Work & Purpose

Helping the Long-Term Unemployed Find Jobs

"Absolute Abby" Kohut aims to find 1 million jobs for 1 million people

(This article appeared previously on AOLJobs.com)

Former corporate human resources specialist Abby Kohut, a/k/a Absolutely Abby, is on a cross-country mission. Her goal? Help one million long-term unemployed Americans find jobs.

After a career placing thousands of people in computer and healthcare industry jobs, Kohut has been traveling the country in an RV with her husband Ken, “spilling the secrets of my industry … and inspiring those out of work not to lose faith that they will find a job.”

(MORE: Older Job Seekers: Get Social and Mobile)

Kohut took on the catchy moniker “Absolutely Abby” because she pledges to “always tell job seekers the absolute truth,” even if it hurts, because, in the long run, “so many people are suffering … and they need to hear the truth in order to make the right changes.”

Taking What She Knows on the Road
Kohut was named one of Fast Company's 100 Most Influential People on the Internet and her website was recognized by Forbes as one of the web's Top 100 for career advice.
Now into the third year of her travels, which launched after a winter respite recently in San Diego, Kohut has added a new wrinkle to her tour: A “Career Makeover” contest, in which frustrated job seekers compete for a complete makeover of their appearance and presentation style from Kohut and local stylists and hairdressers.
Similar Stories Across the Country
Kohut says that every stop she makes, much of what she sees “is extremely similar among the long-term unemployed.”

(MORE: 6 Steps for Older Job Seekers)

Most are over 40 and typically between age 40 and 60 and “all of them want to get back to work. No one wants to be on unemployment, and many of them have lost their unemployment,” she says.

Kohut says she also hears the same questions over and over again, and tailors her presentations to address them.

What differs geographically, Kohut says, is the types of jobs and careers people are seeking.

“Here in San Diego, we've got biotech and a lot of IT people; San Francisco, Chicago and New York it's IT, too," says Kohut. "In the Midwest, it's manufacturing. In Florida, there were a lot of NASA people, lots of aerospace. In New Jersey, it was pharmaceuticals and biotech.”

Overqualified or Over the Salary Range? 
Kohut says the candidates, no matter the region, keep hearing one thing: They're overqualified.

“What that means, of course, is that they make too much money," she says. "Others hear it as they're too old. And I do think some recruiters feel that way. It's sad.”

Dan Jordan, of Tierra Santa, Calif., agrees. He has been out of work for seven months after being let go from a senior executive position at a medical devices company. He only started looking for a job three months ago.

Progress is “going slower than I hoped at my level,” he says. “I didn't expect that.”

Jordan says he hears that he's overqualified, but the greatest complexity in today's job market is “simply getting yourself in front of people … it's so technology driven.” He says, “Search and keywords have taken the place of people,” and often a computer will toss out what it perceives as someone who's too experienced (e.g., too expensive).
'Absolutely'  The Best Response
Kohut says the best response when an interviewer tells an applicant they're overqualified is to say, “Yes, I am absolutely qualified,” and add, “Let me ask you: If you're flying in a plane, do you want a pilot who is qualified or overqualified? If you need a heart surgeon, do you want the qualified or overqualified doctor?”
Following Kohut's talk, some attendees said the response to being told they were overqualified was the most helpful piece of information they heard.

Appearance Matters
Others said the session was a good reminder that how you look is sometimes even more important that what you've done or what you say.
Emilia Brooke Jensen, of San Diego, said: “What I really needed to brush up on was how to present yourself when you first meet someone. It's very important what you're presenting to others when you first meet them.”
To that end, at each stop on her tour, Kohut brings in a local professional style consultant and hairdresser (who then offer their services at a discount to attendees).  
Van White,  a semifinalist in the “Career Makeover,”  retired from the Marines after 25 years. He has been looking for a new job since August and says he appreciated learning “the do's and don'ts of interviewing. How to dress—not too bling-y, not too plain. As long as you have a coat and tie in the Marines, they don't mind much. This is different.”

Jim Watson of San Diego said Kohut's session "was constructive, like hiring a golf pro who'll give you 20 pointers and if you can use even one of them to improve your game, it's money well spent.”

Best Nugget of Advice
What “one thing” would Absolutely Abby want people to take away from her session, if she could?
Interviewing skills can be learned,” Kohut says. “And therefore you need to take the time to learn the nuances, and you need to learn what recruiters are looking for. If you can figure out what they're looking for, you can interview like a rock star. People make mistakes, but they're always correctable. And once you've corrected them, it's rare to not make a mistake and be unemployed.”

Tom Siebert is a former award-winning journalist, ad man and PR guy. He ran his family's fresh-cut, flower wholesale business and taught high school English. He recently launched his own San Diego-based consultancy, Wolfgang Solo: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda. Find him on Twitter @Wolfgang_Solo

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