8 ways the economy is still affecting the job market

Depending on who you ask, the U.S. economy might or might not be on an upswing. But talk to job-seekers, and it’s clear that any recovery still hasn’t been fully reflected in the job market. Job-seekers continue to find a much harder market than they did before the financial crash of 2008.

Here are eight ways that the economy is still making things tough on workers looking for a new job.

1. There are still often hundreds of applicants for a single opening. With nearly three times as many job-seekers as there are job openings, employers are often overwhelmed by the response for even low-paying jobs. The good news in that sentence? Four years ago, that number was six job-seekers for every job opening.

2. Employers are a lot pickier about who they hire. Because employers have so many qualified candidates to choose from, simply meeting the job qualifications isn’t nearly enough these days. That also means that it’s much harder for less perfectly qualified candidates to stretch up to a job that in previous years they might have been able to get more easily. Relatedly…

3. It’s still difficult to change fields. No matter how transferable your skills might be, the reality is that employers have plenty of well-trained candidates who meet all the job’s qualifications and have already worked in the field. That means that even though you might feel that you could excel at the job if just given the chance, employers don’t have much of an incentive to take a chance on you.

4. Job seekers are still often applying for jobs far below their qualifications. Whether it’s newly minted college grads applying for retail or coffee shop jobs (and praying they’ll get them, because they often don’t) or lawyers and PhD’s applying for entry-level research jobs, the job market has forced many workers to lower their sights. These days, candidates often must aim for jobs well below the ones they would have been competitive for in past years.

5. Employers still have the upper hand, and they act like it. Job-seekers reported a dramatic increase in rude treatment from employers when the economy first crashed in 2008, and it’s become increasingly entrenched since then. From interviewing applicants multiple times and then never bothering to get back to them with a “yes” or “no” to forcing applicants to use malfunction-filled online application systems that won’t let you apply if you don’t submit your salary history and even your Social Security number along with your resume, many employers have stopped caring about whether candidates feel treated well.

6. Temp agencies aren’t the answer they used to be. While signing up with a temp agency used to be a dependable way to generate income in between jobs, it’s no longer that same reliable safety net. With so many people out of work and competing for the same income sources – even temporary ones – many qualified job seekers find that the agencies they register don’t call with any work for them.

7. Job searches still take a long time. In the past, you might have expected your search to take a few months, but today, job searches take much longer; many people search for a year or even more – sending out hundreds of applications – before finding a new position. This is particularly tough for workers who lose a job without time to get a new one lined up first; they can often find themselves employed for long stretches of even a year or more.

8. Companies still expecting people to do more with less. Many companies have laid off staff and/or implemented hiring freezes in the last few years. Even without formal hiring freezes, it’s not uncommon for companies to decide not to fill a position when someone leaves, in order to save money. And then, rather than reducing workload accordingly, frequently employers simply expect the remaining employees to cover that work in addition to their own. The result is fewer openings being offered – as well as overworked employees who feel stretched thin.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 97 comments… read them below }

  1. Amanda

    For #1 did you mean to say “In 2009, that number was six TIMES job seekers for every job opening.” ?

    1. De

      Now I’m not a native speaker, but that actually looks wrong to me. Shouldn’t “x times” be followed by “more… than”, like “six times more job seekers than jobs”?

      1. Felicia

        Yes, followed by more…than would be a correct way to say it, as would the original wording. Without the more…than , I agree it looks strange to me.

  2. Tamara Jones

    I graduated college in 2011. It has taken me 2.5 years to find the job that I am currently in. And I’m incredibly lucky that it came with an amazing entry level salary with 100% of my healthcare premiums paid by the company. I had all but given up on my job search after passed over resumes, no call backs after interviews and so forth when I came across an ad for my position on a job board. Luckily, I was working my retail job that I had since college to hold me over (just barely) and understanding parents who didn’t mind me living with them. I feel for the millions of Americans who don’t have any of the luxuries I was afforded. And a million thanks to Alice, commenters and people who submit their “stories” because those have been some serious therapy to me during my intense, years long job search.

  3. Tamara Jones

    The job I’m currently in had over 200 applicants and the last job that I applied and interviewed for had over 700! The 700 club had narrowed the pool down to 17 when I was initially interviewed. Yikes!

  4. Tamara Jones

    Number 7 needs a correction. Reads: “they can often find themselves employed for long stretches of even a year or more.” I think it’s supposed read “unemployed”.

  5. Ash

    Alison, do you see any of these changing any time soon? What do you think will propel the change? Unemployment is slowly going down, but a lot of that is because people have taken jobs that don’t match their education/experience/desire. I see this taking a long time to play itself out, if ever, and that’s super frustrating to someone who spent a lot of time and money on degrees that seem to be fruitless in this environment.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That’s something I don’t have the expertise to answer; it’s more about economic forecasting. But I do think things have gotten better in the last couple of years than they were when the recession first hit.

    2. Elizabeth West

      It’s also going down because many people are giving up looking, and when they drop out of the job search, they aren’t counted anymore. So I don’t think it’s much better.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s better in some pretty measurable ways in the nonprofit employers I work with, who in 2008-2010 were having a much harder time fundraising, and who now have considerably more breathing room.

        1. Lore

          That seems to be a signal that things are better for funders, though–which often means large corporations and large grant-making organizations who in turn get most of their money from large corporate donors. I don’t know if that translates to things being any better at the level of the individual.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            It often does. Nonprofits went through a horrible squeeze in 2008-9 as funding dried up. Now that funding is better, they’re hiring more, giving more raises, etc.

            1. Lore

              Of course. For some stupid reason, I wasn’t thinking of the staffs of the nonprofits themselves! (Perhaps because I’ve only worked for ones too tiny to have full-time staffs…)

  6. Bryce

    Here’s a 9th way: Older workers aren’t retiring as much. That’s because:

    1. Many folks who were planning to retire saw the value of their homes, 401Ks, etc. lose more than half their value. The recent stock and real estate gains have made up a good bit of these losses, but not all, especially in the face of a rising cost of living.

    2. Many folks want to stay on their employers’ health plans, which provide better coverage than Medicare.

    3. Many folks nearing retirement age still have adult kids living at home, mortgages to pay off, medical expenses, and the like.

    4. Many folks just can’t afford it right now.

    5. Some folks need to retire at 67 or 70 to get their full government/private sector retirement benefits, or to get them at all.

    6. Many folks simply want to keep working because they would be bored not going to work, can’t stand being around their significant others, make work their top priority in life, you name it.

    1. Penny

      So true! I’m not sure my mom will ever be able to retire (unless I get rich and can support her which I’d be happy to do). She grew up in a family with little money, had to drop out of college to care for her dying mom and had no money to go back, was a single mom to 3 kids and agreed to not ask my well-off dad for child support increases due to his inceasing salaryif he’d help US pay for college. He did that but sadly our degrees have not made us rich enough to repay the favor (I wish I had the brain to be an engineer or programmer!). Not to mention the last 5 years she’s had all her post grad kids living with her at some point for financial reasons.

    2. Jubilance

      Great point. This has been a big driver in my experience – younger workers can’t get their foot in the door or can’t move up because baby boomers aren’t retiring & freeing up those positions.

      1. Editor

        As a Boomer who got laid off in my 60s, mostly I’ve seen the other side — people who are 55 or older getting terminated and having to “retire” because they can’t find another job. I think my experience and the delayed retirement stories are all true — it just depends on where your anecdotes come from.

        Some people have taken Social Security early because it was better than unemployment. Of course, neither one includes health insurance, because Medicare doesn’t kick in until age 65. I’ve known some couples who have downsized to smaller homes, and their early retirements seem to have contributed to the retrenchments (they didn’t exactly want to move and they took what they felt were losses on their homes).

        Workers who were in their 50s and 60s have been in a nasty doughnut hole where they faced age discrimination and difficulty finding health insurance — at least the Affordable Care Act is making insurance that doesn’t exclude preexisting conditions easier to obtain.

    3. anon librarian

      This is a big issue in public sector jobs. The benefit package is much better than in the private sector, especially the longer time you have vested. It’s not unusual for people with government jobs with 25+ years of service to have over 8 weeks of personal leave time plus floating holidays each year. I know when many of my colleagues started 25+ years ago at the university, they didn’t pay for much of their insurance, but what is deducted per month is a bargain compared to the private sector.

      I’m in libraries, which is a field that has more people who want to go in to it than there are jobs available. Some study was done around 15 years ago of a librarian shortage around the mid 2000s when the older baby boomer librarians would start retiring. It hasn’t happened yet, but that hasn’t stopped the American Library Association and their cronies in library school admissions from continuing to perpetrate that myth. I was lucky that I had no loans from the degree but I’ve heard examples of people getting the MLS and getting stuck with at minimum $30k in loans and having a tough time paying them off on less than $30k a year in salary. I’ve heard of retirements and the position gets reclassified from a librarian to library technician or library assistant position to save on salary and benefits. I’ve also heard where the librarian incumbent retires and the title is still kept at librarian, but some of the perks and extra funding is taken away from the new person to save money (i.e. institutional funding for state and national library conferences for example). Why should the new librarian in their 20s fresh out of grad school and probably with better education and qualifications than the previous holder when they started get denied the same perks that they had?

      I don’t think it was unusual for people who started working in libraries in the late 70s and early 80s to not have an MLS and still have a librarian title. More than likely, their employer paid for them to go back and get their MLS. Now, it’s tough to even get hired without the MLS even for entry level positions where it really isn’t necessary.

      Here’s a true story about someone sticking around for too long. A longtime subject selector at the institution I work for was forced to retire last year in her mid 80s because of severe dementia. I’m not sure how much of her job was being done by her before her retirement, but when she would get lost and not come to work, it was time to force her to retire. Personally, I would have done it sooner, especially if other people were picking up more of the slack due to her decreasing mental capability and it was taking away from their jobs.

    4. Nusy

      Unfortunately, these are the two largest (most populous) sectors in society today: the Boomers and the Millennials; and due to the economy, it’s these two groups who are fighting each other the most for jobs.

      As others stated in this thread, Boomers have no incentive to retire. Their pay and benefits are needed to keep them afloat in the artificial prosperity that came from the economic boom of the 80’s and 90’s: owning a home that is often more or less beyond one’s actual needs, getting new cars fairly frequently, etc. With Social Security and Medicare getting cut left and right, they need that better insurance policy from work. And with the economy down the drain, they quite often have to help their children/grandchildren with expenses.

      On the other hand, us Millennials were either lucky to come of age in a time when jobs were still aplenty (just before 2008), and we got stuck in a job that was entry-level and semi-decent pay at the time, but since then, the raise and promotion freezes got to us, making these jobs dead-ends, and often financially unviable anymore. Just think of how much a $9/hour pay bought you back in 2006, and what it’s worth today. The other half of Millennials, however, came of age just as the economy tanked, and never had a realistic chance to get just about any job.

      Millennials see Boomers as “old farts taking up good jobs” – but at the same time, they see Millennials as the young kids who threaten their very existence by taking away the money/insurance/benefits they need. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation.

      It also doesn’t help that politicians do a great job at pitting these groups against one another; as well as pitting the better-off against the working poor with welfare policies (the rich blame the poor for being lazy no-gooders, regardless of their circumstances; the poor blame the rich for having all the money and not sharing more of it).

  7. Rebecca

    5. Employers still have the upper hand, and they act like it.

    It’s not just with job seekers, it’s with current employees. No raises, no cost of living adjustments, no way to get a merit increase, higher health insurance premiums (so now we’re back to pre 2008 wages)? Tough. You should be happy you have a job. I can call a temp agency today and get 100 resumes of people who would jump at your job at a much lower starting pay than you’re making now.

    Yes, my manager told me these things. Pretty sad when you have an employee who wants to take on more projects and is asking how she can earn (not just be handed more money, but EARN more money), and a manager tells you nope, nothing you can do to earn more money, but will happily pile on the work knowing you have no recourse but to take it.

    1. Kelly O

      I see a lot of that.

      Also a lot of “well Obamacare will take care of that” when the issue of health benefits come into play. (Nevermind the issues that has, and my personal distaste for the “Obamacare” moniker.)

      If someone doesn’t like it? Fine. Fire them. We’ll just get someone else in here at $8/hour (which is OVER the minimum wage in Texas, just in case you forgot, even though it’s mentioned every meeting) and repeat. And then get upset when those people have overtime. (Or cut holiday pay to time and a quarter – NO JOKE- and then monitor it like a hawk.)

      I know I’m fortunate to have a job. I just don’t like being reminded of it all the time.

        1. SA

          #5 … or you fire an employee for refusing to purchase the company’s horrible health insurance in order to subsidize the bad health habits of the old people there. The new insurance is worse and when employees ask to speak to the broker they are threatened – not to mention your insurance didn’t work at all when your were forced to buy it or be fired, have your sick days and vacation days taken away. You have to just love how horrible Tx employers can treat their employees.

          I find it very ironic my former employer assumed they had the upper hand. Now that I’m gone work is not getting done and customers have called to cancel orders. What makes it even sweeter is that my scumbag employers know they can’t call me for help because of all the times they threatened me. I had to set up files a certain way to make things work and took my notes with me when I left. The supervisor who took over is dragging their feet getting anything done and they’re supposed to have “decades of experience” over me.

          The best part is that I have a better higher paying job to boot with flexible hours. I sincerely hope they are forced to close. There are way too many bad companies to work for in the state of Tx. I’m looking to leave the state but am at a loss as to how one goes about getting a job in another state.

    2. ITPuffNStuff

      very true, and probably more true now than pre-2008, but can you think of any time in american (or human, for that matter) history when this was not true? the employment relationship is by its nature not an equal-negotiating-power proposition. the job is critical to the employee’s life, but the employee is seldom, if ever, critical to the company’s life. everyone is replaceable, from c level management to entry level and everywhere between. there may be exceptional circumstances in which your skill set is so highly specialized that you are the only qualified person the company could hire for your position, but i wager those circumstances a so rare as to be nearly nonexistent.

      -sean

  8. Ali

    I still find #1 and #2 to be the most true. Admittedly, I used to not have such a great cover letter and resume and have only recently gotten help with it by someone who has successfully worked in my field and hired interns. Even with her suggestions, I still do not get interviews, or I get interviewed and it does not turn into an offer. My field of choice is highly competitive even in the best of times. But I recently got turned down for an opportunity because even though the hiring manager said I’m a great writer and would be an asset to an employer in my field someday, I did not have experience in that particular industry segment. But how do you get it if everyone wants to hire someone who has already worked in that area?

    Everyone tells me I have some great qualities. I recently had to do a self evaluation and ask for feedback from colleagues on it. My coworkers said I build great relationships with others, am very productive at work, have increased my expertise in areas where they felt it may have been lacking a year ago, etc. A networking contact told me I am doing nothing wrong, and even said my initial approach to him was fine.

    So there is nothing obviously wrong with me, yet no one else will hire me?

    It can be very demoralizing…and I’m currently employed, but want out of my job for a variety of reasons.

    1. Elizabeth West

      The difficulty with experience is one reason I’m very glad that my school program is set up so we have client-based projects in our classes. Their intent is to have us graduate with a portfolio already underway. And I can probably add to it from non-confidential stuff I’ve worked on at Newjob. Since this program has a 90+ percent placement rate, I will bow to their judgment.

      I don’t plan on leaving this job if I can help it because I like it, but you never know what could happen. That’s the whole reason I went back. And I can still do freelance stuff here and there, so (begrudging admission) I guess it’s not a waste of time.

  9. Yup

    #8 Doing more with less – this a problem that I see getting worse over time. At the height (depth?) of the recession, employees were doing 3 jobs at once to keep the ship afloat. Now, several years on, those expectations are still intact and are often *supported* by the costs/metrics/etc of past performance even though they may be unsustainable in the long term. Example: “Well, our run rate for the past five years has been 1,000 widgets made per employee, therefore our 2014-2018 budget and forecast is based on a 1,000/employee production rate.” Even though that rate is generating burnout, decreased quality, and so forth.

    This cycle is reinforced by #4, people applying below their qualifications. Hiring an experienced worker with a ton of skills for an entry level position is becoming the rule rather than the exception, which creates unrealistic expectations and sub-standard entry programs. When it’s expected that newbies will hit the ground running on all cylinders, nobody’s putting together thoughtful, graduated training that ramps up properly for the inexperienced.

    Sorry for the rant/tangent but I’m genuinely concerned about the long-term effects in the workplace.

    1. Mike C.

      It’s a huge problem in a lot of sectors. Lots of employers are looking for experienced workers but when they collectively refuse to nurture future experienced workers in entry level positions, they shouldn’t be shocked when they can’t find the workers they need.

      1. Felicia

        +1. I recently saw an unpaid internship that said minimum 2 years related experience required. This has been going on for a few years now, so eventually no one will have any experience. People who graduated 5 years ago now never had a chance to get a foot in the door, because people have been taking jobs below their qualifications for that long.

        1. Simonthegrey

          My husband is in this position. You don’t have five years’ experience working in an office? Nope, no administrative assistant position for you!

          1. Felicia

            I totally get that! I would be very happy with an administrative assistant position, but it’s very hard to find one because I don’t have 5 years of experience as an administrative assistant. Even if the job says it only requires one year of experience, people with 5 years of experience will still apply and often get it.

            1. Kelly O

              You also need to have a Bachelor’s Degree and be bilingual for that one. With five years’ experience in that specific field and in administration in that field. And if you could code that would be great.

              All for the “competitive” wage of $12/hour. Which I still see, and which slays me.

        2. Elizabeth West

          WHAAAAAT??

          Who the bloody hell expects an intern to have two years experience in anything!?! That is completely nuts.

          *again thanks the Universe that she already is getting / has gotten experience before her internship strikes*

          1. Felicia

            Lots of people expect that, unfortunately. It wasn’t even one of those elusive paid internships either, it was totally unpaid.

          2. Frustrated Job Seeker

            You think that’s bad – try a listing I saw for a volunteer project manager that demanded at least 3 years of experience.

            My take – if you want me to have 3 years of experience in anything, I’m getting paid for it!

      2. MR

        Agreed. It’s a double-edged sword. Right now, there aren’t enough companies that are doing the right thing. Only when enough do the right thing, will things turn around.

      3. SA

        I keep seeing the magical 3 – 5 yrs mandatory experience nonsense on many job boards too. As a college graduate who had to work while going to college and could not afford to work for free in an internship, I often wonder why I even went to college since I’ll never be hired without that much experience. One of my classmates has had FIVE unpaid internships and no job offers. He does have credit card debt to add to his student loan debt now though.

        This is exactly why I saw no point in internships. They’re all unpaid and there is no job guarantee at all. If I work for free I’ll default on student loans which is something I just can’t justify for a “maybe you’ll get a job after you work for free” logic. Sure I’m working now but it’s also known as underemployment, which is also plaguing the Millenials.

        1. Nusy

          +1,000.

          I consider myself to be very fortunate, that as a Millenial who returned to school after a few years’ gap, I had the opportunity to work for free in a job I love. My husband kept working in his day job so I can take my mandatory internship at any place, not only at a paid position. I work for the District Attorney as a paralegal, and I’m enjoying it immensely. The only problem? Since this position is at the County, I can’t expect anyone to make a “generous” move to hire me. If there is a job opening, I still need to take the pre-employment exam, and I’m in the pool with everyone else. I ended up extending my internship by another semester to avoid a resume gap, and have more useful experience under my belt (this is my first job in the legal field) – but now I’m looking not only here, but in all neighboring counties as well.

          I don’t say it’s hopeless… but sometimes it sure seems so!

    2. Ann O'Nemity

      The long term effect of doing more with less is… doing less.

      Companies reduced their workforces and went “lean” in the recession. The survivors took on the extra work, hoping it was temporary. And years later, those employees are burning out. Long-term planning and ongoing maintenance have been delayed for too long. The quality of work goes down. Innovation dries up, especially when employees are doing everything they can just to keep the existing balls in the air. So the pressure to be more productive goes up even more. Work prioritization starts to feel like triage, and keeping track of everything is like drinking from a fire-hose. At some point, it becomes obvious that this isn’t temporary after all; it’s the new normal, even as company profits return to pre-recession levels.

      1. JM in England

        Doing more with less is definitely unsustainable in the long term!

        Have a good analogy for this: what happens to an engine when you run an engine at max power all the time?

        Answers on a postcard please…………..:-)

  10. Erin

    Alison, what is your advice on how to handle the problem with changing fields? My field (law) was a bloodbath in 2009. Many lawyers are trying to retool since it’s clear the legal market will never be what it was (at least, not in this generation). I’m sure this is true in other fields as well. If you HAVE to change fields, what do you do? How do you best present your existing skill set so an employer can easily see how your skills will transfer? How can you show that your out of the box background might actually help give the employer an edge by bringing something new to the role? My impression is that most employers won’t even take the time to really read a resume or cover letter (they just scan the titles and reject any resume that doesn’t have the right ones — or they have a computer do this for them first). Clearly someone who’s 30 years old can’t simply be unemployed for the rest of his/her life. What does someone in that position do?

    1. MR

      From what I am reading, law continues to be terrible. More and more law school graduates enter the market each year, while fewer and fewer positions are available. Is this true or bunk?

      1. Adam

        I work for a Bar association, the organization that licenses and monitors active lawyers in my state, and if someone were to ask me whether or not they should go into law I would ask if it’s something they truly have a burning passion for (lawyers do good things sometimes). If they honestly do then I wouldn’t discourage them. But if it wasn’t their number one desire in their professional life I would strongly encourage them to consider ALL other options before they took that plunge.

        As much as people joke about lawyers I think it’s still seen as a prestigious successful career since we often describe them as the same professional tier as doctors. However attorneys usually only need about three more years of school post bachelors where doctors need a hell of a lot more, so I think attorney is seen as an easier track to success, which is probably part of why you can’t throw a dead cat out the window without it landing near a lawyer’s office but we’re always hearing about the serious shortage of qualified medical professionals.

        But in my state, which has a sizable number of active attorneys, more than two-thirds of them are small firm or solo practitioners. So if you aren’t up for essentially running a small business as part of your law career, which is what most of them end up having to do, then I’d think hard before plunking down that law school tuition.

      2. thenoiseinspace

        Very true! I know SO many people who got undergraduate degrees in some form of communication, couldn’t find a job, and decided law was an awesome fallback and they’d all make huge salaries instantly. I cringe every time I hear another one say they’re going into law school – almost every one of the ones I know have student loan debts of at least $100K, and only those in the top 5% of their class are actually getting the few jobs there are. By the last year of law school, the rest are just praying for anything that will cover their bills!

      3. Erin

        More enter each year just because law schools continue to function, but application rates have (finally) nosedived. I think people going in now might have a better outlook since they’ll have less competition – we will, after all, continue to need a certain amount of lawyers. But a law license is not a golden ticket. Anyone who’s considering law school should take a couple of years to work as a paralegal to see if they like what lawyers actually do every day (not what they do on TV). Most of us have a practice very, very different from that of Atticus Finch.

        1. Elizabeth West

          I was thinking about this the other day, pursuant to something I saw online, and if someone is going into law thinking they’ll be a big bad trial lawyer, that’s not all there is, right? There are specialties they could look for, if they’ve already taken the plunge and are studying it. Many large companies have legal departments, there is patent law, environmental law, etc. Some of it may not pay as well, but I wouldn’t think most beginning lawyers make a lot of money anyway.

          1. Cat

            Yeah, there are still practice areas where if you can develop the expertise, you can have a nice life, make decent (but probably not insanely good) money, and not work ridiculous hours. I think certain types of natural resources law (e.g., energy law)* are good examples. The problem for a young lawyer is that if you don’t have a pre-existing specialty in that area from before law school it can be hard to find an employer to train you in it since they’ll be training you not only in the legal practice but also in the technical specialty. It happens but it’s not something grads can count on unless they’re at the top of their class or from a very good school. Better to work to develop the industry/technical expertise on your own in advance.

            * Environmental law is a little different because most people who want to go into environmental law want to be on the side of the environment, and for funding reasons, those jobs are hard to get.

      4. Stephanie

        IP’s pretty glutted. A lot of really big money in it now is in these tech companies suing each other or defending themselves from patent trolls. At OldJob, half my coworkers had JDs for what were basically entry-level research roles (that didn’t require a JD).

    2. Yup

      I don’t have any advice specific to law, but my own transition was a quasi-lateral/quasi-downward move first. I worked in field X but wanted to work in field Y. After a lot of searching, I took a job that was very similar to my X work that I wanted to get out of, but the organization itself was in Y field. (With a 40% paycut, for the record.) So can you start with looking at legal-related jobs in the field you wish to enter? For example, if you’re interested in health, are there any jobs at hospitals, pharma companies, research labs that involve contract review & negotiation?

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’d say to look for jobs where a law degree is hugely helpful but which aren’t technically “lawyer” jobs. For instance, I used to hire legislative analysts for a lobbying nonprofit. Ten years ago, the people in those positions didn’t have law degrees. Now I think the whole team of them does, because it turned out to be such a helpful thing for them to bring to the work.

    4. Stephanie

      Sort of related, I used to work in the IP field. I’d look for related roles involving compliance, regulatory affairs, legislative research, etc. Unfortunately, I’m sure lots of attorneys have the same ideas. :(

      I’d also try to pick up volunteer work that helps to “dilute” all the law stuff on your resume.

    5. Graciosa

      You might consider working in a corporate environment instead. Official counsel positions are not what I’m thinking of here (you normally need some significant relevant experience at prestigious firms for those) but there are a lot of related positions handling contracting (commercial or government), compliance (many varieties), and risk management. The hours are much better and the pay is not bad. Your legal background can count for genuinely useful experience, so it’s not that much of a stretch.

      If you’re looking for something truly different and totally unrelated, these fields are not going to qualify – although you can have very successful careers in any of them. However, once you are in a business environment, working on team projects can give you exposure to other functions that are further away from the practice of law (sales, purchasing, project or program management, etc.) and some people do transition into those types of roles. However, if you’re looking for an alternate career, any of these options could be good ones.

      You do need to be prepared with an explanation of why you find the position interesting in an interview without saying you can’t find a job in law, but that should be manageable. The traditional explanation around work life balance is a very credible one – everyone in and out of the profession knows what kind of hours private practice can require, and it’s easy to believe an applicant wants a different life style.

  11. Felicia

    These are all so true! Most of the times, when I get an interview, the job had 200 or so applicants. I think #6 is especially true and something people who haven’t job hunted since before 2008 don’t realize. So many seem surprised that i’m signed up with two temp agencies and that they only very rarely call me for work, and when they do it’s always for 1 week assignments in things I have 0 experience in. Being on of those entry level workers that’s loosing out on entry level jobs to people with 5+ years experience, the temp agencies are also full of people with much more experience than me.

    1. Elise

      Out of curiosity… How do you know how many applications they received? Is that information they are volunteerng during the interview or are you asking them?

      1. Stephanie

        An interviewer volunteered it to me once. It was a marathon final interview (with like six or seven interviews) and the interviewer was spinning as a compliment. “Oh, we received like 60 CVs for this role, so you should take it as a testament that you made it this far in the process.” I didn’t end up getting the job, so that may have been a polite hint in retrospect.

  12. MR

    Back in the day, when there was an economic decline (recession), the government would step in with stimulus packages designed to help do something to get the economy on the upswing. Typically this would be infrastructure in nature. This would help stop the death spiral in which companies laid off employees, which meant people had less money, which meant companies did less business which lead to more layoffs and so on.

    However, the most recent government stimulus package went to propping up the big banks and keeping big companies in business. Very little money went to things that directly benefited the most people, therefore helping the most people and improving the economy quickly.

    Because of the political climate we face today, don’t expect the government to do what they did for the economy in the past. At some point, the private sector will being to turn around, but it’s going to continue to be slow and it may not be until the end of the decade at this pace.

    1. E.R

      I realize we aren’t supposed to get political here, but this is an important point that cannot be overlooked when we try to understand the economy as it is right now. That’s all I’ll say on that.

    2. Mike C.

      It’s funny, the large labor unions and the Chamber of Commerce jointly supported a huge infrastructure package that has been languishing in the House for a long while.

      For those who don’t follow Congress like your fantasy league depended on it, those two groups are usually bitter enemies.

    3. Erin

      There was a stimulus. It did go to infrastructure. The stimulus was not the same as TARP (i.e., the bank bailout). You seem to be conflating the two. The stimulus was not terribly successful. Whether it should have been larger or whether the projects it went to should have been more carefully chosen have all been the subject of lively policy debates, and it’s an area in which I’m frankly fairly ignorant. The TARP, however, has been almost entirely repaid (or may be repaid now that Treasury has sold the last of its holdings in the auto companies). All in all, the US government made money on TARP. It certainly made money on what went to the banks. It lost money on GM. But I believe, in all, the government came out to the good. Whether TARP helped our economy or not is also another rampant policy debate on which I’m well-informed but which could take a novel to discuss in detail. Ultimately it comes down to the question of whether you believe that TARP only created moral hazard and propped up executives who’d shown themselves to be incompetent, or whether you believe that it put a much needed floor under a market in freefall. I’m not sure we can really know which is the right answer, nor have I seen a sufficiently well done financial model showing what our economy would have looked like absent TARP (if making such a complex model is even possible).

      1. JM in England

        If I had a time machine, would tell my younger self to go into banking instead of my current field! :-)

      2. Not So NewReader

        I used my extra money from the stimulus plan to pay my oil bill. I assume many others did the same thing. Of course, our fearless leaders never foresaw that one.

  13. Adam

    I’ve experienced every one of these the past few times I was job searching. Even though I have a job now that’s adequate I’ve been yearning for something better for myself and keep saying I’m going to get out and start looking. Yet I keep dragging my feet on it because the market still looks abysmal from my limited perspective. There are few things in life I hate more than job searching. It’s right up there with oral surgery.

  14. Sarah

    AAM, this is all so true!!!! My problem is that I’ve been out of work since September and I work in a dying field. (translation: jobs lost to overseas). So now how do I find a job outside of my field, where employers want a 100% match?

    1. Jamie

      I know it’s not a silver bullet, but this is where networking will be the best way in.

      Employers don’t have to take a chance on anyone, but the odds are higher that they will take a chance on a known entity over an anonymous candidate.

      If you apply for a position as an unknown they only have your resume and word in your cover letter to go on. But if someone knows you personally and knows you have a great work ethic, are a quick learner, have an aptitude for whatever it’s a little less risky.

      Still hard, I’m not minimizing that, but you want to be as safe a choice as possible and if your experience doesn’t put you into the safe column networking can help.

  15. Anonymous

    Thank you Alison for acknowledging this! Hopefully many will see that article and have their eyes opened to reality!

    Wall Street might be doing very well, but Main Street has yet to see the same bounce back.

    1. Mints

      So true. It’s really an annoyance of mine (does this count as a pet peeve?) when people/media are like “The economy is growing! The NASDAQ is up 3% this week!” NOPENOPENOPE. That’s a measure of stocks, period. The economy is much more complicated than that. I know it’s nice to have live numbers to watch that you can easily report. But I still say jobs reports are better overall pictures that are still quantifiable.
      I have so many arguments in my head about this but TL;DR: NASDAQ =/= economy

      1. Thomas

        I couldn’t agree more. Fundamentally, how well the stock market is doing has next to nothing to do with overall economic growth. They can go up, down, or sideways regardless of how the real economy is doing. Far too many people conflate the stock market and the economy.

        1. De Minimis

          You can also have a company announcing major job cuts and have its stock go up, because they’re saving money.

  16. ChristineSW

    Ugh so true and so disheartening :(

    There’s a lot of talk about how it’s especially hard for older workers, but another group who has been struggling are people with disabilities. In addition to the points made in the article, I know I’m up against people who can drive and can hit the ground running in fast-paced environments. Thus, I’ve pretty much given up actively job searching in favor of focusing on my volunteer work while keeping my eyes and ears open for opportunities. This way, I can build new skills and increase my network.

  17. Ann Furthermore

    A great big Amen to #8. I struggle with this, and I’m sure many others do too.

    Companies have very little incentive to grow their workforces. People got laid off in droves, and those left behind had to pick up the slack. Just because someone gets laid off doesn’t mean that their work goes away too. And the people still there took on all that extra work, because they were happy to still have a job and didn’t want to make any waves, lest it be their heads on the chopping block next.

    Now that’s the new normal. All the higher-ups focus on is that the same amount of work is getting done with fewer people, which helps the bottom line. So why increase headcount? Things like employees being burned out, tired, more error-prone, and the quality of the work they do suffering as a result are lost.

    I hear Republicans rant about how the job situation is all Obama’s fault, and I hear Democrats rave about how it’s all the fault of the GOP. I don’t think it’s either one, and I think the situation would be the same no matter who was in the White House. Companies don’t want to shrink their profits, so they hire as few people as possible. End of story.

  18. Anonymousdr

    Alison thank you so much for writing this article. As a currently jobless professional with an advanced degree, the current social and political climate and public opinion about the unemployed is so narrowly-focused and judgmental … and demoralizing (for me, that’s the worst part). But I appreciate your post on this because it paints, my opinion, a very realistic, non-pathologizing, accurate perspective of the current unemployment predicament. With certain political groups making it very clear that they think anyone without a job for 26 weeks is lazy and sitting around eating bonbons all day (as if I could afford bonbons with my JUST expired basic unemployment benefits), it’s really helpful to have someone with your expertise and experience speaking about this. Thank you.

    1. OP

      What he/she said. My unemployment just expired as well, and I also have an advanced degree. The jobs I do see online pay the same salary I made 10 years ago with one less degree and minimal experience in the workforce. It’s depressing. I often wonder if I’ll ever become financially stable and advance my career or if I’m stuck here at the bottom…forever.

  19. Brett

    Another behavior that I am particularly seeing in the public sector is lowballing salaries and using substandard applicants to fill positions instead. This is really a consequence of not offering raises for long periods of time. We have open positions where the pay offered is so low compared to market that they have been unfilled for over three years without even partially qualified applicants.
    We did start a formal compensation study to allow for market adjustment of salaries, but the study was abandoned. Competitors (public and private) like being able to easily cherry pick us and refused to turn over any salary information for the study.

  20. Kat M

    So is the old adage about keeping enough money to cover three months worth of expenses on hand in available savings still valid? Should we be telling people to keep 6-12 months of cash on hand in the bank before considering spending it on other things, like buying a home?

    1. Stephanie

      LOL @ three months’ savings. Yeah, you definitely need at least six months since most job searches take a while. Granted, that is really hard some areas with high COLs. If you get unemployment, that can keep you from tapping into savings for a little bit (depending on your expenses).

    2. Esra

      Oh god. It would take me years to save six months salary. How is anyone supposed to succeed paying off student loans, trying to save for a home, and trying to sock away 20k of just-in-case money?

      1. Stephanie

        Yeah, it’s ridiculous. I highly recommend Pound Foolish by Helaine Olaine, where she talks about the ridiculousness of the financial industry. In it, she mentions people feel guilty that they’re not saving a ton but often experts don’t acknowledge a lot of external factors like increasing food, housing, and education costs.

  21. Not So NewReader

    Thank you, Alison for writing the article and telling it like it is. I hope everyone here prints it out and sends it to their government leaders.

    Some people are soooo interested in making a name for themselves.
    They fail to see families falling apart under financial stress because of the mess our country is in. How many articles have we read where someone committed suicide because they could not pay the mortgage?

    Just as the Great Depression shaped our elders so has this recession shaped us. My dad was a depression kid. I made him toast for breakfast one day and it stayed in the toaster too long. I pulled the toast out and held it up. Dad said “Blow the flames out, put some butter on it. It’s fine.”

    The depression had been over for almost 50 years.
    He did not understand why I doused the flames with water. I had ruined the toast with the water.

    This is more of that. Each generation alive now forming opinions and ways that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It is too hard to forget these types of struggles. It’s to hard NOT to be forever changed.

    The few people from my father’s generation that I have spoken with have told me in some ways what is going on now is worse than what they went through. (Numerous reasons- too long to get involved in here.) I find this surprising but I also see that this is a thinking person’s response. These people are thinking about what it is like for us.
    I came in on the tail end of the baby boom. I honestly believe that I will never retire. Which sets off a chain reaction as I will take up space in the job market much longer than statistics want us to believe.
    Something for our leaders to be thinking about.

    1. Stephanie

      Yeah, I feel like my generation (Millennial) is going to be the same way with our grandkids as ours were with us (they were the children of the Depression).

      “Well, back in my day, we worked for free and it was called an internship!”

  22. Unanimously Anonymous

    Employers still have the upper hand, and they act like it.

    They’ve not only used to having the whip hand vs. the workforce, they’ve become addicted to it. I suspect the vast majority of managers and executives would rather see the economy stumbling along between slow growth and no growth instead of expanding to the point where pent-up demand would necessitate expanded operations and staffing.

    Executives don’t look a second past the end of the current quarter; their sole worry is whether they’ve goosed up their numbers sufficiently to fatten their bonus checks. With a mindset like this, what do you think they’d find easier to do…(1) innovate new products and strategies, pioneer new markets and go after a bigger piece of an expanding economic pie, or (2) focus obsessively on “costs” and stay preoccupied with relentlessly squeezing their workforces and constantly demanding more, more, more, more, MORE?

  23. Cnon

    Employers still have the upper hand, and they act like it.

    They’ve not only used to having the whip hand vs. the workforce, they’ve become addicted to it. I suspect the vast majority of managers and executives would rather see the economy stumbling along between slow growth and no growth instead of expanding to the point where pent-up demand would necessitate expanded operations and staffing.

    Executives don’t look a second past the end of the current quarter; their sole worry is whether they’ve goosed up their numbers sufficiently to fatten their bonus checks. With a mindset like this, what do you think they’d find easier to do…(1) innovate new products and strategies, pioneer new markets and go after a bigger piece of an expanding economic pie, or (2) focus obsessively on “costs” and stay preoccupied with relentlessly squeezing their workforces and constantly demanding more, more, more, more, MORE?

    ITA with the above, sad isn’t it?

    Cnon

  24. Ella

    Europe too is in dire straits. I live in Scandinavia and used to work for a very large corporation. I hold 2,5 people job for a long time, my workload was unbearable at times. I burned out but kept on working like crazy hoping to be able and keep my job.
    Being made redundant (together with thousands more = 50% of the company’s workforce) came as a surprise and was a shock for me.

    Now imagine this tiny country with such a sea of unemployed job seekers… I have been out of work a year now, been on several interviews but received no job offer yet. I am the rule, not any kind of exception.

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