Monday, November 9, 2009

How to find a job in a High Unemployment World

Sharon Gitelle of Forbes has posed a question to the bloggers on the Forbes network and aims to discuss the results in a conference call with Carl Lavin, Forbes's managing editor. Forbes just covered a case, Prudential v. Giacobbe, on which I worked as an expert witness, so this is my second crossing of paths with Forbes today (the first was indirect but still, something of a coincidence).


Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a jump in the unemployment rate to 10.2%.Some economists think we could be looking at 10.5% by early next year.

Given these grim forecasts, how do you counsel recent college graduates and others entering the job market for the first time in this employment climate? Is there any advice or strategies you find particularly useful?

I have taught in business schools since 1991, most recently as an adjunct in the Langone MBA program in the NYU Stern School of Business for the past 13 years and in Brooklyn College's Economics Department as a tenured associate professor for the past 11. During all of those years I have addressed this question in my managerial skills and organizational behavior courses. Indeed, I have done so since I first started teaching at Clarkson University located in New York's 23rd Congressional District.

There are three steps to finding a job. The first is to have clearly defined goals and a mission. The second is to learn first hand about your chosen profession through intensive informational interviewing. The third is to utilize all available avenues, to include direct mail, Website and help wanted ads, search firms, job fairs, college recruiting and personal contacts as well as informational interviewing.

In What Color Is Your Parachute? Richard N. Bolles outlines a useful goal setting and informational interviewing approach that may be limited for college grads and MBAs in that he does not detail the concept of cold call informational interviewing that can be quite valuable in major job markets like New York's and other large cities'.

The idea of cold call informational interviewing is to arrange an in-person meeting with an experienced manager or professional in the field that the student is considering. This is done by:

-writing a letter requesting an informational interview that makes clear that he or she is not seeking a job but rather information on specified topics such as emerging trends in the field or how to break into the field;

-in the letter, setting a time that the student will call to set up a meeting;

-calling at the set time

Most students realize that the rejection rate will be higher than the acceptance rate, something that writers, actors and others in competitive fields know, but something that is always difficult to accept. I point out to my classes that success only comes from rejection; that Babe Ruth led the American league in strikeouts as well as home runs; and that Sylvester Stallone was rejected 150 times when he was trying to market the manuscript for Rocky (I got the last statistic from an Anthony Robbins tape circa 1990).

Informational interviewing works because managers are often interested in advising young people interested in the field. The "invisible job market" whereby jobs are filled through contacts is only accessible through informational interviewing. And the information gained in the interviews will give job applicants a leg up over others who lack inside information about the field.

Handling of the informational interview can be taken to high levels of sophistication. A good sales person can probably land a job in the informational interview without asking for one (remember, the condition of informational interviewing is that the applicant is not seeking a job). In the good years of the late 1990s I had MBA students at NYU landing an offer in one informational interview. That is less likely to occur now unless the applicant has strong sales skills. But a sequence of 20-50 informational interviews will land a job.

At one point I went on about a dozen informational interviews myself. My rejection rate to get in the door was about 80%, acceptance 20%. I did not get any offers (I did it during one summer) but had I continued I do not doubt I would have. Compare the 20% interview acceptance rate with the 1-3% acceptance rate characteristic of mass-mailed job letters. Moreover, the interviews are more productive because they are learning and relationship-building experiences.

Prior to informational interviewing the student should have set a life goal and mission. This is extremely difficult for about 20 percent of students; easy for about 20 percent; and a matter of mild indifference to the rest. A student with a focused goal can gain expertise in the field and will be motivated to put up with failure that leads to success. Developing a mission about which the graduate is enthusiastic is of incalculable value in today's world, where ethical confusion (which is not the same as ethical ambiguity) reigns supreme.

An individual with a moral sense that their professional objective is a personal mission will be focused and highly motivated. Clear goals work in a range of ways, and this is one of them. Combine that with inside information gleaned from informational interviews and a willingness to turn over every stone, and the worst job market will not prove disappointing.

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