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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA JOB MARKET : Job Hunting in the ‘90s Demands Imagination : Hard times: But it’s not impossible. Grit and flexibility also help.

Getting a great job has never been easy, but with unemployment and the recession lingering like a summer cold, it’s more of a challenge than ever.

It’s not impossible, though. The experts--people who hire, for example--say job hunting now is an art form demanding tenacity, imagination, flexibility and a willingness to consider alternatives.

Start with a success story: Two years ago, Melinda Walker did what many have done before her. She came West, closing a reflexology practice in Connecticut and heading for Southern California. (She applies pressure to the hands and feet to help ease bodily ailments.) Six months later, she found the job that she holds today--general manager of a manufacturer and distributor of health and fitness videos.

It was an excellent match; she wanted to stay in the health field, but she wanted something a little different. To get the job, Walker demonstrated some of the characteristics that human resources specialists and corporate personnel departments consider essential in tough times.

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Her first stop was the Job Factory, a temporary agency in Westwood recommended by a friend.

Her initial posting was to a tanning salon; a customer, following her recommendation to spend five minutes in the tanning booth, emerged with a seemingly awful sunburn. It turned out to be a set-up for “Totally Hidden Video.”

Unfazed, Walker struck gold soon after when Healing Arts Home Video in Santa Monica asked the Job Factory for an office assistant. Three months later, Walker was made general manager.

“There are jobs out there,” says Bruce Dingman, principal of Robert W. Dingman Co. in Westlake Village, “but you have to be better, (you have) to make sure you are great.”

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Demonstrating greatness is a problem, though, when resumes pour into corporations every week as recent graduates and displaced workers flood the job market.

Landing a job these days seems to call for military tactics, without the gunfire. Like Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, you need to be clear about your skills, plan a strategy, marshal your forces and move forward in an organized, persistent fashion.

People are more easily hired when they have a clear idea of what they want to do or what they enjoy doing, says Brenda DuChateau, a senior recruiter at specialty health-care products manufacturer Allergan in Irvine. “You have to come prepared to explain what are your key strengths,” she says.

Taking it even further, DuChateau likes applicants who have the confidence to describe areas in which they need development. “If people can answer that intelligently, that is impressive,” she adds.

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Mel Schnapper, a Chicago-based job finder, uses this “know-yourself” approach as the basis of his videotape, “Winning at Job Hunting.” He asks clients to draw up accomplishment forms, listing their achievements and the skills they used to reach those goals.

“People come out motivated. They are so impressed by themselves that they have the energy to sustain a successful job hunt,” he says. For a start, they often find that their work titles did not truly reflect what they did. Secretaries discover that they have been office managers or clerical staff realize that they have been bookkeepers.

With skills in place, you need to figure out which companies you will want--or will want you. A scan of Southland newspapers suggests that, although defense-related companies are reeling from budget cutbacks and financial services are shedding people, the health-care, engineering and entertainment industries are hiring.

When it comes to making yourself known, some things don’t change. The resume is still in the front line of a job-hunting attack, yet many applicants neglect it.

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“It never fails to amaze me how many resumes I receive which are poor copies, contain typographical errors or an incomplete first sentence,” DuChateau says.

Others mention such simple matters as the misspelling of their name or their company name. Neither will impress recruiters.

“I teach people to arrange their resume by achievement rather than in chronological order,” says Gary Garber, a real estate consultant who has sought permanent work himself since February.

Garber, who is in his late 40s, used to head the West Coast real estate practice of Laventhol & Horwath, an accounting firm now operating in Chapter 11. Now he does real estate consulting and teaches at the Professional Resource Center in Pasadena, run by California’s Employment Development Department.

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“I’ve been using mostly personal contacts in my job search,” says Garber, who has run into the stumbling block of inadequate compensation as he looks for work with a financial services company.

While Garber stresses one-page resumes in his classroom, people’s fascination with electronic wizardry and computer graphics in particular has raised another risk: the overly elaborate resume.

Some would-be employees give full flight to their imagination. Recruiters get resumes in newsletter form, printed over profiles and compiled into books.

“Those methods are very ineffective in the traditional corporate environment,” says Michael Wolfe, manager of human resources at Executive Life Insurance Co.

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You need to know your company. Jody Horowitz, director of human resources and administration at Rogers & Cowan, the public relations firm, recently got a resume in a poster-sized cardboard container filled with candy canes, streamers, confetti and sequins. “It was really impressive,” she says, citing her firm’s need for creative people.

For more traditional corporations, Wolfe says the time is better spent tailoring the cover letter to the skills needed in the job: “That causes the letter to jump out.”

Without a cover letter, you might as well put your resume in the trash can, says Brad Taft, general manager of the Los Angeles office of Lee Hecht Harrison Inc., an executive outplacement firm.

“The letter allows you to state an objective, highlight several points that you want the person to see,” he says. Taft is a firm believer in written communication, and thank-you letters in particular.

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Politeness isn’t the only driving force behind a thank-you letter. It allows the applicant to have the last word in the interview, to bring out points that weren’t made and to reinforce his interest. Taft knows of an employer who reconsidered an applicant after she wrote a thank-you letter. She won the job.

Judy Winters, a business systems analyst at Jacobs Engineering Group in Pasadena, followed up her thank-you note with a weekly phone call, even though she kept getting rejection notices from the company’s human resources office. “I felt those refusals referred to other applications I had made earlier, such as at a job fair,” she says. Winters, 50, started work in July, ending a four-month search.

Her success exemplifies the truth of the old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” She snared her interview with Jacobs Engineering last May through a personal contact.

Experts say recruiters and ads account for a mere 25% of job placements. “The vast majority are found through networking, referrals and contacting companies directly,” says Taft, who emphasizes attendance at professional meetings and seminars.

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And never forget your friends. Dean Shapiro landed his first hard-to-get entertainment job on Broadway at a dinner given by a friend’s mother. He parlayed that into a summer job as a production assistant on a movie called “Crisscross.” Now the Harvard graduate is using those contacts to find more movie work, helping him toward his goal of being a producer.

“Timing is everything,” he says, driving from one production office to the next.

His friend, John Goldstone, called on the Harvard connection to get into the talent agency business after resumes to 40 production companies turned up nothing.

“Graduates were here. They gave me tips and a leg up that helped me to get interviews,” he says. Goldstone started in July as a receptionist at the Writers & Artists Agency. It was an ideal job.

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“You see the faces of people walking in the door. You read scripts and learn where everyone is working,” he says. Within a week and a half he was promoted to office manager. Days later he had jumped to an assistant’s post at the larger William Morris Agency.

It also pays to be straightforward. Even if you have a job, be sure to pass the word around (discreetly, of course) that you might be available for something better. Wolfe recalls that he once sent out 500 resumes. Yet he found the position he now holds via a contact he had met only once.

And then, there’s the matter of tactics. The late essayist A. J. Leibling recalled that many years ago, in search of a hard-to-get job at the now-defunct Evening World in New York, he hired a man wearing a sandwich sign to parade at the front entrance of the grand metropolitan daily. The sign pronounced, “Hire Joe Leibling.” He hoped to attract the attention of the city editor, Jim Barrett.

Silence followed. Finally, Leibling recalled, he went to see the mighty man himself and asked why there hadn’t at least been a courtesy call, if not a job offer.

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“Oh,” replied the slightly baffled editor, “I always go in the back door.”


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