Financial Experts Offer Tips For Job Hunting

The unemployment rate ticked upward in the month of August, according to government figures released Friday. Overall U.S. employers cut an estimated 54 thousand jobs, bringing the jobless rate to 9.6 percent. This news may not provide much confidence for those looking to get back into the workforce, but better job hunting strategies could increase the odds. Financial planners Louis Barajas and Mario Burney discuss techniques and tips for landing a job in a sluggish economy.

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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE FROM NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, thinking well outside the norm to keep black men from spreading the AIDS virus to other black men.

But first, with the unemployment rate hovering close to 10 percent and no recovery in sight, millions of Americans are spending this Labor Day unemployed or forced out of the workforce, and people of color have been especially hard hit by the jobs crisis. The unemployment rate for African-Americans is expected to reach 17 percent and 14 percent for Latinos. On the other hand, white unemployment is about nine percent.

But all is not lost. With the right skills, good connections and a heavy dose of persistence, many formerly unemployed have found their way back to the workforce.

Joining us now to offer tips on how to get a job in this economy is Louis Barajas. He is a financial planner and author of the forthcoming book, "My Street Money." We're also joined by Mario Burney. He is a Washington, D.C.-based executive for Crossroads Employment Services.

Gentlemen, nice to have both of you.

Mr. BURNEY (Vice president operations, Crossroads Employment Services): A pleasure.

Mr. BARAJAS: (Author, "My Street Money "): Thank you, Tony.

COX: Ill start with you, Mario. A lot of folks use the shotgun strategy in their job search. What I mean by that is, they send out a standard resume to as many employers as possible. How effective is that?

Mr. BURNEY: It's actually not effective at all.

COX: Why not?

Mr. BURNEY: Because you really should treat the process as if you are in a current job. You should plan your day out respectively, and then you should also be very strategic about how you place yourself out in the marketplace. And so that includes really targeting companies that really suit sort of your desires and your needs, but as well, that youre truly qualified for. Because you do not want to - the mass, you know, email of your resume just doesnt play anymore in this marketplace.

COX: How many resumes should you have, Mario?

Mr. BURNEY: Oh, I think actually, you should have at the very minimum, two types of resumes. And it really kind of depends on the skill sets that you have and the jobs in which you are trying to apply for. But in the end, I mean both resumes should be very actionable type of resumes. You know, no longer is the sort of the traditional chronological, you know, work that just lists your duties at the position.

I mean the job marketing wants to have opportunities that show that youre able to create and that youre able to develop and that youre able to transition within a position.

COX: What about the cover letter?

Mr. BURNEY: Oh...

COX: Is that big deal, no big deal?

Mr. BURNEY: Absolutely. Each cover letter should not be a standard cover letter. I believe cover letters - take the time, the extra 15 minutes to customize the cover letter to the specific jobs, really highlighting your skill sets with the qualifications that are required.

COX: Let's bring Louis into the conversation. Louis, some people are heading back to the classroom with hopes of waiting out the recession until the economy bounces back. Is that a good idea or not so good?

Mr. BARAJAS: Well, Tony it depends. You know, the problem is if youre going to go back to school to develop these skills for the industry that youre in, it makes a lot of sense. But if youre going back to school just to wait it out, I dont think it makes a lot of sense because, you know, there are jobs out there but you have to be focused, you know, as Mario said, you have to be strategic. You have to say I'm going back to school because this is where I lack and these are the skills that I lack and I need to be better prepared, so I'm going to go back to school or get some more training so I can be more valuable in the job market.

And also, if youre going to go back to school, maybe youre going to be leaving a certain industry and going into a new industry, whether it's health care, education, energy or technology, you know, go back to school and learn skills that are transferable to those industries, not just going back and taking another, you know, history class, for example.

COX: Let me follow, should you go into debt to go back to school to try to get a job?

Mr. BARAJAS: Absolutely yes, if you look at it as an investment. Again, youre investing in yourself to develop the skills to become more valuable in the job market. But if you are just taking classes because you have nothing else to do, that is considered debt.

COX: What do you say about that, Mario?

Mr. BURNEY: So, just to add, you know, I really - I'm a true believer to go back and, you know, acquire an education for yourself. You know, do not acquire education for an industry or a job or a specific skill set because skill sets, you know, die with industry turns. You know, and so I really believe that the education has to be for you. And so I'm not a big believer in the debt, you know, model of an education because it has to be for you. So, you know, definitely, if it's worth the while, you know, and you feel like there's some value in it for you personally, then sure.

COX: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox sitting in for Michel Martin. We're talking about how to get a job in this economy. We are joined by Louis Barajas, a financial planner and author of the forthcoming book "My Street Money." We are also joined by Mario Burney, a Washington, D.C.-based executive for Crossroads Employment Services.

Let me put this question to the both of you. Some folks are worried that they might be overqualified for the jobs that are available. And in fact, we know that people have been turned away and that has been the reason given them many times. But these same people may be desperate. Should they play down their work experiences to avoid hearing just that, that they can't get a job because they are too overqualified? Louis, what do you say about that?

Mr. BARAJAS: Well, I think what we need to understand is what the employer is concerned about when someone is overqualified. I think if youre an employer youre thinking, you know, if this person is overqualified they may quickly be bored in this new job or once the economy turns around and there are other opportunities for them they're going to leave me after I've spent a lot of money and time investing in them.

I think that one of the best things that people can do is address that elephant in the room and understand that. I think most people just let it go. And it should be addressed when youre sitting down there with the employer and you just have a feeling that that's what they're thinking about you, you may be overqualified, and give them reasons why you think you want that job and why you would succeed and why you would do well, and bring up the issues of maybe, you know, not being bored and really, you know, going into the job because youre interested in learning something new, but you have transferable skills and you have a lot of ambition and desires, so.

COX: What do you tell people at Crossroads Employment Services about this very thing? Because this is a problem, isn't it?

Mr. BURNEY: Yes, it definitely is, and especially in the D.C. marketplace. It's a very highly educated area. You know, the bottom line is you absolutely have a stamp on your forehead as a hire beware, you know, when you go in overqualified. But what I always stress is that you need to really identify the skills and where you were able to actually be effective within the position, very hands on.

You know, so for example, if you were a manager over an organization, you know, you need to really illustrate how you were hands on, you know, and how you were actually a functional part of that organization, not just a managing overseeing the duties there.

COX: How can you convince an employer, a prospective employer, that you, who are highly qualified, will not stay there just long enough till the job you really want comes along?

Mr. BURNEY: So stress a career. So stress the job as a career and not just a placement. So you really need to stress that you are looking at this opportunity and that youre very interested in the career aspect of that job and that's how you help to, you know, calm the nerves of the hiring manager.

COX: Louis, I have a different question for you, because we also know that location matters. And in some states like South Dakota, New Hampshire, the unemployment rate is below six percent. So should unemployed workers, let's say in a place like Michigan or Nevada, with 13 percent, 14 percent joblessness, should they consider relocating to a state where the jobless rate is much lower?

Mr. BARAJAS: Well, absolutely, if they figured out that they just dont have the network or the people to help them in their own communities or that really the job market is terrible, they should consider moving. I mean that should be a viable option as well for them.

One of the problems is that sometimes if you go out there and you dont have anybody and you dont know anyone and you just make the move because you think that they're jobs out there, that might be a mistake as well. It's good to go out there on a trial basis, take a look at the economy, take a look at the people, take a look at the communities, because that's somewhere youre going to live as well and bring your family along with you.

COX: This is a slightly related situation for you, Mario, and it has to do with African-Americans and their particular and their unique unemployment situation. People of color have been especially hit hard by the jobs crisis and a recent Pew study found that 60 percent of reemployed Americans - reemployed Americans, folks who lost a job during the recession and then found another one - are considering a career switch.

So for people of color who are out of work like crazy, how much of an issue is a career switch for them?

Mr. BURNEY: Well, its very difficult because, you know, to see yourself starting from the bottom and be of a minority is very very difficult in the job place. What I always stress is that you focus on your skill set and be very very confident within your skill set and what you bring to the table. But for anyone it's very stressful to change, you know, not only job positions but to actually change a field.

COX: Now we cannot wave a magic wand and give everybody a job, so lets do this instead - you first, Louis and then you, Mario. Give the listeners who are trying to figure out what I can do today to better my chances of getting employed by tomorrow. What should they do, briefly?

Mr. BARAJAS: You know, when I'm sitting down with people, the first thing I have them do is really take a stock of themselves. I mean as Mario said, it's really sitting down and understanding what are your strengths, what are your skill sets that you can provide value to other people and knowing how to articulate them.

Tony, it would surprise you how many people couldnt tell you what they do well and how they are valuable in the job market.

COX: Mario?

Mr. BURNEY: I would say organize your day as if you are working, utilize your network of friends, utilize LinkedIn, utilize social media, Facebook as well as different organizations, church organizations, whatever, as well as look at some of the job placement organizations, you know, very very large end and very small end. But utilize every single resource that you have and then be honest with yourself.

COX: Can each of you share some of the resources out there for unemployed workers to get back on track, any special job sites, for example? Can you mention some, Mario?

Mr. BURNEY: Sure. You know, but be careful because there a, you know, 25 percent of placement is down on job boards. But CareerBuilder and those types of things, HotJobs are, you know, still out there for you. But I would really really look at placement organizations and social media. That is the new very very popular way and very effective way to gain jobs. So using Facebook, as I mentioned before, LinkedIn and those sorts of ideas are great, and then using very, you know, of course, I say Crossroads. But if you lose, you know, Robert Half and Randstad, and Decco and those very very large end placement firms have plenty of jobs available.

COX: Monster.com, CareerBuilder.

Mr. BURNEY: Absolutely. They all work.

COX: Louis, what do you say?

Mr. BARAJAS: Well, I agree with everything that Mario said. And also I'd like to recommend a book that it's called "What Color is Your Parachute?" I think it's been out there for over a decade now, by Richard Bolles, and it's a practical guide for job hunters and career changers and it's a great way to look at yourself as well and look at your skill sets.

COX: Louis Barajas is author of the upcoming book, "My Street Money." He joined us from Costa Mesa, California. Mario Burney is vice president for operations of Crossroads Employment Services based here in the Washington, D.C. area. He joined us here at NPR studios in Washington.

Once again, thanks for the good advice, gentlemen.

Mr. BURNEY: Thank you, sir.

Mr. BARAJAS: Thank you, Tony.

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COX: Coming up, from Vegas to Atlantic City and for casinos in between, standard fare used to be of the all-you-can-eat variety. Times have changed. Palates have become more discerning, so the food choices have changed.

Weve asked two casino chefs to talk about their cookbook offerings and what led them to careers in the kitchen.

Mr. KEVIN GOODWIN (Executive chef of Harrah's Casino, New Orleans): I grew up just eating great food and just loved to eat. And so to be able to supply my bad habit, I had to expand my horizons there.

COX: Casino chefs, next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox.

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