NEAL CONAN, HOST:
A lot of people take a break over the holidays. Schools are out, people go on vacation or head home to be with their families. And many of the unemployed and underemployed take a much needed breather from the grind of the job hunt. In this week's Wall Street Journal, reporter Lauren Weber wrote that there might be more opportunities than you might think right now. Hiring officials, are you pretty well shutdown for the year? And if you're looking for a job, what is your holiday strategy?
Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Lauren Weber joins us now from our bureau in New York. She covers careers for The Wall Street Journal. Nice to have you with us.
LAUREN WEBER: Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: And you got some interesting answers when you spoke with companies and jobseekers at a job fair last week in Manhattan.
WEBER: Yes. The companies that I spoke to who were looking to hire people were saying that the attendance at the job fair was actually very, very disappointing. One man I spoke to said he had about a third as many people stopping by as he normally does when it's not holiday season. And, you know, as he said, everybody who - all of the companies that were there that day were looking for people. So jobseekers who chose to stay home or, you know, as you said, take a break from looking for work during the holidays might be missing out on those opportunities.
CONAN: And you also ran into at least one jobseeker who said wait a minute. I go out there every day, rain or shine.
WEBER: Yes. This was a woman who had been unemployed for about 11 months. She had been a government engineer, lost her job in January, and she said she looks for a job every day. And she said, you know, plenty of companies are very well organized. There are projects that get announced at all months of the year. In fact, she had - she mentioned that Mayor Bloomberg had recently announced a big development project here in New York, might be looking for engineers. You know, so she said there's no point in taking a break from looking for a job. There's always somebody who needs somebody with her qualifications.
CONAN: In general, what kind of jobs were the companies offering, though? Were they, you know, 40 hours a week, full-time, benefits, that sort of thing?
WEBER: No, unfortunately. At the job fair that I went to and then others that I've been to, a lot of the jobs that are open are actually commission based. You know, they are insurance, sales or financial products, financial planners. One company was a debt-collection company, which, unfortunately, says something about our economy right now. And a lot of these jobs are, like I said, commission based. They don't pay a salary. They don't pay benefits. So they're not exactly the highest quality jobs.
On the other hand, you know, I've spent a lot of time looking at the job board websites, things like Monster or CareerBuilder. And if you look on those sites, there are jobs being posted every single day. You know, dozens often, you know, if you type in any city, and those are for other kinds of jobs. You might find nursing positions, project management, accountant, things like that. So it's not just the low-quality jobs that are available.
CONAN: I was also interested - you pointed out in your piece - there's a lot of companies that have, you know, departments have budgets, and it's use-it-or-lose-it money. If they don't spend it by the end of the year, they're not going to get it back in their budget the next year.
WEBER: Exactly. This is more of an issue for bigger companies than small ones, where, you know, there's a single budget. But for big companies that might have departments or divisions, each one has their own budget to get through, you know, for the whole year. And most companies operate on a fiscal year that matches the calendar year. So they really do have to use that money by the end of December. If they can't prove to their managers that they've spent their budget, it looks like they don't need the money, and they won't get it again next year.
So, you know, that money might be used to fill open positions or, who knows, even to create a position, just, you know, for a project that might be anticipated for the following year, or it can be used for extras, like a relocation expenses or a signing bonus.
CONAN: We're talking with Lauren Weber of the Wall Street Journal. She covers careers there and saying that there are some maybe unexpected or counterintuitive opportunities for jobs available during the holiday season. 800-989-8255. Email, email@example.com. We'd like to hear from those of you who are hiring. Are you still open for business for the remainder of the year? And those of you looking, what do you do to set your holiday-period strategy? We'll start with Alice, and Alice is on the line with us from Tulare, in California.
ALICE: Hi. I was calling in because I'm actually sitting on a panel for interviewing right now, to fill a position for a community liaison position, and I was just astounded. I was asked to be part of it. But what astounds me is the number of qualified individuals. You know, normally in, you know, in the hiring process, you'd have a few individuals, and we're in a rural, agricultural area. But to have, you know, upwards of more than a dozen applicants that are qualified just really hints at the fact that, you know, we're going to have the best individual for that position once all is said and done.
CONAN: Yeah. That sounds like also you're going to have to make a difficult decision when it comes down to it. Somebody gets a job...
ALICE: Exactly. I mean, it's just going to be really, really tough once everything is said and done because every one is very, very qualified.
CONAN: Well, at least somebody in California is hiring, though.
ALICE: Yes, definitely.
CONAN: Nice of you to call, Alice. And thanks very much for the call.
ALICE: Thank you.
CONAN: Here's an email from Mark: I've been looking for work for two years now. My strategy for the holidays: keep searching full time, full speed ahead.
And, Lauren Weber, you pointed out that, well, yeah, part of the strategy for job seekers, yeah, go on Monster, apply for those jobs, but network, network, network.
WEBER: Yeah. I mean, that is kind of the golden rule for all job seekers. You know, that's - often many companies report that's the best way to find a job. And if anything, they prefer employee referrals to, you know, a resume that just comes over the transom along with hundreds of others. So, you know, holidays are a great time to do this. You can - there are many parties being given, whether it's with family or friends or neighbors. You know, there's always people to meet and kind of ask them what they're doing and about what's going at their companies.
So, actually, I didn't even - this didn't even occur to me until after I had written the story, but this is exactly what I had done in my previous job. I was at a New Year's Day party, and I happened to meet somebody and asked her about her company. I had just written a book. I'd been out of the job market for about two years, and I was quite in need of a steady paycheck and some health insurance. And I met this woman. We talked about her company a little bit. She said that they were just starting to hire. I sent her my resume the next day. And two months later, I was working at the company. So it really...
WEBER: ...can work. You just never know who you're going to run into. And, you know, always keep an open mind. You know, not that you want to bring copies of your resume to a party and force it on anybody, but it's a really good way to meet people.
CONAN: Yeah. I was going to put resumes in my Christmas cards, yeah.
Yeah. No. I would stay away from that.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WEBER: And hopefully, you like your job and you're not going to leave anytime soon.
CONAN: Well, that's true enough. And let's go to Steven(ph), Steven with us from Perry, Oklahoma.
STEVEN: Hello. Hi.
STEVEN: I am actually looking for a job. I'm not unemployed right now, but I'm underemployed. I'm a pilot. And I've got an interview two days after Christmas, on the 27th with a commercial airline. So things are looking up for me hopefully.
CONAN: Well, seeing the new rules out today, make sure you get some sleep.
STEVEN: I will do, sir. Yeah, that's important so.
CONAN: So what would the difference be?
STEVEN: I'm sorry. What was that?
CONAN: What is the difference between what you're doing now, and if you got this job, what would you be doing then?
STEVEN: Currently, I'm working as a flight instructor, which is pretty standard for pilots that don't have a commercial job, to work as a flight instructor. But it's very - it's hourly pay. And so you get a week of bad weather, you don't really do much flying, and so you don't get paid a whole lot and you don't get guarantee. And so it's much better to be there because you get some kind of a minimum guarantee for your salary if you're working for a commercial airline.
CONAN: That voice, I can hear it coming over the intercom now.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
STEVEN: Well, hopefully, next time you're on a flight I'll be sitting up front.
CONAN: All right, Steven. Good luck.
STEVEN: Thanks. Bye.
CONAN: And let's see if we can go to - this is Annie, Annie with us from Saxtons River, Vermont.
ANNIE: Hi. How are you?
CONAN: Good. Thanks.
ANNIE: Well, my story is that I have a business as a freelance copywriter. And I've been hit by the economy, so I've been putting my feelers out looking for the right organization to work for. And I had a great interview on Monday with a company, a Web development company. And just a few minutes ago, in fact, I heard back from them. I had sent them a little thank you note, thanking them for the interview and asked them what their timeline was. And they said they will actually not be deciding until the first week of January because they're all in and out during the holidays.
ANNIE: It didn't surprise me, but...
CONAN: So everything is kind of on hold for a little while.
CONAN: And, Lauren Weber, do you think that's true for a lot of companies?
WEBER: It might be. You know, as the pilot was saying, some people are interviewing and hiring even in that week between Christmas and New Year's, when we probably assume everything is shut down. But I think this woman's experience is probably not atypical, but it's good that she interviewed before the holidays. I think a lot of companies, you know, they look at January or the new year like we do as individuals. You want to hit the ground running. You want to be energized for your goals for the year. And so I think, you know, a lot of companies do want to hire around this time probably because they have new projects that are getting underway, and they just want to be staffed up and ready for that.
CONAN: Annie, good luck.
ANNIE: Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate the call. Lauren Weber, as you continue to talk to people about careers, few years ago, people going out of work would have said, wait a minute. I'm going to hold out for a job where I'm making close to if not as much money I was before. I want a job with benefits. I really don't want to take a job on commission. That's all changed hasn't it?
WEBER: Yeah. Unfortunately, a lot of people just don't have that luxury. I mean, there aren't enough job openings to ensure that people are going to find their perfect job. The most recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in October there were 3.3 million job openings on the last business day, and this is better than it was in the trough of the recession. But in the month that the recession began, or the month right before the recession began, there were 4.4 job openings. So, you know, we're not nearly up to the levels we were at before this - before the recession began. So, you know, people just can't be quite as choosy and selective as they would hope to be.
Now, when you drill down into the numbers a little bit, there are certain fields and industries where the unemployment rate is much lower. So if you're an engineer or have - or an accountant, these are industries that seem to be doing really well, or fields that seem to be doing really well. I think for accountants the unemployment rate is somewhere - or for engineers, it's about half what it is for the national rate. So, you know, there, you can afford to be a little bit choosier. In fact, I've heard that in some cases salaries are actually going up, which is a sign of greater competition among employers for those people.
But, you know, if you don't have some of those specialized skills that are really in demand, you know, you are looking for a job along with many, many others, and the competition is stiff. And for many people, that means choosing something that, in better times, they would have probably passed over.
CONAN: Lauren Weber covers careers at The Wall Street Journal. You are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And the numbers - you mentioned specific numbers, but the job numbers are taking up a bit. The unemployment figure is down to 8.6 percent, I think. But some of that is due to people who've just stopped looking.
WEBER: Yes. There are a lot of discouraged workers out there. Hopefully, they will - they are starting to see that things are actually picking up. Like, for instance, another data point that came up from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was that 1.9 million people quit their jobs in October, and that's about 500,000 or 400,000 up from the trough in that data point which was in January of 2010. So more people are feeling that - are either finding other positions or are feeling that they have a little bit of luxury of leaving where they are and hopefully finding something better. And most of those jobs, you know, will have to be replaced. Those employers will look for replacement workers for who was there. So, you know, some of the data really does indicate that things are looking better than they were at the worst point, and we are in recovery. Technically, we have been for awhile. It's been a very weak recovery. But even so, it's clear that there are more jobs out there.
CONAN: And you talked about differences in terms of the kinds of jobs, engineers, for example, that people are looking for. What about regionally? Is – are some places in the country doing better than other? We just heard, for example, pretty good employment numbers for a place like Maryland.
WEBER: Yeah. You know, it's interesting. I've seen a few studies recently that show the Midwest is actually really ticking up in terms of hiring. And that was somewhat surprising to me because we think of the coasts as being more dynamic economically and that, you know, more innovation would come from the coastal areas. But I think probably because manufacturing is doing OK, certain kinds of manufacturing, you know, Detroit is coming back, the car industry. So, you know, the Midwest seems to be popping more than other regions right now.
You know, different - depending on different studies. You see different kinds of data. But in the ones about the records of people quitting, the most quits were actually in the South. And unfortunately, it's something you can't really drill down further into the numbers, so I can't say which industries people seem to be leaving their jobs or moving into other jobs in. But I was kind of interested to see that. It was a little bit surprising.
CONAN: Here's an email from Terry(ph) in Franklin, Tennessee. Well, I've seen lately many firms posting jobs but in no hurry to hire. I've seen the same jobs posted and reposted for, in some cases over six months. I've also noted the same jobs seem to rotate around through various recruiters. So that's interesting.
In the meantime, let's see if we can go next to Leah(ph), Leah with us from Oakland.
LEAH: Yes. Hello. This actually links in a bit to the oil discussion. I work for an oil reclamation and recycling company in - we're based out of Emeryville, California, but we're hiring in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas for a procurement specialist. We have a high volume of products down there, and unfortunately we're just not seeing the volume of applicants that we expected in a downturn economy.
CONAN: Not seeing the - when you would think that everybody would be applying for a job.
LEAH: Right. One would think. We get a lot of replies by email that are sort of joke replies, not including the resume, not including a cover letter, just people that seem to be ill-prepared to present themselves professionally in the market place. But we are not seeing the kind of quality applicants that we had expected in a downturn economy. With the kind of competition that's out there, we had thought that would really drive more qualified applicants to our door, and unfortunately that just doesn't happened.
CONAN: Well, maybe they'll show up now, Leah. Thank you very much for the call.
LEAH: I hope so. OK. Take care.
CONAN: This is from Wiki(ph), who wrote us: One issue facing job seekers is employers looking for the purple squirrel. Purple squirrel is a term used by employment recruiters to describe an unlikely job applicant with the exactly right education, experience and qualifications that perfectly fit a job's multifaceted requirements. One, in theory, this prized purple squirrel can handle all of the extensive variety of responsibilities of a job description would allow businesses to function with fewer workers. So are - Lauren Weber, are employers being a little picky?
WEBER: Yeah, there are. It's funny, I've never heard that term purple squirrel, but I'll have to add it to my lexicon. You know, this relates to a couple of the recent calls. You know, I do think sometimes employers figure, well, there are so many people out there looking. Eventually, the perfect person is going to walk through the door. So maybe they are, you know, hiring very slowly or just waiting on jobs, waiting on filling jobs. And in terms of what Leah said, there are a lot of - employers also complain about what's called the skills gap. There are lots of unemployed people, but not the people with the right specialized skills, and this may be an issue for companies. They may have to invest more on training in order to create the employees that they're looking for.
CONAN: This is from Patricia in Laramie: An employer scheduled an interview for December 30th. Some higher-end employers are pushing things out to January. After searching for a year, I just got a job offer today for a new position with a conservation organization. Congratulations.
Lauren Weber, thanks for your time. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.