Recruiters are on the front lines of this new war for work. They have become social workers, therapists, career counselors and targets of misdirected anger. Most are bracing to hold onto their personal lives in the likelihood that the worst is yet to come.
For 17 years, Victoria Villalba has operated Victoria & Associates Career Services in Miami, placing people in temporary and permanent jobs for clients such as Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Baptist Health. Some clients, like most businesses, have laid off staff, too.
Villalba, 43, spends increasing hours making phone calls and networking to learn who might be hiring. Typically, recruiters are not paid by the candidates, only by the companies that hire them to search and screen job seekers.
This day, she is lunching with an executive whose position was eliminated after 16 years. She has chosen a restaurant instead of her office to put him more at ease. "When you're in the same position 16 years, change might be a good thing," Villalba tells the job seeker.
But it's unclear whether her advice has been heard; instead she sees only a creased forehead and look of concern. The reply is: "What are my odds of finding a job and how long will it take?"
Villalba tells him the truth: Companies are postponing hiring. "If you need income to make your mortgage payment, you may have to take temporary work."
Throughout the day, Villalba will scroll through her BlackBerry, trying to come up with leads for the job seekers flooding her lobby or phoning her in tears.
Each night at home, Villalba forces herself to turn her BlackBerry off, at least for a few hours. "I know I have to relax to recharge my battery for the next day," she says.
Still, Villalba finds herself awake in the middle of the night, thinking about the people she has met with, those desperate for work. "It's hard to let go. I feel like I owe it to the person to help them."
Across town, Jason Galvao, 27, wrestles with the same reasons for insomnia. "I've started getting to work an hour and a half earlier because my voice mail and inbox would be full. But as early as I now get in, it's not early enough."
Galvao, a senior recruiter for Manpower Professional in Fort Lauderdale, specializes in placing people in finance/accounting and information technology positions. In this competitive industry, his company has a policy of getting back to job seekers within two hours. Galvao struggles, like Villalba, to respond to each caller with a mix of sober reality and empathetic encouragement.
"Candidates think we're magicians," Galvao says. "I tell them it's hard now, but I'll keep you in mind."
Surrounded by desperation, Galvao finds himself battling to claim a personal life. "I'm having a hard time with time management. Almost every night I take resumes home and call people or update the system. I've worked every Sunday for the last three months."