Archive for June 2011
This post, while of interest to many in the job market, will be of special interest to the more experienced workers (previously referred to as “older workers” — I really hate that term) and those among you considering a career change.
Allow me to “set the stage”. You’ve decided, for whatever reason (downsizing, salary freezes, you’ve gone as far as you can with the company and are still young enough to want to go farther or you’re just sick and tired of all the bullshit you have to put up with everyday), to change jobs/careers. This is a pretty big step for most of us, especially in an economy like the one we’re presently “enjoying”, but for the more experienced worker, it’s huge. It was not a decision easily contemplated, or arrived at. You’ve discussed the idea with family, friends, network contacts, even, if possible, co-workers (supervisors, human resources reps, etc) and, after careful consideration, decided the time was right for a change. So, you dust off the resumé; update, edit, re-format, add new references, etc. You’ve already done some homework, targeting prospective employers, so you draft a new cover letter and begin the process in earnest. Then a curious thing happens on the way back from the post office or on the trek back up the driveway to the house; you begin to have “second thoughts”, little nagging questions as to whether this was really the right thing to do . . .
It’s a naturally occurring event; therapists and others in the helping professions have a word for it: ambivalence, those roadblocks your sub(un)conscious throws up in an effort to avoid the unpleasantness associated with change. It’s a powerful influence on the way we live our lives, professional and personal, and one not easily overcome. It can be overcome, though, with a little (okay, more than a little) effort and some support from outside yourself. The “outside yourself” aspect may be a bit misleading because there’s outside, and there’s “outside”. The reason I say “outside yourself” is simply that if you try to mentally knock down the roadblocks your sub(un)conscious has put up, they aren’t really “real”: they’re not concrete responses to those objections. In order for them to be “real” they have to exist outside your sub(un)conscious mind. To accomplish this, it’s necessary to translate these negative ideas (that’s exactly what they are, ideas) into reality in order to knock them down.
One way to accomplish this is to talk to someone about your “concerns”; not just anyone, someone who knows you, knows your background, education, skill sets, experience, etc. Perhaps you have an “old school chum” with whom you’re particularly close, or member of your network or professional organization with whom you’ve developed a good working relationship(if you were farsighted enough to employ a coach, so much the better); all are excellent sources of “feedback” because they have(or should have) no vested interest in whether you succeed or fail. Assuming the feedback you received from your conversations was positive(or mostly positive), now you can develop an “action plan” to resolve these issues. Make a list of all the roadblocks you’ve come up with (write down all of them, not just some; the little ones will become big ones if left to themselves) and then write down all your responses to those issues — all of them. Next, read them, roadblocks and responses, out loud. In fact, it may be a good idea to tape record yourself reading these roadblocks and responses so you can refer to them later on, when these pesky little “inconveniences” crop up again. (It’s part of the “translating into reality” phase. Hey! I never said you could resolve these issues in a single sitting).
Now come the most important part of the entire process: taking action. All the thinking, talking, planning in the world won’t amount to diddly-squat if you don’t take action. Each of the items on your list needs to be addressed — in the most positive way possible. If you’re not sure you’re up on all the latest trends in your industry of choice, go to the library(yeah, they still exist!), find the latest books on the subject and brush up (believe me, if it’s a trend, somebody has written a book on it); need better computer skills, sign up for a class (don’t worry about completing the course before your interview; the fact you’re taking it will be a “plus”); not sure you can fit into the culture of the new workplace, talk to someone in the industry (if you haven’t done this until now, you should kick yourself –HARD). The last roadblock, and the most frequent, especially among more experienced workers: Am I too old? Unless you’re considering changing careers from, say accounting to professional football, baseball or soccer player at the age of 50, it’s not a valid question. (If, on the other hand, you’re considering a coaching position on a professional team, having coached your son’s (or daughter’s) pee-wee football or little league team does not qualify you — unless you’re looking at the Detroit Lions, in which case, you could have a shot).
Then upshot to all this is simply this: you are always going to have questions. You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to second-guess yourself, time and time again. That doesn’t mean you’re unqualified, that you’re not smart enough, not sure enough. What it means is you’re human, and it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s not pleasant, to be sure, but it’s okay.
We’ve all been there, we’ve all done that. We’ve sent out resumé after resumé, accompanied by an absolutely “killer” cover letter detailing those special skills and talents that make us the perfect choice for a job listing. Then we wait . . .and wait . . .and wait some more. We send follow-up letters, phone calls (during which we’re told “in all sincerity” our resumé has been received and will be reviewed; if we’re deemed “qualified”, we’ll be contacted). So we wait some more and still, no job offers. After this happens more than a few times, we begin to wonder why we’re not getting any responses. That’s when the “negatives” start to plague us. Am I too old (or too young)? Maybe I don’t have enough experience (or too much)! Maybe I should’ve gotten my Bachelor’s degree (or my Master’s).
Rejection is never easy to take. It’s hard enough after you’ve finally gotten a long-awaited interview (I recently waited two-and-a-half months for an interview), but when your resumes, letters, applications and follow-ups get no response, it’s more a feeling of being ignored, than being rejected. First, you get angry, then frustrated; finally, you become depressed and begin to wonder if all the crap on the job search websites you’ve been haunting isn’t just a pile of bull flop. Pretty soon you find yourself ready to give up, throw in the towel.
Before you think one more thought, Stop! Keep in mind although the economy is supposedly “coming around” — slowly, there are still several million people out there, looking for work. For every job listing you see in the newspaper, on a website or job board, there are hundreds of people (perhaps thousands) actively trying to land those jobs. You are only one of them. Recruiting managers, employment consultants and resumé screeners are inundated with applications for employment every day; literally, thousands of resumes cross their desks (or computer screens) every week. It takes time to sort through all those pieces of data. Many HR people (especially those in large companies) use computer programs designed to target keywords found in resumes and cover letters to screen applicants. Others do it “old school”, sorting through their “slush pile” of resumes by hand. In either case, it takes time for the “cream to come to the top”.
In any event, it does you no good to quit. It does you no good to settle for less. The jobs are out there. Your job is out there. But you’ll never find it if you give up, if you settle. Now is the time to re-evaluate your resume, check those keywords, reconnect with your network, start cold-calling. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself in the game.
And one other thing. Don’t be intimidated by that “Bachelor’s Degree Required” item in the job requirements of a job listing. Unless it states a specific degree is required, very often a degree is not a requirement for the position. This is true especially in the Human Services/Social Services sector. The degree requirement is there to justify the pay rate for the position. Besides, there’s always that little “or equivalent experience” disclaimer attached. So do not be intimidated! There is, very often, especially in a tight job market, some “wiggle room” in the job requirements that will allow you to snag a position. But it’s only there if you are.
I love playing pocket billiard, shootin’ pool. There is something about the game, the elegance of it, that makes my head turn whenever I’m anywhere near a pool table. Like Paul Newman’s character, “Fast Eddy” Felson, in The Color of Money, my head turns and my ears prick up anytime I hear those beautiful colored balls “CRACK!”.
The first time I experienced being “in the zone” was at a pool table. I was, maybe, 16 or 17 years old; playing at a pool hall called, originally enough, The Cue n’ Cushion. I had been going to this pool hall more or less regularly for about two or three years. I remember, on this particular day, I was shooting with an older player named, Dennis, and we were playing 14-1 straight pool. Straight pool isn’t played much anymore; it’s a “position” game, requiring more than a little skill to place the cue ball, shot after shot, in the right position. It’s also a long game, usually played to a score 100 or 150 points. (The preference, today, is for 9-ball or 8-ball, where the game can be won on as few as one or two shots; ideal games for the smaller “bar room” tables). Anyway, I remember I had managed to finish off a rack, leaving the last ball to start the next rack; the position was near perfect, all I had to do was make the shot and cue ball would break out the rack, making it possible to continue my “run”.
I remember studying the rack for several seconds, taking a deep breath, leaning over the table to take a few practice strokes, then firing the cue ball at the object ball; everything after the first shot was “kind of a blur”. The object ball, I think it was the 4-ball, dropped into the pocket with a satisfying “pock” and the cue ball caromed into the rack, sending balls across the table, and I lined up my next shot. Several minutes later (I have no idea how much time actually passed), I found I had “run” fifty balls! For whatever reason, I missed the next shot. Maybe I was distracted in some way, maybe it was the unconscious realization of what I had accomplished. Whatever the cause, the “run” was over. It was Dennis’ turn to shoot. He put together a decent run, missed an easy shot and I returned to the table. I made a few good shots, missed and turned the table back over to Dennis. That’s the way it went for the remainder of the game. I lost by around twenty balls; not a lot, but enough. It had been a hard-fought game and it hurt to lose. But what stuck with me afterwards, and throughout the intervening years, wasn’t the loss. It was being “in the zone”. It was the sense of invincibility, of knowing “without knowing” I would make the next shot and the one after that, and so on, until I missed.
I’ve been “in the zone” a few times since that day (and not only when I’m shooting pool but when I’m doing other things like cooking or writing); not often, it’s not something you can intentionally do, it just seems to “happen”. When it does happen, there’s no better feeling in the world. It’s almost like a drug (not that I know anything about drugs, but I’ve heard stories). It’s an experience that, having once had it, you want to keep having it. And that’s the strange thing about being “in the zone”, you can’t make it happen. You have to let it happen. And you have to be prepared to let it happen. The only way that can come about is to practice, practice, practice so that when the time comes, you’re ready to get “into the zone”.
Turns out that all the time I’ve been chasing “the zone”, psychologists have been studying this “phenomenon”. The resulting “flow theory” has been applied to everything from sports to surfin’ the Web. They’ve even managed to break it down into component parts necessary to the experience. I could have saved them a great deal of time and money, had they bothered to ask. But we probably wouldn’t have gotten together; I was busy chasing an experience, they were busy formulating a theory. How do you experience “the flow” or “being in the zone”? At work? At play?
This may come as a shock to some of you; to some it may be a re-affirmation of a cruel truth. In either case,
It may seem a tad harsh, but the simple truth of the matter is nobody cares about what you want. They care about what they want. They don’t care that you don’t have a job, can’t pay your bills; they don’t care that your car needs $1000.00 worth of work just to be able to get you to work (when you get a job). None of that matters to anyone except you. Everyone else has their own problems to solve, their own worries, dreams and fears. They couldn’t care less about yours. Get over it!
The whole point of that little rant was to point out the only way you’re going to change your situation — finding a job, getting a promotion, changing careers, whatever — is to show you are an asset worthy of hiring/retaining/consulting, etc. As far as an employer is concerned, his/her needs trump your wants, hands down.
The primary goal of any job search or career change (aside from landing a job) is to convince a prospective employer you are a valuable asset, one he/she would be remiss in overlooking. You don’t do that by presenting him/her with a mediocre resumé and saying, “Here I am! What do you want me to do?” Before your resumé goes in the mail (or you hit the “send” key to email it), you should already know what a prospective employer needs. You’ve already formatted your resumé to highlight those skills that illustrate you can do what he/she needs done. The cover letter that accompanies your resumé (and you damn well better have one) explains how you’ve helped other companies succeed and hint at how you’ll be able to help your prospective employer do the same. Once you’ve managed to ignite the spark of interest in you as a solution, the forthcoming interview will give you the opportunity to give concrete examples of how you can help satisfy their needs.
By shifting the focus of you job search from what you want to what the employer needs, you effectively resolve both your issues (hopefully) to the satisfaction of everyone involved. Just remember: It’s not about you; it’s about them.