New Jersey bankruptcy Article
Article printed in the New York Post, September 14, 2003
By Karen Alexander
JEFF HALPERN had changed jobs a half-dozen times since receiving his M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1991, but the latest change was different.
His position at a start-up energy trading company disappeared in the wake of Enron’s collapse, and it took almost seven months for him to land a new position as marketing manager of TheraSense, a company in Alameda, Calif., that develops products for people with diabetes.
While he was out of work, Mr. Halpern, 39, became increasingly aware of what he was missing: not just a regular salary, but also the networking opportunities and the experience and knowledge that people accrue in their jobs.
”It’s very easy to allow your skills to stagnate and not stay up on what’s going on in the world,” said Mr. Halpern, who joined TheraSense in late April. Corporate recruiters and career coaches agree. The so-called opportunity costs of unemployment are often hidden and are harder to quantify than lost salary or benefits. But they are nonetheless a burden that can have lasting effects on a career.
The longer people are out of work, it seems, the harder it can be to find employment. In August, 1.9 million Americans had been looking for work for 27 weeks or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure accounts for about 22 percent of the unemployed and does not include 503,000 eligible workers whom government economists classify as ”discouraged.” These are people who have lost their jobs but are not currently looking for work specifically because they believe that no jobs are available for them. And many recent college graduates have decided to ride out the tight job market by enrolling in graduate or law schools instead of looking for permanent employment, while others have chosen volunteer work.
Mr. Halpern, who has been diabetic for 10 years, decided that he wanted his next job to be in the area of diabetes care. He worked to keep his business skills fresh and to stay on top of medical research and trends.
He did volunteer work for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and helped a fund-raising event generate about four times as much money as it had in the past. He also attended a career-coaching seminar. And, by each Monday, he made sure that he had something on his calendar for every day of the week ahead.
”It was better than feeling sorry for myself, and during interviews it gave me something to talk about,” he said. ”I was actually doing something with my time.”
Rebecca Zucker, a principal and co-founder of the career advisory firm Next Step Partners in San Francisco, ran the group sessions that Mr. Halpern attended. Using professional skills in volunteer work or community involvement keeps those skills fresh, she said, and bolsters confidence.
”The insider knowledge that’s gained from being in the flow of things is linked to a person’s confidence and sense of competence in that field,” Ms. Zucker said. ”Like compound interest, those experiences build on each other.”
Experts say recent graduates of business and law schools have particular reason to put their skills to work, because another batch of graduates will be flooding the job market within a year.
”If a certain amount of time goes by, and you don’t have things to put on your résumé, and the year behind you catches up, you are caught in a squeeze play,” said Carl Baier, a legal recruiter and managing director of the Palo Alto, Calif., office of Major, Hagen & Africa, a search firm. ”I think that’s happening now, and I think there’s going to be additional scrutiny when things pick up. Employers will ask: ‘What types of deals has this person been working on? What have they really been doing?”’
One woman in that situation received her M.B.A. from a school in the Northeast in May 2001 and was offered a consulting job at Accenture in New York. But the market soured, and for more than a year the firm repeatedly pushed back her starting date. She finally began work in October 2002.
The consultant, who spoke about her situation on the condition that she not be identified, said she sought opportunities to use her skills during the wait, in part because she feared that her promised job could be snatched away by one of the new business school graduates following at her heels.
Though she had a formal job offer from Accenture, the long wait created ”a feeling that I had to continue to impress them,” she said. In addition to traveling and spending time with family members, she did volunteer work and took on a freelance consulting project for a large company.
”It helped me feel more comfortable that I wasn’t withering on the vine,” she said, ”and I think it helped Accenture feel better, too, that they hadn’t picked up a dud.”
Now that she’s busy on the job, she says she considers the time off ”a gift” but rues the lag in her experience. She estimates that it will take 18 months to two years on the job before she feels truly caught up.
”It’s not as if I’d gotten to use these skills and made them a part of me,” she said. ”I went straight from school to being out of work for a year. Now I have my finance and accounting textbooks within arm’s reach of my desk because I know I’m going to have to use them. I felt like I was behind.”
Her professional and social networking at work have suffered, she said, because she feels out of step with colleagues her own age.
Robert Baker, 31, received master’s degrees in business administration and finance from Boston College in the spring of 2001. He needed five months to find a job, which he has since left. Now he is an assistant vice president for wealth management services at the State Street Corporation in Quincy, Mass.
”As each month goes by, your confidence level decreases, and you start to realize you’re not going to get your ideal job,” Mr. Baker said of his initial job search after graduation.
Although his business school held weekly support meetings over the summer, he soon began to feel that he had exhausted whatever contacts the school’s alumni network could offer.
”In graduate school you’re kind of going nonstop, and you start to thrive on that,” he said. When the day ”consists of just a job search, it’s not very dynamic,” he said, ”and it does take a while to get that momentum back upon returning to work.”
After leaving the first job, Mr. Baker went directly to State Street in June. That quick transition went much more smoothly, he said.
How much a person’s career ultimately suffers from an extended period of unemployment varies by industry, the market environment and the individual, Ms. Zucker said.
”It can be nothing more than a blip, or it could be something that keeps them off course for a period of time,” she said.
THE best way for an unemployed worker to combat the experience gap, she and other experts said, is to remain as active as possible in his or her field of expertise. ”Keeping the momentum is very important,” Ms. Zucker said. John Challenger, the chief executive of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago, agreed.
”The most important thing a person can do is get really heavily engaged in organizations and volunteer activities in your industry, or in your field,” he said.
”As people are out of work they tend to become marginalized,” he added. ”As they move out of the mainstream, they become less involved in not only the flow of meeting and developing relationships in business, but even outside of business in the civic and community sphere. They shouldn’t do that, but a lot of people go and hide. Making good transitions is really important, but many people get really stuck.
”I don’t want to make it seem so heavy an obstacle that it can’t be worked around,” Mr. Challenger added. ”People do it all the time.”