Advice for Minorities When Hunting For a Job

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"Work for a company where you'll be happy, one that encourages you to do your best, where you don't have to take your skin off before you go to work" is Robert Brocksbank's advice to young minority-group college graduates about to enter the business world. Brocksbank's strong words apply to any member or any minority group seeking employment at any age.

Brocksbank, a champion of minority employment, a consultant with Mobil Oil Company, and chairman emeritus of the Dallas-based Council on Career Development for Minorities, points out that many minorities are in fields where the transfer of skills is not recognized. For example, making the transition from the military to academe or from teaching to the business world can often be difficult. Brocksbank says that many such minorities came from good jobs, have impressive credentials, and many are Ph.D.'s, but they have difficulty finding employment.

"The real division in our society is not black and white," says Brocksbank. "It's those with hope and without hope. Those without hope don't try-and don't make it."

Although the job hunt is difficult, it is not impossible. The minority 50-plus professional has more hurdles to conquer than his or her white counterpart. In addition to racism and prejudice that may be lurking behind an interviewer's smile, the workplace is more competitive and cutthroat today because of cutbacks, mergers and acquisitions, and increased competition at home and in the global marketplace. The result is that companies are slimming down and gearing up for the bottom-line battle for profits and increased market share in the years to come. This makes it more difficult for anyone looking for a job, and places another barrier in the path of minority professionals seeking employment.

Prejudice Is Still with Us

Dr. Bailey Jackson, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Massachusetts, and consultant to major corporations and universities on multicultural organizational development, recalls when he began his career and was interviewing for a job on Wall Street, the interviewer suggested he might be more interested in boxing than computer science. This, despite the fact that Dr. Jackson graduated at the top of his computer class.

"It's not as blatant today," says Dr. Jackson. "People are smart enough not to ask such questions, but then they won’t consider your application seriously." He also notes that blacks and Latinos have become smarter in identifying racism when it rears its ugly head. It is subtle-Dr. Jackson calls it "sophisticated" - and harder to see.

When it comes to "corporate fit," Dr, Jackson says it is rarely people who are black or Latino, but white. "Qualified" is another word used to discriminate, says Dr. Jackson, because the black or Latino does not have "white qualifications" that some companies mandate.

Dick Clarke, premier minority recruiter in the country and president of Dick Clarke Associates in New York City, says most professionals are aware of the kinds of prejudices that one expects. "It's never over," he says. "You must assume going in you are going to encounter it somewhere along the way."

"Be focused, be prepared, and be articulate," advises John L. Estrada, program development director, human resources, at the Amoco Corporation in Chicago. "Don't look at the job hunt in a negative way," he says. "Know you will encounter difficult issues and deal with them."

Estrada says minorities who have left big corporations or government employment don't like change. "They want to go back to what they left, and they can't," he says. Minorities in this situation have to evaluate themselves, and concentrate on their strengths and abilities. "Look at other job markets," says Estrada, "smaller companies and organizations that view minorities' abilities with greater value. Such companies typically will not look so much at the minority aspect, because they are more interested in the bottom line. There is value added to a smaller organization. The bottom line today is that you are not always needed by big corporations and you have to come to terms with that."

Reenter with Know-How

People who reenter the job market have to make a transition. They have to go into the job market with a smile, be sincere, and fit in. One major problem Estrada sees is that in many cases minorities have not properly investigated what they want to do. They have to tell a would-be employer what they can do and how they can fit in. "This is where you have to be focused, prepared, and articulate," claims Estrada.

A good resource of potential employers is area magazines like Grain's Chicago Business that annually list the 100 largest corporations in the area, both public and private, their financial health, and the number of employees. Utilities are another good source of information about growing companies.

Another source is associations such as the Black Business Alliance, National Black MBA Association, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Organization of Professionals and Executives, National Society of Hispanic MBAs, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Association of American Indian Affairs, to mention a few. You can find the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of associations in your field by looking them up in the Encyclopedia of Associations at the library.

Executive recruiter Richard Clarke calls attention to the "Last in, first out" syndrome. He says LIFO as it applies to minorities has been a consistent pattern of corporate behavior.

"What does surprise me," he says, "is that the people coming out of the military are having similar problems, although, on reflection, my experience has been that general officers-these are generals-who come out of the regular army that are not minority, tend to find employment very quickly-mostly with companies that are in some aspect of the industrial-military complex. You get terrifically efficient, accomplished black generals-who come out and have a very difficult time finding employment. Some of them are logistics experts, army, air force, marine, as well as naval officers. When you hear that such people have difficulty finding jobs you're disappointed because these are, in my mind, very special people and they deserve a higher degree of respect from people in the hiring process."

Clarke also notes that 43 percent of respondents to a 1987 survey of 5,000 minority group managers commissioned by his company said there was less opportunity to advance than there had been in 1982. Half claimed they had been treated differently or unfairly because of their color.

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