Media’s Egypt coverage shows disconnect on unemployment

Watching MSNBC News during the Egyptian protests, NBC anchor Brian Williams made a comment that Americans may not understand a society where intelligent, college-educated youth can’t find good jobs.  This sentiment was repeated by many other American media pundits. Slate’s Annie Lowery wrote that Egypt’s “youth suffers from crippling unemployment, with tens of thousands of college graduates unable to find good jobs.”  CNN even did a story about  a 26-year-old unemployed college graduate from Tunisia, who began a fruit and vegetable stand to earn a living.

News reports like these show the disconnect the media elite have with the plight of the unemployed in their own country.  In the United States, it’s not just tens of thousands of college-educated people who can’t find full-time work, it’s millions.  Out of 140 million in the labor force, 15 million of them are unemployed, and 4.4 million of them have been out of work for more than  one year.  Many of them, like myself, have college degrees and years of experience, but can’t find full-time work in this market.  (See http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/employment/2011-01-23-longterm-unemployed_N.htm ).

At least one-fourth of the unemployed in this country have college degrees.  I’ve been looking for nearly two years and can’t find any full-time work in my field, despite 20 years of experience.  I’ve applied for more than 700 jobs.  And I’m not unique. A Houston man interviewed by USA Today recently has two graduate degrees, one in sociology and another in human services counseling, plus 14 years on the job as a corporate trainer and experience working abroad, but has gotten only a few telephone interviews from the 2,000 applications he sent out since last September.  (Read more in the Jan. 25, 2011 article in USA Today entitled “Who Are America’s Jobless?)  http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2011-01-25-1Ajobless25_CV_N.htm?csp=34news

Instead of covering Egyptian youth’s troubles in finding employment, American reporters would serve us better if they covered the unemployment crisis in their own country.  They should know the troubles many college-educated Americans have in finding decent work: many of them, after all, are journalists.

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Recruiters and HR directors don’t get you jobs

After spending nearly two years unemployed, I may join the ranks of those long-term unemployed individuals who ‘give up’ on their job search.  After this long struggle, I now understand why qualified professionals reach the end of their ropes.  I may be at that point.

In this blog, I’ve highlighted some of my frustrations with the way employers treat prospective candidates.  I’m lucky. I get calls back. I get interviews.  I’ve networked with colleagues, friends and associates. I’ve filled out hundreds of applicaitons and sent more than 600 tailored resumes. For a long time, I felt it was something I did or said in those interviews that was the reason I did not get an offer.  The reality is that employers already have someone in mind for these jobs, and there’s nothing the candidate can do to overcome that mindset.

Let me give two examples.  Late last year, I had a recruiter call me back about a management job in Colorado. During our conversation, she said I was a “perfect match” for this job and she would be in touch after looking at other candidates for the employer.  She called back and conducted a long interview.  We emailed each other several times and she indicated to me that I was a top candidate.  Finally, she said the employer would select the top four canddiates to fly them in for an interview. 

A few days later, I receive this curt email that job seekers are all too familiar with:

     “Thank you for your interest in the XXXX position at XXXX.  Your resume and accomplishments are impressive, and have made the selection of our initial candidate pool a difficult choice.  At this stage, only a limited number of candidates for the position will be moved forward in our process.   The client is focusing on candidates who are in Colorado or have a connection to the area.  Should that change, I will be in touch to discuss next steps. I have enjoyed our conversations and hope that you have found them productive as well. I look forward to working with you again in the future.”

Of course, I felt like responding: “No, I did not feel our conversations were productive, and why did you waste my time?  Why didn’t you know that your client only wanted local candidates?  Is it because you’re paid to select a certain number of candidates to present to your client?

A few weeks later, I receive a call from an HR director of a local company (in a nearby county). She schedules a phone interview with me and conducts a very detailed, extensive interview.  She calls me back and wants me to interview with the hiring manager.  Excited, I research the company, prepare my portfoilo, and arrive at the facility, where the HR director conducts another interview with me. She tells me the pay scale and gives me the company’s benefit summary for managers and directors. Now, all I have to do is seal the deal with the hiring manager.

When I meet the hiring VP, I discover she hasn’t even bothered to look at my application in depth. Instead, she spends the first few minutes asking me to wait until she looks over “my file.” She takes two phone calls during the interview. She focuses more on why I was let go of my last job  (I was downsized in a corporate restructuring effort that included the CEO, COO, and CFO), so I try to discuss my achievements and successes and what I can bring to the table. I know my chances are lost when she says ‘Well, we were really looking for someone who does not have experience in this field because we want this candidate to think out of the box.”  Uhh?  She wants someone who is NOT qualified?  Clearly, she already has someone in mind for this position.

All job searchers read about “expert” advice from headhunters and recruiters designed to get you in the door; to get noticed by the employer.  But the rules of the job market since the recession have changed. It doesn’t matter if you get your foot in the door, because in this economy the hiring manager has someone else in mind for the position.  I had one recruiter conduct an extensive background check on me; interview my references at length; interview me twice, and pump me up about my candidacy, only to fail to get me “in the door” to interview with the hiring manager.  What’s worse, she wouldn’t even let me see the results of the reference checks so I could use them for future job searches: she said that was “proprietary” and not releasable (I later had a reference fax me the sheet she said was “confidential”). Why do recruiters go through this exhaustive process of background checks and reference interviews if they fail to land you the real job interview?

I understand why people are giving up their job search in this market.  To read what it feels like for older, experienced workers to be ignored by hiring managers, see this poignant letter in the Dallas Morning News:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/localvoices/stories/DN-stanfield_15edi.ART.State.Edition1.14be30f.html