Friday, July 3, 2009

Looking in the Rear View Mirror (Part3)

[This is the fifth/final part of a discussion on Rejection in our Job Search. Please read the previous posts for context]

One of the essential skills in driving is using the rear-view mirror. You don’t want to drive the entire trip looking backwards (and if you do, I certainly don’t want to be your passenger), but it is helpful to know what’s behind you.

In our job search journey, it’s equally important to take time periodically and evaluate where we’ve been. This is especially true in relation to the jobs we did not get. In the past several posts, we’ve been looking at what can we learn from the experience of rejection. We’ve discussed the reasons for rejection over which we have no control. More importantly, we’ve focused on those areas that are in our control. This is the final one in our list.

Appearance: You cannot visit a job search site or a recruiter’s blog without finding this subject, along with countless examples of how job seekers continue to ignore it. Wise up! This ain’t rocket science. But for those who need it simplified, there’s one simple word to keep in mind. For you see, I’ve found that if we take all the “dress code” advice and boil it down, one word continues to come up over and over: too. Too short, too tight, too much (makeup, perfume, cologne) too low, too casual, too many (e.g., tattoos, piercings, rings, bracelets, etc.), too purple (as in hair), too Amish (just making sure you’re paying attention!).

For the majority of the jobs we will be applying for, a standard, traditional wardrobe will be expected. (I’m assuming you aren’t applying for a management position at Goths Are Us or as a Receptionist for Clown College) So, for the standard job interview, we want to make certain we look presentable. Remember, our goal is to make an impression, but SHOCK is not the impression we’re looking for.

If you’re going to a job interview and have any doubts about your wardrobe, STOP! Ask someone for an honest opinion. If you can’t find someone, do some research on the Internet; there’s lots of good information. Some of the site even include pictures of what to wear and even what not to wear. If you are still resistant to the idea of such conformity, I suggest while you’re surfing the ‘net, you try to learn the meaning of such words as decorum, modesty, appropriate, respectable and professional. (Yes, I do realize that I sound like your grandmother!) Working in business often means abiding by their rules and fitting into their mold. As the clichéd motivational speaker will tell you: “There is no ‘I’ in team. I will add this: there is “me” in unemployment!

You can argue all you want about your need to be yourself, but until that rigid individuality can pay the mortgage, you might also want to learn the concepts of compromise and adaptability. Otherwise, you’ll continue to learn the lessons of “Next!”

Monday, June 29, 2009

Looking in the Rear View Mirror (Part2)

[This is the fourth part of a discussion on Rejection in our Job Search. Please read the previous posts for context]

Writing this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many folks who are also on this journey. And I have not talked to anyone who has not been rejected in one way or the other. (I’m guessing the ones who got the first job they applied for aren’t reading this blog or don’t have time to share their vast and obvious wisdom.) If we’re going to job search, we’re going to experience rejection.

In past entries, I’ve share some facets surrounding the issue of rejection. Now we’re looking at “takeaways,” actually (pardon the moralization) learning from the process and focusing on those issues which we can and should control to help us get that job we want. We’ve looked at Accuracy, now let’s consider two more in our alliterated list.

Accomplishments: Getting a job is not just about what we can do (that’s about capability), it’s also about what we have done (that’s achievement). Too often, our resumes are over-crowded with duties we’ve performed, degrees we’ve earned, titles we’ve held and the companies where we’ve worked. But how much is devoted to what we actually accomplished in any of those areas? Employers want to know about our skills, they want to see our successes. It’s less about what we can do and more about what we can do…for them. And they want clear examples.

Our resumes and our interviews should include specific and measurable examples of our accomplishments. Yes, I can plan an event, but my potential employer will be more impressed when I detail how I successfully planned a two-day, out-of-state conference for more than 5,000 attendees, with an increase over the previous year’s attendance by 8 percent. It’s good that I can write a news release, but how much more notable is it that I increased the media coverage of my last employer by 25 percent?

We know it’s not considered polite to brag about ourselves. We are discouraged from “tooting our own horn.” But when it comes to job searching, refusal to trumpet our successes just might leave us watching the band play without us.

Attitude: We come now to one of those controllable areas that is not about my resume. I can have all the words spelled correctly and impeccable grammar, but when I go into the interview, it’s about selling myself on the open market. The needed ingredient at this point now is a winning attitude. And we’re not talking about the two-fingers snapped, oh-no-she-diddunt kind of attitude.

As I read articles and blogs from corporate leaders and recruiters, they are looking for candidates who display enthusiasm and confidence as well as knowledge and skill during the interview. When it comes down to two equally qualified applicants, the attitude of one can be the tipping point in their favor.

While that may seem obvious, I am always stunned (and amused to the point of LOL'ing) when I read recruiter talks about interviews where a qualified candidate was rejected primarily because of a negative attitude. There are reports of those who show up for an interview, but appear uninterested, bored, lethargic or distracted (i.e., turn off the cell phone). Do you have some place more important to be? Recruiters talk about candidates who are sarcastic, arrogant (which is not the same as confident), defensive, rude and even flirty. (One recruiter told of a candidate who asks her out…during the interview. Seriously?)

Of course our stellar abilities are important to getting a job offer, but without the proper attitude, they will likely go to the next qualified candidate.
Know this: our attitude will be checked even before our references!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Looking in the Rear View Mirror

[This is the third part of a discussion on Rejection in our Job Search. Please read the previous posts for context]

Rejection is part of the job search journey, as we discuss in our last entries. We think (hope, pray) our destination is in sight, only to be told “No, this is not your exit.” So we put on a professional smile, get back on the road, and look for the next opportunity. But there’s no denying: it does hurt.

Now what do I do?

Aside from that tired, sage wisdom from my grandmother--“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”--is there anything we can do? (Especially when I'm so depressed Idon’t even want to get dressed at all!)

In my time on this journey, I’ve come up with a few insights. I can’t take the “sting” out of the rejection, but I’ll share some of my thoughts:

* It’s not my fault…unless it is. (I know, how clear is that?!) In many cases, the rejection is not about “me” the person. There are so many factors that must converge for a the right job offer. (The positive application of the “perfect storm.”) It could be my skill set is not seen by the hiring manager as a match for the job. My specific background may not match with what the prospective company believes would be most useful for them. As we saw in our last post, it could be a bad chemistry with the interviewer and/or hiring manager.

And sometimes (and I hate this one the most), we just never know the reason(s).

But some of the reasons for the rejection (not getting that interview, not being asked back or not landing the job) might be more tangible. And personal. (i.e., That person in the mirror might be the root cause.) So, whenever or how ever we experience the rejection, it’s a good time for reflection and review. I always go back over the entire process and ask:
What did I do right? Is there anything I would do differently? Were there mistakes I made? How can I improve?

As we read all the experts, there are many factors which can hurt our chances in the job market, and they are things which we can (and should) control. Depending on who you read, or how much you read, the list could be endless. I have summarized it into four basic areas:

Accuracy: If I’m sending out resumes and not getting any response, it might be time to consider revising my resume. Typos are the surest and quickest route to rejection. One recruiter I read said that as many as 90 percent of the resumes he receives have spelling errors. You could consider getting an impartial opinion from someone in your career field or even hire a professional to create a new resume. (You could also go back and read
my post on this very subject!)

Also on this subject is the issue of providing accurate information. As we’ve said in the past, don’t lie on your resume. Don’t fudge about your education, don’t buy a diploma you didn’t’ earn, don’t pad your experience, don’t hyperbolize your accomplishments and don’t exaggerate your actual skills. In case I'm being too subtle: DO NOT LIE ON YOUR RESUME. EVER! If you want to write fiction, try a novel.

In my next entry, we’ll continue to look at elements (the ones we can/should control) which will hinder our job search success.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Missed My Connection

[NOTE: This is the second part of a discussion on Rejection in our Job Search. Please read the previous post for context]

The interviews are over…and I didn’t get the job. That job I wanted. The job I seriously thought I was going to get and knew would be a perfect match. I didn’t get the job. As Maxwell Smart used to say: “Missed it by that much.”

And of course, I’m asking myself: Why?

There could be any number of reasons why I didn’t get the job. Perhaps they decided to hire/promote someone from inside the company, which means my interview was mostly a formality. (Yeah, that makes me feel better.) It could be they eliminated the position, combined it with another position or determined not to fill it at this time. Speculations aside, there are times when hiring decisions are simply out of my control.

Another factor that can come into the decision-making process is one that’s much-discussed but difficult to define. It’s not tangible or even measurable. But don’t let the subliminal nature of this factor deceive—it’s very real! It’s called by many names, but I think of it in terms of “connection.” (Others use the concept of “chemistry” which is also a good description.) Sometimes, two people just don’t click; the rapport is not there.

I’m not saying this is right (and certainly not saying I like it), but if we’re honest, we will admit to the reality. We all know it happens: we meet someone and instantly don’t like them (and, as difficult as it to believe, the reverse sometimes happens--they meet and instantly dislike me). The same can happen in interviews as well. And while we’d wish the hiring person would be mature enough to get past it, or at least seek to overcome it, that may not happen.

The reasons for such a personality disconnect are probably complex and doubtless impossible to isolate. I might remind that person of someone who hurt them very deeply. Maybe my race is an issue, or (as we’ve seen in the past) age is a factor. They might be just having a really bad day or struggling with issues that are completely unrelated to our interview. (see my side note, below) It would probably take a forensic psychologist (or Kreskin) to discover the root cause. But in the meantime, I didn’t get the job because there was just no connection between me and the hiring manager.

Side Note: Lest we put all the blame on the “other side of the desk,” I had this same thing happen as a job seeker. I went in for an interview and from the time I arrived in the man’s office, there was obvious (and open) hostility. It became clear to me that the position was available because the previous employee left due to the travel distance; she’d grown tired of the long commute. Apparently, due to where I lived, this man was concerned about my potential punctuality. His misplaced hostility continued to escalate (along with his volume). I quickly decided I didn’t want to work for this man. I gathered my materials and politely told him that I felt this was not the right place for me. I thanked him for his time and left. I even followed up with a polite email, again thanking him for the interview.

Is there anything I can do about that lack of connection? That question is almost as hard to answer as the “why” question. But just like in dating, we meet folks who just aren’t “our type” and try as hard as we can, there’s just no spark. It’s time to accept the reality and move on.

It also begs the question: if there’s no rapport during the interview, can that come later? To me, it’s doubtful, so this might be a good thing to know early on! Better to know while we’re “dating” (i.e., interviewing) than to get “married” (i.e., hired) and have to deal with it on a daily basis. Right?

Postscript: Just before posting, I happen to read two articles about this same subject. One person (a job seeker) had similar experience, confirming what I discussed here about "chemistry."

The other article was by a recruiter. His assertion was regardless of what the job seeker thinks about why the interview went bad (he discounted the "chemistry" idea completely), it’s almost always the candidate’s fault. (And he invites me to enroll in his six-week workshop where he will teach me how to overcome my bad attitude!)

Interesting perspectives from two sides of the desk, wouldn’t you say?

Next: Let’s look at some practical and specific things we can do when we don’t get that job.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This is not your Exit

Welcome to Job Search Paradise. I’m your Employment Fairy. This will be a wonderful, tranquil experience. As the philosopher says: Don’t sweat it. Throw together a simple resume. (Don’t spend too much time on it. Remember: I’m doing all the work for you. And don't forget you have that spa massage this afternoon.) Find a couple of listings for that special job you really want—the one with the incredible salary and benefits. In no time, you’ll have several companies engaged in a bidding war for your unique, indispensible services. You will be able to take the one with the most money and the least number of hours......


I would love to tell you that your job search journey will be a smooth and speedy trip. I would love to tell you that you will find that perfect job very quickly. I know there are those who’ve had this experience, but that would be the exception. (Those folks aren’t reading this blog because they are at work…and we hate them anyway!)

Since we’ve talked about perseverance (part of the earlier GPS series of posts), it’s important to also talk about one of the primary reasons we need that “stick-to-itiveness.” Rejection! It’s my belief that only actors and writers see more rejection than job seekers. (When I was trying to get my first novel published, I considered wallpapering my office with the rejection letters.) It’s just part of the process. If we’re thin-skinned and overly sensitive, it can definitely have an emotional impact. A severe and negative emotional impact!

In job searching, there are various kinds (or degrees) of rejection. First, there’s what we’ll call the “Broad” rejection. (Which has nothing to do with not being a big-shouldered woman in the 1930s) When we send out a resume and never hear back from the company, that’s the broadest kind of rejection. It’s also the most impersonal. For me, it has little emotional consequences, beyond mild annoyance. (The least they could do is acknowledge receipt of my material! Is that asking too much?)

A more personal kind of rejection (let’s call this one “Close Enough to Leave a Bruise” rejection) comes once we’ve had some contact with a potential employer. Typically, it’s after a phone interview or perhaps a face-to-face. For whatever reason (and we’ll talk more about that later), we are not invited to continue in the hiring process. (Don't we love that kind of non-negative phrasing?) This one carries more weight, since we were singled out of the myriads of resumes and allowed the opportunity of “selling” ourselves. Unfortunately, it was a “No Sale” and that hurts.

And then it gets more personal. We've gone through any number of interviews with a variety of people at various levels of the company/department hierarchy. And most importantly, we've been given the clear indication that we are a viable candidate for the open position. But when all has been said and done, they give the job to someone else. We’ll call this the “Punched in the Gut” rejection! As you might imagine, these kinds of rejections are traumatic.

Personal Experiences: In this job search, I’ve had two occasions when I’ve gone past the initial interview and been told I was one of the “finalists” for the job. (Why does that always sound like a beauty pageant?) Once it was down to three candidates and another time it was just two of us under consideration. Obviously, I didn’t get either of the positions.

In one (where I was one of two finalists), I was told they were going with the person with the most experience. (Huh? I’ve been in PR/Communications for 15+ years. Did they hire Grandma Moses?) In the other, following the fourth interview, I was told there were three finalists, including me. I never heard anything at all from that company. Even after two follow up emails and leaving a message on the voice mail of the hiring manager, no response at all. They chose not to inform me that I wasn't chosen. (If this were a beauty pageant, I didn't even win “Miss Congeniality!”)

So how do we handle rejection? I’m not one of those superstar motivational speakers, so I’m won't dazzle (delude?) you with positive platitudes and banal principles. (“Just one more NO on the way to YES” [cringe]“If you can picture it, you can have it” [shudder]) In the next few posts, I’ll simply relate some things that have helped me deal with this inevitable aspect of this journey.

In the meantime, I welcome your comments, suggestions and especially your stories about personal experiences with rejection.

Monday, June 1, 2009

You’re Gonna Need GPS! (Part 3)

I mentioned in the last entry, job searching is not easy and these days, and it's seldom quick. As the Hollies sang so eloquently back in the 60s: “The road is long, with many a winding turn.” (Still love that song!)

For that reason, I’ve suggested with need our own job-search GPS system. We’ve already looked at the need for some help (Guidance) on the journey. And because it can be a “long and winding” road,” I suggested that we need Persistence and Patience.

As we go through this process we lovingly call “job searching” (though it often feels more akin to a circus and we’re the animals jumping though the hoops for potential positions), we learn some important lessons: Job searching is frustrating. It’s exhausting. It’s annoying. It’s tedious. It’s impersonal. (Should I continue? Want to add you own?) And because it’s all these qualities—and more—we could easily become cynical and sarcastic. (Not that you’d find any of that on my blog?) There’s the final element in our GPS which is more than just helpful on this journey, (IMHO) it’s essential.

A Sense of Humor helps

Think back on some of the topics/issues we’re shared so far. Without a sense of humor, I just cannot imagine how anyone can navigate this journey. First and foremost, we’ve seen a system that is so automated that it often reduces the job seeker to little more than an ID number in a computer or words on the page of a resume. This giant automaton is responsible for “reading” our resume in search of key words that will match us with those of the potential employer. Without the element of human compassion, this technological sentry cannot be moved by our glowing narratives of accomplishment or impressed with our extensive, successful experience. An inhuman set of binary codes looking for a series of random terms and phrases will determine if we move to the next level of job searching; a programmed “word search matrix” controls our fate.

But it’s not all about the futuristic computer brains that scan our resumes. I’ve also shared some of the experiences we will have with carbon-based lifeforms—those humans who are also involved in the process, who all too often, have significant similarities to their computer counterparts. There are interviews which seem designed less to get to know the candidate and more like an interrogation of a suspect. I’ve also discussed the reality of age discrimination—that perception that those of us who have been in the workforce since before Facebook was the primary means of interaction are perceived as legitimate in today office as a Royal typewriter at an IT convo.

All of the processes and people can create a unwanted and unhealthy side effect: Stress. That “s” word can best be combated with a perspective that doesn’t take it all too seriously. (Hey, another “s” word)

Of course I’m not trying to diminish the importance of finding a job. And I absolutely recognize the need of having an income. I know firsthand the pressure that comes with not having that regular paycheck. And we all know that being jobless in our culture takes a toll on our self-image and sense of self-worth. (More “s” words there) Emotionally, it can be very destructive.

I’m also not suggesting interjecting jokes into our resume or preparing a stand-up monologue for the job interview. (Actually, because I did some writing for a stand-up comedian, have written scripts for roasts and served as an Emcee, I have mentioned that as one of my skills. But I don’t recommend we try and transform ourselves into Shecky Job Seeker!) This is all about our attitude during the process and in dealing with the people involved. It’s about taking an honest look at what is happening and choosing to see the lighter side. So much of the selection process is outside our control, but our attitude is one thing we can (and must) control.

No, it probably won’t get us a job. But I truly believe it does help us maintain a positive attitude, which could actually help get us a job. (Imagine the impact our demeanor would have if we went into an interview angry, depressed and cynical?)

NOTE: There’s one other “s” word I’d like to briefly include here as well. Make sure you have a solid Support System during your unemployment and job search. (Okay, maybe that is two "s" words)

Your loved ones are important and can provide you with encouragement when you’re down. Nurture these relationships and cherish the people in your life. Unfortunately, new statistics are showing that during this economic downturn, with the rise of unemployment, there’s also an increase in divorce and separation. Don’t try to do this alone. And don’t shut out those folks around you who can give you a shoulder to lean on…or cry on.

A powerful combination: Support and a Sense of Humor. They will help us maintain our sanity (Look, another “s” word) in the midst of what can be a long, unfamiliar trip. What are our options? Perhaps…this!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

You’re Gonna Need GPS! (Part 2)

Because our job-search journey probably involves many aspects that are unfamiliar to us, I am recommending we use that all-important travel device: GPS. And if you read the last entry (and why would you not?), you’ll know already that it’s not an actual electronic gizmo that will get us a job (Don’t we wish?), but it’s important elements we should consider incorporating into our employment expedition.

Patience is a virtue (and persistence is victory)

Those who live comfortably in a microwave-in-a-minute, I-want-it-now mentality will have some difficulties with job searching in this economy. (Unless they are one of those annoying people with some kind of fairy godmother who makes sure they get the first job they apply for! They are probably the same ones who sell their house in the first week.) But for us who live in the real world, it takes lots of time. It takes a willingness to work hard at getting work. And after a full day of NOT getting a job, it takes the diligence to get up the next day...and do it all again.

We will meticulously craft our resume, but when we find it’s not getting us noticed, we must be willing to tear it apart and put it back together again. We will search the job boards and research the companies posting jobs. We will contact old friends, former colleagues and hound our family for referrals and references. And tomorrow, we will do it all again.

I had a friend recently ask me about my tenacious attitude in job searching. He asked: “Isn’t finding a job a lot like finding a date? You are more likely to find one when you stop looking so hard.” Huh?

The obvious answer, of course, is NO. Both may be tied to my self-esteem and self-worth (In my case, one is tied to self-preservation, since my spouse frowns on me dating.), the results are very different. My creditors are not interested in who/if I’m dating, but they are adamant about getting paid. Finding a date just won’t meet that glaring financial need. (Not taking into account the possibility of a Sugar Daddy/Sugar Momma, that is.)

Life in the fast lane?

One final point. Even when you do manage to make some kind of contact with hiring companies (e.g., interviews), they might tell you they are in a hurry to make this decision. But that’s rarely the case. Or, their idea of “hurry” is different than mine. I’ve been in a couple of interviews where I was told, “We need to make a decision as soon as possible.” And like an anxious teenager waiting by the phone for that call, I finally figured out that “as soon as possible” is open to interpretation.

This would be a great place for me to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, since it’s probably the perfect illustration to highlight my point. Not to mention how it would dazzle you with my extensive knowledge of disciplines outside the general knowledge I received in college.

Alas, I’m a PR Professional, not a physicist. I’m not absolutely sure I understand relativity, much less could explain it. (And I’m reasonably sure my theories of Star Trek’s application of the space-time continuum would be out of place here.)

Let’s just say this: time seems to move at different speeds, depending on the person and/or the situation. I believe hiring managers want to move fast. They intend to move fast. The need is there for a new team member. But let’s face it, they are short-handed, hence the need to hire someone. (Wish I were there to help them. LOL!) So, we learn to wait. And while we wait, we continue our search.

During the search, when I’m are told they will get back to me shortly, I now compare it to the timeline given by contractors: no matter how long they say it will take, it usually takes longer. That’s why patience is essential.

Friday, May 22, 2009

You’re Gonna Need GPS! (Part 1)

A journey without a clear destination is not considered a wise investment of time, energy or resources. This is not like those pleasant drives on a warm Sunday afternoon, just to put the top down on the Miata. (Remember?)

However, on our job-search journey we don’t always know the precise destination or our timeline, just a general idea of where we want/need to go. (i.e., I want/need to be employed!) And for most of us, we’re traveling in unfamiliar territory.

There will be some detours, bumpy roads and possibly even a couple of U-turns along the way. And because this trip is less like that casual Sunday drive and more like rush-hour gridlock on a busy LA freeway (i.e., there are lots of other folks also looking for jobs), it’s easy to get lost in all the traffic. So I recommend you make sure you have an essential tool to help along the way: a GPS. You will need this system to effectively maneuver your way to a successful completion of the job search journey.

Seek Guidance

Turn up the radio and hear that classic song playing: “That’s What Friends Are For” (Dionne knew I was going to say that!)

Our friends and colleagues are a great resource when we are looking for a job. Statistics show that more jobs come from networking and referrals than from job boards. They become our extra “eyes” and “ears” to scope out potential jobs for us. Don’t be afraid (or ashamed) to let them know about the job search. Encourage them to alert you when they learn of something in their organization. And if you find something in an organization where you know someone, don’t be shy—contact them and ask for a referral. Anything to get the “gatekeeper” to look at our resume in that huge stack of candidates is helpful.

Beyond those we know, we would do well to consult the experts in the field. (I know I’ve poked fun at them in earlier posts, but for most of us, job searching is not our area of proficiency, so we need their guidance.) I recommend lots of reading. Scan the Internet for articles about all aspects of a winning job search: writing a good (perfect) resume, cover letter samples, online resources, interview tips. Our job search should hold HIGH priority and we want to make the very best impression, so all of the time and energy we utilize will see a return on that investment.

I also suggest reading “success stories.” Find those who’ve already navigated the road and arrived at their destination. Learn what they did and how that could apply to your search processes.

There’s a couple of other “g” words I could also mention. As far as attitude is concerned, some essential elements would also include: Gracious (you’ll encounter some difficult times and even more difficult people), Gutsy (out of our comfort zone) and just a little bit Grandiose (we have to sell ourselves).

Next time, we’ll continue our examination of the GPS, and I’ll share another element to help us get to our destination—a job!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Found Anything Yet?

Everyone who’s involved in job search has heard the question from caring friends or family: “Have you found a job yet?” It’s nice that they’re interested, and I try to be gracious and kind when I respond with the simple: “Not yet.” (The question is akin to the one we discussed earlier "Are we there yet?" It's about the destination!)

But that question deserves a more accurate response. Truthfully, I’ve found lots of jobs. Finding a job is not the problem here! Getting the job seems to be more of my problem.

When I first began this search, I would get so excited—almost giddy, if I can use that term and maintain my macho image—when I would find something interesting and intriguing in my field. But getting the job has proven more elusive. (Obviously!)

Personal Note: Honestly, there have been times during this job search that I’ve thrown out my ideals and gone after jobs that really didn’t interest me or that were not in my career field. As the search drags on, it takes on the quality of a singles’ bar. I’m no longer looking for the hottest hook-up in the place; I’m just ready for anyone who’ll take me home. I’ve lowered my expectations from “Mr. Right” to “Hey, you!” (Hmmm. And because the need for an income dictates my motives, does that makes me…well, we won’t go there!)
Finding a job is almost totally dependent on me. There’s effort and energy involved that must come from me. And if it’s important (which my bank account tells me it is!), it involves an abundance of extended attention. Finding a job = my job. If I'm lazy or passive, it will be apparent: I will remain unemployed!

I have to do the daily searches. When I find potential jobs, I must research the sites and the companies who post jobs. I revise my resume to highlight my skills for that open position and I craft the most appealing cover letter known to modern literature that compliments my point-on resume. I do the networking with those who can point me to the right place, position or person. I read the articles online (better resumes, guaranteed interview techniques, improving the cover letter, using social networking, etc.). This is one of those areas where I can truly say “It’s all about me!”

I’ve been doing this for a while now and I have yet to experience any kind of miraculous intervention. Job finding is the burden of the job seeker. Though I’ve posted my resume on the major (and minor) job boards, no one has called me to make an offer just by the passive presence of my resume. I know there are personal shoppers, but I haven’t found personal job seekers who’ll do all the work for me. (Hey, would that be a possible entrepreneurial option?)

Side Note: I am not taking into account all the spurious invitations I get from those who scour the job boards to make bogus offers to the naive (or desperate) seeker. When you are job searching, be wary of those who contact you because they saw your resume on the Internet. There are many scams out there. I get regular emails from those who claim that my resume stood out and they want to offer me (one of the chosen few) a wonderful opportunity. I’ve also had the offers to join a team with a lucrative income, just as soon as I complete a required training…which I would pay for as proof of my commitment. (FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS?!) And I’ve gotten a couple of messages from the former finance minister of an obscure province in Africa. Since I am in need of income (but an obviously deserving person), he will gladly send me several million dollars...if I will just provide my bank account information.

Getting a job is much more...fluid. I can have that bullet-proof resume combined with stellar cover letter and still not get an interview. I’ve had two occasions where I was in the final candidates, but still didn’t get the job. The decision of getting a job is not so much mine as it is those who do the hiring. I can do everything right, and still not be the one chosen. That doesn’t mean there isn’t always room for improvement—and I always recommend an honest self-evaluation afterwards—but the ultimate decision is not mine. Some things, much to my frustration, are beyond my control. (Not that I have control issues!)

I’ve learned (or am learning) that’s it’s essential to only take responsibility for my part in the process. I can beat myself up that I didn’t “get” the job, or I can channel that emotion into the continued process of “finding” another one—which I might actually get.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Still Traveling!

Traveling our Interstate highway system offers lots of ways to determine location and measure distance. There are numbered exit signs and those tedious mile markers, ticking away at the side of the road, showing how far we’ve gone or, depending on the direction, how far to go until we reach the next milestone—a new state. Very difficult to forget how long we've been on the road.

Next week, I begin my seventh month of job searching. Actually, that’s not exactly true; I was job searching before I left my last position, knowing my (intense) desire to leave. Let's say I’m now six full months unemployed. Or, to make it more accurate, it’s six months of extremely motivated job searching. (That's the difference in job searching when you still have a job and the same process when you are unemployed! Kinda like the difference in a walk on the beach and the immunity challenge on Survivor!) And no job yet.

I left my last position just before Thanksgiving, knowing the following six weeks—the holiday season—was a really bad time to conduct a job search. But I was okay with that; there were things I wanted to do in that down-time. (Like recover from the last job!) I was optimistic because I also knew that the first of the year was historically a really good time for job searching, since companies were rolling out their shiny new budgets, focused on lofty new goals and looking for energetic new stars to achieve those goals.

Boy, was I wrong! If only I’d had that magic crystal ball to let me know that in those months around those holidays, the entire economy would crash and burn. It was never my intention to bring down the house of cards known as our economy, but it coincidently does seem as if my lone decision to change jobs was somehow the final straw on the proverbial back of that over-burdened camel.

Suddenly, the companies that I’d hoped would be utilizing their freshly approved budgets to hire talented people like me…were closing their doors instead. The ones who were able to stay open had to reduce their work force. And all these former now-unemployed employees hit the job market like Shrek doing a belly flop in the wading pool. Now I had lots of additional (unwanted) competition for the ever-shrinking job listings.

Of course, everyone also cut back on holiday spending, which apparently only served to deepen the problems in the economy and increasing the number of eager job applicants. (Again, not completely my fault. I just couldn't find the wisdom in buying that Wii if I couldn’t pay the electric bill to power it.)

Side note: I want to once again emphasize that looking back, I still believe that leaving my last job was the right thing to do for me. I just regret it had the un-anticipated effect of taking the entire country down with me!

We know that a journey is not just about marking time (how long we've been traveling)l it's also about making progress (how far we've come). So, today I’m acknowledging the time—half a year on the job search journey. But I have to remind myself that I’ve made some significant progress in that same period of time.

I’ve passed scores of exits—those jobs that I didn’t get. (Granted, that was not always my choice, but I’ll list it in the “progress” column nonetheless.) I’ve worked on polishing some of my skills and even learning some new ones as well. For example, I didn’t know how to Twitter last year, now I can Tweet with the best of them. I’ve even had folks who “re-tweet” some of my chirping gems! I have a killer LinkedIn profile and my Facebook page is very active. I’ve read numerous books (Not just mindless novels!) that I hope will give me a greater understanding of social media, which does appear to the topic du jour in my career field (public relations/communications). I started my own blog, not just for the therapy it provides me, but also to highlight my talents as a writer/thinker and my ability to be relevant in this environment. It’s like getting a skill-set tune up.

As fulfilling as all of that has been, I want to go on record: it's not enough! I'm trying to make the most of my time, but unlike the Zen-ish cliché, this journey is not the destination. Unemployment is not my occupation. I’m ready for that sign on the highway that reads: Your job is ahead. Exit now!


How have you managed to fill the time during your job search?

What are you doing that's productive to your career?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stay in your own lane!

Perhaps I’m a bit naïve, but I believe that a job interview, like highway driving, is a two-way street. It should be less about an interrogation of the candidate and more like a dialogue of potential team mates.

But like I said, that could be just my simplistic perception.

Not long ago, I was in an interview, fielding the standard questions from a potential employer. Actually, at this point, I’d been through a telephone interview with the recruiter, another phone interview with the HR Manager and filled out the employment application. I had already granted permission for a background check and supplied them with my references. I’d been told they had narrowed their search to the three candidates and I was the first of the “final three” to be interviewed by the Hiring Manager. (Visions of American Idol rushed to my imagination!) In my understanding, this was the last of the interviews before a hiring decision was to be made. I was now talking with the person I would report to once (if) I was hired.

She was very pleasant and personable. We looked at my extensive (and impressive ) portfolio of writing samples. We talked about the various organizations I’d worked for, the kinds of projects I’d been involved with and the accomplishments of my career as well as some of the challenges. I even felt I had been able to effectively communicate why some of my past positions had not been long-term. (e.g., Sometimes, working for charity will satisfy the soul, but not pay the bills! and Because I value my family, consistently working 70-80 hours every week is not something I wanted to continue.) I was feeling very good about how it was going.

Suddenly, she looked at her watch and then launched into verbiage which experience had taught me meant the interview was winding down. “Thank you so much for coming in. I’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you and your background. We will be making our decision very soon. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get back in touch with us.” She stood to shake my hand.

I could tell by her hurried delivery that the last sentence was not an invitation. “Actually, I do have some questions," I responded. "Is there a time we can continue our discussion?”

She sighed audibly. (Yeah, that made me feel comfortable!) “Well I do have another appointment in a few minutes. What kind of questions do you have?” Her tone was clearly agitated.

I wanted to be polite and respectful of her calendar, even though I wasn’t sure why a decision this important to the company (not to mention ME) was sandwiched in between other appointments.

“You’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about me," I said. "I would like to have the chance to learn more about and your team. Since we all might be working together, I want to make sure this is a good fit for me and the team.”

She sat back down and invited me to ask my questions. (I felt rushed, to be sure.) They were standard questions I’d acquired from the traditional job boards like Monster or CareerBuilder. (e.g., How would you describe your management style? What are the biggest strengths of your current team? What are some weakness? Was there someone internally who wanted this position? Why was the decision made to hire from outside?) More than that, they were questions that I wanted answered. It was information I felt I needed to know.

At one point during our ensuing discussion, she glared at me and said, “You’re very intrusive.”

I was stunned. That certainly was not my intention. But I firmly believe that our work situation is a major relationship in our life. We spend more time with the folks at work than just about any of our other relationships. Compatibility is essential. Open communication is non-optional. No relationship (marriage, friendship, employment, etc.) can flourish without those elements.

The irony to me was obvious. This position was for Communications Director…for a Corporate Communications department. If I wasn't free to have this kind of discussion prior to employment, what does that say about the environment “inside” the organization.

I offered a perfunctory apology. I thanked her for her time and said I looked forward to their decision.

In my heart though I knew: there would be no call back…and I would not be unhappy about that outcome.

Both predictions proved true!

Do you have an interview story to share?

What do you think about my insistance on dialogue in the interview process?

Please give us YOUR thoughts.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Should You Even Be Driving?

Not long ago, we had to take my Mom’s car keys from her. She has dementia and her health is failing. Believe me, she was not happy. But for her protection, and the protection of others, we felt it was necessary.

There are times I feel that’s how I’m perceived in this job search market: like a vintage old-timer browsing the lot for a new-fangled sports car: too old to drive, too forgetful for the innovative controls and a potential hindrance to others on the road.

Trust me, I’ve been in interviews with “Senior” Vice Presidents (who look like they just stepped out of High School Musical) and I’ve picked up on their tacit assessments: I’m antiquated more than accomplished; venerable instead of valuable. A job more in keeping with my current status might be a museum, either on staff or as an exhibit.

Now legally, we know that age discrimination is forbidden. Regardless, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that last year, the number of age discrimination cases reported increased by nearly 30 percent.

However, we also know that perception is reality. A little gray in my hair and some hard-earned “etchings” on my face make it easy to assume I’m an out-of-touch antique. In the mindset of corporate recruiters (often young), the stereotype is that I’m incapable of learning new technologies or resistant to new techniques. Worse, there’s the mistaken notion that I’m just looking to “wait out my time” until retirement…like some AARP version of “Senior-itis.” (If they could see my 401K lately, they’d know that’s not likely!)

I can’t speak for the rest of my elder colleagues, but for me, nothing could be farther from the truth. So, I’ve peppered my resume with references to my hands-on involvement with new technology in order to dissuade any preconceptions about my inability to exist in the new millennium. I teach classes in Microsoft Office products. I not only have my own Facebook page, I have an entire website that I designed. I have a Twitter account, with followers. (Granted, I’m not a threat to Ashton Kutcher, but at least his marriage proves that he doesn’t have an issue with age!) And I’m a blogger! That’s right, I’m cutting edge.

The cliché “you can’t teach an old new tricks” is difficult to defeat. But don’t expect this old dog to roll over and play dead. I may not be able to chase a car or catch a Frisbee (staying with “old dog” metaphor), but I have acquired skills that come only with experience. You don’t get “over the hill” without learning some valuable and useful lessons along the way. (Yes, that was a change in metaphor, further proof of how adaptable I am.)

Truthfully, I know I have much to offer. Younger employees may have an education, but I can mentor them with experience. School can teach all the new technologies, but only time can instill the skills to relate to people. Work ethic, loyalty and integrity build over time, and they should be modeled to a younger generation and valued by the employers.

It’s true, I may not be a GenY’er, but there’s still plenty of bang left in this boomer, baby. Can’t you look past my wrinkles and see my potential? Won't you ignore my age and welcome my vast experience?

Don’t make me hit you with my walking stick, young’un!

ADDENDUM: This article came to me today after I'd put up the original post. It's a sad solution to the problem discussed in today's post. This may need to be a totally separate posting!

ADDENDUM2: Here's a link to video that illustrates the points made in this post. It's a scene from the TV show "Desperate Housewives."

Friday, May 8, 2009

Directions Along the Way (Part 3)

Note: We’re continuing our examination of the advice given by the job search experts. This is the final in the three-part post. I thought it was better in bite-sized chunks rather than one really long rant.

If Martha Stewart were giving advice on how to do a resume, she would surely tell us: It’s all about presentation! And while the “experts” agree that presentation is important, it often seems that’s the only thing on which they can agree.

We’re continuing our examination of the advice given by the job search experts. We all want help in our journey, so we turn our attention to those Messengers of the Employment Gods, the Recruiters and HR professionals who write the articles, post the blogs and send the Tweets. However, sometimes the counsel we receive is a bit conflicting. (I see it as somewhat like the basic plot in the Akira Kurosawa film, Rashômon. Four people witness a horrible crime, but when asked about it, they all give very different accounts of the events.)

It would be easier to confront these troublesome inconsistencies if the experts presented their opinion as options to consider rather than "absolute truth" which must be obeyed. And there's always the implied warning that disregarding (or worse, disobeying) the authority of these anointed job-granting leaders will bring instant judgment. Even the smallest of insight must be obeyed. “Thou shalt not use a San Serif font on thy resume, lest ye receive the recompense of continued residence in the wilderness of unemployment.” (Did we learn nothing from our Bible lessons about Moses, Mount Sinai and those divine edicts from the Ultimate HR Power?) We offfer our song of willing submission. "We Beseech Thee, hear us!"

However, since the experts can’t come up with a unified position, we’re left with the responsibility of putting all the information into some kind of workable, practical and individual package of compliance. Hopefully, our fervent intent to follow the “spirit of these lawgivers” will be seen as worthy of providential light on our job search journey and grant us the favor of the hiring deities.

Like a wandering evangelist myself, allow me to share what I’ve what I’ve learned:

Objective. This is the part of the resume where I affirm my career goals. It’s a statement (or a couple of statements, depending on which expert you believe. Who knows?) where I tell the potential employer why I’ve sent this document to them and what I want to do with my career.

When it comes to the “Objective” statement on resumes, I’ve learned four solid pieces of advice from the experts. (1) Always include an objective statement on my resume. (2) Never include an objective statement on my resume. (3) The objective statement should be detailed, targeted to the specific job I’m seeking. And (4) The objective statement should be vague, applicable for any job in any market.

Got it!

Length. Does size matter? Apparently, what matters is opinion. Some feel strongly that no resume, regardless of emplo yment history, should be more than one page. Others are just as convinced that two pages are acceptable, if I have the experience and job history to merit the expansive length. (Most do agree that sending a resume the size of the NYC phone book is not a good idea.)

The divergent opinions also extend to matters such as Format (Chronological versus Functional) and Gaps in Employment. (Should I explain that six-month hiatus when I visited all the Civil War reenactments?). In addition, there’s little consensus on Standardization: do I use the same resume for all jobs, or do I have several (or many) versions. Or, should I customize the resume for each position?

Job History is another discussion altogether. How many jobs should I include? (What about those eight back-to-back positions in the month when I was dodging my crazy ex?) How far back to go? Five years? Ten years? Should my lemonade stand be included?


The dilemma and my decision: Not sure if it will help, but I’ll share how I’ve taken all the guidance and incorporated it into my resume.

I’ve decided not to include an Objective on my resume. As a writer, I do think it’s nonessential fluff (I work in PR, making people sound gooder is what I do!) Besides, it takes up valuable space on this all-too-important document. After all, is there any doubt why I’m sending my resume? I want a job! I need a paycheck! (And btw, if you ask me in the interview “Where do you want to be in five years?” I will answer in a similar vein: I want to still be employed and still getting paid.)

I’ve also chosen to go with the task-focused Format, highlighting my awesome skills and amazing abilities with key words and phrases. This is because most of my positions have basically involved the same function so I want to spotlight my acquired (and vast) skill-set. It's less about what I've done in the past and more about my CAN DO abilities now!

And I don’t confront the reality of my Employment Gaps in print, but will bring it up in the interview. (One was family crisis, so not easy to put it down on paper!) As for Job History, I only go back about ten years. (I get that my position with Slate Rock and Gravel Company would be pushing it!)

Finally, I don’t have a Standardized resume; I have several: one page, two page and variations of both adapted for the specific position/industry (i.e., for-profit company, nonprofits, public relations, communication, etc.) I have resumes that emplasize my experience in the religious arena and those that hightlight my work with charities. In fact, I have so many resumes in my folder it resembles the IN BOX at the unemployment office.

After lots of research, weighing the options and much soul-searching, I believe this is absolutely, positively the right method for me and my career field. My mind is made up and I feel completely confident in my approach. I am secure sending out my resume, clearly designed to please even the most capricious divinity.

But...what if I’m wrong?

Dammit! It's like having Sybil as my Job Search expert!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Directions Along the Way (Part 2)

I’m going to assume you’ve read the first part of this blog post. (Hey, I’m going to also assume you’ve read all the previous posts. And while I’m living my hallucination, I’ll also assume you’re recommending this blog to all your friends and that you will eventually make comments in the provided fields. A guy can dream, right?)

This is a continuation of the obvious, but useful resume elements and interview skills culled from scores of experts in the job search field.

  • Don’t make mistakes. Typos will not be tolerated. Don’t use text-message lingo or abbreviations. The hiring manager may in fact be ROTFLMAO…but that won’t help me get the job. BTW: this involves more than just using Spell Checker, which can miss what we in the writing world call "homonyms," which are not songs sung in a gay church! Rule of thumb: It's just plane smart too get it write the first time, or yule never get another chance. (Note: All the words in that previous sentence are spelled correctly, but what a horrible impression I'd make!)

  • Pay attention to what’s in Cyber Space. While I may not remember that weekend in South Padre, those picture of me in the grass skirt (commando!) will never be forgotten once they’re posted on my Facebook page. Twitter is fun, but telling the world that I am an “anarchist in training” could hinder my employment chances. The video of my “natural” pool parties on YouTube? Not helpful. (I sometimes wonder if this Blog will come back and bite me on the ass...oops, no profanity! I'm a communications professional.)

  • Check for dangerous “code words.” Hardcore and savvy recruiter can scan a resume to learn a wealth of information about me just from my descriptions in the document. And it may be information I did not intend them to know, so I must look carefully to determine if I’m sending “coded” messages about myself. EXAMPLES: I might think of myself as a “free spirit” while they interpret it as an inability to follow the rules. In their mind, I’m not actually “highly organized and detail-oriented,” I’m inflexible. And while I think I’m “willing to take direction,” they would see that as requiring micro-management.
Side note: Perhaps in today’s climate, I shouldn’t just stop with the obvious. If I’m really serious (and I am!), I might even consider changing my name. EXAMPLES: If my name is something like Homer, who's the first person that springs to mind? Poindexter might sound a bit geeky and Gwendolyn could be seen as pretentious. Gertrude sounds old. Bruce might brand me as…less than masculine. (God forbid!) If my name is Derrick or LaToya, some redneck might think I’m Black. Any name with a religious connotation should be avoided: Bernie, Esther or Mohammed. Don’t even think of using a name like Raul, JaSing or Ahmed. In fact, if I’m applying for any management position, it might be best to avoid all female names! (Unless I want to get paid less for the same job!)
  • Never, never, ever lie! (That includes “artistic license,” hyperbole or exaggeration.) Whether I’m applying for a position as a cashier or a CEO, my resume and interview should be presented with absolute veracity. I don’t have to mention that I can’t make change without the aid of a calculator, but I dare not boast of my advanced calculus abilities. The fact that I opted for a GED is not important, but if I include that I have a MBA from Harvard (with the corresponding online counterfeit diploma), I can get into serious trouble. (Jail time is not a great tradeoff for the tedium of unemployment.)

  • Don’t try to be cute or clever. Business is…well, serious business. I'm trying to get hired, not elected "Class Clown." EXAMPLE: One cover letter closed with the sentence "Let's meet so you can 'ohh' and 'ahh' over my amazing personality in addition to my skills and experience." It’s best to learn this important lesson in my job search now…before I’m hired: funny and amusing have no place in corporate America!

Excellent counsel, to be sure. Obvious? Perhaps.

But wait, there's more! (Did that sound like an infomercial?) In our next post, we’ll look at some of the expert insight on the not-so-obvious elements of our presentation.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Directions Along the Way (Part 1)

To survive in today’s job market, we all need help. The same is true in the Job Search market, especially when we continue to hear about how just one mistake can cost us the interview, the callback or the job. So we turn to the experts!

“Help us, O great and powerful HR guru. Give us your wisdom, Master Recruiter.”

Because I want to give the very best impression to potential employers, because I want to be noticed above the other applicants, because I want to get a job (and because I’m a bit OCD), I’ve done extensive research on best job search practices. I’ve read the experts’ articles, websites, blogs, tweets and Facebook pages. I have digested their advice and share them below for your personal utilization…and amusement.

Some of the advice is obvious and could go without saying, but that usually doesn’t keep the experts from saying it anyway. (Nor does it keep me from repeating it here.)

  • Leave out any information that could be used for illegal discrimination. (Not that they would tell me that’s why I wasn’t hired.) This would include age, religion, political affiliations, and such. But I also need to make sure that I don’t include subtle clues to these areas either. Putting my date of graduation might give away the fact that I’m not part of GenY. (The fact that my student number was 00001 or that my transcript is printed on cuneiform would also be a dead giveaway!) Listing my political affiliation as Log Cabin Republican may be T.M.I. (Not to mention S.A.D.) Using a phrase like “seasoned professional” is just a subtle way to say “I’m old and out of work.” (see also, upcoming section on “coded messages”)
  • Avoid including groups, clubs and hobbies. While it could show that I’m very involved in my community or that I have outside interests, in the end, it wastes valuable real estate on my page. Not to mention the overzealous hiring manager might see it as a distraction to my indentured servitude job. (Does anyone care that I enjoy making my dog’s clothes?) If not careful, these inclusions could send the wrong signal. (e.g., What might potential employers infer from my involvement in Up With Amish, when I’m applying for an IT position?)

  • Family is important, but not at work. There’s no need to mention husband, wife or children on a resume or during an interview. I should never refer to my boyfriend, girlfriend (particularly if I’ve already listed husband or wife), significant other, partner, etc. Work-Life Balance is a great theory, but only from the viewpoint of the employer, holding it out as a carrot-on-a-stick benefit in the marketing brochure. (“We’re a great place to work because we value work-life balance.”) For the candidate under consideration to give any indication of interest and involvement in a life outside the job is tantamount to informing the employer that they might not put enough of a priority on work. After all, they know that once I get the job in the sorely understaffed department, my family will be dead to me!

Of course, there are more…but we’ll stop for today. After all, we have other important things to do…like find a job! (Notice, I said “other” because I'm certain how important my blog is!)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Are we there yet?

Blogger note: I’ve been dealing with a nasty stomach bug…so this is probably the last post this week. Just getting well seems to be hard work. I’ve decided to name my malady: Whine Flu! I’m sure that’s how it seems to those around me!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There’s a quote which says “A mathematician is like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there.” Though I wouldn’t qualify as a math whiz, I definitely understand that feeling of an endless quest without any sense of direction toward the intended target. Only, I call it job searching.

I do remember this from one of my math classes: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Point A => Point B. So in our analogy, Point A would be when I lost my job and found myself needing a new job, which would be Point B. Simple math, not rocket science. But living in the interlude between the Point A and Point B can seem like anything but short.

Everyone with children on a trip knows the phrase “Are we there yet?” It’s been a while since we departed, and the actual arrival point is some vague place in the future that has yet to be seen. So the questions arise: How much longer? When will we get there?

If we’re honest, we’ve all asked (or are asking) these same, very logical questions during our job search journey. But unfortunately, on this journey, we probably don’t have the answer because we have no clue about the “arrival time” at our destination. (i.e., when we actually get a job) And for those with even the slightest control issues (Me? Control issues?), that is not a comfortable place to be.

Parents know that during this “not there yet” gap time, it’s important to keep the kids occupied. We used games, crayons, puzzles and books with our children. Today, there’s also MP3 players and portable DVDs. It’s necessary to keep their minds active, otherwise the endless, repeated questions will make the “getting there” nearly unbearable and strain the sanity of the driver.

My last job did not end well, so when I began at Point A, I was not in a good place—emotionally, mentally or physically. The first few weeks I was pretty moody. (Okay, depressed!) Basically, I did my very best impersonation of Jabba the Hutt–doing little more than sitting in my recliner, watching movies and eating. (Hey, I had two weeks of vacation as part of my last paycheck, so I was using it!)

But that (hopefully) can’t last forever. Decisions needed to be made about my future. So, I developed a clear job search plan (including websites to search, a spreadsheet to record my submissions, etc.) and set aside precise times in the mornings and afternoons for my search.

The first couple of months of unemployment, in addition to my regimented job search routine, I still found myself with too much time on my hand. Mama’s voice echoed in my head: “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” I cleaned cabinets and closets, completely re-organized our garage (a HONEY-DO that gone not done for more than a year) and even catalogued my DVD collection. I also worked on my second novel, getting lots of much-delayed research done and was able to do a substantial amount of writing. (My fiction fan base will be thrilled!)

I was also diligent about keeping up my skills, and learning new, useful ones in the process. I studied the emerging phenomenon of social media, setting up my Twitter account, my Facebook page and this blog. When the right job did come, I wanted to be current…in spite of often feeling like an anachronism.

Unfortunately, as the journey dragged on, I needed more and more to fill my time. This was especially true because not long after my last position ended, the entire country seemed to fall apart in sympathy of my situation. The economy tanked. Hundreds of companies began laying off thousands of people. Businesses closed. Many of my peers unwillingly followed my trend-setting lead into the land of unemployment. And while there are times when lots of companionship can be nice, in this case, not so much. (They were now my competition!) I had more time on my hand because there were less jobs out there.

Are we there yet? gave way to Where is there?

Point B, in violation of the immutable rules of mathematics, moved farther away.

I’m gonna need a lot more coloring books!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gatekeepers (Part 2)

When the Stanley Kubrick movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” came out in 1968, I saw it nine times. At the theater. Nine paid tickets.

A friend of mine and I liked to think of ourselves as intellectuals (you were thinking “nerd,” weren’t you?) so we would see the movie, then spend hours discussing the “symbolism” within the story. The prehistoric apes, the monolith, the LSD-esque trip through a vortex of lights and sound, the dining/death scene, and of course, the Star-Baby orbiting Earth. The movie impelled us to explore the deep meaning of life, the possibilities of alternate realities, the potential for a better future and the existential questions…blah, blah, blah. Whatever! Truthfully, we were in high school. There were no text messages, no Facebook or Twitter and we only had three TV stations. What else was there to do? (BTW, I still have no idea what the hell this movie means!)

One of the classic scenes in the movie involves astronaut Dr. David Bowman having a discussion with HAL (more specifically, the HAL 9000), the onboard computer for the space ship Discovery One. Dave had left the ship in a small transport pod to retrieve a dead crewmember, who'd been killed by HAL. Once he gets back to the ship, the conversation gets intense:

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL,” Dr. Bowman instructs.

HAL responds, “I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.”

“What’s the problem?” Dave asks.

The emotionless response: “I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.”

I shared previously about the Nameless gatekeeper who determines if I will “get in” to the next person in the company’s food chain. However, in today’s “brave new world” of job searching, this person is not always the first step in the hiring process. Lest we allow too much emotion or sentiment to cloud the hiring process, many organizations have implement a failsafe measure of purging the flawed from the potential hiring pool. So, before my resume even gets to the desk of Jack the Ripper, it will be scrutinized by an automated “key word search matrix.”

This cyber-mastermind searches for predetermined words, phrases, skills, qualifications, employment history, etc., to rank the candidates. Those who meet the Darwinian standards move to the human screeners; those who don’t are assigned to some technological black hole of invisibility. (And almost always without any kind of “thank you for playing” response!) By some estimates, the number of resumes actually seen by human eyes could be as low as five percent. Talk about survival of the fittest!

Personal Example: I recently found a job listing for a Director of Communications at a local organization. The job description called for someone with proven “flair and creativity.” (Hey, that’s me!) I went to their online site, where I was required to complete a bland and innocuous fill-in-blank application form. As I finished each “page” of the form, I held out hope that I would eventually be asked to upload my perfect resume and insert an impressive cover letter, detailing how our corporate collaboration would exceed their expectations. Sadly, that never came.

Using virtually no brain power and even less imagination, the form was finished. (Me too, I felt!) I could visualize my colorful career being relegated to some black-and-white sector on the hard drive along with thousands of other faceless drones, waiting to somehow be singled out or deleted. As I clicked on the SUBMIT button, a Fatal Error flashed in my brain. How can a decision be made with just the information I had provided? For a job that demanded creativity, I’d had no opportunity to display that very quality. Query: Shouldn’t the application process at least match the requirements of the position?

I get that in today’s market, with thousands of us applying for that one position, this modern-day manifestation of HAL streamlines the process for the overworked recruiters. It’s the next logical step in organizational evolution. (Though evolution implies moving to that which is more human, doesn’t it?) But from the perspective of the interested candidate—often with no concrete knowledge of the specific “key words” being used by the techno-brain—it makes an already impersonal process feel more remote and detached.

I have visions of slowly dismantling the word search matrix, while listening to a haunting rendition of “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do….” (I know, if you haven’t seen the movie, that last reference is lost on you. Trust me, to quote a great cosmic philosopher from the future, it would be…fascinating!)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gatekeepers (Part 1)

When it comes to finding a job, one of the things we learn is that no matter how impressive our credentials are (displayed in the perfect resume we’ve constructed to flaunt those exceptional qualifications), we must first get past the “gatekeeper.”

Gatekeeper! This is an unknown person—perhaps a staff member within the organization, but possibly a detached outsourced assassin—who’s the first to see my resume. The gatekeeper, who may go by one of many titles (HR Assistant, HR Generalist, Receptionist, Temp, Lizzie Borden), reads my resumes and decides if I talk to somebody in the company who makes the decision about me getting an interview with someone else before I can be considered by the person who actually does the hiring for the position. Doesn’t intimidate me!

Hopefully, this person—so crucial to my career advancement—has a reading aptitude and attention span shaped by fare well beyond The National Enquirer so they can recognize the brilliance of my background, the scope of my skills and my accumulated accomplishments. (Did you notice the alliteration? I’m very talented. Why aren’t I employed?)

However, I’m told that I probably only have 30-60 seconds to capture the gatekeeper’s attention and dazzle them with the reality of…ME! That’s the average length of a TV commercial. But in this commercial, there will be no funny animals that talk or sing, no dazzling CGI animation, no nostalgic music to tug on the emotions and without the benefit of a well-known celebrity to tout the product (i.e., ME). Only words on the page.

I’ve been in my industry for 15+ years. I’ve been recognized and honored for my work. I’ve been asked to speak to my peers at national conferences. I’ve been on TV as a spokesperson, been quoted in national magazine and had multitudes of my news releases printed by major publications. I’m good at what I do, and my record proves it.

Personal note: Don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging, but (1) I am, and (2) I’m in PR…that’s what we do
So, in the same amount of time typically used to sell the latest unproven fat-burning supplement, I must distinguish myself and convey all my abilities to this gatekeeper who’s looking at thousands of resumes from (obviously lesser) candidates and probably also over-burdened with innumerable “other duties, as required.”

Okay, I’m a little intimidated.

Aren’t we glad we have the “perfect” resume, discussed in the last post?

If it were only that simple. In my next entry, I’ll share how one of the most acclaimed science fiction movies of all time teaches us another lesson about “gatekeepers.”

Friday, April 24, 2009

Quest for the PERFECT Resume

Everyone knows: the triumphant job search journey requires the “perfect” resume. Therefore, I read many articles on the subject. I visited the ‘monster” job search sites (pardon the pun) and read their sage advice on the crafting the resume. I consulted the experts, who all have blogs now, where they post their opinions on the RIGHT way of job searching. (More on that later. I promise.) I wanted my resume to be good…no, exceptional. After all, I’m not doing this for my health. (I’m doing it for my health insurance, actually)

And make no mistake, I learned this document is the indisputable key to my successful transition from seeker of employment (and validation) back to the land of fruitful productivity…and peer esteem. The resume is my introduction to the person(s) making the hiring decision; it’s the cliché “first impression” that cannot be retracted.

The united voices of all the experts sing this primary message with the force and harmony of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: my resume has to get noticed! It has to SCREAM my strengths, my skills, my experience, my can-do philosophy, my accomplishments. My resume must shout so loudly that the one who reads it is struck “deaf “to all other resumes in the pile, those that are only “whispering” the qualifications of the person they represent. The “noise” of my omnipotent document must make me look so outstanding that all other candidates pale in comparison.

The aspiration of this document--preferable in Microsoft Word format, in a readable font common to most computers; nothing too fancy, swirly or distracting--is to broadcast the depth of my industry knowledge and the vastness of my experience, both gained over many years of progressive and successful employment.

Side note: Here’s the tricky part. This must be done without giving away the fact that I’m probably older than the average person applying for the same position and accustomed to making much more money. (Don’t want that to influence their decision before they have the chance to be dazzled by me in an actual face-to-face meeting!)

*** Deep Breath ***

But it’s not enough for today’s professional resume to merely tout the solid and proven skills I’ve acquired in my 20+ years in my chosen career field. My resume needs to also show that I’m the consummate multi-tasking wizard (think Superman on amphetamines), able to accomplish multiple tasks on ever-shifting deadlines, as well as complete the last minute projects of folks less organized. After all, the company once had an entire department, but now, it’s just a VP, a temp and “the new guy.” (Personally, I think that multi-tasking is little more than “corporate speak” for A.D.D. and gives those who are easily distracted as excuse for their scattered work habits. But then, I’m OCD…so who am I to hurl alphabet accusations!)

And finally, this single document must show my myriad of additional abilities, in order to perform that always-present job responsibility of “other duties, as assigned.” I am presented as the all-work, no-play jack-of-all-trades savior who can fill the void left by corporate cutbacks (or greedy opportunistic CFOs)…and I can do it all with herculean stamina, the winsome demeanor of June Cleaver, for approximately the same amount of money Beaver made cutting grass in his spare time.

Yes, the all-powerful resume is my “knock” on the doorway to that new job, so it’s has to be special, unique and memorable---intriguing them with my qualifications and somehow touching them a pathos that draws them to me as the one-and-only perfect candidate.

Hey, no pressure. I’m a writer by trade. In my spare time, I write novels, for God Sake! This will be a snap.

Oh, wait. Preferably, it needs to be done in only one page!

Dear Lord, where’s the bourbon?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It’s a new road…literally!

Job searching is not for the faint-hearted. Or those with thin skin. Or the lazy. It’s not suited for the impatient--those accustomed to microwavable, instantaneous results. As one article I read put it: When you don’t have a job, finding a job IS your job! In short, it’s time consuming and can be frustrating. We gotta find a way to get through with grace and dignity. There must be a pressure-release valve, else we'll stroke out...and without the benefit of health insurance. YIKES!!! For me, I use humor.

If you haven’t been involved in a job search recently, pay homage to whichever divine “Ultimate Other” you worship—fall to your knees, burn incense, dance around naked, twist the head off a chicken, shake some beads…whatever your rituals dictates. (Though you probably shouldn’t be doing any of these while at work.) You might even consider a “thank you” note to your employer that you are among the growing minority of those who still have a job. Face it: you are the object of jealousy and envy for millions of us. (That should at least help you rethink your sense of importance, right?)

The fact is, finding a job has changed. My mother, who’s in her 70s keeps reminding me to look in the “want ads.” LOL. (That last expression would be lost on her. She can't play a DVD, bless her heart!) If only it were still that simple. The rules, the targeted people and the required processes are so different now…to the point that often I feel like a dinosaur who’s come out of deep freeze, looking to become a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. (i.e., outdated and ill-equipped!)

I’m by no means an expert (I’ll get to those in later posts), just a traveler and an observer. I'm a job of millions on this road to my dream job. (Or on some days, the detour to any job!)

I’ve been trying to deal with all this by keeping a sense of humor about the entire process. I've waded through the intricate methodology to even apply at some places. I've read (and gasped at) the all-inclusive requirements and over-inflated performance expections for some jobs. (Apparently, since most companies have been forced to downsize their staff, the new employees are expected to do it half the combined salaries!). I have talked to a vast array of interesting and/or unusual “people.” (To be truthful, some just barely qualify for that human designation.) For me, it helps to laugh--at the persnickety people and their perplexing processes. Otherwise, I fear you’d see me on the evening news, in a story that goes something like this:

“A bizarre incident tonight, as a local job searcher has a massive emotional breakdown in the lobby of a well-respected company. The alleged incident came after the individual spent hours filling out an online application for an open position at the company. The application wanted the exact same information contained in the required resume he had uploaded. Several days later, the candidate was sent an extensive questionnaire, which was required for all applicants. He had one day to get the questionnaire completed and turned in, though the answers involved complicated concepts of topics ranging from personal work ethics to theories of time travel.

“Following weeks of waiting to hear back from the company, he eventually did a preliminary telephone interview with the company’s recruiter. This was followed by several additional phone interviews as well as numerous in-person interviews on two different days. He provided writing samples, took aptitude tests, drug screenings and submitted to a background check. A blood oath and promise of first-born male child forms were pending. The process, from beginning to end, took more than eight weeks.

“In the end though, after all the company-mandated hoop-jumping, he was informed they’d decided to fill the position with an internal candidate. At which point, he allegedly entered the building and threw what one observer described as ‘a classic Southern hissy-fit.’ Using profane—but extremely witty and urbane—language, he verbally assaulted a young HR assistant who sent the rejection form letter. Afterwards, he apparently crumpled to floor, where he was heard mumbling the primary rules for good news releases: who, what, when, where, how. Though the HR assistant, an eighteen-year old temp, didn’t understand his highly educated and sophisticated tirade on the indignities of the human condition and the historic injustices of the disenfranchised, she called the police.

“The job candidate could not be reached for comment. According to what our news team could gather, he’s resting comfortably in a nearby hospital, with the proper medication, his laptop and several Broadway musical CDs. The guard outside his door would not allow our crew to interview him.”

So, primarily because I have so much time on my hands, I’ve decided to share what I’ve encountered along the road (acquired wisdom or twisted perspective?) and I hope you’ll share, too. There’s much to learn and I look forward to spending time with you all. That is, until I get a job when I’ll drop this blog like a garage-sale Louis Vuitton knockoff bag!

Let's begin with a shout-out to The Hollies, “The road is long, with many a winding turn.” (

More later: The all-important resume, those employment "experts," and the joys of networking.