin to downsize your own expectations to match the market.  That doesn’t necessarily mean collecting shopping carts in the parking lot because you worked as a mechanical engineering tech; it means accepting your limitations as perceived by potential employers and working to convert those skills, that experience, into working capital when you’re shopping for a job.  There are a few ways to do that.

•    Turn your resume upside down: This suggestion means stressing skills instead of work experience.  Back in the Twentieth Century I was taught to write a resume that presents a chronology of jobs, hopefully showing increasing levels of responsibility, followed by a few sentences about skills and interests.  The number of resume experts online today approaches infinity, but some portion of them suggests that it makes more sense to tick off your skills at the top of the page and couple them to a generic description of accomplishments.  The bottom of the page is reserved for a list of employers and the ubiquitous “references available on request.”  It may sound counterintuitive to people who have spent ten or fifteen years in a profession, but the idea is to catch the resume reader’s eye with talents, not training.  You already know that professional experience is getting you nowhere.

•    Go back to school, in affordable bites: Sometimes you can substitute a little education for a lot of job description.  Because of the tectonic shifts in the economy and employment, hundreds of schools are offering programs for the tens of thousands of unemployed people who have chosen to return to school.  There are part time degree options, evening classes, and online degrees that allow you to study and continue a family life – or if you’re fortunate, maintain your under-employed job.  It depends on what you need to accomplish, but public universities are still a real bargain and online programs are offered at cost-per-credit, which means you can work towards a credential or degree on a pay as you go basis.

If you’re an unemployed accountant, see what it takes to obtain CPA licensure.  If you used to manage a warehousing operation, look for a program in supply chain management.  If you majored in psychology, take a look around for a program in HR specialization or training or recruiting.  There are master’s degree programs that can be completed in a year or less, and certification options that don’t require a degree.  The challenge after a long, frustrating, fruitless job hunt is bringing a new career into focus because it requires hope and a little confidence.  If you can incorporate those elements into a change in career track, you can add a few components and then reassemble and repackage yourself to match a niche in the market.

Bob Hartzell writes on jobs and education at Masters Degree Online.com and several other college oriented websites, addressing the issues confronted by would-be college students and professionals returning to school trying to find career options in a chaotic, unpredictable job market. He recently wrote the Top 5 Masters in Education Programs online.

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