I recently got a note from an old friend who has been out of work for two years. He used to be a social worker in the state parole system, budget cuts and new ways of thinking eliminated his job. It will never come back.
In the note, he told me how happy he was to have finally secured an interview. Given that this was the first interview in months, he was sure that this was going to be the one.
Another chum worked hard in his late 40s to get a degree in Computer Science. After eighteen months without work, he joined a company that sells sports equipment. They hired him as a retail manager (he says) because he told him that he would fire under performers quickly.
To get the job, he had to relocate 900 miles away at his own expense.
At the very same time, I know a host of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who simply can’t find any software development engineers. In that niche (and there are similar niches in most population centers), finding a new job is as simple as signaling that you’re available.
The truth about employment is that there is always a job to be found. As long as you are willing to compromise on pay and the work itself, you can find a job. In this sense, all unemployment is voluntary. The most important question is whether there is any demand for the skills you have.
The second question is whether you’re willing to do what it takes to be the person that an employer wants to hire to deliver those skills.
The third question is whether you have the ability to rearrange your lifestyle and expectations to get the job.
If you haven’t seen the movie Company Men, give it a look. It’s a fictionalized story of the lives of key executives in a company that used layoffs as a tool to make the company attractive in a sale.
The CEO does well financially (of course). The rest of the characters wrestle with the difference between the lifestyles they are financing and the available work. It doesn’t go well for any of them. Lost houses, destroyed families, alcoholism, infidelity, despair, rage and magical thinking are the results of dramatic and sustained unemployment.
Shifting gears in an economic transition is really, really hard. Over the last 20 years, the domestic American economy has softened. Global competitors have gotten good at what they do. The internet has eliminated ‘friction’ in every supply chain.
The result is a world in which some skills are valued and some skills are no longer needed. Sometimes (as in Detroit), the change devastates an entire region. In other cases, it’s a matter of being willing to accept a smaller pay check.
Deciding whether you are going to be able to get it all back or going to have to totally rearrange your life and expectations is not a simple process.
John Sumser is the founder and editor-in-chief of HRExaminer, a weekly online magazine about the people and technology of HR. Widely respected as an independent analyst, Sumser has been chronicling and critiquing the HR Technology industry for eighteen years. During that time, he has consulted with more than 100 HR vendors on matters of strategy and positioning in the market.