She's On a Mission to Help the Long-Term Unemployed Find Jobs

Ken KohutAbsolutely Abby

Former corporate human resources specialist Abby Kohut, AKA Absolutely Abby, is on a cross-country mission: help one million long-term unemployedAmericans find jobs.

After a career placing literally thousands of people in computer and healthcare industry jobs, Kohut has been traveling the country in an RV with her husband Ken, "spilling the secrets of my industry...and inspiring those out of work not to lose faith that they will find a job."

Kohut took on the catchy moniker "Absolutely Abby" because she pledges to "always tell job seekers the absolute truth," even if it hurts, because, in the long run, "so many people are suffering...and they need to hear the truth in order to make the right changes."

Kohut was named one of Fast Company's 100 most influential people on the Internet. Her website was recognized by Forbes as one of the web's top 100 for career advice.

Now into the third year of her travels, which launched after a winter respite this week in San Diego, Kohut has added a new wrinkle to her tour: A "Career Makeover" contest, in which frustrated job seekers compete for a complete makeover of their appearance and presentation style from Kohut and local stylists and hairdressers.

Similar stories across the country
Kohut says that every stop she makes, much of what she sees "is extremely similar among the long-term unemployed."

Most are over 40 and typically between 40-60 and "all of them want to get back to work. No one wants to be on unemployment, and many of them have lost their unemployment," she says. Kohut says she also hears the same questions over and over again, and tailors her presentations to address them.

What differs geographically, Kohut says, is the types of jobs and careers people are seeking. "Here in San Diego, we've got biotech and a lot of IT people; San Francisco, Chicago and New York it's IT, too. In the midwest, it's manufacturing. In Florida, there were a lot of NASA people, lots of aerospace. In New Jersey, it was pharmaceuticals and biotech."

Kohut says all the candidates, no matter the region, keep hearing one thing: They're overqualified. "What that means, of course, is that they make too much money. Others hear it as they're too old. And I do think some recruiters feel that way. It's sad."

Dan Jordan, of Tierra Santa, a San Diego suburb near the NFL Chargers' Qualcomm Stadium, agrees. He has been out of work for seven months after being let go from a senior executive position at a medical devices company, but only started looking for a job three months ago. Progress is "going slower than I hoped at my level," he says. "I didn't expect that."

Jordan says he hears that he's overqualified, but the greatest complexity in today's job market is "simply getting yourself in front of's so technology driven." He says, "Search and key words have taken the place of people," and often a computer will toss out what it perceives as someone who's too experienced (e.g., too expensive).

Absolutely best response
Kohut says the best response when an interviewer tells an applicant they're overqualified is to say, "Yes, I am absolutely qualified," and add, "Let me ask you: If you're flying in a plane, do you want a pilot who is qualified or overqualified? If you need a heart surgeon, do you want the qualified or overqualified doctor?"

Following Kohut's session, some attendees told AOL Jobs that was the single most helpful piece of information they heard.

Others felt the session was a good reminder that how you look is sometimes even more important that what you've done or what you say.

Emilia Brooke Jensen, who lives in downtown San Diego's Little Italy neighborhood said, "What I really needed to brush up on was how to present yourself when you first meet someone. It's very important what you're presenting to others when you first meet them."

To that end, at each stop on her tour, Kohut brings in a local professional style consultant and hairdresser (who then offer their services at a discount to attendees). In San Diego, the former was Styleology Group's Melissa Murray, who offered clothing and other appearance tips, and told attendees that when you first meet someone their impression of you is only 7% based on what you're saying, 35% on how you say it and 55% on how you look.

Moreover, Murray pointed out, if you make an initial bad impression, it takes five more meetings to turn the negative into a positive. Of course, for a job interview, if you make a bad impression there's no chance you're getting five more meetings.

Van White was a semifinalist in the "Career Makeover," after retiring from the Marines after 25 years. He has been looking for a job since August, and says he appreciated learning "the do's and don'ts of interviewing. How to dress - not too bling-y, not too plain. As long as you have a coat and tie in the Marines, they don't mind much. This is different."

Everyone AOL Jobs spoke with after the session came away with good things to say.

"I thought it was constructive, like hiring a golf pro," said Jim Watson of San Diego. "He'll give you 20 pointers, and if you can use even one of them to improve your game, it's money well spent."

And what "one thing" would Absolutely Abby want people to take away from her session, if she could?

"Interviewing skills can be learned," Kohut says, without missing a beat. "And therefore you need to take the time to learn the nuances, and you need to learn what recruiters are looking for. If you can figure out what they're looking for, you can interview like a rock star. People make mistakes, but they're always correctable. And once you've corrected them, it's rare to not make a mistake and be unemployed."

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