By Guest Columnist MIKE KLEIN, former CNN & Georgia Public Broadcasting executive whose online column is written at www.mikekleinonline.com.
This past Sunday morning we jumped into the minivan and took off down the road toward one of those large discount stores that sells everything for less. The young man standing outside our neighborhood entrance held aloft his sign that said “Will do any Work. Family Depends on Me.”
He is a reminder that unemployment is personal. It matters little that 90 percent of the working eligible population has a job if you are in the 10 percent that needs a job. Even those numbers are artificial. Americans who exhaust jobless benefits no longer appear in government reports. Hundreds of thousands try to cover living expenses with multiple part-time positions. Some quit looking.
I still appear in government reports and never stop networking. My journey is six months old. This feels different than three previous times I was downsized. It is more complicated because the hiring economy is in shambles. But the upside seems greater because media moved outside clumsy corporate models. Write it, see it and say it can be done by anyone.
Media – the industry that employs me– is undergoing seismic shifts. Major market newspapers are too costly to distribute and will likely vanish as content moves to mobile devices. Content once created its own value. Today content is a cost-first proposition. Broadcasters are squeezed by YouTube and other user controlled social media. Change is the new status quo.
This recession spared none and claimed all. We are executives in transition, journalists, small business owners, sales personnel, marketers, middle managers, cashiers, heavy equipment operators, drywall installers, plumbers, chefs, waiters, long haul drivers and stockroom clerks.
We are every ethnic background and we have every level of education, from minimal to most. Go visit a Georgia Department of Labor career center and you will see exactly what I mean. Folks seeking work have not given up. They are willing to do whatever they can find. The best chef at the local restaurant that we once enjoyed now stacks shelves in a grocery store.
The immediate temptation is to take being laid off personally. That would allow negative energy to get the upper hand and nothing good would happen. It is far better to walk away with respect for work done well and for colleagues, and just leave it at that. You cannot focus forward if you are focused backward. There is nothing behind you anymore. Just be done with it.
The upside is that as we approach recovery, employers anticipate they will select new talent from an exceptional base of ready-to-work intellectual equity. This was not true after the 1930s depression when skill sets were less advanced across the population. What you know becomes your best asset in a knowledge-based economy. Sell what you know, not what you did.
But today some older generation workers seem puzzled about how to determine the next move. Many never expected to search for jobs again. They have watched as careers vanished and their skill sets seem outdated. They recognize new skills must replace old skills. They think about how to sell themselves in new surroundings. The environment is not always friendly.
Just because you did something once doesn’t mean you will do it again. Work for less is a real possibility. Volunteer is how you meet new people. You must multi-task on your Blackberry so that you can keep up with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. You must text. E-mail is for old dogs.
Friends talk about “The Interview” with managers younger than their own children. Do you work well in groups? Are you self-motivated? How do you handle criticism of your work? Do you have a strong work ethic? Are you willing to undergo re-training? Will you work nights, weekends and holidays? What are your career goals?
They are tempted to say they have decades of experience making decisions that enabled them to raise families, purchase homes, serve in the military, join the PTA and volunteer at church. They may not understand all the latest social media but they understand work. They get commitment.
Sooner or later, most of them will figure it out. This generation of overachievers does not give up.
Mike Klein’s background includes network cable news, public broadcasting, traditional network-owned stations, major market newspapers, sports production, university teaching and public service. He can be contacted at [email protected]. Also, Mike Klein and Maria Saporta have served together on the board of the Atlanta Press Club for nearly a decade.