Thursday, July 16, 2009

Making honey

It's been an immensely busy week. I suppose in most aspects, that's a good thing. I've got about four hundred new topics to blog about, and I'm starting to feel a little bit more confident in my pursuits. Unfortunately, all of this activity has left me exhausted at the end of the day. The blog took a little lower priority than it probably should have. I mean, one day, ok, but two days of an NCIS rerun taking higher priorty? Probably not a good thing.

Perhaps the most interesting, non-intuitive thing I did all week was meet with two Amerirprise guys. At a job support group, two Ameriprise guys sat in, saying they were there to help counsel people who needed financial help in this time and possibly use their network to help them find a job and that they were willing to meet with all people.

I agreed to meet with these fellows, which defies most common sense. On one hand, was I setting myself up for harassing phone calls, high pressure techniques, and a sordid breakup with my current financial advisor? I decided that if these guys were allowed to sit in on a state sponsored job support group meeting, they were probably a little more legit than your average bear. Besides, if they weren't, I would have the joy of reporting them to the QSC director who probably would be less than pleased should they be preying on desperate people on his watch.

To my surprise, the guys weren't as selfishly motivated as I thought. I was completely prepared for an onslaught of aggressive financial salesmanship. But at least half of the meeting was spent discussing my resume, career goals, and whether or not they knew anybody that could help. Turns out, there were at least two companies they worked for that were good leads, and they said they would be happy to be used as contacts should I find an occasion to do so.

And I did indulge them in some financial planning discussion. In my particular case, I have a financial advisor I'm reasonably happy with. He's done a good job making sure I understand the complexities of my investments. Plus, financial advisors are like wives. You don't dump your wife because someone one point higher on the looks scale walks by. It's a long term commitment. I won't divorce until he completely screws my financial pooch.

So that said, I have at least two new good LinkedIn contacts, some more leads, and got out of the house to boot.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Nobility of Purpose

If you go to a gun range and fire at a target, successfully striking it, you're excellently pursuing a recreational hobby. If you are a marksman whose better than anyone else, you can win an Olympic gold medal. If you just fire guns in the air, you're a crazy person. If you fire guns at random targets without discretion or respect to context, you're a prime candidate for incarceration.

I attended a networking event this morning. It's effectiveness spurred an insatiable desire to compose a blog entry flagrantly abusing phrases such as "networking event waste of time" and "networking event folly" for search engine prioritization. This was for a group called LunkedMoonesoota. I deliberately misspelled their name in the hopes that it doesn't come up in search engines.

No disrespect to this organization I discovered on LinkedIn, but as soon as I arrived, I knew immediately this was going to be wrong. It was groups of people chatting like any networking event.

I'm the type of guy that doesn't necessarily thrive in a party. I wouldn't define myself as a hermit, but I'm not one who is great at initiating conversations with strangers. They feel so superficial to me that I have a hard time faking genuine interest. There's plenty of websites with advice out there for working these functions geared towards the introvert. While I've seen plenty of ingredients and approaches in these 1000+ word essays, they all end up making the same sandwich: just go out and do it cupcake, who cares?

In the various job search books that I have read, almost all of them advocate picking a direction; a step I resisted mightily the first two weeks of job searching. After all, why would I want to close off any opportunities? Just put a pickaxe in my hand and I'm ready to go! But as this process has worn on, I have come to understand why. When you are reaching out to a friend and asking for help finding a job, when he or she asks what you want to do, "anything" is not the correct answer. Above and beyond the desperation it conveys, it places an unnecessary burden on your friend. Not only do they feel a responsibility to help find a position, they have to find out what you'd be good at and what you want to do. It's too much to ask out of most people.

As someone who is looking to pursue writing / web writing / copywriting / et cetera in an advertising or interactive industry, I recognized the immediate problem upon entry. What uniquely qualified anybody here to help me? What was the best case, worst case, and most realistic scenario. Best case, somebody for an advertising agency looking to hire was there - worst case, nobody relevant to what I wanted to do was there and I made a fool of myself. The most realistic scenario was probably closer to the worst than the best - I'd meet one person who had a third degree connection with someone who could help me, and I'd pick up a bunch of leads that went nowhere.

Therein lies the problem. The only tie with LunkedMunnesopha was that we are all professionals in the same state. Not exactly the most exclusive of clubs nor distinctive enough a connection to be the foundation of any meaningful relationship. If you had some fried food and loud radio DJ's, you could almost consider the State Fair to be a comparable networking event. Without a defined purpose, what could anybody here reasonably expect to gain that would help them in pursuing their goals (or establish their goals should they have none?)

Being that I have *a lot* to do today (two informational interviews this week, one good job lead, and plenty of preparation), I booked. No point in prolonging my agony fruitlessly when more productive tasks lie ahead. While I've read plenty of books on the advantages of networking, and make no mistake they are real, doing so without purpose yields little more than inaction.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The idiot's guide to interviewing.

One of the things that will serve me well the rest of my life was commissioned sales. Especially given that I worked in a smaller environment where I was subjected to vendor pitches. It was very easy to distinguish the best reps from the worst ones, and it was simple to identify the qualities that made them so. If you valued your income, you made a demonstrative commitment towards your people skills.

At a job support group, I met a man who was laid off from a position as a senior optics technician from 3M. It was obvious after talking to this guy for even a little bit that he was technically brilliant. It was also obvious that his social skills were about what you would expect from someone who was a senior optics technician. They weren't the most refined I've ever encountered in my life.

I had my first interview this week. Because I hadn't really interviewed for a job in seven years, I wanted to brush up on some of the fundamentals. Every once in a while, I'm stupid, and things that should be obvious aren't. That said, when it comes to interviewing, I can boil down ten books into four words that will immediately improve your candidacy with every company.

Don't. Be. An. Idiot.

Chances are if you struggle in real life social situations, you will struggle at an interview, because they share mutual characteristics. Is it okay to incessantly talk about yourself in a social setting? Is it good in a social setting to have a halibut handshake or a whispery monotone voice? Is it okay to interrupt or behave rudely? Is it okay to be late to a prior engagement? Is it okay to ignore the other party's wants or needs? It doesn't work in a social setting, so it probably isn't going to carry over to the interview.

If you can avoid these basic etiquette pitfalls, you're doing good. Just remember, you're in the interview because you're a qualified candidate, and the employer wants it to work out just as much as you do. Show that you're not going to be that person in the office that everyone complains about. I can tell you from experience that while professional talent abounds, good people and good personalities don't. Employers will value that.

I'm lucky in that I've been able to develop good personality skills, but they didn't necessarily come easy. Personally, I think How to Win Friends and Influence People should be mandatory reading in school, because if you have any trepidations about your social skills, it is the single greatest book ever written to help cultivate them.

If you've got the social skills, then, don't be an idiot. Don't answer your cell phone. Make sure your fly is zipped. Keep your opinions about ethnic minorities to yourself. Ten minute diatribes aren't necessary. Just be relaxed and learn whether the company's a good fit for you.

To that extent, I nailed my first interview. Now, we'll see how the rest of this process goes.

Thursday, July 9, 2009




Upside down on the zip zip zipper

They say that job hunting is an emotional process. As someone who is unlikely to master the Vulcan arts any time soon, I am not immune. What I do find difficult are the amounts of time my emotional highs and lows have been known to take up in my day.

When I am emotionally low, productivity is almost non-existent. Even though there are seemingly endless tasks I can pursue towards finding employment, why bother seems to be the phrase that runs through my head. You're just not as good as all the other candidates out there. It's just going to be too hard.

When I am emotionally high, I'm churning out work. I am reading, getting things done. I am cramming a weeks worth of work into two hours. I am obsessive, intent, and focused. What I am doing is burning myself out at both ends.

I recently changed my desktop photo from the Clay's generic landscape photo supplied by Gateway to a stern and snarling Henry Rollins in concert. Nobody quite embodies the phrase "suck it up, cupcake" like a determined Henry Rollins. I imagine that is direct stare is the closest thing our world has to Ghost Rider's penance stare.

I've struggled finding a good base of operations from which to work, and I think I've settled on the kitchen. I have an office, but it tends to get the hottest, and shares a room with the litter box. I tried to work on the couch, but the allure of 40 plus hours of saved DVR programming, despite my best intentions, just wasn't conducive to professional work.

I also attempted to move downstairs into the pool table room, using the pool table as a desk. Unfortunately, there are reasons pool tables don't double as desks. They aren't constructed for that type of operation. While it had the distinct advantages of being cooler in my non-air conditioned house, it was the most isolated part of the house, and a little dark and lonely.

The kitchen is the most heavily trafficked part of the house which keeps my spirits up. The table and chairs are good height for doing work. We rarely eat there anyway so I'm not disrupting too much operations. The breeze is good. I can see the garden. The cats come by frequently to eat, meow, and sit on my literature. It's well lit, and thus far, been my favorite setup.

There's almost no long term endeavor that benefits from a stutter stop approach or emotions that wax and wane like the moon. Hopefully I'll be able to keep a better lid on this in the future and stay productive.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Make whole body fit inside one inch!

I've gone a couple days without updates, so I apologize for that. Not only did that most sulfrous of holidays the 4th of July occupy some of my time, I spent some extensive time preparing for my first interview. Short answer - it went well, but that's not where I'm going to go today.

I had my meeting with Amy Lindgren of Prototype Career Services on Friday. I've been resistant to the services of a career counselor for a number of reasons. Many books I've read advised against it. I'm loathe to pay money for services that I could learn on my own. There's no shortage of those in the industry who would take your money and give you nothing.

However, job-searching skills are that - skills. And unfortunately as a first time job seeker, fairly underdeveloped ones. And while the job market is a little more like dating than you would think, the metaphor breaks down at the point that the imminence of foreclosure is an unlikely scenario when evaluating the prospects of long term bachelorhood. Similarly, unemployment would likely be more tolerable were its worst case scenario to be your mother nagging you for grandchildren.

Although I've begun to really synthesize the vast amounts of information I've taken in over the past four weeks, it was important to me that my each ounce of my job searching efforts register in the positive. As. Mr. Miyagi told us, the punch is more effective when your whole body is concentrated in that one inch. Because their are profound psychological and economic consequences to one's employment related choices, I felt it was completely appropriate to seek out the advice of an expert.

To that end, I felt I really benefitted from the experience. We spent two hours together and reviewed briefly numerous aspects of the job searching process. What I was really searching for, and found, was an evaluation of my current job seeking principles. Are my goals realistic? Is my approach sound? Has my time been spent wisely?

The short answer to most of those questions was "yes" and to those who consider these services to be not worth the money, consider this analogy. If you were lost in the middle of a forest, you can't very well stay in one spot if you value survival. You have to move, but that on its own is not enough. You are looking for civilization, not to further penetrate the forest's icy heart.

Depending on your survivalist skills, some people will be better equipped at orienting their escape path than others. Regardless of how much you may have studied, much of that prior knowledge carries little weight until they are applied for the first time. Given the consequences of starving in the forest, if you could pay a wilderness expert to materialize and help orient you in the right direction, you probably would should you value your existence.

In addition to affirming (and slightly refining) my job searching techniques, we rehearsed one of the toughest interiew questions I will be facing (my beleagured startup company debacle.) We discussed backup plans. We reviewed my creative portfolio, and she made several helpful suggestions that weren't very obvious to me.

Two other interesting tidbits: The cliche is that finding work is a full time forty hour a week job. Amy recommended that no more than twenty hours be dedicated to job searching per week (and no more than two on internet job boards.) What differentiates job-searching from traditional labor is the psychological millstone of rejection and damaged self-esteem that isn't associated with the typical forty hour work week. For most people, hours spent after twenty job searching are significantly less effective than the former.

Secondly, we discussed the average length of unemployment in this country. Amy said that by and large, duration of unemployment is closely associated with terms of unemployment compensation. If average Joe is getting six months of unemployment, he will wait until the last month before beginning his job search, skewing this statistic. It probably shouldn't be that way, but for many people, unemployment is an Uncle Sam sponsored vacation more than a stopgap between positions.

To that end, I would highly recommend the services of a reputable career counselor, and early in the process. If you can afford it, and you're willing to listen and admit that maybe you don't know everything, you can really gain some positive insight onto what is and is not realistic expectations for job hunting in 2009.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The wisdom of dwarves

Few miners pick up a pick axe and find a diamond right away. They usually have to have a mine. If they don't have a mine, they have to start excavating. If all the diamonds were six inches beneath the ground, DeBeers might find the preciousness of its products somewhat compromised.

That said, I had been a little frustrated. I had thought this introspection thing was going to take a couple days. After all, most career books said pick a field and roll with it. As it turns out, responsible career decisions require careful consideration and can't always be made in emotional aftermath of being laid off and in the first forty eight hours.

I had struggled with all of the conflicting advice I had received. I didn't know whether up was down or down was up. The only thing I could get anybody to agree on were vague generalities. Well, finally, things were starting to come together. I suppose it was somewhat reasonable to assume that having never job searched in seven years, eventually my analytical skills could suss out a path that works for me.

I got the e-mail for my first job interview today!

In the industry I'm researching (which I'm going to try and keep hidden until the interview passes) I researched about eighty companies in the Twin Cities. One particular company had a position that seemed to be a good fit not only for my abilities but for someone looking to switch industries.

But to make it a little more personal, I e-mailed the company last night asking for the name of the person who would be reviewing my application for the purpose of customizing my cover letter with an understanding if this may not be acommodable. The next morning I had response. I quickly tailored a resume and cover letter. I followed up with an e-mail thanking him for his quick reply, and I reiterated I was confident of my qualifications and was hopeful for consideration.

Within an hour, I had an e-mail requesting na interview for Monday.

Don't get me wrong, I'm now at the next stage of the game. I need to make sure I'm at my Sunday best, but that's something I'm a little more confident about. Years of salesmanship has cultivated a positive, enthusiastic personality in a professional environment. Nevertheless, I can't let up. I will be taking my research of the company from basic to detailed, and I will rehearse basic interviewing questions with the girlfriend.

Even if this doesn't work out for whatever reason, I'm getting a better handle on how to approach this process. I'm getting a handle on the processes needed to conduct this job search effectively, and am feeling a little more confident about the process (even though yesterday was a little tough morale wise.)

Tomorrow I have a meeting with my career counselor, and hopefully, a meeting with a family member who works in the industry I am pursuing. Over the weekend, I will be rehearsing interview questions and getting that brand new suit ironed. Wish me luck!