Helping the Long-Term Unemployed Find Jobs
"Absolute Abby" Kohut aims to find 1 million jobs for 1 million people
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.”
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.
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)
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.”
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).
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.
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.”
What “one thing” would Absolutely Abby want people to take away from her session, if she could?