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Letters from alumni about unemployed Princetonians

March 3, 2004

"When the Ax Falls" by Mark Bernstein '83 carries an important message to everyone. LEARN TO NETWORK. YOU WILL NEED IT.

Your denial skills might have convinced you that you will never hit a bump in the road. Or, you may have just never gotten around to thinking about needing to reach beyond your own closed circle of friends and contacts. Either way, it is definitely time to take note of the fact that the world has been changing.

Cradle-to-grave careers with one company are a thing of the past. Prospects, customers, and clients are ever more demanding, and business partners find greener pastures and disconnect. What's a person to do?

Just as a prudent trapeze performer would test the net before climbing the rope ladder, every prudent adult in this economy should be weaving and testing a safety net. Competency and skills are not enough to protect you. In a world where entire job categories uproot and move around the planet (call centers to India, light manufacturing to China), every niche is vulnerable. 

In your own career path, think about how specific the knowledge and skills are. When you want to hire someone, you are careful to find a candidate who has all the requisite capabilities and looks like a sure bet: No need to take a risk on someone who is untried in the position, let alone untried in your industry.

Now, switch sides and be that person whose industry has just melted down. How are you going to take those years of skill-building and dedication that now seem worthless, and sell yourself as the answer to a hiring problem — not your problem, but the hiring manager's problem? How will you be just the right person, at just the right time, with the right skills, background and ability? How will you move past the 10 tried-and-true candidates whose resumes are festooning the manager's inbox with proof-positive that they have "been there; done that?"

You won't "cross that bridge when [you] come to it." If that is your approach, you will be trampled by others running across the bridge because they are prepared, and you are not.

Networking offers a way around the problem. Networking has evolved, just like the job market. It is no longer a process of pounding the pavement and talking to reluctant would-be hiring managers. Today's networking is building a trained work force of counselors, intelligence gatherers, and supporters who are prepared to slingshot you to the front of the line, when your opportunity surfaces. You would never be able to find it on your own, given the chaos and traffic in the pipeline. But, with a competently constructed network, you enhance your ability to be the right person at the right time: focused, informed, recommended, confident, and convincing.

Start yesterday, you will need the skill tomorrow.

Shepherd G Pryor IV '68 p’97

Highland Park, Ill.

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March 3, 2004

Your cover article in the February 25 issue of smacks of political hogwash. Has there ever been a time that there have not been Princeton graduate unemployed? As John Stossel would say — "Give me a break!"

George Aubrey '45
Sierra Vista, Ariz.

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February 29, 2004

You can add another name and history to the list of employment-ax survivors.

In the '50s and '60s the aerospace world was good. About 10 years of conventional positional progress in engineering — then aerospace started to retrench.

In the '70s electric power generation was booming and A/E firms were very active. "Stable" employment for another 10 years — then in the early '80s nuclear power went out of favor — and many folks went out of the door, self included.

From the mid '80s until the present the picture has been checkered, at best. A number of short-term project management employments in the field of construction with its ups and downs, and typically small undercapitalized firms.

The significant down side of this "career path(?)" is the adverse impact to retirement funding. With the many dislocations there has not been a reasonable salary progression — and no company retirement programs available. Hence a current life, five years postretirement age, of part-time employment to keep me out and about doing things, but also a necessity to balance the budget.

So count me among the Princetonians for whom we need to save Social Security!

Reading the above, I notice a failure to "count the blessings." I am thankful to have the physical and mental abilities to continue being active in work. I am also thankful for the opportunities to work in a field of personal interest, namely church building design and construction. It is challenging to find ways to "rescue" projects which are over budget when the construction estimates come in.

Frank Sloat '55
Catonsville, Md.

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