The Federal Reserve may be saying encouraging things about the economy, the stock market may be setting records and employers may say they're planning on hiring new college grads and summer workers, but millions of Americans have been out of work for at least six months and their prospects of finding new jobs don't seem to be getting any brighter.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged March's unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, a tick down from February, but only 88,000 new non-farm jobs were created and that means about a half-million people just gave up looking for work. Last week's report on first-time jobless benefits claims was not good either. The Labor Department said claims rose by 4,000 and revised the previous week's estimate upward by 2,000.
"The longer one is out of work, the more difficult it becomes to achieve job-search success. And, unfortunately, this is a situation that has not reversed, despite steady improvement in the overall job market," outplacement specialist John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., said, warning the situation may have dire consequences for the economy's long-term health.
Two Northwestern University economists sent out 4,800 fake resumes with identical credentials but varying lengths of unemployment to see what the callback rate from employers would be. They found those who had been out of work for less than six months were far more likely to get a response.
"Candidates who have been out of work for six months or longer are perceived as having outdated skills. As a result, they are often screened out early in the recruiting process. This may seem unfair and employers may indeed be weeding out great candidates, but when job postings receive hundreds if not thousands of applicants, from which a handful are selected for face-to-face interviews, the initial screening process more closely resembles a lottery than anything else," Challenger said.
Not only do the long-term unemployed have to overcome preconceptions their work ethic has deteriorated, they have to overcome lack of confidence resulting from multiple rejections, he said.
Some 4.6 million Americans had been out of work for 27 weeks or longer in March, down from a high of 6.7 million in April 2010, with the overall number of unemployed at 11.7 million.
Challenger said in a news release the old tried-and-true methods of searching for a job -- scouring the want ads and sending out resumes -- are passe.
"We estimate that as few as 20 percent of the available jobs are ever advertised. The other 80 percent will be filled through employee referrals, personal connections and other backdoor channels. This is why expanding and staying connected to one's professional and personal network is critical," he said.
"The other way to uncover these opportunities is to simply start contacting companies where your skills would be a good fit. Your goal is to make contact with key managers in the department[s] where you would work. Avoid going through the human resources department [unless that is your profession], as their goal is to screen you out."
For new college graduates, the picture is much brighter.
CareerBuilder released a survey last week indicating more than half of U.S. employers plan on hiring new grads. Among the greatest opportunities are in the information technology industry where 65 percent of hiring managers said they had openings; human resources, 63 percent, and healthcare, 56 percent.
"New college graduates are facing a better employment situation this year, but the number of employers planning to recruit them are still trailing pre-recession estimates by more than 20 percentage points," Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America, said in a statement. "The market remains highly competitive. Those graduating with niche or technical skill sets will be in a better position to find more opportunities in higher-paying jobs."
Challenger agreed, saying grads are competing for entry-level jobs with displaced workers who have been in the workforce for one to five years and seniors who want to continue working even if that means a dramatic drop in pay and responsibility.
Starting salaries also will be higher, the CareerBuilder survey, conducted by Harris Interactive among 2,184 hiring managers Feb. 11-March 6, indicated.
A January survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicated the average starting salary for new college graduates with a bachelor's degree increased 3.4 percent over last year, the biggest gains coming in education, 5.4 percent from $38,581 for the class of 2011 to $40,668 for last year's graduating class. Those with engineering degrees saw the highest starting salary at $62,655, up 3.8 percent from $60,344 for 2011 graduates.
"Recruiters will be primarily looking for recent college graduates to fill two types of jobs: front-line customer and client-facing roles such as customer service and sales, and roles that require specific technical knowledge or hard skills, such as IT, finance or healthcare," CareerBuilder said.
Among the tips for landing a job is to know about the company.
"The most common reasons employers pass on recent college graduates all have to do with candidates' lack of preparedness or disinterest in the company, such as: candidate didn't know anything about the company [20 percent]; candidate seemed bored [19 percent]; candidate didn't ask questions [19 percent]," the survey found.
Pennsylvania career coach Ford R. Myers advises new grads not to think of college as the end of their education.
"No company wants to hire someone whose base of knowledge is not current," Myers said. "As a professional, you should continuously build your credentials and knowledge. This will make you more attractive and marketable as a candidate.
"Competition for top jobs is fiercer than ever as new college graduates compete with seasoned professionals for the best positions. It is important for these 'up-and-comers' to have 20/20 vision when it comes to seeing the truths about obtaining employment."
Challenger said while employers value experience they also need entry-level workers they can mold "to fit the company's needs. It can be more difficult and costly to retrain people with several years of experience than to simply start from scratch with those fresh out of college."