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Expectations of the unemployed

Q: My brother-in-law is a smart, savvy guy who did very well in the venture-backed internet space several years ago. He has been unemployed for over two years now and is "waiting for the right opportunity." He has an undergraduate degree from a prestigious school. He has an MBA from an Ivy League school. He seems to be so full of pride that it is getting in his way of landing a new job. I am not sure if he will ever make the money he made several years ago. He seems unrealistic. I know his job search is creating a lot of stress between him and my sister. She has just returned to work as a teacher but the money is not great.

Any suggestions?


A: The world has changed for many employees that were involved in the tech sector in the last decade. Venture capitalists have pulled back on funding (especially new ventures) during this past recession. Without financing, fewer companies are being launched. This is slowly changing but it is a gradual process. Additionally, many technology companies have moved some of their work overseas, where labor is significantly cheaper.

Many have had to re-adjust expectations in terms of career goals and aspirations. Many of the jobs that existed, even five years ago, have not returned.

I consulted Jon Carson, CEO of BiddingForGood in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Carson is a serial entrepreneur who has lead four technology-based start ups in Massachusetts and has enjoyed a successful track record of returning cash to investors. Carson offers, "We are beginning a giant reset on economic expectations in this country. The winners will be those that level-set first." It may take some time for your brother-in-law to realize this, but it is likely true.

Technology is an ever-changing field. Even one year on the sidelines can hinder a candidate's marketability. Some candidates are able to re-enter the job market quickly while others are able to keep skills sharp with consulting roles during challenging economic times. Carson agrees and explains, "skills are a perishable asset if they are not kept up to date." There is a "shelf life" for skills, especially for those candidates in technology roles.

Additionally, I get anxious when I hear that a job seeker is "waiting for the right opportunity." No one should be waiting for the phone to ring or the email to arrive in the inbox. It usually does not happen that way. Usually job seekers receive job offers after lots of hard work and the development and execution of a rigorous job search strategy.

I have a colleague from business school who summed it up best. After almost one year of his job search, he was at the end of his rope -- emotionally, financially and spiritually. His confidence was at an all-time low. He was tired of the rejection time and time again. Honestly, it was beginning to show. He felt like he had "come close" to several job offers but nothing materialized. Yet, he really was committed to his job search campaign.

In early 2010, he was re-contacted by a company with whom he had interviewed in late 2009. The HR person explained that their top candidate (who had accepted the job and worked for the company for several months) had abruptly given notice and was relocating. My colleague was offered the job and began this new role in the spring of 2010. He realizes how smart it was to remain professional and poised even when you have been told that another candidate will be the candidate receiving the job offer. My colleague had also kept in touch with this company through occasional emails. When I asked what he attributed his job search success to, his response was clear and concise: "I left no stone unturned. Not one." I think his comment sums up the work required in a job search better than I ever could.

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