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Anything, Anywhere, Any Time

In December 2007, the month that the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites as the start of the recession, Andrea Auger of Groton got laid off from her job as an online facilitator and administrator for Global Knowledge, a North Carolina-based company that provides corporate-training classes and operates virtual classrooms. Auger thought getting a new job would be a breeze. After all, she has great work experience, not only in e-learning, a field that seemed to be thriving, but also in multimedia production and systems engineering support. There are no gaps in her resume. She has excellent references, and she is maintaining a 3.98 grade point average in her information-technology studies at UMass-Lowell. "I wasn't too worried, because I thought with my skill set I'd be able to find something, even if it wasn't in the same field," says the 51-year-old. "I was wrong. I was so wrong."

How to Land a Survival Job

Adjust your attitude To the employer, every position is important. The hiring manager wants to see that you'll take what's offered seriously.

Redefine Yourself Write an alternative resume. Highlight specific skills needed for the lower position you're seeking and downplay the high-level title you had at your previous job.

Be FlexibleAnticipate what the company is looking for and adapt to it rather than trying to change it. Be SeriousShow your commitment to seeing the opportunity through.

Be Easy You can work with anyone, under any circumstances. You are the definition of a team player.

SHOW You're Curious Don't be a threat to a hiring manager who might have less experience than you. Stress a willingness to learn, and ask questions like "What exactly are you looking for in your number two person?"
When asked how many jobs she's applied for, Auger says, "Holy smokes, dozens." Though she hasn't given up on returning to the virtual classroom "I loved my job," she says at this point she just wants a paycheck. "I need the income," says Auger, the divorced mother of a grown son. "I just lost almost half of my IRAs, and I'm the only one sustaining myself. I'll do almost anything now." Anything. It used to be that losing a job just required a little fine-tuning of the resume and some poking around for jobs related to the one you just lost. A new spot to land would soon emerge, hopefully with a similar salary.

But now? "Anything." It's a word being used more often by people who have been bought out, laid off, or outsourced. They quickly realize that this is not the time to be picky about their next job not with the stock market plummeting and Massachusetts unemployment above 7 percent, and rising. Though no statistics are kept on the types of jobs people are seeking or on the movement of individual workers up or down the career ladder, we can safely assume Andrea Auger is not alone.

"It's clear that the customers we're seeing are lowering their expectations," says Christopher Brennan, interim executive director of the Career Place in Woburn, one of 37 state-sponsored One-Stop Career Centers offering workshops, resume critiques, counseling, free use of office equipment, on-site recruitment, and job fairs. "People are getting so I hate to use the word 'desperate' but people are getting so eager for job opportunities that they're entering training programs they never would have applied for in the past."

Brennan also points to one woman who found something in her field, but at 70 percent of her previous pay. "She was satisfied," he says, "because she had at least landed a job that could pay some of the bills

A fair number of job seekers have been out of work for months or years. But many of those who entered the ranks of the unemployed more recently were aware from the start that things had changed and that the old rules no longer applied. John Nocella, for example, wasn't taking any chances.

From the day he first walked through the doors of the Career Place, Nocella has been willing to consider almost any position. "I won't take entry-level," says the 63-year-old business-to-business salesman from Stoneham. "But I am looking for other opportunities that are out there, just to make some income." His experience with job hunting after a layoff two years ago, as well as that of many of his peers, convinced him that this was no time to be fussy. "I feel better when I'm working," he says, "and to get there, I'm willing to adopt a broader job search."

Although Nocella says he won't take entry-level, if nothing changes in the next few weeks or months, he might reconsider. More and more people are willing to accept entry-level jobs, even if they're closer to retirement age than college age. According to Roger Berkowitz, president and CEO of Legal Sea Foods, "culinary schools are overbooked now," and the restaurant chain has seen a spike in applications, many of them from people looking to switch careers. "A lot of people have always fantasized about working in the hospitality industry," he says, "or maybe they did it when they were in school and want to get back into it. This gives them the opportunity to pursue their earlier dream."

Brennan sees it differently. "Some people are on their second or third layoff in a particular industry," he says, "so they're saying, 'I need to move on, because it's a dying industry.' " But even for those staying in the same field, taking a lower-level position isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are two primary arguments against accepting a job that is, for lack of a better word, "beneath" you: It cuts into time you could spend looking for something at your skill level, and less-skilled experience doesn't look good on your resume. But neither argument holds during a recession, according to Paul Facella, the New York-based author of Everything I Know About Business I Learned at McDonald's.

When asked whether there's such a thing as a job that's "beneath" an unemployed worker in this market, he says bluntly: "I don't think there is. There's no question in my mind that tolerance for that kind of switching down is much greater than it was one or two years ago. Most employers looking at resumes a couple of years from now are going to be respectful that people needed to do it to survive."

There can be advantages to taking a survival job. It can keep you active and prevent resume gaps, it may provide unexpected networking and social opportunities, and, perhaps most important, it can actually allow you to broaden your skill set "particularly if you're applying at a smaller or mid-size company," says Suzanne Bump, secretary of the state's executive office of labor and workforce development. "Smaller companies are where the jobs are now. But also those are the companies that need people to be more entrepreneurial, and they have more tolerance for folks who can be flexible and learn."

You may be able to master computer programs that are new to you, brush up on your collaboration skills, or apply your current expertise to a new industry you'd be willing to move up in. Brennan calls it learning to learn. "There's not as many specialized jobs as there used to be," he points out. "People have to be multiskilled."

You may also be able to negotiate a decent benefits package, despite the lower pay. That's one of the main reasons Deb Holbrook of Hopkinton is looking for work even if it means stepping down a ladder rung or two. The 47-year-old biotech research coordinator lost her job in January and says that since that time she has applied for more than 120 jobs. Holbrook says benefits at her last job covered her, her working husband, and their two children. "If you've got a spouse with a good-paying job, I think, unfortunately, people look at that and say, 'She doesn't have to work.' It's not true. I need to make a contribution to the household and to our retirement. It's not fair to leave it all on my husband." In addition, Holbrook says it's depressing to see those unemployment checks coming in. "It can put a damper on your self-esteem," she says, "but it is a temporary fix. If I keep moving forward, something good will happen." She points out that those who have been out of work a very long time may need to regroup and reassess what they're doing, perhaps while training in a different field or a different aspect of the same field.

That's what Janice Sutcliffe, 60, did when she got laid off in November from her nine-year job as division manager of home decorating at the Fabric Place in Woburn. After searching aggressively both laterally and downward for only three months, the Lexington resident landed a job as an entry-level management trainee at A.C. Moore at 70 percent of her previous pay. She enjoys it, she says, "because it gives me a chance to evolve" and because, after thoroughly researching the arts and crafts supply company, she believes it will survive the recession and even someday expand, allowing her opportunities she never would have found at her old job.

"It's scary out there," she says. "But people have to find a way. They have to reinvent themselves. What you were doesn't necessarily apply in this environment. I think you need to look at it as an adventure."

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