Class helps older unemployed workers

CorrespondentSeptember 11, 2011 

  • Mike Komives, career and job search adviser and strategist, offers this advice:

    Appearances matter. You make a lasting impression in the first five to 10 seconds of meeting others. Dress and comport yourself professionally.

    Discrimination exists. Age, sex, color of skin, culture, height, weight, disabilities, religion and more can influence hiring decisions despite the law. Understand this, and develop strategies and plans to address any of these.

    Understand today's technology. Get and stay current.

    Know what business leaders and hiring managers seek - in résumés, interviews, cover letters and references, as well as from their employees.

    When meeting people and in interviews, demonstrate energy, passion and interest.

    It's not about you. It's about what you can do for others.

    Networking is critical. Develop your personal network, and connect with each and every one on a regular basis. Pay forward when you do this - "How can I help you?"

    Do not say, "I want your help on finding me a job." Rather, tell people, "I am looking for my next success."

    Prepare short stories (45 to 60 seconds in length) about your achievements and successes. Include one sentence describing a situation, and one more sentence telling your role and the actions you took. Have a bank of these so you can choose relevant ones to use when you interview.

    Age equals wisdom. Use your expertise and experience to your advantage.

  • To register for the next Job Search class starting Oct. 17 or other Workforce Transition classes at Durham Tech, visit www .durhamtech .edu /html /current /noncredit /workforce .htm .

Deborah Burns accepted a voluntary termination incentive package in November 2008 from Chrysler. The human resource administrator thought she would have found a new position by now.

Burns often worked 12- to 15-hour days for the upstate New York Chrysler plant. She moved to Fuquay-Varina this year to be closer to family but has been disappointed that she hasn't landed a new job even though she is extremely motivated since her unemployment is about to run out.

"I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong," says Burns, 52. That's why she's taking Durham Technical College's Job Search Strategies for Mature Professionals workshop. The comprehensive six-week course meets Monday and Wednesday evenings at the Orange County Job Skills Center in Chapel Hill.

It is one of Durham Tech's most popular classes, says Mary F. Moore, workforce transition/HRD coordinator for the school.

Mike Komives, a career and job search adviser and strategist, teaches the class, which aims to help a segment of the country's labor force that has had a rougher time than most during the recession.

While the unemployment rate for workers 55 and older has trended lower than the overall rate during the recession, those in that age group aren't as lucky if they do get laid off. Older unemployed workers spend more time searching for work than their younger counterparts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For example, in August, workers aged 55-plus were out of work an average of 52.4 weeks, compared with 25.7 weeks for those age 16 to 24 and 43 weeks for those 25 to 54.

Komives, who has taught the job strategies workshop for three years, says most participants are 40 to 60. Many didn't job hop during their careers and may have been in their last jobs a decade or more.

"Most of them are not savvy with the current job-search environment," Komives says. "They don't know what hiring managers are looking for in a résumé. They don't know about the best way to compose and craft a cover letter."

Komives works on the basics.

He asks them to think about their ideal jobs, write their own job descriptions, and compile stories that demonstrate their skill sets and successes from previous work experience.

They also bring their résumés for critiquing, and role-play job interviews as both interviewer and interviewee. They also practice the best way to present themselves in this competitive job market.

"I certainly want to brush up on my interviewing skills," Burns says. She hasn't had one in 18 months even though she has a lot to offer. She says Chrysler was big on training, and she took advantage of that.

The workshop also helps participants figure out plans for their job searches.

Another tool Komives uses is the best-selling book, "StrengthsFinder 2.0" by Tom Rath. The book and its website offer an assessment of your skills along with strategies to help you get the best job that matches your abilities.

That appealed to Colby Germond of Cary. He is vice president of sales and operations for a company that sells products for racing and cruising sail boats, and sales have dropped off. "The economy really isn't supporting luxury items," he explains. "Sailing is a recreation activity. People are more concerned with putting dinner on the table and paying their mortgage."

Germond, 41, is being proactive as he figures out what he wants to do next. "I want to transition my skills to some new enterprise that broadens my experience," he says. "I'm taking the time to explore what my strengths are and to see what opportunities are available. This course is making resources available that I didn't know existed."

He explains that he graduated from college on a Saturday and started work on a Monday. He's been with the company for 18 years, and now he's asking himself, "What would be self-fulfilling? How would I like to be engaged in the business world?"

Whether you are unemployed like Burns or underemployed like Germond, the class provides a spark to get you back in the driver's seat of your career.

"You're in charge of your life," says Komives. "You're the leader. Be informed. Know what it takes to succeed. Change is here to stay. Consider: How can I grow from this change?"

Contact Bridgette A. Lacy at

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