09/30/2013 10:38 am ET Updated Nov 30, 2013

Look at the Ends of the Bell Curve for the Real Unemployment Story

I was in a meeting the other day with several leaders including the president of one of our local state colleges and we were discussing employment, poverty, and the working poor. As we were discussing the situation, he pointed out that it was important for us to look at the ends of the bell curve. For the topics we were discussing, the median was not our focus.

Recently, I have been looking at trends in employment, particularly generational employment. The highest rates of unemployment are for the younger generation which is composed of youth employment and new college graduates. One the other end of the bell curve are the older workers 50+ who tend to be the disenfranchised ones who give up, or they are ending up unemployed for longer than the other groups.

According to an article in Forbes magazine written by Richard Eisenberg, nearly 40 percent of the unemployed have been out of work over 6 months, and of those half are over 50. Many of the over-50 crowd who do become re-employed are settling for jobs at lower pay. From my experience, many of the people we work with in this demographic are hesitant to take a lower paying job due to mortgages and other obligations. This may be part of the reason why they are unemployed longer. According to Joe Carbone from, older workers should do what they can to get onto someone's payroll because this instantly makes them more employable.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have new college graduates and youth workers. For now, I am going to focus on the college grads. The interesting statistic in addition to traditional college grads is the increase in older workers who have gone back to school. According to a study done by the Heritage Foundation, one of the reasons participation in the labor force has declined is because of people going back to school. Those students will return to the workforce soon.

For the college graduate, they have the catch-22 in many cases of having a degree with little to no experience in the field. According to NACE, college graduates who have completed internships have a higher chance of being offered a job. Students who had paid internships were 60 percent more likely to find a job, and those with unpaid internships are 37 percent more likely to find a job.

The competition between the younger and 50+ is a newer phenomenon. Additionally, there is competition with those who are currently employed and seeking new opportunities. Many currently employed individuals who are unsatisfied in their jobs are finally starting to feel comfortable getting back into the market. This presents an even bigger challenge for the unemployed.

So what do the people on either end of the bell curve do? Here are a couple of suggestions to make the search easier.

Network: I know this one sounds like a broken record, or for the new college grads nagging, but it works. Studies still show that networking is the best way to find a job. Doing informational interviews, finding mentors in your field, and going to meet-ups with like-minded people can help you to find openings in the hidden job market and to be seen without having to go through the online systems first. My last four jobs were through networking so I can testify to this one.

Don't Show Your Age: This is true for both groups. Older workers are perceived to have less energy and less knowledge of technology. Brush up on your computer skills, take classes to keep up to date on changes within your industry, and match the energy of the recruiter unless they are super laid back. For the younger workers, dress up, be professional, and find ways to show you have a high work ethic.

Volunteer: I know -- who has time to work for free when you are job seeking, right? Volunteering can help with both of the suggestions above. It gives you a great outlet to refine your skills and can increase your network at the same time.

While it is more challenging for the people on the ends of the bell curve to find a job, it is not impossible. Look for ways to get out of the house, and back into work mode and you may find more opportunities than you would on the other end of a computer screen.