Flashback to 1990. A native of New Haven, Connecticut, Joe Carbone, father of two, lost his job after his boss retired. The Quinnipiac College graduate had several interviews but few, if any, job offers. This happened in the first month, in the second and in the following 5 1/2 months.
Carbone fell into a rut. He woke up, made breakfast for his kids, sent them to school, made a snack when they got home, and then sat on the sofa to watch soap operas. “Three in a row. That was my time,” Carbone said, noting that he might have found that appalling in the past.
“I was depressed but didn’t know it,” he said. Complacency had set in. He didn’t realize how bad things had gotten until the rejection of a second-level interview left him with one thought, “If I rush home, I’ll make it to the general hospital.”
It was an aha moment. What had become of the successful manager he once was? “I realized I had to fight back,” said Carbone.
Luckily for him, he was soon presented with an opportunity at Textron, a nearby manufacturer of commercial and government military equipment. After a few rounds of interviews, he was hired.
The road to reemployment can be paved with ditches that may take months or even years to cross. The problem lies not only in the job seeker’s lost confidence and underutilized skills, but also in the perception of hiring managers.
“The misunderstanding of long-term unemployment among employers and ex-colleagues is one of the biggest obstacles the unemployed can face,” wrote Ofer Sharone, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in the Harvard Business Review last year.
“This widespread stigma creates isolation, makes job seeking daunting and undermines well-being.”
It’s hard to understand why Sheri Brown, of Norwalk, Connecticut, would have trouble finding a job. With a master’s degree from Post University, a bachelor’s degree from Long Island University and previous jobs in everything from sales and marketing to public relations and hospitality, her resume demonstrates that she is flexible, trainable and adaptable. Even so, after being fired, she rarely received a response from companies that advertised jobs on sites like Indeed.com, even though she met the requirements.
“It was disheartening,” she said, adding that she suspects ageism was at play.
“Companies think that an older person wants too much money, that they might not want to report to a younger person, or that they’re not nimble,” Brown said. None of this applies to anyone over 50.
Hope came when Brown found a flyer about WorkPlace. This nationwide program aims to reduce unemployment, particularly among those returning to work.
The free 20-day Pathway to Employment program not only helps participants modernize and rewrite their resumes and write effective cover letters, but also connects them with employers who can “try” them for eight weeks without pay , as WorkPlace pays their salaries for this period. After that time, they have the option to hire them permanently, and 95% of employers do just that.
Brown said the program helped her “get my mojo back,” and she got two jobs through the program.
Although long-term unemployment rates are declining, they remain particularly high for blacks and Hispanics, ex-prisoners, and those 55 and older. As daunting as this all sounds, there are services in and around New York City, most of which are free, that are available and proven to help, such as: In addition, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow Adult Employment Services provides job search assistance to the unemployed or underemployed.
However, some gaps between jobs are larger than others and easier to explain. Tenecia Williams, 34, had no idea how to talk about his.
“What do I say when they ask what I’ve been up to for the eight years I’ve been unemployed? Say the truth? That I was in and out of jail and running the streets doing crack and heroin?” he said.
Though Williams was recovering and rehabilitated as of 2017, the question kept coming up during job interviews. It wasn’t until he came across the Hope program that he found an answer that didn’t embarrass him.
Based in Brooklyn and the Bronx, the program provides services and training, including adult basic education, industry certifications, work wellness services, internships and job placement, each with long-term support. This also includes resume help, interview skills, case management, digital skills, financial literacy, mental health counseling and more.
“We understand that all parts must work and be stable to be successful,” said Jennifer Michell, executive director of the Hope program.
Aside from telling the truth about his drug use and the problems it caused, Williams was also able to talk about what it took to get by and get computer literate.
To relieve stress, Hope’s counselors encouraged him to attend job interviews without feeling like there was much at stake. “Just go and see what happens,” they advised. When it came to his history of addiction, “I asked them to give me a chance and told them I wouldn’t let them down,” he said.
One of his first jobs was during COVID-19, checking that the homeless who were staying in hotels were staying quarantined in their rooms. Though the job might not have been desirable for many, Williams was ready.
With Hope’s coaching, Williams has since earned multiple certifications and landed better and better jobs. He is currently a recovery coach and often goes before judges to advocate for addicts to be treated and not jailed.
“For the first time in my life I’m self-employed,” he said. “I am so grateful to Hope, they helped me change my life. I will help others to do the same.
“I took a lot, now I want to give back.”