LPM Staff

Plan B: From Career to Hourly Job(s)

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Evonne Aldana had been working as a mediator for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) for twelve years when last September 10, she walked in to the office and was told her services were no longer needed. The next day she received what was left of her vacation pay, enough to cover a month’s worth of mortgage and other bills; it was also enough to disqualify her for unemployment. Aldana has been desperately looking for work ever since.

When Christopher Candelaria graduated from ASU last May with a B.S. in Design, he had just been layed off from his job at a steel manufacturing plant where he had worked for just over two years. Undaunted and with diploma in hand, Candelaria embarked on a search for his career of choice, confident he would get a job as a draftsman with an architecture firm, or as a project coordinator with a contractor. For the next six months, he applied for numerous positions and never got a single interview. Now Candelaria is willing to take any job he can get.

These are common stories nowadays. While banks are being bailed out, taxpayers and small businesses are left to flail. Recent unemployment insurance data shows the average duration of unemployment is about 15 weeks, so hopefully Aldana and Candelaria will end their respective searches soon. From August to October 2009, payroll job losses had averaged 135,000 a month in the U.S. The only growth was in temporary help services and healthcare jobs. In November 2009, both the number of unemployed persons, at 15.4 million, and the unemployment rate, at 10.0 percent, edged down. Good news, right? Not really, when you consider that at the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed persons was 7.5 million, and the jobless rate was 4.9 percent.

Here’s more cheery information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Since October 2008, Arizona’s unemployment rate has increased by 3.1 percent, jumping from 6.2 to 9.3 percent in October 2009. This means over 95,000 Arizonans have lost their jobs in the last year.

Chances are you know one of those 95,000. If you don’t know someone directly, maybe your primo’s girlfriend’s tío lost his job, or your friend’s hermana lost hers. It’s a dire situation regardless, not only for these individuals but for our economy as well. Louis Lagunas has his own story among the thousands. He was a professional truck driver when in 2006 he was “let go” for missing a couple of days of work while his wife was in the hospital. No mercy for Louis, who not only lost his job, he lost his home to foreclosure. Now he’s renting a house and working full time for Enterprise as a car attendant, making $9 an hour. “It’s better than nothing … I have to do what I have to do,” says Lagunas. On his days off he goes to Workforce Connection, an employment program run by the state, and sends out his résumé to as many job possibilities as he can.

It can be a full-time job just looking for a job; ask anyone in Aldana’s or Candelaria’s or Lagunas’ shoes. But it’s also unavoidable if you want to survive “Plan B”: taking any employment you can to pay the bills until you can get back on your career track. Pamela Roberts, a training specialist with Workforce Connection, says people can easily get caught up in the mire of job searching and in turn get easily discouraged. “You really need to focus your efforts to not feel defeated,” says Roberts, “and you waste less time this way.”

The Search

Obviously it would be discouraging to be on a career track, only to be derailed by circumstances beyond your control. Keeping your sense of purpose and knowing where to look for jobs is critical. Know your strengths and weaknesses; assess yourself. This will help you target the occupation you’re interested in. Roberts suggests setting up a weekly plan for obtaining employment so that you can look back at your week and see what you’ve achieved. “It’s less dismal than looking at the bigger picture and will give you a sense of accomplishment,” says Roberts.

Once Aldana was told her services were no longer needed at ADOT, she initially started applying for any kind of administrative job, even ones she wasn’t qualified for. “I was desperate,” says Aldana. “I had to figure out how I was going to keep paying my mortgage.” As a meeting and workshop facilitator in ADOT’s partnering office, Aldana made sure partnerships between ADOT and other government entities worked in harmony. An ostensibly important position, Aldana could easily play up just her diplomatic skills and focus on positions that could take advantage of this ability instead of grasping at any and all job openings.

Candelaria has taken this “skills” approach in his search for work, but has also had to adapt it to the lack of response he’s encountered. “I started out looking for jobs in design – web design, 3D graphics, any sort of freelance work, and city jobs as an electrician, carpentry, construction, pushing my experience with the steel manufacturing company,” says Candelaria. “No luck so far. Now I’m interviewing for sales positions, something I never thought I’d do.” Candelaria has touted his ability to pitch an architecture project as a version of sales; he’s gone so far as to use his high school job working at a pharmacy for five years as exemplary customer service experience at other job interviews.

Getting in the door

Now that you’re likely overqualified for most of the jobs you’ll settle for, how do you handle yourself on paper? The last thing you want to do is brag about your Ph.D. and multimillion-dollar sales record if you’re applying at Ace Hardware. The best tactic is to play up your skills in terms of the job description and use simple, applicable buzz words, like inventory control and budgeting. Roberts says a hiring manager will spend on average seven to 15 seconds looking at a résumé, despite the fact it’s the key to get you through the door. Instead of using a chronological résumé, use a “combination” résumé, which emphasizes transferable skill sets rather than work history.

When you’re finally in the spotlight and answering interview questions, “think in terms of ‘I know what you’re looking for, I have what you’re looking for, and I can add value to your company,’” says Roberts. Just like on your résumé, play up your skills rather than work history. Roberts suggests having an action plan for your interview just in case you’re asked about being overqualified; be prepared to speak in active terms, like “I can bring in money, reduce expenses, improve customer service,” etc., focusing on skills, abilities and interest in the specific position.

Although you may not be completely forthcoming about your previous career prowess, you still need to be honest about your situation. “Always be up front at a job interview,” says John Millikin, clinical professor in the management department at the W. P. Carey School of Business and former vice president of human resources at Motorola, Inc. in Phoenix. “The hiring manager wants to know, ‘Is this person going to disappear as soon as they find something better?’ Be honest.” Millikin advises job applicants to acknowledge the move to a new position, but cast it in a light as something different instead of an act of desperation.

So be honest, but also “lean in” during your job interview. “A candidate’s attitude is super important during the interview process,” says Roberts. “Stay engaged and interested, and let that confidence shine through your résumé and how you represent yourself.”

Learn the tools of the trades

Someone who has worked in a government staff position may not be aware of parallel jobs in the medical industry. Aldana is thinking about going to nursing school if she doesn’t find a job by the end of January, only because her friends and family have been telling her jobs in the medical field are actually increasing these days. But chances are her abilities and authentic interests may be more suited for something other than nursing. Aldana’s skills working as a mediator of sorts for ADOT could easily transfer to a job as a hospital ombudsperson, working with doctors, nurses, and patients and their families.

Pamela Roberts tells job seekers who come through her office to educate themselves about what types of occupations are out there, and urges them to go to acinet.org or onlineonetcenter.org to do a little job market research. “Learn what job titles exist and what skills are needed for specific jobs,” says Roberts, “and search by growth industries. Right now green jobs are obviously on the rise.” She also suggests they visit salary.com or payscale.com to become familiar with compensation levels.

Unemployed, underemployed, perhaps tentatively employed – staying focused, informed and positive will be your key to surviving the recession. As Candelaria succinctly put it, “I’m hopeful. It won’t last forever.”

Been layed off?

Between July 2008 and 2009, over 20,000 job seekers walked through the doors of Arizona Workforce Connection for help finding employment. Managed by the Arizona Department of Commerce, this free program brings together Arizona’s workforce development partners to provide businesses and job seekers with comprehensive and streamlined services, including job training, skills assessments, educational opportunities, financial aid resources, unemployment benefits, and employee rights and laws.

With locations across the state and three locations in Maricopa County, this program could help you get through Plan B, if you need it. Visit Arizona Workforce Connection at www.arizonaworkforceconnection.com or contact one of these sites:

35 North Gilbert Road, Suite 134
Gilbert, AZ 85234

163 North Dobson Road
Mesa, AZ 85201-6066

1840 N. 95th Avenue #160
Phoenix, AZ 85037

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