Friday, June 26, 2009
Get a Job
Since my 12th birthday I have never been without a job more than a couple weeks with one exception, when I became homeless because I could not land a job for over a year. In retrospect I had allowed my worries and anxieties to block me from obtaining even a reasonable position to meet the basic needs of food and shelter. I now have one of the best positions I ever could have secured given my lack of a college degree or confidence to run my own business. Because I know the realities of not knowing where my next meal would come from, let alone where I might spend the night, I am compelled to offer my insight into the complexities of job hunting to those who are currently having trouble finding suitable employment.
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed when one dives into the labor pool. First, let’s just list the items of concern, and then we will address each individually.
1. The resume
2. Job History
3. The Interview
4. Body, Mind and Spirit
6. Resources and Networking
8. Starting Over
When you put your resume together, keep in mind that the person reviewing it may be looking at anywhere from a few dozen in a small business, to thousands in a large business. It should therefore be short, clear and concise, not more than two pages. Keep the type simple and clear and use basic font size, italics and bold as your pallet. Do not use fancy graphics or font, bullets or boxes to enhance the information. The reviewer is only interested in whether you meet the qualifications for the position, and have a professional attitude. Avoid specialty colored paper and envelopes. Unless you’re applying for a position to the Queens Court, or perhaps a Graphic Designers position at Hallmark, then there is rarely a need to be excessively expressive. Reserve that type of attention for a follow up thank you note, which I will explain later.
A good resume provides no more than five areas of information. First is your personal information such as your name, address, and contact information like phone number or email.
Then you need to state clearly what position you’re applying for or objective. Next a summary of accomplishments that makes you uniquely qualified for that specific position. This is where you brag about your credentials. List any degrees or certifications you may have as well as projects you completed. I would sometimes list 3 to 5 bullets of highlighted items from the job description in the context of my experience. For example: If the job requires a working knowledge of specific equipment operation I would list those of which I had experience and knowledge, or if it required experience in specific software I would list all the programs I was proficient in and note those I was knowledgeable in. Following that I would place a few bulleted items of significant achievements. Here I noted how I was an asset to my past employers by setting and exceeding a certain goal or taking on an issue outside my normal job function to enhance the efficiency of the business. Further, if the position request a self motivated individual I would illustrate a couple of my extracurricular activities, like teaching myself HTML or learning Spanish. Just make sure it applies to the duties and responsibilities of the position you’re applying to fulfill.
The next block of information on the resume should be the job history. Here you want to provide as much information as possible, and it depends on how many positions you have held in the past. Typically, you do not want to list more than the past ten years of employment. Provide full company name, address and correct zip codes. If the HR department cannot verify your employment history you will most likely be passed up for the position regardless if you’re qualified. Make sure phone numbers are still active or that the business is still located in the same place when you worked there. Sometimes it is still the same business and staff, but they brand a new name and currently answer the phone differently. Place the new name on the resume, not the one you worked under. List the employment period to the nearest month and year, exact days if possible, but make it consistent for all employers listed. In other words, do not use dd/mm/yy for one employer, then mm/yyyy for the next. If you had periods of unemployment over a month, explain them. If your periods of unemployment are under a month, list using the mm/yyyy format will hide the lapses. In today’s shifting economy employers are not so concerned about brief periods of unemployment; they are concerned about long periods of unemployment. Do not lie in the job history or exaggerate your position. Be truthful. Honesty and integrity carry more weight than failure. An employer can work with someone that is not afraid to say I made some mistakes, than someone that is a know it all.
Finally, the last part of the resume should breakdown your education, any clubs, organizations, or volunteerism pertinent to the position, and military service and experience if it has a positive effect as a potential candidate.
If you cannot fit all that information on one page legibly then do not try to cram it all in by reducing the font down to a size that strains the readers eyes, just place it on two pages in a plane clear font of reasonable size. Spacing should be utilized to make it comfortable to read. Try to keep blocks of information together and avoid breaking blocks across page breaks.
Sometimes I had to take a job that was out of my career of choice. The market and your area of residence will have more an influence on what your choices are than your ability. When you are drawing unemployment benefits, they sometimes send you on an interview for positions completely out of your skill and education level. You may find that it is necessary to take some of these positions to make ends meet. Just keep in mind that if you do take a position out of your career path, then when you do look for a position in your career path, some employers will discriminate when it comes to negotiating salary or wages. I left a fairly steady history of positions as an electronic technician to settle for some sales and appraiser positions only to find I had to start all over when I had been away from the market for more than 5 years. Although I had over 12 years experience in electronics and 8 years in manufacturing, when I applied for a position in both after a 5 year hiatus, I had to start at the middle beginner pay. However, it only took 5 years to earn near top pay. Although the company was downsizing and laying off, I would still ask for a raise, and always received them because I would go well beyond my job description during this period. One year just I and one other person received a raise. My advice is that just because times appear slow and depressed, asking cost nothing. The worst that can happen is they say “No”. When I was working at this particular company however, I always had my eye on keeping myself marketable. I would take advantage of learning as much about the product line as possible, and kept good working relationships. I also kept networking with others in the industry just in case I was laid off again. Then the day came and I was laid off. I actually nearly doubled my salary by networking with people that were experts in the industry and found a niche that few people were able to understand or had limited training access. The only downside is that it was also a position that few would consider due to the extensive travel involved. Regardless, I have learned that a position I once shown little interest in became one of the most rewarding positions because it incorporated all my past experience and training to accomplish. Although I do not have a degree, I make more than many that do, simply because it requires a skill set not taught in schools and neglected by industry, simply supply and demand. If you follow the wave of occupations dictated by career counselors and university curriculums like I often did, then you will continue to follow behind a long declining market of salary declines. It is simply that they are a business that is unregulated and follow lagging trends. My recommendation is that you use school to train you how to study and research those naturally occurring interest that are personal to each of us. Then spend much time in the public library and pursue those interests that are your passion. If it requires a degree to obtain the position you desire, then by all means pursue it, but it should be perceived as a step in a process, not a guarantee of success.
I have been on both sides of the interview process. I have been interviewed thousands of times in my life, and on occasion I held positions where I gave the interview. Fortunately, when I was a young man, I had a wonderful vocational instructor that made the job interview as part of his class curriculum. He emphasized proper dress, firm hand shake, and looking straight into the interviewer’s eyes. In other words, he taught us confidence in the interview. On the other side I had seen the results of someone that did not display these simple principles very well. It did not leave me with a good impression and needless to say, I had no confidence in recommending them for the position. Let’s look closer at each of these principles.
First of all, there is no one attire that is appropriate for all occupations. One has to discern the level of dress that is applicable to the situation. If you’re applying for a bank teller position then a suit would be most appropriate, but if you’re applying to dig ditches it would be foolish. The key is to never dress at a higher degree of formality than the interviewer. If the interviewer is the CEO it would be wise to wear a suit (most of the time…Steve Jobs might be more casual). If you are in a manufacturing environment, then cleanly pressed kakis and a low key polo shirt would be acceptable. Be sure to wash and comb your hair. Hair length may or may not be an issue. If it is for a rock band, long may be good. If it is for a police academy then you may blow it. The key here is that it should be clean, neat, and appropriate.
The hand shake is more important than most would admit. It relays ones confidence. Similarly, looking your peers directly in the eyes when responding to questions projects truthfulness, honesty, and integrity. Just make sure you don’t intimidate your interviewer by staring to intently. I have found in my experience that if I come across too confident and cocky, I rarely get another look. On the other hand, if I appear polite, courteous, tentative, and respectful I usually end up in the top five. Never offer more information than is solicited by the interviewer. There is an old saying that rings very true in the interview, “It is better to be thought an idiot, than to open ones mouth and remove all doubt.” Another way to look at it is that God gave us one mouth and two ears, so he/she obviously wanted us to listen more than speak. Let the interviewer set the pace. Simply take some deep breaths, relax, and pretend that the company needs you as much as you need them. Ask probing questions about the company only after the interview is nearing the end and they ask if you have any further questions. Then only ask genuine questions that were not covered in the interview, like “I read on your website that you have a large contract with company xyz, how is that coming along?” or “Does your company encourage continuing education and career development?” It will be much easier if you actually do your homework on the company prior to going to an interview. If you ask a question that was previously answered or discussed during the interview, you might appear obtuse or foolish. If you are nervous or in doubt, say nothing other than, “No, I believe you have done a thorough job of covering them all, thank you.”
Body, Mind, and Spirit
Looking for work is utterly exhausting. Many people fail to secure a job mostly because they are stressed out. It is not without reason. Losing a job can be like losing a loved one or significant property. We all go through the five stages of loss; shock, anger, denial, depression, then acceptance. Unfortunately, we often do not find another job until we reach acceptance. That is because we finally chill out and relax long enough for the interview to truly see our potential.
The best way to deal with all the emotions that are churned up after job loss is to take care of your physical, mental and spiritual health. I recommend casual enjoyable exercise like tennis, basketball, hiking, swimming or even walking. Take time out to let go! If your mind is in a constant state of worry, you will never feel or more importantly appear healthy. Turn off the TV, burn the newspapers, walk away from the spouse. Whatever it takes to remove you from the steady negativity that comes from our environment, surround yourself with more positive influences like prayer, meditation, nostalgic music, positive friends or relatives. Find or create a positive support system.
When I was near homeless I use to listen to stress release and self-hypnosis tapes that allowed me to escape from the world through visualization. I would also take walks in the botanical garden or tour a museum to gain an appreciation for life in general. It helped me ground my thoughts and think more clearly. I eventually volunteered for church activities, like Habitat for Humanity, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters which helped me place my problems in perspective compared to others who had it even worse than I. It became food for the spirit. I know not everyone is religious, but simply reading the bible and having casual conversations with my pastor gave me the strength I needed to get through the desperately low times. I learned that when my attitude shifted from what I needed from the world to what I could give to the world, many doors of opportunity began to open for me.
I once heard that it is not the float of your boat, but the latitude of your attitude that assures success. Attitude can make all the difference in the world on the outcome of any situation. My grandmother use to say you get more flies with honey than vinegar. It is basically the same saying. If we wonder into a prospective employer all negative and discouraged, then that is what we bring to the interview. On the other hand if we come in too perky and bubbly then we may appear unrealistic. The proper attitude is essential to obtain the respect of others and secure the interview. With the proper attitude we can overcome barriers of negativity. It is not surprising that misery loves company. When we are in pain we often want others to validate that pain, so we subconsciously seek friends that keep us down and out. We secretly feel that if we share that pain then we must be normal. The truth is sometimes we need to divorce ourselves of those family and/or friends that continue to suck the life blood out of us. If they are truly our friends, then they should be happy to support us in our changing endeavors. If they do not then they may be part of the problem. The real pain is when you learn that sometimes the friend that truly holds you back is sometimes yourself. Be willing to be accountable for your own failure. Stop playing the blame game and be willing to be vulnerable. Once you can accomplish that level of reflection, then the healing will begin. I remember when it seemed like all my supervisors had issues and that I was convinced there were no competent managers out there. The realization that I had a historical pattern of problems with management helped me get at the core problem of my dissatisfaction with my job, me. It shortly became clear that it was not all those managers, but more likely my attitude that kept me from job satisfaction. Once I adjusted my attitude and sought management courses, I was able to appreciate my managers from their perspective, and the relationship blossomed. A good manager can spot someone that has a healthy understanding of management’s issues. With that healthy attitude come more opportunities. Where I once would go to management with complaints, I soon came to them with solutions. That shift in attitude prompted one of my managers to spend over eight hours preparing a report arguing to upper management why the loss of my employment would be detrimental to the bottom line of the company. She truly went to bat for me to help me keep my position with the company. Yes, attitude can make a big difference.
Resources and Networking
One of the most useful tools in locating suitable employment is through the networking of resources. When we develop relationships through the course of our occupations, we often take them for granted. I suggest keeping a friendly relationship with coworkers and managers because you never know when you may be calling on them for a recommendation for employment. I started keeping work relationships in a separate address book and found I needed it shortly after I started it. Before you use those relationships for references on an application however, I recommend contacting those individuals and inform them of your intent so they are not surprised be the call. The quickest way to have your application thrown at the bottom of the pile is to have a reference answer, “who?” As soon as I lost my job I notified all those individuals I had worked with outside the company to let them know I was available. The word spread quickly and I had an interview scheduled within the week. After the interview where I was made an offer on the spot, which I accepted, I was amazed to discover that another employer had been unable to reach me because I had not given them my phone number and they were willing to give me an even better offer. Proof that golden opportunity can be missed simply by not keeping yourself available.
One resource I never had any luck with was Monster.com and other web based job search engines. The only Internet based employment systems I have gotten responses from are the company web sites that post jobs within their respective companies. However, I never received a job offer, just an acknowledgement.
Where I have had considerable success was by making my own job. I once walked up to a construction site with my tool belt in hand and asked the foreman if they needed any help. To my surprise he said yes and negotiated a wage on the spot. A short phone call and I was working within minutes. Another time I simply evaluated what my talents and experience was and then advertised those services at laundries, and churches. Soon I had several odd jobs lined up which carried me through, until I was called into the phone company for an interview and was hired.
Sometimes one has to get creative to stand out from the crowd. I do not recommend doing that with the resume, but you can show savvy after the initial interview. For example, I once took a blank postcard and drew a single pane cartoon of a real estate appraiser, which was the position I was applying for, as a method of thanking the interviewer for his time and interest. It landed me a second interview and the job.
Other times I would work for free to get the job experience and use that relationship as a reference on other applications. I also was seeing a therapist for depression and expressed my interest in being an artist, but was self-taught and did not have a degree. It just so happened that one of his patients was employed by a comic book company and set me up a meeting to show my talent. She hired me as a colorist for a reputable comic book company which was a wonderful experience, but unfortunately two weeks after I decided to work there full time I was laid off again. That experience however landed me two more artist positions which employed me for at least 6 more months. Don’t be afraid to try new things at least on a temporary basis, it may lead to a more rewarding career.
Another thing in searching for a job in this market is to consider starting over. Sometimes we choose a career path simply because we were encouraged to do so, not because we have a passion for the particular profession. Other times we choose a career based solely on the high compensation, not because we have a particular talent that stands out. In either case I would consider doing what I did. I spent a few days with the local community college, and some county mental health facilities also offer similar testing. These tests evaluate your skills and interest, your dexterity and reasoning ability, as well as psychological profile and generates a list of occupations that best fit your strengths and interest. This will help assess whether your career path is a good fit, or whether you’re living in denial. It may be possible that there are better careers that would be more rewarding for your specific personality. In my case it verified that my strengths were exactly what the Navy trained me for, electronics troubleshooting. However, there were other scientific and creative type occupations that would equally satisfy me.
In conclusion, I hope sharing some of my experience in job hunting and the interview process will help you land a rewarding job. I know that these are exceptional times and that it is not easy to keep looking without any indication of promise. I do promise you this, the world is always changing, and the market continues to evolve. Those that decide to look at the process as a challenge rather than an obstacle will prevail. The job you finally settle into will most likely not be the job you set out to get, but it may be more rewarding and more profitable in the long run. Don’t give up. You never fail until you quit! I wish you all Godspeed in your endeavors.