New equation for job seekers

By Scott Sargis
Published In Electronic Engineering Times
May 16, 2003

One of the simplest indicators of the health of the job market is the thickness of the job section in the Sunday paper. Almost two years after the dot-com bubble burst, the section is still minuscule compared with the boom days. Conditions have drastically changed, but people still need to work. Is relief in sight?

My past training in social work taught me that while I could not solve clients’ problems, I could offer comfort and valuable suggestions to assist those willing to improve their circumstances. I acted as a facilitator in group settings, guiding congregations to both share and solve similar problems.

How can that experience be applied to job hunting in these tough times? Although there are many career-counseling techniques, including many scams that prey on vulnerable unemployed people, I believe that a standardized formula that emulates franchised programs like Weight Watchers could be developed for job hunting. It would include:

  • One-hour weekly meetings led by a life-coach-trained facilitator. Members would gain a framework and guidance for the rest of the week based on input from both the team leader and peers.
  • A behavioral-modification point system. Much as the Weight Watchers point system helps members gauge acceptable caloric intake, the point system in this case would guide candidates toward optimum job-seeking behaviors.
  • A networking support system. Members would provide comfort, valuable tips (e.g., how to dress for an interview) and job leads. As with Weight Watchers, meetings would be available to members for as long as the members found them valuable. After “reaching goal” (finding a job), members could return for reinforcement and discussions of appropriate topics, such as career development.
  • A virtual community providing real-time information on such matters as work trends. Whereas job boards largely are just electronic versions of the want ads, the virtual community would organize members into targeted subcommunities based on their interests. Chat rooms would encourage long-term bonds.
  • Individual attention for special needs. Though most members would find the general program sufficient, individual counseling sessions would be made available at extra cost.

“There are a lot of skilled individuals still out of work. This approach to helping candidates find a job will help them change the way they think about what they are looking for, as well as the process [through which] they go about getting it,” Brett Bilbrey, manager of media architecture at Apple Computer Inc., said of the proposed program. “Just as Weight Watchers changes the way a person thinks about eating, this approach will change the way job hunters think about looking for a job.”

One problem with this equation is the strategic shift from employer-paid search fees to payment by job candidates. Tax incentives may make the system more palatable to job hunters. “According to IRS Publication 529, an individual is allowed to deduct job-hunting expenses if they are itemized and they exceed 2 percent of the person’s adjusted gross income. Therefore, job-hunting expenses are generally deductible, with certain limitations,” said Vince L. Blume, a CPA with over 20 years’ experience in tax accounting.