Karen Richards is unemployed, but it’s not for lack of trying. She estimates that she has sent out about 100 resumés in the past year.
The Arlington resident theorizes that a few factors have prevented her from landing a job: She’s overqualified for some positions, underqualified for others, and the fact that she’s currently out of work may be a turnoff to some employers.
But there’s another problem that she says could be holding her back. The legal sector is using new software for research and client management, and she isn’t familiar with it.
“What I was using when I was in law school has completely changed,” Richards said.
And she just graduated about a year ago.
“Especially at nonprofits, they really want experience with all these different software things, and I just don’t have it,” she said.
In an era when technology is evolving quickly and is critically important to many businesses’ success, some local job seekers say that being out of work, even for a short time, has made it difficult to keep up with the latest innovations in their field. And without proficiency in the most current tools, they say, it is harder to get hired.
According to July figures from the Labor Department, 40.7 percent of unemployed people across the United States have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. With such a large share of Americans unemployed for a period of almost seven months or more, it is likely that more job seekers will experience similar difficulties.
Jennifer Rados, a Takoma Park graphic designer who is unemployed for the second time in three years, has had to teach herself the coding language HTML5 and two Web design programs as part of her effort to land a job.
“I have a feeling they’re skipping directly over a portfolio that doesn’t include current software experience,” Rados said.
In her field, it’s not only the tools that are changing, it’s the output. In 1998, when she first entered the workforce, she was designing mostly for print products. But lately she has had to hone her Web design skills to become more competitive.
“I have to basically become an expert in everything,” Rados said.
At NRI, a staffing firm serving the Washington region, recruiter Melissa Brinsfield said she is seeing this pattern with clients. She said her company tests candidates for administrative jobs for their knowledge of basic software packages, and employers are increasingly looking to these test scores as a tie-breaker between two otherwise equally qualified candidates.
Brinsfield said outdated skills aren’t just a problem for the unemployed. She said some workers who have held the same position for many years have gotten comfortable and haven’t tried to broaden their knowledge. But that would make it difficult for them to get hired elsewhere.
Some recruiting industry professionals say the lack of skills is sometimes not as important as what a candidate does about it.
Ahmar Abbas, a vice president at information technology staffing firm DISYS, said some clients wonder why an unemployed person is jobless in the first place.
Employers wonder, Abbas said, “Are they just not a good employee?”
Abbas encourages unemployed job seekers to take on short-term projects to keep their skills sharp.
Another staffing firm leader, Mike Steinitz of Robert Half International, echoed the need to be proactive during a bout of joblessness.
“It could be things like taking courses, it could be just sort of doing volunteer work that allows them to still use their skills,” he said.
Whether someone can get hired without the freshest experience on their resumé, Steinitz said, “100 percent depends [on] what the person is doing with that time in between.”