Conquering Frustration on the Road Back to Work

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I'VE been the director of a career counseling and consulting practice, BBCS Counseling Services, with my husband, Mitch Baskin, for 17 years. Our clients range from seasoned executives to recent college graduates. Across all age groups over the past few years, we've been counseling more of the long-term unemployed than ever before.

Normally when people have been laid off or fired, they need to grieve the loss of the job, and we help them do that. (Besides being a certified career counselor, I have a master's degree in counseling and am a licensed professional counselor.) But someone who has been out of work for a year or more is over the acute, initial phase of grief. Many people we see are feeling numb, almost as if they have post-traumatic stress syndrome. We're not meeting them at a good time in their lives, and working with them takes patience and understanding.

The long-term unemployed need to get their energy back. Once they do, Mitch and I start with three possibilities. We consider whether they might find similar jobs in their industry, consider different jobs in that industry or look for different jobs in a different industry. Or we might suggest consulting or entrepreneurship.

We've occasionally had to persuade executives to look for lower positions. Most of them fight that. When people formerly made $200,000 or $300,000 a year, it takes time for them to accept that they may need to start over. We remind them that hiring has been cyclical in the last few years in some industries, like financial services, and that if the jobs aren't there, there's nothing that anyone can do about that.

Some industries are shrinking. Job hunters may need to change or tweak their career paths, and that may require more training. Career assessment tests can tell them whether that's the case. We may suggest that they look for certificate courses rather than full degree programs, so they can save time and money.

At other times, we try to make people comfortable with the idea that there may not be a straight path to their goals and they may need to work in a succession of jobs.

One client who owned a food business wanted a corporate job and came to us when he couldn't find one. He was shooting for a job like director of operations. When we told him it might require more than one step, he took our advice. First, he worked as an assistant manager at a coffee chain to get corporate experience. That allowed him to move to a job as the night manager of a large hotel, supervising 200 people. He was happy with that.

Some of our long-term unemployed clients are frustrated. Their current situation is not their fault, and we've been trained to expect frustration. If they project their anxiety on us, we understand. Usually the long-term unemployed have exhausted all avenues before coming to us, so they're willing to listen.

Our goal with recent graduates is to help them view their limited experience in a different light, and to build on that. Mitch worked with one 23-year-old who had a math degree. After graduating, instead of job hunting, he took care of his ill grandfather for a year and a half. The young man had no idea how he was going to enter the work force with this experience.

Mitch rewrote his résumé to emphasize the financial skills he drew upon in caring for his grandfather's financial affairs, including managing his investments and his checkbook. The young man is now working in the accounting department of a movie chain and may return to school to become a C.P.A.

A young woman with a criminal-justice degree had wanted to work in a prison or a halfway house. She hadn't found any openings, so she was working in a high-end jewelry department in a retail store. She talked freely about her disappointment and her college loans.

Considering her knowledge and her experience, we suggested that she apply to top jewelry retailers and auction houses. We figured that both types of companies would probably appreciate employees who were knowledgeable about security and high-end products. She's applying now.

Every job hunter is unique, and all clients have a story about how they have arrived at this point in their lives. We tell them that this career transition could mean a new beginning for them and their families, if they take the time to reflect and plan their next move.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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