It’s a tough time to be job hunting.
The state’s unemployment rate is at 9.1 percent with more than 322,000 people looking for work, according to the state’s Employment Security Department.
Most industries have shed jobs over the past year. And when companies do hire, the competition for positions is fierce, with many postings garnering hundreds of applicants.
So how do unemployed job seekers navigate the rough waters of this recession?
Most of them have found themselves out of work as the result of company cutbacks. That was the case with Duane Crouse. He was one of the last three remaining employees at a Mercer Island-based real estate company. Then last month the 34-year-old father of seven was also let go.
“It was me, my boss and someone to answer the phones,” he said. “You can’t lay off the boss.”
Then there’s Katherine Wilkinson who lost a job at a Thurston County resort. She has no health insurance for her kids and is having trouble finding work in the food service industry.
The job seekers range in age, work experience and professions. But they share a few things in common – they need work to pay the bills and support their families and they are trying hard to find it.
Read on for their individual stories.
KATHERINE “KAT” WILKINSON
Wilkinson hasn’t had to hunt for a job the past 12 years, a period of uninterrupted employment in which she worked as a waitress at a family-style hamburger restaurant chain and at a resort in south Thurston County.
The money, too, was good, she said.
Unfortunately, she lost her job at the resort for an undisclosed policy violation, she said last week at the Thurston County WorkSource office in Tumwater.
Her timing isn’t good. The South Sound economy has slowed and Thurston County’s unemployment rate has climbed to 8 percent, according to state Employment Security Department data.
And with no job, Wilkinson is feeling “stressed” because now she has no health insurance for her three children, one of whom requires monthly mental health medication, she said. Her daughter, Kayla, 13, sat next to her as she used WorkSource’s public computers.
Her job search so far has included contacting staffing agencies and focusing on food service-related work, Wilkinson said. “I’m not turning anything down,” she said.
Profession: Customer service, office work.
Another day, another job search for Timothy Pittman who has been looking for full-time work the past year.
Prior to losing his job in June 2008, Pittman had worked for an in-bound call center for six years, providing customer service for wireless phone users.
Pittman acknowledged the job was stressful and that he lost his job because of high blood pressure that prevented him from “functioning at a high level,” he said. Now, he’s on medication but the job market is bad and with all the news about the slower economy, it’s easy to get depressed, Pittman said.
Pittman, too, was at WorkSource last week, searching for a job.
In the past year, he estimated he has had 10 job interviews, none of them resulting in full-time work but he has picked up part-time jobs such as warehouse and landscape work, Pittman said.
On breaks from his job hunt, Duane Crouse goes out to his backyard and works on building the mother of all fire pits.
Once finished, it will be inexpensive entertainment for the family’s seven children, ages 4 through 13.
“We don’t want the kids to feel the burden of money being tight so we’re finding creative ways of making our house more fun,” Crouse said. “Taking seven kids to McDonald’s costs $40 – or you can get a bag of marshmallows and roast them on the fire pit.”
Crouse lost his job as a senior account representative with a Mercer Island-based company that sold real estate services. The company was hit hard by the real estate downturn, and Crouse was one of its last few employees.
Crouse started months ago to prepare for being laid off. He put more into savings. He and his wife postponed their honeymoon – the couple married in November and had planned a getaway for this spring.
Since losing his job, the family has cut back on child care with Crouse job hunting in the mornings and then watching the kids in the afternoon. His wife is in the Air Force and works at McChord.
The Puyallup native’s marketing background is varied. He’s worked for a minor league baseball team, a window company, and Kompan – a Danish playground equipment company in Tacoma.
“If you’re skilled at marketing, you should be able to market anything,” he said.
His latest product is himself.
After a few weeks of job searching, Crouse realized that his main challenge is to get his résumé to stand out from the others. One position he applied for received 400 applicants the first day it was posted.
He’s started to focus less on searching online for positions and more on using his network – former co-workers, clients, friends, church members – to find job openings and then be personally recommended for them.
Crouse touts building relationships as one of his strengths. He’s also creative and experienced in finding innovative ways to market new products.
He’s hoping he’ll catch some company’s attention – and soon. A few days after he was laid off, his wife informed him that their eighth child is on the way.