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.