Despite a gradual improvement in employment, many Americans are still looking for work. During the housing crisis and recession, companies like outplacement firm Right Management had plenty of business guiding laid off workers in to new jobs. Thomas Shea, chief executive of Right Management's Florida/Caribbean region, offered the top lessons learned from the recent recession — some required job seekers to adapt, while others reinforced the basics of a successful job hunt.
Job searches are different: Many workers found themselves out of a job for the first time in 15 or more years, and what they knew about job hunting no longer applied. They had to learn how to look for a job, which today includes multiple types of networking from in-person to online.
An accountant by trade, networking wasn't something that Valerie Toalson, 47, was comfortable doing. But she was forced to learn how to market herself when she lost her job last year at Fort Lauderdale-based BankAtlantic, which was acquired by BB&T.
Right Management counselors "coached me on how to walk into a room and work it," said Toalson, who in December accepted a job as chief financial officer for Houston-based Cadence Bancorp. She ended up enjoying her job search, she said.
"You get out of it what you put into it," Toalson said.
It's still about your skills: Companies are more "vigorous" in their hiring process, taking as long as they want to fill a job with the person they think is the right candidate.
In interviews, job seekers have to show they've kept up their skills and can provide solutions to an employer. "It's a matter of, 'Can you put out my fire now?' " Shea said. "Your job is to figure out what are the hot buttons the decision-maker has."
"Until that happens, you don't have a job offer."
Remain positive and confident: Many who lost jobs came to Right Management with concerns that other people would think badly about them losing their job. But they soon learned that people "were not thinking anything about them," Shea said.
He recommends job hunters contact people they know in the community, but start with those they don't know well or don't consider their "best" contacts, for practice. You don't want to call an "A" list contact and share your story of woe, he said. "You will find yourself getting more and more self-confident," Shea said.
Prepare to be more flexible: Employees can expect to change jobs more often, typically every three or four years. There also are more job opportunities that are part time and contract jobs. "Employers have a need to be more agile," Shea said Ryan Shea, vice president of Right Management, who works with his father.
But those jobs shouldn't be dismissed by job seekers, because they're often a foot in the door to a full-time position, he said.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel: The recession was deeper and more far-reaching than many people expected, and while anyone who has lost a job needs time to recover financially, pay at the new job is often comparable to the former job.
Right Management surveyed more than 6,500 laidoff employees who had been through the firm's job-search programs and found new employment during the first eight months of 2012. Of those, 73 percent matched or got a salary higher than they had in their former position.