My Experience with the Unemployed
Through both good fortune and hard work, I’ve been employed pretty much every day since I was 15. I’ve held jobs as a paperboy, McD’s, KFC, Kmart, a computer lab and a women’s clothing store, and that was just high school and college. I don’t recall my parents forcing me to get a job, but whatever the reason for getting my first job, I’ve always been the one to choose to leave a job…except Kmart which was a seasonal job.
In my senior year of college, I interviewed with dozens of jobs, secured site visit invitations (for 2nd interviews) for 3 locations, went to 2 and got offered at 1. The one to turn me down was Ford, but while it really hurt back then because I’m really a car freak, in hindsight it was good fortune. I got a job in Virginia at an oil company where I was supposed to start working as a helpdesk technician, but I got moved before my first day to a brand new project involving some pretty hot, new software.
What I learned in that project, coupled with clinging on after it finished to become a system administrator, support tech, and project manager for this software, helped me to continue to gain more skills and marketability for the next few years. While there were many more opportunities for me to network and learn, I seemed to just happen into one job opportunity after another through good fortune, friends and a bit of my own digging.
I’ve begun to take my good fortune for granted, but then I got involved with a church group helping others to find jobs.
Through my own charity group, I volunteered my time to see what we can do to help our church’s new-found support group of job seekers. They only meet monthly, and as I found out on my first visit, it’s more of a spiritual support group and mutual education through group discussion. The moderators have some skills in HR and the like, but what I really saw the group needed was much more.
But I’m not writing about what I’m going to be doing to help this group of seekers (about 2 dozen and growing). Rather, I wanted to write about my own experience and thoughts before and after my first meeting, and how it’s changed how I think about my own career history and future.
I was expecting something totally different
I’ll admit, I’m used to white collar work and being friends with white collar workers, even though many of my family were/are blue collar workers. Being in the IT field, these friends know how to use Microsoft Office, the web and other basic productivity tools and skills. My first shock was these seekers have almost no technical knowledge. As a system administrator and help desk worker, these seekers were the people on the other end of the line that frustrated the heck out of me. It’s like they never touched a computer in their lives, but in reality, many of them worked with computers daily. The biggest difference was that they only ever used one program in one way and when even a color on a header bar changed in that program, they freaked out and had no idea what to do.
Maybe some of you fit this description, and I apologize, but it’s the computer age. Personal computers aren’t new, and while your job might not force you to expand your knowledge of computers and the interwebs, it’s your responsibility to be marketable. You never know when you will lose that job and be forced to find a new one.
And that leads me to the next point. When you don’t have the basic technical skills or current knowledge, it’s overwhelming to try to find a new job. This first group of job seekers have no idea about networking in the 21st century. Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Dice, Monster, Indeed, etc. are both necessities for beginning your basic networking and job searches. But online connections are only the first step; these sites help you to meet up with others in your field of work to chat and eventually build bonds that build job prospects. In my field, there are a ton of groups on LinkedIn, and a few local groups that meet monthly or quarterly to talk about the current affairs. These people have jobs in my field and if I were looking for something, they would be the first contact with many companies.
You gotta take the first step…and a lot of them!
I recently read a story comparing two groups: one graded on how much pottery they could output and the other graded on the quality of just one piece of pottery. In the end, those graded on quantity learned and improved through the process of making the pottery so that in the end, they produced a fine product. On the other hand, those tasked with making just one piece of excellent pottery sat about pondering what quality means and thinking how best to go about making the pottery, without ever actually laying hands on some clay.
Quantity can lead to quality, while doing nothing leads to nothing.
To relate this to my own experiences, I spent the first 6 months (and many months after) working so diligently on making sure the design of this blog was just perfect to the eye that I barely wrote anything. It wasn’t until I said “I need to just start writing” that I got a few big hits with articles that put me on the personal finance blog map back in early 2007. From there, I wrote 30-40 articles per month, and each article (usually) got better and better. By producing a lot of (good) articles, I enhanced my writing AND communication skills. I’ve scaled back tremendously over the last couple years due to so much else going on in life, and now I hope I’m at the quality stage. I’ve produced the quantity to get the quality that I’m happy with.
For these job seekers, many of them have their eye on a single occupation or job description that matches what they’ve been doing for years. They’re waiting for the perfect job to come along, but I say PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!!! Throw your hat in the ring for any job even remotely interesting because
1) It gets you practice on your resume
2) It may get you practice with phone and in-person interviews
3) It may get you a job that you didn’t realize you would enjoy
Don’t pigeon-hole yourself into one job classification because you might be waiting years to get that job. Be flexible, know your strengths and also be willing to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone to work on your weaknesses.
I’m in a job now where I sell software (the technical side of sales, not the side where you have to cold-call people and deal with the financing). I’ve never done anything remotely similar to this job before, but because of my experience and proven skills from 10 prior years, I fit the bill they were looking for, even though I needed a lot of training and practice to fit me into their mold of “technical pre-sales”. I’m gaining a ton of skills at this new job that are positioning me for the next stage of my career, wherever and whatever that may be.
I feel both blessed and lucky to have been steadily employed for nearly 20 years (holy crap, that sounds crazy when I type it!), and it’s been because I haven’t waited around the perfect job to land in my lap. I’ve worked through friends, colleagues, classifieds, networking groups and recruiters to find and land the next job. I used “failures” to learn from my mistakes (like contemplating a question and answering more slowly in an interview), and I continually stay open for new opportunities.
I know that tomorrow will be another day and what I do today affects tomorrow. If I do nothing today, the chances of tomorrow going my way fall, but if I promote myself, apply for a job, go to a networking or knowledge-sharing session in my field, then I greatly increase the likelihood of something good happening.