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Unemployment
January 4, 2003 1:37 PM   Subscribe

"This is getting ridiculous!" complained one veteran programmer on USENET a bit over two years ago... after being out of the workforce for a while, he was having trouble getting back in the door. While there's no way to put yourself in his prospective employers shoes and make a real judgement, it looks like he had the chops. Wonder how he's doing today...general conditions don't seem good, and I know several people with the same problem. The longer a period of unemployment goes, the worse your resume looks, and the harder it is to get a job. How do you break the cycle (from either a policy or a jobseeker standpoint)?
posted by namespan (29 comments total)

 
As someone who just graduated two weeks ago with a BS in Computer Science, I can outright say: Yes, it is *that* bad, be it for veterans or for recent grads. There is absolutly nothing out there right now, all you can do at the moment is train yourself (graduate programs around the nation are booming right now, heh) and hope for the economy to pick up. I luckily got a job thanks to the networking I did all through college, but I was rejected by 30+ companies before that (coming out of college I had 2 internships at Microsoft plus lots of other work and leadership experience, all that stuff that's supposed to "help"). Having a loaded college-type resume and what not doesn't really matter now though, when there arn't jobs out there or you're competing against someone else with 10+ years experience who just got laid off.
posted by qDot at 1:51 PM on January 4, 2003


Well for starters, I'd expect someone with that amount of tech experience to not crosspost to so much.

Namespan, to break the cycle you can do other things beside sit on your backside while you are between employers, and these look great on the CV.

Also there is already a pretty long discussion of this already here.
posted by ajbattrick at 2:33 PM on January 4, 2003


qDot - the 30+ companies that turned you down were obviously looking, so there were 30+1 companies (at least) that were hiring that you knew about. Why do you say there is nothing out there?
posted by sylloge at 3:01 PM on January 4, 2003


You break the cycle by making good use of your time off to do projects, either for yourself or nonprofits or whoever...

It's never easy finding a job, regardless of where we were in the economic cycle. Looking for a job sucks -- it's probably the worst part about working. That said, a successful job search can often involve more than just submitting resumes to an email address in an add. It's about networking, informational interviews, meeting people, and taking advantage of time off.
posted by ph00dz at 3:17 PM on January 4, 2003


I bet it would help if he didn't call all his potential employers idiots. I'm sure he never said to thier faces but interviewers can pick up on a bad attitude.
posted by Bonzai at 3:24 PM on January 4, 2003


By the way -- I wanted to add that I lived in Tucson during the time that the Usenet poster posted his message, and he's right -- it was a terrible time to look for a job there. Throughout the 90's, the manufacturing base in Tucson disappeared, thus taking the bottom end out of the economy there. Add the seasonal boom/bust cycle of Tucson and you were SOL if you weren't conected to the University in some way.

So... in my case, I made the sensible choice -- I moved to another part of the country which was booming. (In my case, Portland, Oregon).

Anyway, I can only speak from my own experience here, but Tucson is the most difficult job market I've ever had to deal with. Since this was 2000 and really the peak of the economic boom, I'd imagine that he'd have done just fine if he'd headed down the road to Phoenix to look for work.
posted by ph00dz at 3:25 PM on January 4, 2003


Here in New England, conditions don't seem all that good either, namespan, at least from my personal vantage. The second link you posted puts the unemployment rate at 6 percent, the highest in 8 years, but it goes on to say that this doesn't tell the whole story:

While that's not as high as the 7 percent rates of the early 1990s, this recession has had a more intense impact on the jobless, said Jeffrey Wenger, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

From September to November, 20 percent of the unemployed had been jobless for more than six months, according to numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the comparable period in the 1991 recession, about 15 percent had been jobless more than six months.


I was laid off 18 months ago and because things looked rather bleak in my field (marketing & pr), I decided to hang out a shingle and freelance my services. Fortunate choice - two of the positions I had been looking at were subsequently eliminated too. Some of my friends and former colleagues are not so fortunate - I know many who have been unemployed for 6-12 months, and I have married friends (several) who have experienced double jeopardy.

It will be increasingly difficult for us to assess whether things are getting better or worse because Bush just axed the report on layoffs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had been issuing - just like his Dad did when things looked less than flattering during his watch. Sigh.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:25 PM on January 4, 2003


To fill in blank space on a resume, nothing beats volunteer work. Either find some little non-profit that needs help (your local teen drop-in that needs help getting their computers working right) or get to work on an open-source project. Spend some time reading and posting to the technical forums you don't have time for when you're working full time (I know of at least one interview I got specifically because the TM saw me post to bugtraq the same day he saw my resume).

I do know that people who are hiring here in Silly Valley are being much less tollerant than they were in the late 90s. Time was, if you were a 50% match and didn't actively piss anybody off in the interview you were in. Now everybody's very serious when they talk about what they want. And companies are much less tollerant of quirks and poor social skills than formerly; if you're technically competent as hell but you wear big gold jewelry or have lice in your UN*X beard, forget it.
posted by hob at 4:28 PM on January 4, 2003


In an open market, I believe the wisest thing to do is supply what is in demand, rather than to make further demands yourself.

For some people this means becoming self-employed, launching their own company, moving somewhere else in the world, changing career path, or even changing their entire lifestyle. CEOs become catfish farmers, investment bankers become gas boys. Don't believe me, read this article at FastCompany.

Perhaps instead of fighting for jobs, people with the means should be asking 'What should I do with my life?' and focus on that instead of typical employed ideals.

There's tons of opportunities out there right now. Just because they're not in your current niche doesn't mean you can't take them up. And hob is bang on the money when he/she says that volunteer work is a great way to fill a resume. Employers tend to love that stuff.

And, remember this, people are still successful during recessions. Just less of em. Read 'How to win friends and influence people' a few times and you're more likely to succeed. It's a start.
posted by wackybrit at 4:41 PM on January 4, 2003


hob: And companies are much less tolerant of quirks and poor social skills than formerly; if you're technically competent as hell but you wear big gold jewelry or have lice in your UN*X beard, forget it.

I don't see this as a discussion of a computer programmer trying to find work. It's about finding work in general, especially after a period of unemployment, or some other "setback" that may make things difficult. That comment right there says it for me.

It may be kind of sad when the person you most identify with when they talk about jobs or the workplace is a teenage runaway on some crystal meth investigative report, but I completely agree with the street kids. "Get a job" is all about conforming, man. We've got this system that's based on theft and lies, and the entire educational system is based on feeding it. Who are the "employers"--they are people who rose to the top of the educational system--the over-socialized. Take my word for it, they WILL NOT HIRE Communists.

Computer programming is one of the less-offensive jobs, but the majority of ads in the paper are completely repugnant. I could never get a job at most of these places (honestly) because I know too much about conning people and would ruin their whole scam. If a company's not out to rob people, they're trying to shape ideology... selling the "family dinner" concept along with the meal, or the idea of what makes something "cool" along with the supposedly cool product... If you've ever talked to a street kid or a crazy vegetarian anarchist, you should know what I'm saying here about their theft of culture.

How do you break the cycle (from either a policy or a jobseeker standpoint)?

LIE.

The company is lying to you, and they probably want you to hurt people anyway, so you really aren't hurting anyone. Just work there for a short time, until you can't take it anymore, then take your money and go. If you actually have specialized skills, it should be no problem. You know how to program, so tell them you've been doing it for so-and-so in Montana for three years. It can be hard to compromise your ethics, but you have to realize that you're already compromising them to work for the place.

It is getting more difficult to do this now, since everyone around here is getting laid off and businesses (real persons' businesses, not the big box stores) are going down. That, and I can't even bring myself to sabotage these places anymore...even becoming District Manager by way of complete fraud and temporarily ruining/looting several Dairy Queens doesn't sound like fun. I don't even want to walk into the fricking place, unless it's to burn it down.
posted by son_of_minya at 6:25 PM on January 4, 2003


By the way, "poor social skills" means either honesty, non-conformity, or the catch-all "under-socialization." It's an insult that comes from the over-socialized, i.e. mid-level management and academics.
posted by son_of_minya at 6:27 PM on January 4, 2003


son_of_minya: Heh, keep talking like that and someone might assume you're jaded with the old 9-to-5.
posted by wackybrit at 6:40 PM on January 4, 2003


Do volunteer work at a nonprofit, and lie, lie, lie. That's how you keep your resume up-to-date.
posted by grammarian at 6:56 PM on January 4, 2003


Heh. S.O.M. et al, I must note that, by and large, you're speaking of the corporate pigeonhole sorts of jobs. I own a company, a small one (around 9 FT people), and the absolute first thing we tell all potential hires is to leave their egos at the door. Number two is be honest. Our group tends to get along and socialize together, even though none of us knew each other (excepting my partner) prior to working together.

In terms of what I look for in a resume - it's much more about what I DON'T look for:

1. BS. Using words like "utilize" (as in, "to find a position where I can utilize my many circular filing abilities") where plain English would do just fine. Using buzzwords for the sake of buzzwords.

2. Lack of specificity. "Java" instead of "5+ years working with EJBs and writing custom servlets with Apache, Tomcat/Websphere, struts, etc, for 5M+ user financial and healthcare applications."

3. Lack of focus. I typically advise people to customize resumes for individual positions, even if they have a multitude of talents/interests. In times like these, a job posting typically nets us thousands of resumes. A resume that's all over the map is much harder to absorb in the three seconds I take for my first glance.

4. Stupid mistakes. This one should honestly be number one. I can't tell you how many resumes, emails, and cover letters I have seen with one or more of the following: My name misspelled, or being addressed as "Mr." (not only is my name very feminine, my photo is all over our site). My company name misspelled. THE APPLICANT's name misspelled. Major software applications the applicant is claiming proficiency in, misspelled. Ridiculous grammatical errors. Insane claims.

5. Lack of detail. I also advise people to pick one or two projects they really enjoyed, either because they showcased their abilities, or because of the success/scale of the projects, and detail them at length at the end of the resume, including what they did, how, for how long, what they learned, why they liked it, and what kind of recognition they might have received for it.

6. Sheer aggravation/inconvenience factor. The resume in a PDF attached to the email, without the text being pasted in. The resume being named "resume.doc", landing in my directory with 8,000 other "resume.docs". A designer's Flash-only website (HTML versions, PLEASE. If I can't see ANYTHING, I won't bother). An "experienced" web developer/designer's site that falls to pieces when I look at it in Mozilla on my Mac. Emailing me 600 times with the same generic email/resume.

I have great sympathy for all the job-seekers out there. I've been there, and many of my friends are currently out of work. But it's a buyer's market, these days, and I kid you not - a good 80% of the resumes I see demonstrate mind-blowing carelessness or even sheer stupidity.

Oh, and as a postscript: Other than companies with huge HR departments, few people (I used to be a recruiter, too, btw) actually look at the dates and calculate the empty bits. However, easy ways to (honestly) deal with gaps in the resume:

- Yes, volunteer. People DO like that, especially if it's relevant to your profession.

- Pick up a couple small jobs here and there, even freebies, and call the free time "consulting." Yeah, it's semi-honest, but we employers know what you mean, and most of us understand.

- Explain (BRIEFLY) in your (BRIEF but custom-written) cover letter that you were laid off x months ago, and that during your period of looking, you have been training yourself/consulting/volunteering/stay-at-home-parenting/whatever.
posted by babylon at 7:28 PM on January 4, 2003


I would like to be the first person ot thank Mr. babylon fro all of the grate advice. I was wanderingg why I had bean reciveing so little feed back form my resume(.doc)
posted by ejoey at 7:52 PM on January 4, 2003


I think the way to break the cycle of high unemployment and depressed economic growth is President Bush's economic stimulus package, especially those tax incentives for the wealthy.

(/sarcasm)

*ducks beneath desk*
posted by LimePi at 8:02 PM on January 4, 2003


I've informed total idiots that rather than attempting to port a multi-media
conversion app from Windows to the Mac for a ludicrous $4000, I'd rewrite
Apple's QuickTime sample translation code for free to accomplish the same
thing in exchange for a reference and had them turn me down!


"We'd like to pay you $4000 to do the job we want done."

"What?! That job is STUPID! I'll do this other job for ya for NOTHING!"

"Thank you, have a nice day."

While the job market is tough all over, I'm underastounded that this guy wasn't getting any jobs. I also remember the job market in 2000, and "I wrote code for the Apple //e" wasn't really getting anyone any callbacks. Prospective jobseekers looking for lessons from this newsgroup posting should think of the keywords: They're The Boss, Shut Up and Smile, and Relevant Experience Only Please.

If he wasn't looking in Tucson AZ, I'd swear I interviewed this guy in DC. The advertised job was for LAMP platform web apps. We weren't real impressed by lots of experience in Pascal and Hypercard.
posted by rusty at 8:26 PM on January 4, 2003


I don't work in IT, but I read a lot, and so I'm surprised that no one here - perhaps it's taboo? - has mentioned the huge sucking sound as IT jobs are pulled out of North America towards India, China, and elsewhere in the developing world. And this is true not merely of IT jobs but of many other job sectors as well...

This trend is one factor which has contributed to the three decade long decline in the equality of US wealth distribution (according to US census data, from 1968 or so to 1998) - which is slowly, implacably draining the life from the middle class.
posted by troutfishing at 8:34 PM on January 4, 2003 [1 favorite]


Computer programming is one of the less-offensive jobs, but the majority of ads in the paper are completely repugnant. I could never get a job at most of these places (honestly) because I know too much about conning people and would ruin their whole scam. If a company's not out to rob people, they're trying to shape ideology... selling the "family dinner" concept along with the meal, or the idea of what makes something "cool" along with the supposedly cool product... If you've ever talked to a street kid or a crazy vegetarian anarchist, you should know what I'm saying here about their theft of culture.

Hah... this was easily the most brilliantly savage satire of this sort of thinking I've read this year! Admittedly, the year is still young, but you're off to an excellent start.
posted by kindall at 9:32 PM on January 4, 2003


as IT jobs are pulled out of North America towards India, China, and elsewhere *snip* which is slowly, implacably draining the life from the middle class.

You make a good point. However, so did the people in the early 1900s who complained at textile manufacture leaving the US for China and Mexico. So did the electronics manufacturers who complained at electronics production zooming off to Japan. The car manufacturers, to a much lesser extent (thanks to Ford), complained of the same in the 70s.

What have we received in return for these events? Well, Japan produced better (and certainly more advanced) electronics than the US was within years. In many people's opinions, we've got better cars as a result too. Textiles are at their cheapest ever, and the selection of cars, clothes, and electronics we have now (mostly from Asia) is collosal.

Software production is just another thing that is going to where it can be done more cheaply and more effectively. The US didn't collapse when textile or electronic production moved. Instead it moved into new areas, or moved into the higher end services which couldn't be taken overseas.

This is all just the same, and any modern economy has seen mass trade migration many times before. Ultimately it helps us by allowing us to get on with harder work that the Indians/Chinese etc can't do.
posted by wackybrit at 9:54 PM on January 4, 2003


Actually, wackybrit -- for the US market, a huge percentage of the electronics are now produced in Mexico (thanks to Nafta), and cars, a lot of the Japanese companies are now making 'em in the US.

Things are not quite as simple as they seem at first...
posted by ph00dz at 10:19 PM on January 4, 2003


Ultimately it helps us by allowing us to get on with harder work that the Indians/Chinese etc can't do.

Yes! Finally! Emancipation! Workers of the West - Rejoice! You are free, at last, to dazzle! Unleash your blinding brightness into a darkened, tedious world!

(But first, call Bob in Procurement and tell him the bolts he ordered are the wrong flavor.)
posted by Opus Dark at 11:08 PM on January 4, 2003 [1 favorite]


Well, since we are being classified as consumers by many accounts, perhaps we can request gov't subsidies to shop and get the economy going again. *shrug*
posted by Imocrep at 11:53 PM on January 4, 2003


hob said: And companies are much less tollerant of quirks and poor social skills than formerly; if you're technically competent as hell but you wear big gold jewelry or have lice in your UN*X beard, forget it.

big gold jewelry?! biggie up to netmaster 10baset!
posted by shadow45 at 12:34 AM on January 5, 2003


I recently came to a big life decision, and, after 27 years as a keyboard jockey, gave it up completely as a career. No matter how hard I was willing to work, there was always someone out there who would do it cheaper.

So, I jumped careers and got into polysomnography and sleep medicine. I am currently a polysomnographic technician (gotta love that title!) for a freestanding sleep lab and I love it. Plus polysom is like the computer industry, but about 20 years ago. It's fresh, a hot topic, and I will be able to move pretty much anywhere with a decent hospital and walk into a job.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do in advancing your career is look at a new one.
posted by Samizdata at 1:05 AM on January 5, 2003


a huge percentage of the electronics are now produced in Mexico (thanks to Nafta), and cars, a lot of the Japanese companies are now making 'em in the US.


I'm not sure how this complicates or invalidates the thought behind wackybrit's statement.
posted by deadcowdan at 8:47 AM on January 5, 2003


wackybrit: the IT jobs which are leaving the US (and Britain too) paid, generally, far better than those earlier examples you cite, of manufacturing jobs such as electronics and textiles - which left the US decades ago. It is partly for this reason that, in the 3 decades since 1968 according to US census dept. data, wealth distribution in the US has become progressively more unequal - the top fifth quintile has gained ground at th expense of the bottom four. And this is even deceptive, for the greatest gains have been concentrated in the very top 1/2 of one percent.

There are, actually, not that many jobs which cannot (and will not soon) be either automated or exported to lowest cost nations. Can the US survive solely on weapons sales and cultural exports? And will the majority of Americans accept the continual slide toward developing world living standards?
posted by troutfishing at 9:54 AM on January 5, 2003


Great advice babylon - I recently hired an assistant and the first thing I did was throw out any application with any spelling error in the resume or covering letter. If you cannot bother to correctly spell the name of the company that you are applying to in the most important document you will create for them (in your eyes anyway), what is the standard of your work going to be? I even had one person send a letter scribbled on a crumpled piece of paper saying their printer was broken, but they would send a resume if I phoned (and then didn't give a phone number) Be careful about gaps in your job history though - some of us can count :-) You can use a position with a club or community organisation to help fill blanks.

Top marks though, to anyone who had done some research and found out about our company - the advert gave enough information that it would be easy to find out more details, but very few bothered. This is probably the best way to impress a potential employer, in my opinion. Visit their web site, ring and ask for brochures, call in, whatever, just make sure they know you have done it and it will work wonders, especially in an interview.

Whatever you do, don't try the old trick of submitting two different applications to cover your bases (as several did to me) - employers are not as stupid as you think.
posted by dg at 3:12 PM on January 5, 2003


What's one to do with one's self when the well runs dry? Here's a wonderful article originally printed in fastcompany, about the meaning of life and happiness and etc. Worth a read by anyone struggling with a career.
posted by jdaura at 6:49 PM on January 5, 2003


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