White-collar workers who get pink slips these days can count on waiting longer than ever to get a new job.
Layoffs of professional, technical and managerial employees -- the government's classic white-collar category -- have accelerated since the recession began in July 1990.
Corporate downsizing, restructuring of the dominant service industry and staff cutbacks by state and local governments have shrunk the job pool.
"There are fewer seats available in the job game of musical chairs," noted Ken Goldstein, an economist with the Conference Board, a private business think tank.
"There used to be a rule of thumb that it took a month for each $10,000 of income to find a new job if you were unemployed," said Dale Ziegler, an administrator for Maryland's employment and training division. "It's obviously taking longer than that to hook up with a new job today, so white-collar re-employment is probably lagging behind."
Outplacement agencies, which help displaced workers find new employment, confirm that trend.
"The job search has lengthened by one or two months for the people we work with," said Ann Wolfe, vice president of the Baltimore office of the Drake Beam Morin agency. This year's average is 7.2 months to placement, compared with 5.9 months two years ago, she said.
"We are hearing about nine to 12 months for jobs paying better than $50,000 [a year]," said Carl Wright of Don Richard Associates, which recruits finance and accounting professionals. Lower-salaried desk workers can take two to five months, he added.
Unemployment for white-collar workers tripled last year in Maryland: They now account for one in four of the state's jobless. "This is the first real recession for white-collar workers," said Charles Middlebrooks, assistant secretary of economic and employment development.
"There is certainly less opportunity than in the past," said Charles White of Success Management Inc. career counselors.
"I placed one $60,000 professional in a week," he continued, "but it varies all over the place, depending on whether people are confining their search too narrowly."
The best prospects are for those with specific skills in demand, such as data and voice communications experts. At the same time, generalists with transferable skills also have an advantage in escaping their old niche, Mr. White added.
Sales and marketing people are always in demand, placement experts say.
"They can sell themselves better [than other job seekers] to employers and selling is essential for all businesses," Ms. Wolfe said. Engineers also seem to move quickly into new positions, she added.
Insurance managers and specialized health care professionals, especially those who can relocate, are also in current demand, noted Martin G. Pilachowski, who heads the Baltimore office of Right Associates.
His agency is averaging five months for placements, up from an average four months two years ago; six-figure-salary executives need seven months or so.
Ms. Wolfe advises white-collar workers to be flexible and pragmatic, perhaps accepting a position that is not a career advancement in order to weather the economic storm.
Analyze your transferable job skills to target prospective employers, she said. Creative thinking about work alternatives is important; so is doing research on firms where you apply.
Don't confine yourself to the largest employers, because more openings are available in the small- and medium-size firms.
Be persistent and disciplined in the search: "Sometimes it is a numbers game, where one more try will make the difference," zTC Ms. Wolfe said. But avoid the shotgun approach of mass-mailing resumes, which is disappointing in returns.
Use personal networks to find job leads. Seek a good support system of other people to bolster morale.
Above all, keep up your spirits and maintain a positive attitude; that can help in any job interview.
"The first thing to recognize is that the job search is a full-time job," Mr. Pilachowski said. Understand what you want to do, develop a defined game plan, and "remember that it is a sales marketing campaign of your skills and abilities," he said.
More people are considering independent consulting and self-employment these days, he said, although three-quarters of his clients are trying to get rehired.
"Not everyone has the mind-set, the skills or the financial wherewithal to go into business for himself," Mr. Pilachowski cautioned. Consulting projects can lead to a full-time job, he noted, but the commitment to self-employment "is something
that must be carefully considered."