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Recruiters: The 'War for Talent' on Long Island is Back

Job market rebounding, but that talent better be highly skilled, experts say.

Never mind the 7.8 percent unemployment rate on Long Island. Barbara Boschert said that when it comes to filling certain professional-level positions, competition is getting fierce.

“The war for talent is pretty much back,” said Boschert, the human resources director for Nielsen Associates, an executive search firm in Hauppauge.

Boschert has seen an uptick since September 2010, when demand for highly skilled workers became evident in the industries she serves – namely marketing, digital marketing, information technology, and human resources.

“There are not a lot of people to fill these jobs,” she noted.

Long Island has been adding jobs for the past eight months, according to Michael Crowell, senior economist for the New York State Department of Labor in Hicksville.

“Still, we’re 45,000 jobs below where we were in 2008, which was the peak,” Crowell said.

Yet, while the job market may be slowly turning around, for those best able to meet an employer’s hiring criteria, the odds of finding work are that much better.

“It’s the skilled people who are sought after,” said Barbara Gebhardt, president of Opus Staffing and Opus Scientific in Melville. “And companies can find the skills they want.”

Port Washington-based NPD Group, the global research firm, for example, recently hired a director of creative services who met the company’s litany of requirements, and then some, said Susan Pechman, the firm’s chief Marketing Officer.

Still, she said, “It’s a challenge for us to find talent. We’re looking for people who have a passion for data, and knowledge of industries we serve,” referring to consumer technology, IT, apparel, food service, beauty, and automotive.

Hiring is definitely up at NPD, which since October listed 190 new job openings across the globe. Currently the firm is looking to fill 50 positions in client services, sales, product and IT. “This is approximately a 17 percent growth for us over last year," Pechman says.

Prior to 2008, Gebhardt said, if employers found only candidates with, say, two out of three desired skill sets, they’d hire them, and train them to compensate for any deficiencies. But that scenario no longer seems to be the case. Just ask Gebhardt. “If they want X, Y, and Z, they can find it,” she said.

That’s true whether you’re unemployed or willing to try something new.

But career changes can come at a price, especially for those without Bachelor’s degrees. Julio Ramirez, 52, is a prime example. He’d spent 30 years working in medical sciences, and recently wanted a change. Ramirez began studying tax preparation, and even scored some work. But after about five months, the pay cut proved burdensome.  

“I was used to making six figures,” said Ramirez, a transplant from California, now living in Hempstead.

So he banked on his labs skills, only to find that for most positions, he lacked the license required in New York. And there was more.

“The main challenge is I didn’t have a Bachelor’s Degree,” Ramirez said.

It took him seven months before he landed his current job as a supervisor at Lake Success-based Antech Diagnostics.

He’s glad he did.

The job security, steady paycheck and benefits – along with the work – make Ramirez feel appreciated. “My decision-making is taken seriously,” he said. “My current supervisor lets me run the show.”

Others are not so lucky.

Seeking inspiration, about 15 of Long Island’s unemployed gathered at a Career Connection session on Tuesday at the in New Hyde Park.

"It makes you feel better knowing that you're not alone," said Xiomara Tirado.

A former daycare worker, Tirado has been interviewing for jobs as an administrative assistant, and is even considering going to school for a career in sonogram technologies. 

Tirado attends Career Connections so she can hear how others are doing.

One man with 20 years of accounting experience has been seeking work since December 2009. Since then, he’s scored a few temporary gigs that last as long as nine weeks. He didn’t find much opportunity at a recent job fair he attended at the library, and hasn’t seen many full-time positions, he said, believing that companies aren’t quite ready to offer benefits.

Another 20-something woman who previously worked in banking said all of her friends under 30 are either in grad school, unemployed or freelancing.

And an out-of-work service technician has maintained his carpentry skills, and is now looking at construction positions. He’s lowered his expectations. "I'll take $18 [an hour], believe me," he said.

Boschert offers this bit of good news. “Recruiters are back to work,” she said. “Things are bouncing back.”

Career Coach Cathy Rimsky, who runs a job club that meets Mondays at , offers these suggestions for those seeking employment.

  • Make sure your marketing collateral – resume, cover letters, and so on ­–speak to your value and your results, showcasing how you help a company solve its problems.
  • Network, network, network. A very low percentage of jobs are found through the job boards. So get out and talk to people and develop relationships to access the "hidden market."
  • Apply social media tools to your search. Rimsky cannot say enough about the effectiveness of LinkedIn and other networking media.
  • Research companies, develop a target list of about 10 to 20 organizations, and then pursue them through networking. Know as much as you can about them, and articulate how you can help them.
  • Understand your industry and upgrade needed skills.
  • Prepare for interviews ­– it's competitive out there.  Do mock interviews with a coach, family member, or friend.

Alexandra Zendrian contributed to this story.

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