Catherine Benesch


Waiting workers: why it's still hard to find a job

'Networking is essential to finding employment'

By Catherine Benesch
Student Journalist, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

04 April 2011 OTTAWA Canada — “When you’ve had a year of sending in resumes and hearing nothing, you can be like … 'there’s something wrong with me,’” said Kirsten Partanen, who’s just lived through a year of being unemployed.

“Why bother trying if I’m doing everything the way that I should, and nothing’s happening?”

Partanen, 43, sent out dozens of resumes after losing her job in early 2010. She did keep trying though – she’s starting a new job working with children at a local library.

It’s been a hard year for people like Partanen, even with the 322,000 new jobs created nationwide in the last 12 months.

Weary job seekers might be forgiven for wondering and worrying why it’s still so hard to find a job.

Even as conditions apparently improve, unemployment in Ontario still sits at more than eight per cent. That’s slightly above the national average of 7.8 per cent, and more than two percentage points higher than before the recession started in 2008, according to Statistics Canada.

“The statistics are bullshit,” said Aimee Britten, a freelance writer and consultant who has been looking for work since Christmas.

As a freelancer, Britten said Statistics Canada doesn’t count her as unemployed – even though she can’t find work and she’s actively looking for a job, which are the criteria used to measure unemployment.

She also said most of the job opportunities she’s come across are part-time and that the “whole economy has become very temporary.”

Without a stable income, Britten said she’s living on credit and while she’d like to work as a public speaker or writer, right now, she’s willing to take anything.

“When you’re hungry, you’ll do whatever,” she said.

Economists say there’s always some natural unemployment, given the continual matching process between employers and employees. Unemployment naturally increases as people change jobs or join the workforce after they finish training.

Under ideal conditions, with the economy functioning at full capacity, the natural unemployment rate should be around four or five per cent, said Prof. Gordon Betcherman, a labour economics researcher and policy advisor at the University of Ottawa.

The difference between the natural and the actual unemployment rates sometimes relates to economic realities – in the case of a recession, too many workers and not enough jobs.

Unemployment might also persist because workers are either unmotivated, unskilled or have skills but can’t effectively communicate their abilities to potential employers, Betcherman said.

The unemployed can find some help through support services, like resume writing workshops, offered by organizations like the YMCA-YWCA, the City of Ottawa and the federal government. Many of these services are available free of charge.

These programs aren’t going to actually help decrease unemployment if the jobs don’t actually exist, Betcherman said. In an apparently recovering economy like the current one, however, he said the programs and on-the-job training might do some good – if they’re used properly and targeted toward motivated job seekers.

It’s often most cost-effective and productive, Betcherman said, to combine classroom courses and professional employment counseling with on-the-job training, since workers enjoy the added benefit of directly connecting with employers.

But even if the programs and training exist, people still have to be informed and willing to get help.

“You can’t help anybody if they’re not ready,” said Lee Wallace, an Ottawa-based career coach. “Otherwise, they go through the motions and don’t do the things they need to do.”

Wallace said “ready” means someone is willing to pay for help or is, in some other way, willing to make a commitment or investment to moving past a particular problem.

An “absolutely essential” element of moving past unemployment and finding a satisfying job is networking – managers prefer hiring someone based on a good recommendation over going through a pile of resumes, according to Wallace.

The coach’s advice: “Have as many conversations as possible.”

So if it would improve the chances of getting a good job, why doesn’t everybody network?

Personality and how different people cope with the stress of being unemployed might have something to do with it, said Prof. Hymie Anisman of Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, who researches the dynamics between stress, coping and wellbeing.

It may be relatively easy for outgoing people to make connections in person and to express themselves, Anisman said, but introverts might prefer sending emails or applying for jobs online to avoid interacting with people.

Some avoid networking because they find it “demeaning” to ask for a job, he said.

But there are those who feel that in asking for a job, they have some control over their unemployment – that there’s something they can do about it – and can be proactive by networking, taking courses or volunteering to gain experience.

Others who feel less in control may cope by feeling helplessness or blaming the state of the economy, Anisman said. It’s possible for people to reach the stage where they feel like nothing they do matters, so they stop trying.

“When you reach that point, you’re in trouble,” Anisman said.

As a career coach, Wallace said he tells his clients that real success depends on knowing yourself, focusing on what you’re good at and having a clear idea of what you’re looking for in a job.

“We’re like a jigsaw puzzle for which we don’t have the picture,” Wallace said. “Every bit of feedback we get from the world … is a piece in that jigsaw puzzle.”

He said it’s helpful to think holistically, seeing a career as something that encompasses all the roles someone plays in life, and not just the job that pays the bills.

Finding meaning in work and other areas, he said, is a continual process.

“You’re never finished, because the puzzle is constantly changing. You are not the same person you were two years ago or the same person you will be two years from now.”

“You have to believe you have something to offer,” Wallace added.

Roxanne Goodman, a vocal instructor with a focus on developing confidence through singing, is in the business of helping people believe.

Goodman is a motivational speaker and has taken her confidence-building methods to job fairs, where she said she encourages people by reminding them of their strengths and talents, including personal attributes like kindness.

The point, she said, is to make people “very aware of the fact that they have something to offer.”

“Most people who lack some kind of confidence have difficulty communicating their abilities,” she said. “I help them find their voice.”

Goodman has been helping Partanen find her voice over the last two years. The vocal lessons have sparked creativity that’s spilled over into freelance floral photography. It’s a form of art, Partanen said, she discovered on days when she’d go for walks to keep busy and manage the stress of being unemployed.

It’s also been a time for getting past fear.

“So much of my life was spent defining myself by other’s views of me,” she said. “This is (now about) being who I am instead of who anybody or everybody else thinks I should be.”

While being unemployed was frustrating and scary, Partanen said, by networking and reaching for help, she learned that “everything (she) was feeling was normal.”

“You realize that you’re not alone.”


People whining about not finding anything in their field should probably do what most people would in that situation ...  train for something in another field or go back to school.  There are many consultants, writers, labourers, etc... out their bussing tables, working menial jobs, or simply going back to school.  If times are changing you got to change with them, if you refuse - pray you are in demand and you are just being picky, or don't be suprised being left behind!  Employers know there are mazos of people out there that will do your job for $5/hr less - just like plastic - we're all recyclable.

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