America’s extended-stay job hunt

December 29, 2011

A new survey from job placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas offers good news and bad news for U.S. job seekers. While some Americans have become more optimistic about their employment prospects, others have grown even more frustrated at their inability to find work.

The results were based on a random sample of 600 callers to Challenger’s yearly job-search advice hotline. Here are some key findings:

– Over the two-day event, the firm’s professional counselors helped more than 1,000 job seekers, 77 percent of whom were unemployed. That is down only slightly from the previous two years, when 81 percent of callers were out of work.

– Callers were more optimistic than a year ago: nearly 30 percent estimated they would find a new job within three months, up from 18 percent in 2010.

– Even as the percentage of optimistic callers surged from a year ago, so did the percent of those predicting it would take more than a year to find employment. Ten percent of the job seekers felt the job search would last more than 12 months, compared to four percent who anticipated a prolonged job search last year.

– The percentage of callers expecting the job search to last 7 to 9 months increased rom six percent a year ago to 14 percent this year. The percentage expecting a 10- to 12-month job search surged to 12 percent, after peaking at 2.4 percent in 2010.

-Among the unemployed callers, 37 percent have been out of work for one to six months. Another 14 percent have been jobless for 7 to 12 months. As an indication of how tight the job market remains, the remaining 50 percent of callers had been jobless for a year or more, with 60 percent of these longtime job seekers out of work for two years or longer.

John Challenger, the group’s CEO, paints a glum picture of the data:

There was a lot more uncertainty a year ago. Almost half of last year’s callers had no idea how long the job search would take. This year, callers were either certain of the job market’s improvement or certain of its continued weakness.  Overall, the majority of callers – 65 percent – felt they would find a job in six months or less. That is a pretty realistic assessment. In a healthy economy, a successful job search might take two to three months. In a tight job market, such as the one we are in now, it is not unusual to see even high quality candidates take four to six months.

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