Friday, March 13, 2009

Career Goals - An exercise.

It's Friday and for all you poor suckers who don't live in SoCal (where it is currently 77 degrees and not a cloud in the sky) I would like for you to do something for yourselves. Set a goal or two.

The problem that most of us seem to have when we set career goals is that we use career-speak to formulate them. Let's try something a little different this time. Answer the following questions.

1. Where do you want to be living five years from now? (Ten years, if you are under 35.)

2. Do you REALLY want to complete another degree?

3. What is more important to you... salary or stability?

4. What are the three most positive and negative aspects of your current job?

5. If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

Okay, #5 is BS, but the rest are very important to establishing long term goals. What I want you to do is spend the next two days thinking about them and my next post will focus them for you and help you use them as touchstones for setting career goals, not only now, but ten, fifteen, or twenty years from now.

Have a cool weekend, dudes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Let me put it this way... NO!

Early in my career, when my daily requisition of energy and ideas far exceeded the number outlets supplied by my workday, I thought it made me a loyal and valued employee if I simply did everything that I was asked to do and then some. Certainly, when I began to supervise others, I favored the Energy Junkies (EJ's)over the Energy Vampires (EV's). In time, however, I found that I was almost always having to deal with the EJ's in a frenetic manner to help them complete the multiple commitments they had taken on, while the EV's were often plodders who, in fact, did what they said they were going to do in about the time frame they said they would require. Don't get me wrong, I would rather have a colleague who steps up and solves problems before they become crises or does things without being asked, but there is a fine line between genuinely agreeing to help and saying "yes" because "no" is not in your vocabulary.

I recently observed two of my younger colleagues handling their work day and realized that one of the things that I had finally gotten better at in my old age was something that they struggle with. It is the seemingly simple, yet ineffably difficult challenge of saying, "No." In honor of the fact that NO is such a short, teeny-tiny word, I am committed to making today's post likewise short... not teeny-tiny, just short. Today's Topic? No.

Of course I can.
Several weeks ago, I was in a meeting and one of committee members asked if I could impose on someone in my office to complete a specialized task. I agreed to ask, joking that I had immense powers of persuasion. In reality, I was quite senior to this individual and when I asked the favor, the answer was, "Of course I can." I asked if they were certain and that it shold not be seen as a priority. Again, there was resounding confidence that they would "do it for [me]." Over the next few weeks, it became increasingly obvious to this person that there was simply too much on their plate. Afraid to let me down, they approached another senior administrator to help figure out what to do. He quickly answer, "Just say no." Had she said something to me, I would have said the same thing, perhaps not as quickly, but I would have said the same thing.

I tend to forget that when I was just starting out, I almost never said no. Much like my brief skiing career, I never met a run that I wouldn't take... until I was halfway down. It is doubly hard as a young professional to disappoint a mentor or superior who obviously has faith in your because they asked you to do something. There is a lesson here for both mentor and protege. The lesson is the same for both: It is very hard to say no to your boss.

Come on down!
The second episode occurred as one of my counselors was walking in from a meeting. Her next appointment was sitting in the waiting room and as she passed him, she said, "Hi! Come on down." The student followed her to her office an she sat down, without catching her breath or organizing her thoughts and started into her consultation with the student. Exceptional customer service, right? Well, maybe not. I spoke with her later about it and suggested that it was alright to acknowledge the student and instead of saying "Come on down" she could say, "Hi. Give me a minute to unpack and I will come back and get you."

In the same way that it is difficult to say no to a senior colleague, it is tough to say no to a client or customer. On most occasions, creating a boundary for a client also creates value. Think about it this way, if you always say yes or drop everything you are doing to deal with my issues, why should I worry about what you may or may not have on your schedule? On the other hand, if you are not always able to attend to me at a moment's notice, then maybe you have other things do... like you have a life and stuff.

Five easy pieces.
Here are five ways to start building your resistance to reflexively saying yes.

For whom the annoying electronic beep tolls. Do you know anybody who carries a PDA that beeps when they have an upcoming appointment? They are really dorky at meetings when they pull out their little stylus and squint at the screen and say, "No. Can't do it then. Nope. Not then either. Wow. Can't do it then."? Do you ever wonder how many of those dates would be open if everybody could see their screen? I am an iPod dork. I have my calendar on my Touch and I will almost never commit on the spot. I say things like, "That date looks open, but I don't know if Elizabeth has scheduled something else for me. Let me get back to you." Once you have time to think about it, you can then say yes... or no... from the relative safety of your office.

Can I get change for the meter? Dealing with the boss is much different than dealing with your peers. You can tell your co-worker no and there are few repercussions. Not so easy to do with the boss. If you are asked to take on an assignment, ask, "What priority should this have with my other projects?" Bosses seldom remember everything you are doing, so they will likely say, "Top priority, of course" to which you reply, "Okay, I have the Clay Feet Project and the Infinite Circle meeting that were due by the day after tomorrow and the Giant Green Bug planning meeting for the first of next week, should this move ahead of those?" One of three things will happen, you will be told to move the previous projects lower on the list or move the new project lower on the list or someone else will be enlisted to help you. (If the fourth thing happens, which is "Get them all done at once" you are working for an idiot and you should begin looking for another job. Now.)

Mr. Postman is there a letter in your bag for me? This is sort of a corollary to the above. Anytime I am asked to take on new tasks and juggle old ones, I will send a quick email that reads something like this...
Thanks for talking about the Skynet System Report with me today. Per our conversation, I will reschedule the green bug planning meeting for early August, ask Sheila to assist in completing the Clay Feet project on time and I will indefinitely postpone the Infinite Circle Meeting until after our other two projects are complete.
This functions as a reminder to both of you and is darned near as good as a well-intoned "no" in the long run.

Are you talking to me? My counselors will tell you that my pet peeve is managers from other units who approach my employees directly to perform tasks for them. They have all been empowered to say, "Gee, you should really talk with my supervisor about that." This works well internally. If a co-worker asks for you're help, just say, "Sure, let's clear it with Darryl first." You will be surprised how many requests dissipate when you present them with a less amiable target.

Just say no. With apologies to Nancy Reagan, this is really the end all. The variations are: I really don't have time right now. I am am close to swamped and this would negatively effect the quality of all my projects. Depending on the source of the request, you can also say: That's just not a priority for me (my unit) at this time. I realize it is important to you, but it will take more time (resources, money, etc.) than I have available. You have to set the limit, because no one else will.

So here we are at the end and despite my promise to keep it short and I have failed. I hope that you will forgive me, but at least I said "no" to teeny-tiny.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Negotiation skills during an economic downturn

Counseling is a very odd profession. Odd because we are largely given the societal task of being experts at broad range of things at which we are unlikely to actually have expertise. If you want proof of this go to an online bookstore and type in “parenting” and look at the hundreds of how-to books that you will be given. I am always amused when I go to a career development conference that there will be no fewer than five presentations or seminars on building the perfect resume… all different, but all guaranteed to “make your application stand out.” (We’ll get to this topic next week sometime.)

The same can be said for negotiation. Dozens of experts claim to have the foolproof method for getting what you want from anybody. Adding to this problem is a fable that seems to be drifting through our culture that any job offer is a lowball offer and should be countered. Nothing could be further from the truth, but that does not mean that you should never ask for more. The question is what “more” should you ask for. First, a cautionary and true tale. The names and places have been changed for standard reasons.

When I was in graduate school, my friend Norbert went to Sheboygan to complete his predoctoral internship. As you are aware, Sheboygan is a town rich in academic history and as his internship was ending he secured and interview and eventually an offer with a well-known university. He was happy, they were happy, everybody was happy. Okay. Not exactly true. His advisor, upon hearing that Norbert had accepted the job without any negotiation scolded him and told him that he ought to at least ask for moving expenses. Norbert is one of the kindest, gentlest people that I know, so I am certain his request was likewise kind and gentle. The department chair told him he would have to talk to the dean and he would get back to him. Two days later, Norbert received a letter from the chair and the dean expressing their great disappointment that he would ask them for more money after their generous package of salary and benefits and rescinded the offer of employment. (Did I mention that this was very late in the game and that Norbert had already turned down two other offers? Brrrrrr. Chilling, huh?)

Today’s lesson? What can you negotiate in a very, very bad economy?

Please sir, can I have some more?

First allow me to dispel a common myth about job offers. Most entry-level and mid-level job offers are made “on the nose.” That is, typically what you are offered is what you are going to get salary-wise. This is particularly true in large organizations where pay ladders and job categories are tightly controlled. Universities are horrible about advertising a pay range of $36,000 to $48,000 for an entry-level professional position when they know that they will be limited to offering $38,000-39,000. Any wiggle room is quite minimal.

This is not the case for seasoned mid-level and senior managers. Most often, these salary ranges will be posted as “Commensurate with experience.” One word of caution here. The current economy has made the candidate pool for these jobs much more competitive, resulting in less room to negotiate.

So, am I saying that only more experienced applicants should negotiate? Absolutely not! There are, however, a few ways to prepare yourself before you do ask for more.

Knowing is understanding.

The single most important fact to have at your fingertips is the typical salary for the position for which you are applying. The most commonly used these days seems to be Salary.Com. It takes a little tweaking, but I finally managed to get a reading for my current position and found that I am at about the 80th percentile. (About what I would expect.) For broader ranges, you could use either O’Net or California Career Zone (Even if are not in California), both have decent salary snooping tools. If possible call a few HR departments even before you begin your job search and find out the going rate for a widget salesperson.

This also goes for knowing your “salary requirements.” A common question that we get is whether or not listing a salary that is too high will result in you not being considered for a job. I always respond with the flip side which is, “What if your requirements are too low and they offer you what you ask for. Spend time making a list that includes car payment and insurance, rent/mortgage, groceries, annual clothing expenses, entertainment, medical payments, charitable gifts, etc. You don’t want to be resenting your boss a year from now because you screwed up the math now.

Compensation vs. salary.

Story #2. A few years ago a colleague at the university asked my advice about an offer her husband had received. It was about $250 more per month, but they were unsure about the company compared the large well-known company where he was currently employed. I asked about medical coverage (didn’t know), paid time off (wasn’t sure), commuting distance (30 miles further), and retirement (didn’t know). I said that I didn’t have enough information to make a decision, but it didn’t sound like a good idea. My friend then shared that he had already accepted the offer.

Over the next few weeks they found out that the new company made no contributions to the employees retirement, while the old company matched contributions up to 8% of their salary. Since he made about $4200 per month, this amounted to as much as $320 per month in additional contributions. The medical coverage was more expensive by $70 per month and did not take effect for 90 days. The additional commute time and distance cost them 15,600 additional miles on their car and between $2000 and $2500 per year in additional gas and maintenance. Finally, left a job that gave him three weeks of vacation for one that gave him two weeks, but only after he had worked a full year. Adding all of this up, his $3000 annual raise was offset by $6680 in lost benefits from his previous job.

Do a full inventory of compensation or compensation necessities before entering into negotiations with a prospective employer.

What’s on the table?

Let’s assume for a minute that salary is not on the table. Certainly, if it is within 5% to 7% of the average for the position, it is not likely that it is on the table. Following is a short list of things that you should put into play before you even begin working for your new employer.

Time Off. Many places have set standards for differentiating between sick time and vacation time. One earns x hours of vacation per month for years 1-9 and x+4 hours per day for 10+ years. If you are offered two weeks of vacation and are told that salary is non-negotiable, ask if it would be possible to have an additional 4 or 5 days of paid leave each year.

Professional Memberships and Educational Leave. Several years ago, I attempted the gambit above and was told that it was against the organization’s policy to give additional vacation time. I asked if I could have 4 or 5 days per year for “professional development” and it was granted. I have also had my professional memberships paid by my employer and consistently seek out continuing education to roll off on the boss.

Technology. This can include a range of things from smart phones to laptops. I have been a MacIntosh user for 15 years and at every job since 1995, I have negotiated the replacement of my foul Windows box with a Mac. Likewise, I have asked for laptops instead of desktops. Think about cool toys that will make you more efficient and ask for them up front.

Medical coverage. Most companies will not pay you to decline coverage, but some will. My wife works in the healthcare industry and we have exceptional coverage through her job. At two previous stops, I have negotiated to have the company’s contribution that would have otherwise gone to my policy given directly to me.

Schedule. Over the years, I have worked an assortment of flexible schedules for a number of reasons related to family, hobbies, or community involvement. In fact, I currently work a 7:30 to 4:30 day which puts me on the freeway before absolute ground-zero traffic conditions. Other options include a 9/0 schedule which is 9-hour days with every other Friday off or a 4/10 which is 10-hour days with every Friday (or Monday) off.

Telecommuting. For five years while working for one employer, I had a monthly report to write which I did from home. It gave me the flexibility of one day off per month and I generally wrote the report during two or three late evening sessions. I have a friend who has negotiated ten days a month of work from home. His roundtrip commute is 110 miles, so his ten days saves him 1100 miles of wear and tear on his car and gives him back 20 hours (1/2 week!) that he would otherwise be on the road commuting.

What’ll you give me if I eat that whole thing?

Story #3. My best friend in college was Allen. He was constantly scamming and knew every way under the sun to get money. He sold blood regularly, knew the places to take textbooks to get the best prices, and was always on the prowl for a score. The local truckstop had one of those monster steaks… 42 ounces or something… that they would give to you free if you ate it in less than a two hour sitting. One night we went in and Al ordered the steak. When it arrived, it was mountainous. Before he started, he stood up and asked everybody to come look at its towering majesty. “What’ll you give me if I eat that whole thing,” he asked everyone there. Most people just went back to their seats, but four or five offered $25 dollars if he could do it. I held their money and his, while he gnawed away at muscle, fat, gristle, and French fries. Al finished the meal with about 10 minutes to spare. As we were walking through the parking lot, he waved his newly won $125 dollars at me and said, “I probably couldn’t have finished it if it weren’t for the motivation.”

If you ask for more money or vacation or benefits and are denied, ask your new employer what you have to do to be worth the extra. Get it in behavioral terms. “Start a new program with the elementary school” or “Double the billing on the Blankenship account” or “Pass the CPA license exam.” Then get a time frame. At you first convenience send a note or email that goes something like this.

Thanks for talking with me today about my role in the organization. It was very helpful. In particular, I appreciate your willingness to reconsider my request for additional time off and professional dues after I complete my CPA exam.

Print and save this document for your first performance evaluation to jog your boss’s memory.

Here’s the deal. When it comes to getting paid it’s not just about the Benjamins.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The one about cover letters

Go ahead, dude. I’ve got you covered.
A couple of days ago, I posted an entry for someone who had a question about follow-up. Apparently, he has re-thought his dilemma and realizes that he got a little ahead of his game, because his question after that post was…
Next blog topic should be on cover letter writing. I pride myself on being a good writer and I think those things are horribly awkward to write.
While that seems easy, it is not so definitive and you’ll see why in a moment. Before I go there, let me express my continued surprise at the typical question that I get from students about cover letters. That question is, “What is a cover letter?” I suppress the urge most of the time to retort with a sardonic quip. It seems quite evident to me that a cover letter should “cover” your application… physically and figuratively. Sometimes a student will ask, “Why do I need a cover letter if I am sending my resume?” My general response is, “Your cover letter should be a roadmap to resume. It tells them where to look on your resume for specific requirements for their job.” It’s when I get the latter question, that I realize the validity of the former question.

To cover or not to cover, that is the question.
When I hire someone, I am always impressed at candidates who take the extra time to write a letter to accompany their resume and application. Not simply because they took the time to write it, but because our online process is fairly archaic and managing to get a cover letter through it shows real tenacity. When I review an application, if there is a cover letter, I read it before even glancing at the resume.

To make things a bit more difficult, we often have recruiters tell us that they dislike cover letters and see no added value to them. So what is the difference? Generally, college recruiters are seeking entry-level employees or they are screening applicants for a hiring manager. In such cases, they are likely reviewing several hundred applicants per day and actually reading a letter would be too time consuming. In my case, I am hiring mid-career professionals and am interested in seeing a candidate’s writing style and better understanding their background prior to applying for the job we are flying.

The bottom line? When in doubt, write the letter.

Dang! What’s in that thing?
There is a little controversy among cover letter adherents. Some people think that they should be very brief, as in really short. I am of the opinion that if you are going to write a 100-word letter that essentially says, “Here is my resume. Call me,” then you should not waste your time.

Think about it this way. Every cover letter has three parts. The “Hello-It’s-Me Part,” the “Here’s-What-I-Do Part,” and the “This-Is-When-I-Am-Available Part.”

Hello It’s Me
Brief and to the point here. It should communicate your title, current whereabouts, and why you are bothering them. It can be as simple as…
My name is Darryl Stevens and I am currently the Associate Marketing Director at Bozo’s Clown Laundry and Brake Shop. I feel that my substantial experience in marketing and public relations would be a good fit for the position of Senior Marketing Analyst at Gumby Shake and Brake
This Is When I Am Available
I am going to jump to the end because the availability information is pretty straightforward as well. It goes something like this.
In short, I feel that I would be able to bring much useful experience to Gumby, Inc. Although I am currently completing a major project that occupies much of my time, I would be able to arrange sometime to discuss my suitability for your position. Feel free to contact me at you convenience.
Here’s What I Do
For the most part, cover letters should be constructed to convey how your qualifications match someone else’s job or, as indicated above, they should be a roadmap to your resume. As an example, listed below is a partial list of responsibilities and required skills for a senior marketing position. Often one’s resume may contain this experience, but it may be difficult for a recruiter or manager to decode. Your letter should help them.
(1) Manage and lead Market and Product marketing team
(2) Serve as regional leadership of strategy & planning
(3) Develop strategic briefs for assigned products for the development of National and Regional plans
Required Skills
(4) Minimum of 5 years of developing strategic marketing plans
(5) Strong ability to quickly and concisely build influential business cases
(6) Strong presentation development skills and the ability to give highly influential presentations
(7) Proven ability to quickly bring new programs/tactics to implementation often with incomplete and imperfect information
(8) Proven ability to lead others often without formal authority
A quick narrative means of addressing these items would be as follows. (Note that the parentheses indicate how the narrative addresses job requirements.)
I have been in marketing for over nine years, the last six (4) as Associate Director of Marketing at Bozo’s (1) where I was tasked with the job of producing briefs (3) and executive summaries for marketing initiatives. I learned a subtle leadership style to aid in those times when I had coordinate activities of employees who did not report to me. (8) I participated in all strategic planning events (2) for regional and national campaigns, typically as the primary spokesperson in presentations used to influence (5) other divisions to quickly adopt proposed tactics (7) for marketing assigned products. (3)
The "Here's-What-I-Do" part can be more than a paragraph and is the place that you leverage not only the requirements listed on the job, but additional skill sets you have such as writing a blog or being the Jenga champion of your unit or the technology skills that you have that might be unusual for someone in your position.

Last minute thoughts.

Length - Yes, it is true that concision is valued more than articulation, but short is over-rated. I don't think that a full page cover letter is unreasonable and there may be call to move to a second page. If you are considering a third page, you have gone too far... way too far.

Tone - Business. Strictly business. Please do not start a cover letter with "Hi!" and close with a simple "Very truly yours" or "Sincerely."

Contact information - You can do it anyway you wish, but I always include full mail address, email, and phone number after my name under my signature.

To whom - If you know exactly who is getting the letter, then start it, "Dear Ms. Smith." If you are unsure, I would recommend "Dear selection committee" or "Dear Hiring Manager." No to "Dear Sir or Madame" or "To whom it may concern."

Arranging contact - Just above, I told you how to leave your contact information. Under no circumstances should you end a letter with the following. "Thank you for reviewing my resume. I will be contacting you in the next few days to discuss this position." Well, you can write that if you don't want the job. You left your contact information. They are grown-ups. They can figure it out.

Paper, ink, etc. - You might use this information for resumes and CV's, too. Do not buy extra fancy cotton bond paper with the elegant pieces of linen in the paper. Nobody cares. Often, the HR clerk will make ten copies of your resume and cover letter on really cheap institutional copy paper and send it to hiring managers. A plain 20 lb. 92 bright copy paper will do.

Email - Sure. Why not. If the application process is emailing your resume as an attachment, then attach the cover letter as well. I would also copy the cover letter as the body of the email.

In the final analysis, a cover letter will convey who you are much more personally than a resume or CV. That can work for you or against you. Your letter should strike a balance between being professional communication that allows a prospective a window on your personal style in the workplace.

PS. To my East Coast Idea Manager. Does this help?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Perhaps you noticed the economy spinning out of control

I have long since limited myself to no more than one hour of news coverage, so the seemingly endless reportage about the status of the stock market, banks, hedge funds, etc. actually have a fairly limited life with me. That part of my bio that includes my twenty years as a mental health counselor and psychotherapist leads me to offer a few admonitions about becoming a news-sponge. I am not sure that it is EVER healthy, but I am quite sure that it is not healthy for the typical job seeker. Let me first, however, focus this discussion with story.

Brother can you spare a curly fry?
Back in the early 1990's, I was eating at the Arby's on Valley Avenue and Green Springs Road in Birmingham. As I munched on my beef and cheddar, I started surmising who this Arby person might be. This was in the days before Google... heck, it was before Yahoo! The only way I was going to find out was to ask. I choose the 17 year-old counter clerk with the attractive paper hat.

"Excuse me," I said solicitously, "Who's Arby?"
"Huh?" was his not unexpected reply.
"Arby. From the name of the restaurant. Who is he?"
"Wow. I never actually thought about it," he said with a true eureka look on his face. "Just a minute." He turned back to kitchen and shouted, "Hey, Jim! Come here for a minute."
Jim was the day shift manager who arrived looking all day-shifty and in control and the two of them confabbed for a minute or two, looking through a half-dozen company brochures, and then turned to me and said.
"We don't know."
"Anybody you can call?" I was determined to find this out.
"Sure. We can call Atlanta."

People from the South will understand this, but for those of you outside of the South, I will explain. Anything that is not in stock, not known, or not yet retailed or wholesaled in the South, must start in Atlanta. If you have to fly to anywhere outside of the South from anywhere inside of the South, you have to fly through Atlanta. So it made perfect sense to me that the Quest for Arby would find its way through the ATL. I ordered another Beef and Cheddar, sat down, and waited. After a few minutes, Jim approached the table looking quite defeated.
"Atlanta doesn't know." He was more disconsolate than I. He gave me a coupon for a free order of curly fries on my next visit and we parted company. As I left the store, the little neon sign in the window flickered off and on. The ends of the sign were not lighting effectively, but the middle shone brightly and I saw it. aRBy's. RB! Roast Beef!
I ran back in the store and dragged Jim and paper hat kid outside and proudly pointed. "See! RB. Arby. Roast Beef. Arby is ROAST BEEF!" We celebrated for some time and paper hat kid ran inside and got me a free beef and cheddar coupon to go with my free curly fries coupon. Life was worth living again. (Now I know that you are asking yourself, what does this have to do with career development, but it does. Be patient.)
It just so happened that I was teaching a Developmental Psychology class at the time and we were covering the the construct of expectancies. The shortest version of this is "if I expect that the drink you are offering me will get me drunk, I will get drunk and when drunk, I will act the way I believe drunk people act, whether or not there is any alcohol in the drink." We believe what we expect to believe. The next day, I explained the construct with my Arby Ah-Hah moment. Many of my students reported to me that once they had the notion dispelled that Arby was a name, they began to look at the name on any establishment for the hidden meaning. This is the power of expectancy. When we see something that appears to be a name, in a place that we often see a name, we understand it as a name.
Fast forward to 2007. Late one night, I was sitting up with my laptop thinking about this episode and I reflexively typed in to Google "What does ARBY'S stand for," only to find out it was the abbreviation for the Raffel Brothers who founded the joint. So, before I go any further, I would like to apologize to the hundreds of students who endured my lectures over the years and believed me to be correct simply because I was the professor. While my explanation of the construct was correct, the facts supporting it were not correct. It was so intuitive that it was very easy to believe... and THAT is my point for today.

Actually, it is perfectly acceptable to shoot the piano player.
Way back at the beginning of this post, I suggested that it was possible to get too much news. I remember job hunting and the only news I wanted was, "Hey buddy, you're hired!" I'm pretty sure that I have also previously mentioned the odd calculus of applying for jobs and disappointment. If not, it works this way.
  • The more jobs you apply for the better your chances of getting a job.

  • The more jobs you apply for the more often you get rejected for a job.

  • Being rejected for a job is depressing and increases the likelihood that you will slow down your job application process.

  • Slowing down your job application process decreases the likelihood that you will get a job.
Allow me to add to this maxim the really scary news corollary. It is quite simple. When you overdose on too much negative financial news, it will depress you and increases the likelihood that you will slow down your job application process. I absolutely think that it is possible to get too much bad news. Likewise, remember my story above. Just because an authority figure (professor or newscaster) tells you something that sounds intuitively correct and it matches the present moment, it does not mean that it is, in fact, correct.
My recommendation is that everyone, but job hunters in particular, limit themselves to one hour of news a day. In keeping with our mistaken perception theme, a friend of mine said to me a few months ago, "I watch all of Anderson Cooper 360 every night. It is the best 3 hours of news on TV." After I shared that AC 360 was the same 60 minute news show run 3 times back to back, she looked at me and said, "Oh. I thought there was some repetition on there, but I thought the 360 thing meant that they looked at stuff from all angles."
When the recovery comes, you will know about it. Don't be afraid that you will miss it if a news show somehow escapes your viewing. Your time will be better spent researching prospective employers or revamping your resume or just gellin' in front of Monk or House. If you have to listen to "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad" financial news, then podcast it to your MP3 player and listen to it while you exercise.
Ultimately, remember one thing. In this economy, with hiring freezes and reductions in force and draw downs of various kinds, the primary reason that you are getting negative news is because of economic conditions that are temporary and transient, not because you are unsuitable for employment. Your job search has to be more focused and more dynamic. This is the time to devote more energy to your career, not less.