How to find work after a lengthy unemployment

by Guest Author, Virginia Backaitis

Flash back to 1990. New Haven, Conn., native Joe Carbone, a father of two, found himself unemployed after his boss retired. The Quinnipiac College graduate had several interviews but few, if any, job offers. This happened the first month, the second and for the 5 ½ months that followed.

Carbone fell into a groove. He woke up, fixed breakfast for his kids, sent them off to school, prepared a snack when they got home, then took to the sofa to watch soap operas. “Three in a row. That was my time,” said Carbone, noting that it was something he might have found appalling in the past.

“I was depressed but didn’t know it,” he said. Complacency had set in. He didn’t realize how bad things had become until the cancellation of a second-level job interview left him with one thought: “If I hurry home, I can make General Hospital.”

It was a lightbulb moment. What had become of the successful executive he used to be? “I realized I had to get my fight back,” said Carbone.

Lucky for him, he was introduced to an opportunity at Textron, a nearby commercial and government military-equipment manufacturer, shortly thereafter. After a few rounds of interviews, he was hired.

The road to reemployment can be plagued with trenches that can take months, or even years, to crawl out of. The problem lies not only with the lost confidence and under-utilized capabilities of the job seeker but also the perceptions of hiring managers.

“Flawed understandings of long-term unemployment held by employers and former colleagues is one of the biggest barriers out-of-work people can face,” wrote University of Massachusetts Amherst Professor Ofer Sharone in Harvard Business Review last year.

“This widespread stigma leads to isolation, makes looking for a job discouraging, and undermines well-being.”

It’s hard to know why Norwalk, Conn., resident Sheri Brown would have any difficulty landing a job. With a master’s degree from Post University, a bachelor’s from Long Island University, and previous jobs in everything from sales and marketing to PR and hospitality, her résumé offers proof that she’s flexible, able to learn and adapt. Even so, after a layoff, she seldom received a response from companies who advertised jobs on sites like Indeed.com, despite the fact that she met the requirements.

“It was discouraging,” she said, adding that she suspects ageism was involved.

“Companies think an older person will want too much money, that they might not want to report to a younger person or that they’re not nimble,” said Brown. None of which is true about everyone over 50.

Hope arrived when Brown found a flyer about WorkPlace. This statewide program is aimed at reducing unemployment, particularly among those returning to the workforce.

The free 20-day Pathway to Employment program not only helps participants modernize and rewrite their résumés and compose effective cover letters, but it also connects them with employers who can “try them out” salary-free for eight weeks, as WorkPlace pays their salaries for that period. After that time, they have the option to hire them permanently, and 95% of employers do just that.

Brown said the program helped her “get my mojo back,” and she landed two jobs through the program.

Though long-term unemployment rates are falling, they remain especially high for black and Latino people, the formerly incarcerated and those 55 years or older. Discouraging as all of that sounds, there are services in and around New York City, most of them free, that are available and proven to help, such as Brooklyn Workforce Innovations, which helps jobless and working poor New Yorkers establish careers through job training. Additionally, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow Adult Employment Services offers work-finding assistance to the unemployed or underemployed.

However, some gaps between jobs are larger than others and easier to explain. Tenecia Williams, 34, didn’t have a clue about how he could talk about his.

“What do I say when they ask what I was doing during the eight years I was out of work? Tell the truth? That I was in and out of jail and running the streets doing crack cocaine and heroin?” he said.

Although Williams was in recovery and rehabilitated by 2017, when he interviewed for jobs, the question always came up. It wasn’t until he found the Hope Program that he found a way to answer that didn’t shame him.

Located in Brooklyn and The Bronx, the program offers services and training, including adult basic education, industry certifications, work wellness services, internships and job placement, each with long-term support. They also include résumé help, interview skills, case management, digital skills, financial literacy, mental health counseling and more.

“We understand that to be successful, all of the parts need to be working and stable,” said Hope Program Executive Director Jennifer Michell.

In addition to telling the truth about his drug use and the problems it caused, Williams could also talk about what it took to get straight, to gain computer skills.

To mitigate stress, the counselors at Hope encouraged him to attend interviews without feeling that they were high stakes. “Just go and see what happens,” they advised. When it came to his record of addiction, “I asked them to give me a chance and told them I wouldn’t disappoint them,” he said.

One of his first jobs was during COVID-19, checking to make sure that the homeless staying in hotels remained quarantined in their rooms. Although the job might not have been desirable to many, Williams was willing.

With coaching from Hope, Williams has since earned several certifications and has obtained increasingly better jobs. He is currently a recovery coach and often goes before judges to advocate that addicts get treatment rather than jail.

“I am self-sufficient for the first time in my life,” he said. “I have so much gratitude for Hope, they helped me change my life. I am going to help others do the same.

“I took a lot, now I want to give back.”

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About the author: Virginia Backaitis writes articles about both technology and the workplace. She has covered big data, analytics, social and productivity technologies, content management, the Internet of Things and more. Virginia have also written extensively about technology, careers and the workplace for some of the largest publications in the world. You can reach her on LinkedIn @virginiabackaitis

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