No Easy Solutions for Minority Job Hunters

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Willard Anderson, director of training for ITT Corporation, says: "The over-50 group, in my opinion, tends to suffer in large measure from what I call 'oppressive psychosis.' We grew up in an era where it was necessary to be suspicious of almost any and everything. We look at the past ten years and what has happened to affirmative action along the way. You mesh that with what the average 50-year-old today has grown up with, and, psychologically speaking, the thought is, Tm not going to be able to find meaningful employment, the odds are stacked against me,' which tends to create a problem initially. And that is, 'It's not fair.'

"To some extent, I think that is true. Look at the business side. Mergers and acquisitions have taken their toll and in terms of numbers, there are not a lot of jobs out there. I would say that the psychological end is the toughest part. Now it's not easy for anyone to get employment today. I don't know of any profession where people are just walking through the doors and signing up. It's tough on everyone. But the minority has to be strong and tenacious and understand that, generally speaking, it will take anywhere from three to six months to land a job.

"So today, the toughest thing is getting over the hurdle psychologically and saying to yourself, “There is a position somewhere out there for me and I'm going to find it.' "



Connecting

"Now how do you find it? Networking is one way. You speak to the people you know who are working and occasionally you'll find someone who knows of a job possibility. But that's not easy. Oftentimes we don't want people to know we are out of work and we don't use our networking contacts. Be willing to admit you are looking for a job and work toward that end.

"The other thing I don't think minorities always pay enough attention to is the willingness to move. This is another aspect of job hunting. I talk to quite a number of people in this job who call, seeking advice. I ask them, 'Are you mobile?' And the answer, generally speaking, is 'No, I don't want to leave New York.' Or 'No, I live in New Jersey, and I like New Jersey.' Or 'I love Connecticut.' I think that's a mistake, because if you decide to just pick off a piece of the market, and that's the only one you plan to approach for employment, that creates a larger problem for you. You go where the job is. "It's easy for me to say because I've been gainfully employed all my life and I've never really had to do a lot interviewing. I had a military career prior to joining ITT."

Anderson emphasizes the importance of self-worth. The former chief master sergeant in 1976 was selected outstanding airman in the U.S. Air Force. And in 1977 he was selected by then Alabama governor George Wallace as the outstanding enlisted representative in the state.

"I was considered an individual on the move, very professional, and the kind of person you really want to have on the job. But when I was interviewed for my first position with an ITT company, I was made an offer with a dollar value that made me laugh. The interviewer asked me what was funny.

I told him I thought the compensation was too low. That I couldn't really come to work for that amount, because I brought willingness and ability to the job and I knew where they were going to place me. As a result, I felt I should be compensated for the kind of performance I knew they were going to get from me."

Believe in Yourself

The company upped the ante and Anderson got the job. “I started a very low level job and today I’m the director of training and development for the corporation worldwide," he says. "I feel it is important that you have a good, solid feel for what you are worth on the market.

That is not to say that all interviewers or people who are in charge of hiring are going to try to get you as cheaply as possible. I know this is a fair corporation and there have been a lot of changes over the years. But there are still companies out there, especially if you are a minority that will try to get you cheaper. It happens. Oftentimes it is found out and it causes problems.

"When it comes to interviews, you have to understand the interviewing process. You have to know what the company is looking for, have your objectives set, and be confident. If you find that the person is prejudiced, then you remain the person you know you are. And if it doesn't work occasionally, it just doesn't work. That happens a lot. If we decide we'd like to file a charge as a result, and we have our facts correct, I say do that. One must do what one feels one must do."

Anderson says it's important to have a good idea of what you want to do. What kind of work would you like to do, especially if you are a retiree who's been out of the market for a while and wants to get back in? He advises using various employment agencies, including the government, and organizations like the Urban League, and allowing them to help you seek the kind of employment you want. In that process you should find out what it really takes to be employed at that level or in that kind of job. Once you have that information, you have another decision to make. Do I want to do what it takes to get that job? For instance, if you have been a teacher and out of the profession for a while, it may be necessary to return to college to take a course or two to become certified in a state where you may have moved. If you're willing to do these things there's a good chance you'll be able to find employment. Not at the level you may seek at first, but employment to the extent that you'll be satisfied, if not happy.

As to prejudice, Anderson says: "It's one of those things that has been with us since the beginning of this country and it's still there. There was a big swing at one point. Companies did a lot of outreach and almost all of the companies had a meaningful number of minorities. The pendulum has begun to swing the other way now. I would imagine a part of that has to do with the mergers and cutbacks and the lack of the number of jobs. The question is: 'Can they get hired?' Have there in fact been some changes?"

Fresh Winds of Change, Anderson goes on, "There's been a tremendous amount of changes. Specifically, this corporation. I'm very proud of ITT in terms of some of the things I know it has done. Some companies, I would imagine, like others, tend to exist based on the environment that they are in and in many instances they're not yet the way we'd like them to be. But it seems that demographics are going to do something about that in the near future if I can believe what I'm reading. So the problem to some extent will be solved in the next decade or two."
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