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Job search takes planning

October 09, 2008|From the Associated Press

It's been a grim year for layoffs and job cuts with nine straight months of job losses, worsening in September when U.S. employers handed out the most pink slips of any month since 2003. All told, 760,000 people have lost their jobs this year.

The picture probably won't grow brighter any time soon. The job outlook for the near future is dismal, according to John Challenger, chief executive of the job outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

"It does look as though we're heading into a deeper recession or slowdown," Challenger said. "It's likely going to have more far-reaching impact and lead to more layoffs, higher unemployment, longer job searches for people."

For those who fear they could be laid off, one strategy recommended by experts is to accelerate savings efforts, building up the equivalent of six months' to a year's worth of income to ride out a jobless period. Those wary of reentering the job market can take some proactive steps, according to Challenger, such as networking intensively within your community to improve future employment prospects and seeking supplemental training within your field.

Here are excerpts of his comments:

I think it's important to see yourself as a free agent. You have a right to look for another job while you're working. You have a right to take on secondary jobs to supplement your income. You have a right to take "career insurance" actions -- like being more engaged in outside activities.

It's imperative, almost, that you're out there involved in your community in various organizations, building relationships, because those are the best avenues -- other people that you know -- to jobs in the future.

Should workers seek extra training?

Many companies offer tuition reimbursement programs, and this environment is a good opportunity to take advantage of that, while you're still working. It always helps to know more about technology in your field, whatever your area of expertise is, and it always helps to get new skills. So by all means, adding education and training is valuable. But try to keep it relevant to your area of expertise.

What has been learned from previous downturns, in terms of steps people could take to avoid a layoff? Did they help?

It's important to get a fast start. If you're looking for a job now and it feels like we're going into a recession, your chances are better now than later, when there will be more people competing. If you feel your position is tenuous, you might seek another job in your field. It makes sense to try to get out ahead of the slowdown.

You might also need to be open to relocation.

People open to moving to new industries and new locations have seemed to do better in past downturns because they weren't bumping into lots of people all looking for the same jobs in an industry where the jobs were few and far between.

Should older workers be concerned about age discrimination in the job market, or might they actually benefit from an increased need for experience in a smaller workforce?

Age discrimination certainly exists and is damaging to people's searches. But at the same time, it's much less virulent than it used to be. The leading edge of the baby boom generation is now at retirement age, and many are choosing to work, or may need to work, much longer. So I think there will be many more people working and less age discrimination than we've seen in previous eras because a whole generation is looking at retirement in a new way.

What would you say to people who are considering career changes right now while the economy is shaky?

You can change industries -- you don't have to change fields or know-how. I'm not a very strong advocate of changing careers in this type of situation. Sometimes people spend three to six months or longer exploring the idea of an alternative career or a fun or interesting new thing to do, and I think that's impractical.

If you go to something brand new, you won't be able to maintain your earnings for what you may need for your lifestyle. Look for jobs that utilize the skills and expertise that you've developed rather than going out and trying to find something brand new.

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