Contract work versus permanent work

After four years of unemployment and under-employment, I finally found a job with benefits, but in a different state.  

This blog originated as a way to share the difficulties and challenges an experienced middle-aged professional has in landing a good position in this bleak job market. As I write this, the first-time unemployment numbers have dropped to a four-year low and the stock market is soaring, but finding a good job is still very difficult for millions of experienced professionals.

When I was laid off in 2009 in the middle of the Great Recession, I quickly discovered that finding a job would not be easy.  After months of interviews, I decided to start my own consulting business, and then my clients dried up after a year, so I started looking again in earnest in 2011.  What I found was the job landscape had changed dramatically in just a couple of years.  Instead of permanent jobs with benefits, most of the new jobs were with hiring agencies that employed contractors for large companies.  

The advantage of hiring contractors was obvious: the employer could use temporary labor without actually employing these workers. I took one of these jobs in 2011, and worked for more than a year without any insurance for myself.  Yes, the agency provided benefits, but they were minimal, amounting to a “discount program” for medical visits and medications.  I declined.  

If you need work and a paycheck, you should consider contract work.  You don’t get paid time off, sick leave or holiday pay, but some employers will allow contractors some flex time or an occasional work-from-home arrangement.  Contractors also get paid more than a permanent employee. 

I used my contract work to beef up my skills and portfolio to show I could work in a large corporate environment and produce results.  Near the end of the contract, I found a permanent job in another state and moved there.  

During my job search, I found that many employers take their time in filling job openings and conduct several interviews and testing surveys for candidates, even for mid-level positions.  Many job openings are never filled, as the New York Times reported recently in the article, With Positions to Fill, Employers Wait for Perfection (March 6, 2013). I shared one of my own job interviewing horror stories with other job seekers: After an initial screening interview followed by a one-hour interview with the hiring manager at Conifer Health Solutions in Texas, I received a call from the recruiter to come to Texas to interview for the position. The only problem was I was living in a different state at the time, and they were not paying airfare for job candidates.  I took the initiative and paid for my own round-trip airfare and rental car to interview for the job with six different people. I left Texas confident that I performed well and was a good fit for the job. Three-and-a-half months later, I still have not heard a word or received any correspondence from Conifer Health. 

My advice to job seekers is don’t let these setbacks discourage you from seeking a job, even a lower-paying job, if it’s one you would enjoy.  My new job pays less than the one at Conifer, but has better benefits and a better working environment where the atmosphere is more respectful of their employees.  It may take time, but if you’re persistent and positive, you will land that permanent and rewarding job.

 

 

 

 

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Job Seekers: Beware of Online Scams

Job Seekers: Beware of Online Scams

With more people desperate to find work in the new economy, scam artists are increasingly targeting the unemployed and underemployed by using legitimate online job boards.  These scams are intensifying because anyone can place an open job on these boards.

My wife was nearly a victim of one of these scams. Applying on GetHired.com for an account with Baxter Healthcare, a large corporation, she received an email back from someone purporting to be from that firm’s Human Resources Department. It said, in part:

“We have reviewed your resume/cover letter from GetHired.com and you qualified for the position, as you possess the required skills and experience for our available position. The available positions are: Accounts Payable/Specialist/payroll professional. You need to undergo an online job briefing, so it’s required for you to have Ms. Heather Davis of the company (Interview Manager) added to your Yahoo Messenger contact list for an online interview/job briefing.  If you don’t have a Yahoo Messenger on your computer, then go to www.messenger.yahoo.com to download one for free then set up an ID with Yahoo Messenger and IM Mrs. Heather Davis. Her Yahoo screen name is (baxterdesk@yahoo.com). She is online now. Instant-message her whenever you are ready. Feel free to email back if you have any questions.”  My wife asked her if she could call our home number for the interview. “This is strictly an online interview and not a phone interview,” she quipped.

Although skeptical, my wife started the online conversation with this “Mrs. Davis” about this job, which was explained as a “strictly work-from-home job” where she would get paid biweekly via check or direct deposit.  Mrs. Davis told her she would be working as an “employee and not as an independent contractor,” with full benefits.  She then listed the duties and responsibilities of the position, which consisted of “printing payroll checks, records, and recording pay slips into an accounting database; these will be done through the use of Accounting software, such as faxing or emailing confidential information.”

Over the next 15-20 minutes, Mrs. Davis ran through some stock interview questions, emphasizing the importance of privacy and confidentiality of client records during this time.  At the conclusion, she stated: “You seem to be a good fit for this position. Hold on while I forward your interview to the hiring board.”

After another 10-15 minutes, she came back online and told her “Congratulations. Due to your experience and your working skills the company has decided to hire you as one of our staff. You are now a staff member of Baxter Healthcare Corporation.”

It’s when this Mrs. Davis related that my wife needed to purchase specific “CheckSoft software” available at office supply stores or online that our suspicions were confirmed.  In addition to the software, she said she needed to buy “check paper” and “magnetic ink” available on www.g7ps.com. When my wife said she wouldn’t purchase anything upfront, this comment made this Mrs. Davis very defensive:

“You were asked to purchase these items and this does not mean one is trying to get money out of your pocket – Note that you are the one to use these items for your work and you will be reimbursed.”

My wife balked at that, saying she needed to sign a contract first before doing anything.

Mrs. Davis then told her she would receive the company employee form to fill out and “your duties paperwork, but that does not stop you from purchasing the items.”

My wife didn’t budge on her contract request, and she did indeed get two forms emailed to her – shoddy replicas of the Baxter Health logo with a signature from a “Lawrence T. Gibbons, Corporate V.P. Quality, Baxter Healthcare Corporation,” and the other a half-baked “employment form” to fill out.

Needless to say, we wanted to call Baxter Healthcare and alert them of this scam.  Doing that wasn’t easy.  We called the district office in Charlotte and asked for a number for Human Resources. The number they gave us didn’t work because you needed a patient ID or employee ID number.  We called back again and got a different 800 number to call, and went through a series of automated messages asking for the same ID codes before they system finally connected to a live person, who told us a real representative at Baxter Health would call us back.  No one did.  Instead, we got a response from – where else? The Internet, where we found a template comment form to email to Baxter. After recording the “ticket number” for our comment, someone did send us an email, which verified our suspicions:
“Thank you for your email. The job posting is not a legitimate opportunity for Baxter International, Inc. or its subsidiaries.  We have received reports of this fraudulent listing. The US Government has been notified of these incidents. Thank you for calling this matter to our attention.

Regards,
Center for One Baxter
Baxter Healthcare Corporation

 

After this, we blocked these scam artists from Yahoo messenger and flagged them as spam, although by now these individuals have probably deleted these email accounts in an attempt to cover their tracks.  They never once talked to us on the phone.

How to Avoid Online Job Scams

Unfortunately, online job boards are rife with scam artists masquerading as legitimate employers.  Indeed, you probably are more likely to interact with a scam artist online than you are an actual employer (our difficulty actually reaching a live person from the HR department at a major corporation attests to that fact).  But there are things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Be wary of online jobs that seem too good to be true, or locations where the company does not have a presence. On this ad, the company did not have an office in that area, which should be the first red flag.
  • Be suspicious of people who want to conduct interviews with you via online chat rather than telephone or in person. Fortunately, most legitimate interviews still take place on the phone or in person.  No one is going to ask you to “hold on” for several minutes while she forwards your responses to some “hiring board.”
  • Be very skeptical of anyone who gives you an email from a Yahoo, Microsoft Live, Google, or other popular email account who claims to be from a major company. Most companies have their own dedicated email accounts.
  • Do not trust anyone who asks you to buy products as a prerequisite of employment, even if they claim they will reimburse you later.
  • Never, ever give out information about your bank accounts or credit card information to a potential employer.  In this online job scam, the crooks’ main intent was probably to get people’s bank account information to draw funds from their accounts.
  • For more information about how to prevent online scams, go to the FBI website at http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2006/july/job_scams070506.

Unemployment extension to run out

   This Sunday evening, 60 Minutes will run a segment about the “99ers” – unemployed Americans whose unemployment extensions will run out at the end of next month. From all reports, Congress will not renew the extension, despite the fact that millions who have diligently sought work in their fields are about to lose their main source, if not their sole source, of income.  I look forward to seeing the piece because it is an issue most of the mainstream media ignores, and because the segment will focus on unemployed professionals with advanced degrees who have been unable to find decent work. 

   Earlier this summer, all Republican senators and representatives voted against a small extension to unemployment benefits.  I wrote my congressman – Republican Howard Coble — about my disappointment over his vote.  Here is an excerpt from my letter:

Dear Rep. Coble:

I was appalled and shocked about your comments today on the floor of the House arguing that the long-term unemployed should not receive extended benefits from the federal government because “it is not paid for.” As one of those 2.5 million Americans, I am mortified that I am being used as a political pawn in the fight between the Republican and Democratic parties.  I have been battling every day to find a full-time job since being laid off from my previous employer last year.  I don’t want a handout, I want a job.  Even though I was a director, I have resorted to applying for jobs that pay less than half of what I was making. I’ve tried networking, social media, recruiters — everything.  I got laid off through no fault of my own and this unemployment insurance has been a lifeline to support my family and keep our house (we’ve already lost our health insurance because we can’t afford it). Without it, we would probably lose our home.  Now I hear you say we don’t deserve this insurance like it’s some sort of government handout. Listening to part of this debate today, I see a real disconnect between congress people like you and real people who are trying to support their families.  Both Republicans and Democrats think these benefits go to just the “truck drivers” and “janitors” who lost their jobs. Well, here’s a news flash, this Great Recession has affected everyone, including long-term professionals like myself who have 20 years of experience in their field. I’ve applied for more than 500 jobs in the last year without success. Many times I hear the position has been closed or they picked an internal candidate or some other excuse.  Each time I pick myself up and try the job search grind again. So listening to you get up there on your high horse and talk about “when the Democrats did this” and “when the Democrats did that” when I’m trying to save my house and support my family, shows to me you care more about political posturing and the blame game than you do about your constituents. 

   Congressman Coble wrote me back and I wanted to share that in this post.  It’s an example of how political and ideological in-fighting has paralyzed Washington from actually serving anything but big business:

 August 30, 2010

    Thank you for contacting our office to request information on recent legislation signed into law extending federal unemployment insurance.  We appreciate hearing from you. 

 President Obama signed the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2010 (H.R. 4213) into law on July 22, 2010.  The bill extends unemployment benefits through the end of November.  We are acutely aware that the recession has hit Sixth District residents especially hard and that persistent unemployment is making it difficult for many families to make ends meet.  Despite our concern for unemployed workers, we voted against this bill for several reasons. 

 First, Congress has recently focused all its attention on extending unemployment insurance.  We voted for several extensions while the economy was in danger of a complete collapse, but Democratic leaders in Congress have simply extended unemployment insurance instead of enacting policies that will create jobs.  We firmly believe the economic stimulus bill, the new health care law and financial reforms will actually prevent job creation.  When businesses are saddled with new regulations and new costs, they simply will not hire new employees. 

Second, H.R. 4213 added an additional $34 billion to the deficit.  Republicans in the Senate offered an amendment that would have offset this cost by using unspent stimulus funds.  Despite Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s insistence that unemployment payments were a form of stimulus, Democratic leaders refused to allow a vote on this amendment.  The White House recently stated that the deficit for Fiscal Year 2010 will reach $1.47 trillion.  Increasing the annual deficit and the long-term debt is no small matter.  For every dollar the federal government spends, it must take one dollar out of the private economy.  These are dollars that businesses would normally use to hire new employees.  The federal government cannot create long-term job growth.  By sucking resources out of the private economy, they will merely extend the misery of persistent unemployment.  In fact, White House officials have projected unemployment to remain above nine percent for several more years. 

 Again, thank you for taking the time to share your views.  Please feel free to contact our office if we may be of assistance to you in the future. 

     Sincerely,

     HOWARD COBLE

     Member of Congress