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Don’t twiddle your thumbs while waiting for a new job, experts advise

By , - Last modified: February 15, 2011 at 11:02 AM

The debut of Apple’s Macintosh computer, the discovery of the AIDS virus, the Soviet boycott of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. If you remember any of these, you might remember the last time unemployment in the U.S. neared 10 percent in Central Pennsylvania. It was 1984. Many of us were just kids. Some of our work force wasn’t even born yet.

Twenty-six years later, the world is completely different. Apple has moved on to everything, AIDS has become a global pandemic, and the Soviet Union is no more. The U.S. still is reeling from one of its worse recessions, and one of the results is that unemployment benefits have been extended from 13 weeks to an unprecedented 99 weeks.

Subsequently, more people are facing longer gaps without work in an environment that still doesn’t have enough jobs for everyone.

“We’re in uncharted territory,”  said Terri Kaufman, executive director of the South Central Workforce Investment Board (SCWIB) in Harrisburg. “We don’t even have statistics to compare for this. Historically, our region just hasn’t had to deal with unemployment rates this high.”

In the past year, the SCWIB has offered employment assistance to more than 600 people, everything from résumé writing to retraining. It has seen a huge increase in traffic on Pennsylvania’s CareerLink website, which now averages 10,000 visitors every month.

“We’re starting to see a resurgence of employers posting jobs,” Kaufman said. “Those positions may not be filled for months, but at least it’s a good sign. We were one of the last areas to be affected by the recession, so we’re hoping to be one of the first to recover.”

Jennifer Boyer, branch manager of Manpower, cited the company’s most recent employment outlook survey.

“Central Pennsylvania is expected to have one of the strongest job markets in the country from July to September. The Harrisburg region ranked third in the country for employment opportunities. Manufacturing and distribution specifically appear to be rebounding.”

Despite signs of recovery, unemployment lengths are still at record levels. It is generally believed that the longer one is out of work, the harder it is to become re-employed.

Prospective employers could speculate about loss of skills, loss of information, loss of drive, and they can even get more personal with questions about work ethic and personality.

Darwin Kysor, director of career services for Juniata College, offered a different view.

“Everyone says, ‘It’s easier to find a job when you have a job,’ ” he said. “There’s some truth in that, but a lot depends on the individual, the industry and the position.”

Steve Hassinger, career services director at Central Pennsylvania College, agreed.

“I think employers are a little more willing to overlook a lengthy gap in time between jobs nowadays because of the economic climate and the fact that so many people are out of work,” he said. “It’s easier now to attribute the lack of a job to the economic climate rather than the fault of the individual.”

With more sympathetic employers and the potential for increasing opportunities in our area, the landscape is certainly still challenging but encouraging for job seekers, even those who have been unemployed for a long time. There are many things that can boost the chances for re-employment, including taking advantage of assistance through work force investment boards and employment agencies. But there are many things to consider as well.

“While the burden of unpaid bills can persuade you to jump on the first job you find, that’s not always the best move,” Kysor said. “You could find yourself stuck in a job below your level. Sometimes a little patience can pay off with a much better position.”

If it’s easier to find a job when you have a job, then think of finding a job as your job. Experts agreed that those who work as hard as they did when they were employed find re-employment much faster.

“Perhaps one of the worst things you can do if you’ve been out of work for a significant period of time is to do nothing,” Hassinger said.

“I would suggest trying to do something that can continue to build your résumé or experience, even if it’s unpaid,” he said. “Get involved in volunteer work, offer to teach a free class, or create a blog and write about your area of expertise. Who knows, maybe your next boss will be one of the people who happens to read what you wrote!”

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