Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘unemployment

What’s Your Breaking Point?

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A rocky job market affects more than just the unemployed and recent graduates—even those still employed are feeling the sting. With little certainty of finding placement elsewhere, labor statistics show that few professionals are willing to leave their jobs, despite a rise in reported employee dissatisfaction and especially dispiriting working conditions recently seen in the news. To gauge this sense of career confinement, in a recent poll Vault asked its readers “What would be the last straw to make you quit your job?”

One workplace issue which held the collective attention this past summer was the threat of bedbug infestations in New York City—and it would be hard to blame anyone who runs screaming from an office crawling with them. However, just 2 percent of Vault readers said these vermin would prompt them to resign. But quitting may not be necessary: Bedbug infestations have thus far resulted in complete shutdowns of a Victoria’s Secret, Manhattan offices for Google and Cadwalader, and most recently the flagship Niketown store. And you can’t quit if there’s no job to go to.

Fewer still indicated that they would pack it in for an impending company merger. Yet, if we’ve learned anything from the year’s rash of buyouts, industry consolidation doesn’t leave much room for staff: The merger of Pfizer and Wyeth, for instance, resulted in thousands losing their jobs and facilities shutting down around the globe. Now, with the completion of United and Continental Airlines’ amalgamation, another drastic round of layoffs won’t be far off.

The prospect of benefit reductions also failed to influence resignation decisions, with just 5 percent stating that would be their breaking point. Sadly, this has been reflected in practice: One of last year’s more shocking developments was the news that insurance company WellPoint reduced its own employee health benefits, even while encouraging staff to protest health care reform. In spite of that, there was no surge of people lining up to leave Wellpoint in response.

The point at which respondents begin to rankle, it seems, is the prospect of outright mistreatment. While toxic offices have inspired some of our favorite films, from Office Space to The Devil Wears Prada, they remain a professional hazard. Abuse can take different forms at different levels: Some superiors will demoralize staff to the extremes seen in the tragic suicides at Foxconn, while sexual harassment may (allegedly) come from such diverse figures as the New York Jets or the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. That kind of treatment would apparently cause 31 percent of respondents to move on.

And then there’s the suffering endured at the hands of customers and clients. By now we’re all familiar with one such incident, when an allegedly unruly passenger prompted the abrupt resignation and emergency chute escape of JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater. And he’s likely not alone in his frustration: some 9 percent of respondents to the poll said they’d have likely done the same.

Ultimately, however, stability rules the day: Nearly half of our respondents confirmed the notion that the only way they’d quit is with a new job waiting for them. But even if that seems the safe bet, it’s not always the wisest—by continuing at a job that doesn’t meet your standards, not only do you risk stagnating but your industry does as well. As posited by author AnnaLee Saxenian in a Wired article, “Job-hopping, rather than climbing the career ladder within a corporation, facilitates flows of information and know-how between individuals, firms, and industries.” When the workforce is able to distribute its talents effectively to where they are required, that’s when growth becomes possible.

While one hopes that a healthy dose of self-esteem should sufficiently compel disenchanted employees to say enough is enough, the viral popularity of “folk heroes” like Steven Slater and’s fictional “Jenny” still indicates a sense of powerlessness in the workforce. Their exploits, real or not, reflect what many wish they could do themselves—throw caution to the wind, and “deploy the slide” as a defiant act of personal satisfaction. But without dramatic improvements in the rate of job creation, most will remain in a holding pattern.

— Alex Tuttle,

What’s Keeping You From Getting Hired?

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If there was one thing that stood out from Vault’s recent Job Hunting in CSR series, it was the disconnect between candidates and employers. A recent survey by Towers Watson further indicates that this disconnect might be much more widespread because of a difference in priorities for employers and employees.

Job Skills

A survey released by TalentDrive, the team behind online resume aggregation search engine TalentFilter, now adds yet another layer to the troubling scenario. The report suggests a widening gap between current employers’ expectations and job seekers’ actual skill sets.

In a month-long survey, 79,000 job seekers (86 percent actively seeking employment) were asked to assess their personal skill set and attitude toward the current job market. Additionally, 20,000 hiring managers from Fortune 1000 companies were asked if they had noticed a change in the quality of candidates since the recession’s start.

The results of the survey are unnerving:

Almost three-quarters of the job seekers surveyed were pessimistic about their career search: that’s the number of respondents who indicated that they possessed the required skill set for positions, but were not getting hired. Little wonder, then, that 37 percent of respondents expressed no hope that things would improve.

However, 42 percent of the employers surveyed indicated that the recession had not only increased the quantity of candidates, but that they were finding more qualified candidates than in years past.

So where is the disconnect? When candidates believe they possess the required skill sets, why are they not getting hired? Take into account that 67 percent of those surveyed reported having between one and five interviews per month since the beginning of their job search, and that 75 percent of those had not received a single job offer.

Specialization or general business skills?

Since your company started hiring, how many interviewed candidates on average would you consider

Could the disconnect come down to a question of specialized vs. general business skills? According to the report, 71% percent of HR representatives reported that more than half of their open positions were specialized.

Comparatively, 61% of the job seekers’ group considered themselves to be “professionals with broad skill sets.”

Interestingly, my interviews with MBA graduates Ashley Jablow and Geet Singh reveal a flipside to the specialization picture. Having focused on CSR and sustainability at business school, both Jablow and Singh confessed that their job hunts weren’t exactly working out to be walks in the park. However, in their case, partial blame goes to a lack of demand for CSR work. For the respondents of the TalentDrive survey, specialized skills leaned toward more traditional fields like IT and technology.

Job Search Destinations

What source has recently delivered/uncovered the most quality candidates?

If there is one area where the TalentDrive survey shows job seekers and employers in agreement, it is where they are finding each other. The winner: Social Media.

An overwhelming 74% of job seekers said the most beneficial job search method was posting a resume on job boards followed by 27% picking social media, for the first time surpassing traditional methods like classified ads, professional recruiters and networking events.

Agreement was mutual with 27% of employers saying the highest response for most effective search method was social networks, followed by resume sourcing technologies.

Other highlights:

For the types of positions your company fills, what skills/activities make an applicant stand out?

Differs for each position: 55%
Longevity with past employers: 21%
Certification: 16%
Advanced degrees/MBA: 5%
Extracurricular work/Volunteer work: 3%

What category would the majority of your open positions fall under?

Mid level/management positions: 67%
Entry level: 16%
Director/Executive positions: 14%

Since beginning your active job search, how many interviews have resulted in an offer?

No offers: 75%
Less than half: 21%
More than half: 3%
All interviews resulted in an offer: 1%

Given the current job market, how willing are you to transfer fields or change your skill set to adapt to a new work environment or industry?

Not willing or interested: 11%
Somewhat willing, depending on the opportunity: 44%
Very willing: 45%

Does your experience relate to these results? Do you have a story to add to these numbers? Leave a comment, email us In Good Company or connect on Twitter @VaultCSR!

Job Seeker Sentiment at Lowest Point This Year

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On the eve of the official unemployment report for August, Vault’s job seeker sentiment index suggests that there’s not too much to be hopeful about: the percentage of respondents suggesting that the job market has improved is lower than it’s ever been. Worse, almost a quarter of those who responded to our homepage poll report that conditions have worsened in the last 3 months—the most dismal response so far this year, and almost back to the levels seen in November 2009, when the economy was still technically in recession.

job seeker sentiment August 2010

Making matters worse is the fact that many of the jobs that are being created pay substantially less than those that were eliminated from the economy. On top of that, some analysts also believe that uncertainty over regulatory issues is restricting hiring, and that no significant upturn is likely until after the November mid-terms.

job seeker sentiment August 2010

The one consolation from this month’s sentiment poll is that a majority of people think things are either holding steady or improving with regard to hiring. But with unemployment still above 9 percent, and more people than ever before reporting that things are “about the same,” that’s scant consolation indeed.

Written by Phil Stott

September 2, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Win Ben Stein’s Acrimony: When Public Figures Malign the Unemployed

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If you haven’t read the news lately, the phrase on the lips of every politician, pundit and pollster is still “jobs.” Now, however, the debate has shifted to the necessity of unemployment benefit extensions, with some suggesting that continued funding of jobless citizens only breeds laziness and complacency. As if being out-of-work wasn’t bad enough, America’s unemployed find themselves as a two-sided token for political debate, either martyred as faceless victims of economic turmoil or vilified as shiftless layabouts.

The result has been an increasing number of disparaging public remarks from political figures, most of whom assume the worst about jobless professionals’ circumstances. The foremost example of this came in a recent editorial by pundit and former game show host Ben Stein, wherein he opined that those still without jobs perhaps deserve it:

“The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say ‘generally’ because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job.”

Similar assertions have been made by former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who claimed in a CNN interview to know of studies “that show that people stay on unemployment compensation, and they don’t look for a job until two or three weeks before they know the benefits are going to run out.” Ron Johnson, a U.S. Senate candidate in Wisconsin, echoed Delay’s sentiment during a public television interview: “When you continue to extend unemployment benefits, people really don’t have the incentive to go take other jobs. They’ll just wait the system out … Then they’ll go out and take probably not as high paying jobs as they’d like to take.” Johnson advised, “That’s really how you have to get back to work. You have to take the work that’s available at the wage rates that’s available.”

In the spirit of fairness in the face of these allegations, I’ve offered an opportunity for rebuttal to one such unemployed citizen: Joe the Computer Operator. At age 51, Joe handled systems administration for a chemical company until three years ago, when he was laid off and saw his job outsourced. Without a source of income, he says, “I had to move in with a friend because I could no longer pay my rent.” Joe states he will “send out hundreds of resumes,” but “99 percent of the time I do not get any response.”

So what does Joe say about Delay and Johnson’s comments? Quite simply, “I do not agree.” “I have continued to look for work while I was receiving my unemployment benefits. I am sure that some do not look for a job while collecting benefits but I feel the majority of us want to work and do look for employment.” Of particular note was Johnson’s “take the work that’s available” remark, to which Joe retorts, “It is easy for someone to say ‘You should take a minimum wage job,’ but then when I ask ‘Well, how do I pay my bills and survive while making $8 an hour?’ they never have an answer. The math just doesn’t add up.”

At Ben Stein’s descriptions of “poor work habits” and “unpleasant personalities,” Joe bristles, “This sounds like profiling and discrimination to me. Just once I would like to see a dope like this have to walk in the long-term unemployed shoes. The bottom line is that there are no jobs—just look at the numbers. We can’t all have poor personalities and bad work habits, can we, Stein?”

For Joe, meanwhile, the search for work continues. “I am sending out my resume today for a Computer Operator position I found on one the many job boards I receive daily email alerts for. Maybe I will get a positive response from this one, but I doubt it.” Discouraged words, to be sure. But after seeing the insensitivity toward unemployed professionals like Joe, it’s not hard to understand the frustration.

Written by A.A. Somebody

August 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Hiring Makes the Economy Go Round

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“It’s made round to go round.” I don’t know if that counts as a proverb, but it was something I heard a lot regarding money—and the art of spending it—when growing up in Scotland. At its core, it suggests that cash is for one thing, and one thing only: spending. And it encapsulates the simple notion that spending is what makes the economy go round.

There are two problems with that saying in this day and age—one major and one minor. First, obviously, is that the majority of money is no longer round. Second, as a New York Times report made clear this weekend, it’s no longer going round either: while many companies are reporting bumper profits during this earning cycle, revenues are still slumping. What gains companies are making are based largely on cost cutting—with a large proportion of that coming from reductions in head count.

Of course, no one can fault companies for managing to raise profits during a downturn—and after 2008 and 2009, it’s a joy to see companies reporting any profits at all. But while doing right by their shareholders in the short term, the Times report suggests that firms are setting the economy up for a fall over time:

“In some ways, the ability to raise profits in the face of declining sales is a triumph of productivity that makes the United States more globally competitive. The problem is that companies are not investing those earnings, instead letting cash pile up to levels not reached in nearly half a century.”

By hoarding cash, companies are effectively sitting on their hands and attempting to wait out the current unrest. While that’s not necessarily a bad tactic on an individual basis, collectively it induces an element of stagnation into the economy: markets can’t grow if people aren’t earning. And people can’t earn if companies don’t hire or invest in new infrastructure and product development.

The Times piece does find some kind of a positive spin for the defensive behavior, with one source pointing out that resurgent companies such as Ford are “shrinking the business to a size that’s defendable, and growing off that lower base.”

But the unemployment figures speak for themselves at the moment: if corporations don’t start hiring—and putting the money they’re stockpiling to use—there’s no chance that work forces will recover.

Executives, then, are faced with a choice: play it safe, or put your company’s cash—and some willing Americans—to work. The latter option might seem like a risk at a time like this, but bear that saying about cash in mind: the economy can’t go round without it.

Written by Phil Stott

July 27, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Job Hunting: Time for Millennials to Get Off the Fence?

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The New York Times reports today on a particularly depressing aspect of the recession: evidence that the latest generation of workers to emerge from college is finding it difficult to get work, and is simply being left behind by circumstance.

Opening with a snapshot of one 24 year old job seeker’s struggle to find work, the piece hits on many of the issues facing young careerists today. While generational differences are played up, however, one of the main themes that emerges is the idea of expectation: the job seeker in question chooses to pass up a $40,000 a year job because he worries it might “stunt” his career. His father and grandfather, meanwhile, tell tales of their own careers that involve largely getting started by accident and maneuvering as best they could once they were in a field.

That underlines a fundamental difference in approach—and attitude—that bodes even more ill for the current crop of graduates than the woeful unemployment figures suggest. We’ve all read the stories about how the millennial generation expects to be able to shape their lives to a degree that previous generations (my own included) would have found unthinkable. While it was difficult to grasp that concept prior to the recession, seeing it in action at a time when 9.5 percent of the country’s willing workers can’t find an open position is particularly jarring.

The article makes obligatory mention of the fact that millennials “are better educated than previous generations and they were raised by baby boomers who lavished a lot of attention on their children”—even going so far as to use this point to explain the “optimism” of the generation in the face of the recession. What it doesn’t sufficiently explain, however, is how that “better educated” generation can rationalize that not getting any experience of the corporate world at all is better than working a “dead end” position with the opportunity to at least make some contacts and bolster a resume.

Of course, a member of a different generation explaining the inherent danger in that kind of logic always runs the risk of being accused of being too down on the younger set. With that in mind, then, perhaps the most compelling reason is the graphic to the left that accompanies the Times piece, which shows that unemployment among the millennial generation—18 to 29 year olds—”approaches the levels of that group in the Great Depression.”

If that’s not enough to make one rethink a strategy of waiting for something better to come along—and risking falling further behind at every step of the way—not much will.

Job Seeker Sentiment Index: The Job Market is Flat

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It’s impossible not to detect the growing signs of pessimism over the state of the economy beginning to take hold in some sectors. While some commentators have been predicting a double-dip recession all along, some have only recently begun predicting disaster, after previously believing that we were on the road to recovery. Chief among this latter group, of course, is Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, whose recent New York Times column set a thoroughly depressing tone for the week. (Pun not intended.)

None of that, however, seems to have affected conditions on the ground for job seekers. The latest results from Vault’s job seeker sentiment poll show that fewer people believe the job market is getting worse than at any point since we began the poll in November 2009: just 13 percent of respondents reported a decline in the state of the market.

More worrying, perhaps, is that more respondents than ever before (38 percent) also suggested that the market is “about the same” as in previous months—suggesting that it may be leveling off. Similarly, the proportion of respondents reporting slight improvements in the state of the market declined to below 40 percent for the first time since the end of 2009.

Here are the results of the most recent poll in full:

Vault job seeker sentiment poll June 2010

And here is how the results stack up on Vault’s Job Seeker Sentiment Index:

Vault's Job Seeker Sentiment Index

As you can see, some interesting movements in sentiment—and definitely something to look for in next week’s unemployment number: will it reflect that stasis that Vault’s readers are finding out in the real world? And does it portend anything that the gap between those finding the market “about the same” or “slightly better” is closer than at any point since the significantly darker days of November?

Written by Phil Stott

June 29, 2010 at 10:25 am

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