Despite Extended Searches, Job-Seekers Are a Bit More Upbeat

Job-seeker updates her resume
Job-seeker updates her resume

Though the nation's job market improved a bit last year, many Americans remain out of work, and the numbers of long-term unemployed continue to grow. So it's not surprising that more than 40% of job-seekers during a recent job-search advice call-in said they had been out of work for more than a year, according to job-services firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

What is surprising is that those looking for work are more upbeat than they were a year ago even though the nation's unemployment rate remains stuck at around 10%. Despite prolonged unemployment, callers in a survey taken last week were slightly more optimistic than a year ago, Challenger said Monday. About 18% believed they would find a job in the next one to three months, while 21% said their searches would probably take three to six months.

Contrast the recent findings with those from a year ago, when just 12% of job-seekers expected to find a job within three months, while another 12% thought it would take three to six months to secure new employment.

Similar Numbers Were Out of Work a Year Ago

In a random sampling of 400 of the 1,500 people who called in last week to take advantage of job-search advice, a bit more than 80% were unemployed, Challenger said. Of those, 47.5% have been seeking employment for at least 12 months, with the next largest group of jobless callers (19%) out of work for one to three months. Eighteen percent said they had been looking for four to six months.

The percentage of callers without work was about equal to that of 2009, Challenger said, noting that In 2008, 76% of callers into the help line were unemployed, while in 2007, only 55% were out of work.

Though those polled were slightly more upbeat compared to a year ago, many said their futures remain uncertain. Nearly half (48%) said they didn't know how much longer their searches for jobs would take -- about the same as in 2009.

Among those out of work for more than a year, the uncertainty was even more widespread, Challenger said, with nearly 60% saying they weren't sure how long it would take to find employment.

Reason for Hope in the Near Future

A sense of frustration was evident in callers' voices, said Challenger Chief Executive John Challenger in a press release. "Not only were most of them out of work, many have been out of work for so long that they are losing confidence and hope." Still, he said, underlying the frustration was a sense of optimism, with many job-seekers expressing belief that 2011 would be a stronger year for the job market.

That confidence may not be misplaced, Challenger said. Planned job cuts have slowed to levels the firm hasn't seen since 2000, and private-sector employment has shown 11 consecutive months of net growth. Also, companies are sitting on mountains of cash saved through two years of dramatic cost-cutting.

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Still, Challenger warned that even as his firm expects hiring by private employers to rise in 2011, the uptick may not make searching for a job any easier. In fact, it may make the job market more competitive.

As employment prospects improve, not only will those who had abandoned their job searches out of frustration reenter the labor pool, but people who are currently employed will begin looking for better jobs. Competition will be further increased by the legions of public-sector employees who have recently been cut from government payrolls across the nation.

Despite such challenges, Challenger said job-seekers shouldn't despair, noting that employers hired an average 4.3 million workers each month between May October. "There are a lot of things people can do to improve their chances of being among those 4 million new hires," he said.

Challenger advises that job-hunters not to rely on want ads, whether posted online or in newspapers, which represent only a fraction of job openings. The vast majority of available jobs -- 80% -- "can only be accessed through aggressive networking, cold-calling and persistence," Challenger said.