Job search still grueling for someby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio,
Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
Some of Minnesota's 170,000 unemployed joined Minnesota Public Radio News for a recent forum on the economic slowdown last month. With Minnesota's unemployment rate now at 5.8 percent, we check back to see how they're doing in their job searches.
St. Paul, Minn. — Like Minnesota's unemployed, participants in the forum ranged in age from early 20s and just out of college, to early 60s and looking for work until they can retire.
You'd think a new master's degree from the London School of Economics would be all Emily Smolik needs to easily score a job. But it's been eight months since graduation, and Smolik is still looking for work.
She said last month that the prestigious school helps her get interviews, but hasn't nailed down a job.
"If they do give feedback, the feedback is, 'Wow, really great educational background. Really impressed, but you don't have any experience,'" she said.
Now, a month later, little has changed.
"I wish there were a better update. I'm still looking," Smolik said.
Smolik is looking for public or government affairs work, and says employers almost always want two to three years' experience. It doesn't help that government is one of the sectors that's been losing jobs in recent months.
Smolik is interning now, but plans to cut back those hours soon to focus on job hunting.
"I'm just having a lot of difficulty finding entry level, where they'll accept little to no work experience," said Smolik.
That's almost the opposite experience of John Borowicz. His last company lost one-third of its customers, so it had to lose one-third of its workers. Borowicz, 56 and a software engineer, has been looking for a full-time job for two years.
With all his experience, it just isn't specific enough for some employers, he noted during the forum last month.
"Instead of looking for absolute generalists -- at least in my area, technology -- we're looking for specificity to the point where it's almost insane," said Borowicz.
Since then, he's gotten to a second round of phone interviews on a couple possible jobs, but that's been the exception to the rule.
"In two years' time, I sent out over 500 applications. Out of that, I probably netted five [interviews]. So, one out of 100, I netted at least a phone interview," Borowicz said.
If current possibilities don't pan out, he'll move to start his own business, he says.
Borowicz represents a growing population of middle-aged Minnesotans who aren't ready to retire, still feel they've got a lot to contribute, but can't find any takers.
Michael Jefferis alluded to this during last month's forum -- not a blatant ageism, but a subtle one.
"I might not be a good candidate for a job I'm qualified for if I'm 25 years older than the prospective supervisor," said Jefferis.
Jefferis is 62 and has been looking for a year, ever since he was fired from a job at an AIDS services agency that was never a good fit, he says.
Jefferis says his quest to find work in the public health sector might fall victim to a greater discouragement that comes from not finding work.
"My plan is to ... resort to the 'anything I can get,' that will bring in enough money to make ends meet for the next several years," said Jefferis. "I don't want to, but I can't wait indefinitely to find something."
Still, that's not to say it's all doom and gloom.
Mike Weinberg had been looking for a year for a job designing circuit boards when he spoke at our forum last month. He bemoaned how looking for work has become so "people UN-friendly."
"It was 10 years since I had to look for a job, so I started old school, calling people I had worked with before -- the networking," said Weinberg. "But then I decided I should go online and hit the job boards, and that was an educational experience."
Weinberg was discouraged by the lack of communication when he posted his resume online -- he couldn't even tell if someone had looked at his resume. But something paid off for Weinberg.
Shortly after the forum he sent MPR an e-mail, telling us he'd found work in Eden Prairie. We were unable to reach him today for a comment.
- All Things Considered, 08/15/2008, 5:20 p.m.
Tom Weber serves as co-host for MPR News' The Daily Circuit.