Career Report
September, 2011 — Issue 139


Job-Hunt Tips from the Depression Era

Interviews with historians and Depression-era job seekers suggest that the formula for finding work hasn’t changed much over the years. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, then, as now, those who relentlessly work at making personal connections have better luck landing jobs than those who don’t.

In 1938, for example, Lillian Brownstein Chodash spent 15 months looking for work. Not giving up, one morning she rode the elevator to the top floor of an office building in her Jersey City, N.J., neighborhood and started knocking on doors, working her way down nine stories, fielding reflection after rejection. Finally, on the second floor, she found a father-and-son real estate and insurance business that had just fired their secretary. After a shorthand and typing test, she was hired on the spot. “I was in heaven,” the 91-year-old Chodash told the newspaper.

How Chodash and her contemporaries found work during the Great Depression seems a far cry from job hunters of 2011, but the tenacity that they displayed provides a good example of what people need to do to succeed today, especially in a job market with an unemployment rate over 9 percent. Back then, the search was done in public and could be physically demanding. By contrast, outside of occasional job fairs, today’s unemployed are virtually invisible as they surf the Internet and on-line job sites for work.

A growing body of research is showing how job seekers today are often getting it wrong. Able to communicate with prospective employers around the globe, they are firing off résumés by the hundreds, trying to make far-flung electronic connections before focusing on their closest, physical-world relationships.

While surveys show that personal connections are a primary source of hires, today’s job seekers devote little time to their networks, the article pointed out. Only 9 percent of their job search is spent contacting friends and relatives to find work, while 51 percent is devoted to finding ads and sending out applications, according to a paper presented at the Brookings Institution this March by Princeton economist Alan Krueger and Columbia Business School’s Andreas Mueller.

Over time, job seekers tend to get more discouraged and actually spend less time searching, Mueller told The Wall Street Journal. “We found that the job search was a very depressing activity. They’re sad when they start out, but the longer they are unemployed, the more depressing the episode of the job search is,” he said.

To help guard against extended unemployment, particularly in a highly challenging job market, job seekers need to regularly “pound the pavement” in their search for job leads. According to staffing consultant CareerXroads, about 27.5 percent of external hires come through a referral, more than any other source.

Personal connections are also what worked for modern-day job seeker Nancy Preyor-Johnson, when she lost her position as a communications coordinator. The same day of her job loss, she broadcast her need for work on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, resulting in a deluge of potential openings and offers to help her make connections, the 31-year-old said. Two months later, she started work at a nonprofit, a job found through an acquaintance who saw her tweet. “If you don’t get the word out that you’re looking, people won’t know and can’t help you.” she said.

Indeed, if a job hunter didn’t leave home during the Depression, they were hard pressed to find work. For today’s job seekers, the hunt often takes place in isolation. Ken Peltonen is an example. He used to rebuild airplanes engines in Washington State and has been out of work for months. The 61-year-old said he rarely sees friends or interacts with the outside world other than through his computer.

Peltonen tried visiting offices directly to drop off his résumé, but then decided it was a “waste of gas,” he said. Now, he sends out several applications a week to online openings. So far, his personal network hasn’t yielded any fruit: “They’re all trying to hold onto their own jobs.” he said.

By contrast, in 1932, Bert Bernheim would walk into the small town of Lexington, Miss., every day asking every neighbor or passerby along the way if they had any work, said the 97-year-old. Mostly, the jobs amounted to minor chores, like pulling up tree stumps, that paid less than $1 per day. “I tried to get a regular job, but it was impossible,” said Bernheim, who now lives in a senior center in Memphis.

While Bernheim said he was willing to take any work he could find, today’s job seekers seem much pickier, the article noted. According to an analysis of surveys of 6,000 job seekers, the minimum wages that the unemployed are willing to accept are very close to their previous salary and drop little over time, said Mueller. That could help explain in part why they have trouble finding work, he added.

News from BLK

Bob Larson, CPC will be the moderator of a panel of staffing firm owners that will reflect on the past , present and future of the staffing industry at the National Association of Personnel Services’ (NAPS) sold-out annual conference being held in Las Vegas the third week of September.

Berman Larson Kane’s community service projects during the month of September will include, hosting the Bergen-Rockland SHRM PHR certification preparatory classes, providing our conference room to MIS Networking Group and continuing our free webinar series for job-seekers. “It is our pleasure to be involved in these community employment projects during this challenging high unemployment period.” said Bob Larson.