By Henry DeVries
Mark Briseno is the kind of guy who shouldn't have a problem landing a position. A multi-talented hard worker with a diverse background spanning everything from blue-collar construction to business ownership and property management, he's been working since he was 16 years old and says, “I've never had to actually look for a job before. Up until now, employment has always fallen into my lap.”
That all changed in 2009, when he was laid off in the wave of corporate downsizing that marked the beginning of America's longest sustained period of job losses since the Great Depression.
Nearly half of the 5.4 million Americans who have been out of work longer than six months held white-collar or professional jobs that are rarely subject to long spells of unemployment, according to a study by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which based its analysis on Labor Department data. More than one-third of the nation's more than 15 million jobless were out of work for 27 or more weeks.
“I never thought it would be so hard to land even an interview,” Briseno says. “I had been unemployed for 19 months and...nothing. Absolutely nothing. I wasn't finding positions online, and when I did, I wasn't getting callbacks, even when I thought I'd be the perfect candidate. I started applying to entry-level jobs for which I was obviously overqualified, and still nothing. I had never encountered such a difficult time locating work.”
Briseno was baffled and stuck when he heard through his church's workforce ministry about the UC San Diego Extension Career Transition and Development for Professionals Program.
Job search experts at the program warn professionals like Briseno who are job hunting that conventional career wisdom can be wrong.
“Answering online job postings is one of the least effective ways to find a job,” counsels Elizabeth Gibson, former director of UC San Diego Extension’s Career Transition & Development for Professionals. “Technology is not a job seeker’s friend. To truly up the odds, you need to step away from the computer.”
Gibson advises professionals in the job hunt to concentrate on five strategies:
Redefine personal branding
Identify hidden employment opportunities
Build action-oriented career plans
Expand personal networks
Polish interviewing skills
More than 50 percent of the professionals who have completed the program in the last six months have landed jobs, including Briseno. The colleges of extended studies at San Diego State University and Cal State University San Marcos have similar career transition programs boasting similar success rates.
“I was incredibly grateful to find the program,” Briseno says. “It helped illuminate a lot of issues for me. I started to tweak my resume, get involved in networking. People know it's who you know that gets you where you want to be, or at least opens the door, but we don't do it. In the end, a contact of a contact put me in touch with company where I work now.”
Two things helped Briseno land his current position: Strategy and a long view.
“Without a formal career plan before the program, I realized I'd been passively taking jobs that seemed interesting in the moment, but I hadn't built upon my successes,” adds Briseno. “Through the classes we had in the program, I decided to create a roadmap for my career for the long-term. I knew I wanted to get into the clinical trials/biotech industry, and I was good at administration. So today I am a project assistant, doing document review and administration for a pharmaceutical product development company with 10,500 employees. There's a lot of blessing in retooling, like we did in the program, really re-considering what you do vs. what you want to do in long term.”