With millions of Americans still struggling to find work and millions more who have simply given up on the job search altogether, global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. will suspend normal business operations for two days so that its staff of professional job-search coaches can provide free advice to callers from across the country.
The firm’s 28th annual two-day national job-search call-in will be held December 26 and 27, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CT. The telephone number is 312-422-5010.

As an outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas provides job-search training and transition counseling to individuals who have been laid off. The firm’s services are typically available only to those who receive outplacement benefits from their former employer. The two-day call-in is the only time that anyone in the general public can take advantage of Challenger’s job-search expertise.

“Hiring and the job market continued to improve in 2013, with the national unemployment rate falling to 7.3 percent and nearly 1.9 million workers added to nonfarm payrolls since January 1. However, as of October, there were still 11.2 million unemployed Americans actively looking for jobs. There were another 6.2 million Americans who abandoned their job search but still wanted to and were available to work,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“Unfortunately, the job seekers having the most difficult time finding employment are those who have been out of work the longest. Long-term unemployment is perhaps the biggest obstacle to a more robust recovery. Until we find a way to accelerate hiring among the nearly four million Americans who have been out of work for six months or longer, the recovery will continue to be stuck in low gear,” he noted.

According to the latest non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October there were 3,957,000 workers who have been unemployed for six months or longer. Of those, nearly 2.8 million have been out of work for 52 weeks or longer. That is down considerably from the recession peak of 4,661,000 in April 2010, but still well above a pre-recession low of 591,000 in June 2007.

“Contributing to the long-term unemployment problem is the fact that employers are reluctant to hire someone who has been out of work for a prolonged period. The perception is that the person’s skills have gotten rusty. Others figure that if the person was a viable candidate, he or she already would be employed,” said Challenger.

“While many long-term job seekers have fallen victim to these misperceptions, others have sabotaged their own efforts by adhering to ineffective job-search strategies. Logging on to online job boards and sending out ‘hundreds of resumes,’ is not going to cut it in this job market,” he said.

According to Challenger, it is critical to aggressively build and take advantage of one’s professional and social networks in order to uncover the hidden job market and gain entry into the recruiting process through back channels.

“The vast majority of available positions in any market go unadvertised, because companies are able to fill them with employee referrals, candidate pools from previous job openings, temporary employment firms, etc. In fact, as little as 20 percent of the job openings can be found online or in the newspapers. When employers do advertise openings, resumes will be filtered through the human resources department or computer software to weed out as many candidates as possible.

“Job seekers who can get their foot in the door without even showing a resume will have an advantage over those utilizing a more passive, resume-centric approach. In order to do this, you have to build strong relationships with people who can help advance your search. The more people you have on your team, the better positioned you are to be in the proverbial ‘right place at the right time,’ which is vital to job search success,” said Challenger.

“As much as we would like to, our call-in is not intended to place callers into open jobs. Nor, can our coaches review callers’ resumes or point them toward specific opportunities. What they can do is help callers with networking strategies and interviewing techniques; provide advice on how to answer employer questions about a long absence from the workplace or a termination; or suggest ways to uncover the hidden job market.

In the past, we have fielded calls from recent armed forces veterans about ways to translate their military experience for private-sector employers. We have helped older job seekers overcome doubts about finding employment ‘at their age.’ We have provided advice to stay-at-home mothers and, increasingly, stay-at-home fathers re-entering the job market after several years of child-rearing. Our coaches will help in any way they can in the short time they have to interact with individual. Many times, it just takes a new perspective or strategy to jump-start one’s job search,” said Challenger.