Depression-Era Job Hunt Still Rings True

Susan Hall
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Ten or 15 years ago, my mom lived out on Lake Texoma in southern Oklahoma near Kingston. One of her neighbors needed a job and told her one day that she was driving into town and planned to stop at every business along the way to inquire about work. This woman didn't get far. She found work at a restaurant only a few miles away.


That's the way job hunting worked during the Great Depression, a Wall Street Journal story reminds us. Job candidates didn't send their resumes into some online black hole; they went in and talked to people. Though job seekers are able to "talk" with myriad hiring managers on professional social networking sites - and doing so is a good idea - you're still more likely to be hired by working your personal network. Referral remains the most common source of external hires, according to staffing consultant CareerXroads.


It was true during the Depression, too. University of Pennsylvania history professor Walter Licht, who analyzed interviews of 1930s-era job seekers, says in the article that nearly 55 percent of manufacturing workers in Philadelphia found jobs through personal connections and another 35 percent by personal initiatives such as knocking on doors.


Yet today's job seekers spend just 9 percent of their time contacting friends and relatives to find work, while 51 percent is spent locating job postings and sending out applications, according to a paper by Princeton economist Alan Krueger and Columbia Business School's Andreas Mueller that was presented at the Brookings Institution in March.


Of course, you could say that it's easy to find a low-paying restaurant job and not so simple to find work that can support a family at a level even close to what they had been accustomed to. That's true. But you're more likely to find those professional positions among the network of folks cultivated from that previous job. And the time to cultivate that network is long before you need them.

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