We all know it’s a bad time to look for a job. Whether you are just out of college, hoping to make a career change, or have been laid off with years of experience, you know the truth: jobs today are scarce, and good jobs — the kind that lead to a long-term career in the field you are interested in, with good pay and benefits, of course — are even harder to find.
While the most recent statistics listed unemployment at just over eight percent, many expert argue that the jobless rate is really higher — that the statistics don’t take into account the “discouraged,” the untold number of people who have given up and just quit looking for a job, or are under-employed.
But there are jobs out there, says Suzanne Kaplan, an expert in helping others find the right career. You just have to know where, and how, to look. There is no mystery to job seeking, she adds. In fact, if there is a “new rule” to looking for a job, it is that the old rules still work the best.
Kaplan will moderate a three-part panel discussion on careers at the Princeton Library over the next three months. The first is Monday, September 24, at 7 p.m. It will focus on high school and college students. “College Bound, Now” will feature a panel of career experts discussing how to decide if college is right for you, what type of college experiences will help you to become competitive in the marketplace, and how to create a network while still in college.
The second discussion in the series, “Career Changers” will be on Monday, October 22, at 7 p.m. A panel of experts who have personal experience in changing careers will discuss strategies and approaches to make the leap from one career to another.
On Monday, November 26, also at 7 p.m., a panel of Mompreneurs will round out the series. The discussion will focus on how to start a business that you can grow from your home while raising your children.
Kaplan opened her business, JobTalk4All.com, in 2011, after several years as a career counselor and a teacher. “I’m a career changer myself,” she explains, “I started the business as a way to move out of a teaching career.”
A graduate of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School “before it was divided into north and south,” she says, Kaplan started college at the University of Vermont, then transferred to Arizona State University as “a way to see the west cheaply.” She graduated with a degree in religious studies, with an idea of going into academe, but decided that the “publish or perish” atmosphere of university teaching was not for her. She graduated in 1999 and got a job as an academic advisor at Rio Salado Community College in Arizona. “I got the job because I knew someone, and they were looking for an advisor to who could speak Spanish,” she says.
After a few more years in Arizona she decided to return to the East Coast, and got a job teaching English at her alma mater, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South. She also returned to school as a student and obtained her master’s in secondary english education in 2002 from Rutgers University.
But Kaplan found that the career path isn’t always easy in teaching. “I always had a job, but I couldn’t get a tenure track position, and with the current job situation for teachers, the chances of getting one were very slim.”
She decided to open her own business, helping others to find the right job, and in 2011 opened JobTalk4All.com. “My parents have been a big support and a big inspiration to me,” she says. Her father, after many years working for Bell Labs, opened his own business, JK Group, which he then sold a few years ago. Her mother is a private practice therapist. “My mom is my biggest cheerleader and has always encouraged me to develop my interest in people and my curiosity. My dad has been very helpful in helping me to develop the skills I need as a business owner.”
What Not to Do. “The biggest mistake people make in searching for a job today is in thinking that all they have to do is to upload a resume to an online job board,” says Kaplan. Whether it is a national or a regional site, the number of resumes submitted for each job is often in the hundreds or even thousands, and it is difficult for any one person’s resume to stand out. “The chances are, no matter how well your resume is written, it’s going to end up in a slush pile,” she says.
Of course, Kaplan doesn’t discount the need for an excellent, professionally written resume. “The rules for resumes have changed. Today you need to understand which keywords are important for the job you are looking for. Without the right keywords, your resume probably won’t be seen.”
Get Out and Meet People. Once you’ve got that great resume, the best next step is to get out and meet people. “Get out of your comfort zone. Go out and network. It’s no longer a choice when you are looking for a job, because if you are not willing to do it, there are a dozen other people who are just as qualified as you who are out there — and they are the ones who will get the job,” she says. People hire people they know, so the more people you meet, the better chances of getting the job you want.
Volunteer. “The truth is that in today’s job market, young people with little job experience will probably have to work for free,” says Kaplan. Volunteering is an excellent way to gain experience. “It’s a great way to display and to increase your job skills, build a resume, get experience, and develop better references.”
Even if the organization you volunteer with does not have a job opening, you will be out in the marketplace meeting people. “That goes back to my first point — the best way to get a job is to get to know more people,” says Kaplan, “and volunteering allows you to show what you know by doing it.”