"How I Got a Job in the Worst Job Market Ever!" SIX INSPIRING STORIES FROM THE FRONT
(MONEY Magazine) – Eric Fulmer
Age 34. He credits his new job to his "energy and enthusiasm and aggressiveness"--and his network of friends and colleagues.
At 34, Eric Fulmer was ready for a new job. He was ambitious, and his position as a regional sales manager for a technology company in North Carolina didn't offer enough opportunities for growth. He knew that having work made him one of the lucky ones. To land another, better job he'd have to sell himself with every bit of the savvy he put into selling his company's products.
He'd always made a point of sending holiday cards and making the occasional phone call to his old colleagues, figuring the contacts might come in handy one day. He was right. When he heard that the man who had hired him to work at Fuji earlier in his career had joined Rimage, a manufacturer of CD and DVD publishing systems, he called to offer congratulations. It had been more than six years since they'd worked together, but it took only a few minutes to discover that there might be a place for Fulmer.
He wasted no time. Rimage called for an interview in Atlanta on a Friday; Fulmer said he'd be there on Monday. He could have made the eight-hour drive from his home in Chapel Hill; instead he invested his own cash in a plane ticket and used the time he saved to create what he thinks convinced the company to hire him: a PowerPoint presentation that showcased what he could do for the company. "I thought it would be a lot better than just talk," he explains.
It worked. "What got me the job," Fulmer concludes, "was my energy and enthusiasm and aggressiveness. It's the lesson of the story: Go above and beyond."
Above and beyond, certainly. Over the top, perhaps. But that's an example of what it takes to land a job in what some economists are calling the toughest job market since the 1930s. "The job losses over the past three years have been across a wide range of industries and from coast to coast," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com. "And if you've lost your job, in all likelihood you will remain unemployed for longer than in any period since the Great Depression."
While the unemployment rate has dipped to 5.6%, that simply reflects the fact that layoffs have slowed. "That's not helping people who are already out of work," Zandt says. "Companies have yet to step up and start hiring."
But Fulmer and the five others you'll read about here beat those odds. Read on to see how they did it--and how you can too.
SHE KEPT UP TO DATE--AND KEPT IN TOUCH
Age 55. While she was unemployed, she stayed current in her field and learned new computer programs.
Brenda Carter worked as an executive, specializing in purchasing, for more than 30 years before seeing the inside of an unemployment office. She had just started a new job at R.R. Donnelley when the firm announced massive layoffs. At the age of 53, Carter found herself out of a job. "It didn't seem so bad," she recalls. "I got a package and I decided to take a little time off." That was in June 2001. Before she knew it, her time off had turned into a year.
Carter posted her résumé with several retained executive-search firms, which are hired and paid by a company looking to fill an open position. "It means they have the jobs already," she explains. "That's a real advantage, because at my level those kinds of jobs aren't advertised."
Acutely aware of her younger competition, she spent time mastering new computer programs. Toward the end of the year, she began consulting for Mercury Marine; after two months, they offered her a position as commodity manager. There were many reasons for Carter to refuse: a three-hour commute, two or three weeks of overseas travel a month and a lower salary. But her family needed her income, so she said yes. She kept her résumé up to date and stayed in touch with the search firms.
A full year later, the phone rang. The caller was Anthony Jones, a recruiter at Minority Executive Search in Cleveland. He'd been retained by Johnson Controls, an automotive systems company, to hire a director of purchasing and logistics for North America.
Jones deserves credit for spotting Carter's qualifications and making the match with Johnson, but it's Carter who ultimately sold herself. She stayed current in procurement and operations, and was not shy about sharing radical ideas about teamwork with her interviewer. She exuded confidence. "I do very well at interviews," the new grandmother confirms. "Always."
A GUERRILLA JOB-HUNTING SITE GOT THE WORD OUT
Age 41. The website 8GoodPeople.com helped her find freelance work and impressed the man who finally hired her.
After a frustrating two-year search, technology journalist Connie Guglielmo finally found a job in December--with a little help from seven of her friends.
Laid off in November 2001 from her job as an editor-at-large for a technology journal, Guglielmo was a media casualty of the Bay Area dotcom bubble. "If you don't have an industry, you don't need media to cover it," she says. Her unemployment benefits exhausted, Guglielmo turned up some freelance work, but full-time employment eluded her.
It was during some of her most difficult days that Guglielmo decided to band together with seven other writers around the country to take their plight to the Web. "We all had done everything right--updated our résumés and contacted our networks, but the economy is so bad that nothing was working," explains Guglielmo. So she rallied the troops to network, commiserate and do what they loved the most: write. The result was 8GoodPeople.com, an experiment in reality programming and guerrilla job-hunting. They sent press releases about the website to every news organization they could think of and alerted all their journalist friends.
The website serves partly as an opportunity for the writers to attract and impress potential employers by posting a biography and pieces that they might have produced if they'd been employed. "Who better to document this jobless recovery? We're journalists," says Guglielmo. But the site quickly became something else just as important: an emotional release. Many of the essays offer personal testimony to the challenges of extended unemployment in a way that helped the writers cope. Guglielmo credits the site for getting her through. "It was an outlet for all of us," she says. "The long-term despair, the hopelessness of unemployment--it's been a way to relieve that."
More important, the site helped all eight good people find leads and freelance, contract or consulting jobs. So far, three of the eight have found full-time work. Guglielmo got her current job, working for a major news organization as a technology reporter, through a referral from a friend. "But the guy who was interviewing me for my current job saw the site and was impressed with it. It certainly helped," she says, adding, "Five good people are still looking for work. We're not giving up until that number is down to zero."
BEING WILLING TO MOVE--RIGHT NOW--WAS THE KEY
Age 39. A Labor Department website got him the interview--and he cinched the job by moving 700 miles in three weeks.
Seventy-two hours. That's the longest Eric Green had ever gone without a job. Until last June, that is, when the Phoenix start-up he'd been with for two years announced it was going belly up. "I'd known for some time the company wasn't doing well financially," he says. "My résumé was up to date."
Green, an information technology guy with experience in the data-storage industry, posted his résumé online, sent it to members of his industry trade group and perused the trade magazines. When he filed for unemployment, his résumé also went into America's Job Bank, an online resource for employers and job seekers developed by the Department of Labor. The lowdown on the job bank is what you'd expect of a government enterprise--you put your name in because you have to. But do people really get jobs this way? Nah.
But Eric Green did--as a software engineer at StorAd, a start-up in San Jose, Calif. that is building a next-generation data-storage product. "I think the No. 1 reason I got a job is because I cast a wide net and I was willing to move," he says. "I didn't stick to one geographical location."
What's more, the company wanted him to start in three weeks, and Green was not only willing but eager to meet StorAd's deadline: After being unemployed for three months, he was in debt. But could he really get to San Jose that quickly?
The biggest problem was the house he owned in Phoenix. He knew he couldn't afford to carry it for long. He considered renting it but soon found out that because the Phoenix rental market was soft, he couldn't charge enough to cover his costs. His real estate agent came to his rescue, he says, by underpricing his home just enough to bring in a reasonable offer in less than a week.
Green's a little ambivalent about his new rented digs--he misses the open spaces of Phoenix but loves the ethnic restaurants around San Jose. He's decidedly less ambivalent about the work: "It's challenging. I didn't have to take a job I didn't want." And the biggest attraction: He believes he actually has a chance to take a product to market.
VOLUNTEERING WAS HER ROUTE TO OPPORTUNITY
Age 38. Doing leadership training for a Hispanic group in Chicago led to her introduction to executives at Caterpillar.
Rebecca Martinez O'Mara insists that she got her job because she stopped looking for one. "It's just like what a friend once told me," she says with a laugh. "'The minute chicks know you're interested, they're not.'"
O'Mara may credit her new position--as director of business development for remanufacturing at Caterpillar--to her decision to stop sending out résumés, but it took more than that for her to land this plum job. She became an active and visible volunteer in her community. And that brought her to the attention of the right people.
A former Ameritech executive--her position was squeezed out in 2000 after a merger--O'Mara was unemployed for almost a year. "All of the job-search gurus say send out letters to CEOs," she says. "I sent out 400 letters with zero response. I think being midcareer is a different ball game. It takes customized networking. There has to be a unique approach."
After earning an executive M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management, she took a less than ideal position as a global account executive at Underwriters Laboratories. She felt underutilized, and compensated by doubling her commitment to volunteer work for the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE), a national organization that nurtures Latinos' career ambitions, beginning with high school students. In fact, HACE had helped O'Mara get her first job out of college.
For almost two years, O'Mara worked at UL by day and gave motivational speeches for HACE whenever she had a chance. The longer she led this kind of double life, the more she was convinced that she wanted more than a job; she wanted a career that she could fall in love with, that felt like a perfect fit.
Then, last December, HACE invited 25 of the "best and brightest in Chicago's Latino community," according to the group's chair, Abe Tomás Hughes, to meet six Caterpillar vice presidents for dinner at the Palmer House. "I knew you did not get to have dinner with six of the top executives in the world more than once," O'Mara recalls. So she prepped. She researched the company on the Internet. She learned what Caterpillar was doing in China and who its major competitors were. She rehearsed her one-minute elevator speech--and she wore the burgundy silk pants suit she'd had made in Hong Kong. "I was in the zone," she says. "I was like Michael Jordan."
Two months later, Caterpillar invited 10 of the original HACE group of 25 to visit the company's headquarters in Peoria. O'Mara was offered her ideal job the very next day.
O'Mara may insist that her success lies in her decision to opt out of the job-search market. But dig a little deeper and you find that her thinking isn't as magical as it may at first appear. Once she no longer felt driven to hunt for a better job, she had the freedom to spend her own time as she pleased, volunteering at HACE. And that raised her profile, especially with the organization's CEO.
"I was at the top of Abe's mind," she says of the man who set up the opportunity that has brought fulfillment in her career at last. "And he knows I'm the blue chip."
HIS TECH SKILLS GOT HIM IN THROUGH THE BACK DOOR
Age 24. He used his technical skills to get his foot in the door at an international policy center in the capital.
Gilbert Wilson graduated from Allegheny College in 2003 with a double major in political science and religious studies, and a single dream: a paying job in international policy work. But with minimal savings and looming student-loan payments, he needed income fast. Since policy jobs were few and far between in his native Pennsylvania, he took a gamble and moved to Washington, D.C., where he might have a real shot at getting the job of his dreams.
"I knew the job market wasn't in my favor," says Wilson, 24, "but I was determined to try." He had only about three months' worth of cash and credit, so he hit the ground running. He contacted more than 50 organizations that specialize in national security, international relations or conflict resolution, faxing and e-mailing his résumé and following up with phone calls.
His worst fears were confirmed. "I was told over and over that they loved my résumé but didn't have the money to hire me." He even beseeched his congressman for a recommendation and advice. "I was just about out of options," Wilson says.
After almost three months of searching for the right position, Wilson spotted an advertisement for the wrong one--Web editor at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. The institution was just the kind of place he wanted to work, and although the job wasn't what he was looking for, he did have the right skills for it. He'd spent his high school and college years, he explains, as a committed techie and computer hobbyist: "I participated in work/study programs in school, then worked part time in a local mom-and-pop computer business."
Sensing that the Web post might be a way into the international policy world, Wilson reconfigured his résumé to reflect his technical skills, then sent an e-mail and followed up with a phone call. "I told them I ultimately wanted policy work," he recalls, "but I was willing to get in any way I could." Then he created and posted a website that offered customized Web-design ideas for the center. "During my first meeting I asked the interviewer to pull up the URL," explains Wilson. "I wanted them to know that I wasn't just blowing smoke." He got the job. His interest in policy issues has turned out to be a real advantage. "Because I understand the nature of our mission," he says, "I can make better technical recommendations."
Wilson performs a variety of different technology tasks at the center, including website maintenance, database management and general office work. He also serves as the intern coordinator, sifting through students' résumés daily. Since he fixes all the computers and installs software, he works with senior staff on a regular basis. "Everyone is always happy to see me." And, after seven months on the job, he's found some opportunities to do some research and policy work as well. "I got in through the back door," he says, "and actually got what I wanted."