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!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Job Searching in Galt's Gulch

I went to a lecture this morning about embracing change this morning, and it was a relatively unique lecture. What I've found interesting thus far about these groups is that the primary messages seem overwhelmingly obvious, but it's some of the side, ancillary information that has really been informative.

One of the things we were asked to do was draw pictures of the first thing that came to mind when you thought about a variety of concepts. Leadership (I drew a crown.) Vision (I drew an eye.) Power (I drew a gauntlet in a fist, reminiscent of that Metallica album cover that shall not be named.)

But the one that struck me most was when the lady asked to draw what represented success. The first thing that popped into my head was a dollar sign. For a few seconds I thought, no, that's selfish, I'm not a money person. I went back to my head, and after concentrating, my mind went to a set of scales. But before I drew it, I recognized that wasn't true. Dollar sign is what I meant.

I was immediately grieved. I do not like to consider myself someone who defines their life by their ledger or back account. While money is important, there are a great many decisions I have made in my life that were not motivated by money. In general, those were the things that made me happiest.

But as I gave it more deliberation, I was increasingly okay of defining success with the dollar sign. I have read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and I think there is a fair amount of criticism that can be levied at Ayn Rand's work. I think it ascribes men to gods and deifies fallible people. Despite what Ayn Rand argues, Atlas wouldn't be able to shrug, the world would have crushed him.

That said, Ayn Rand juxtaposition of the taggart siblings showed why it is perfectly acceptable to associate money with success. For Dagny Taggart and the laborers of the world, money was the physical manifestation of their labors. It was the quanitifiable measurement of their contributions to the world.

But for James Taggart and the looters, money was a means to an end. It was the ticket to a luxurious life they felt they not only deserved, but what life owed them. Their meaning was not work, it was the accumulation of money. For Dagny Taggart and Francisco D'Anconia, their meaning was work, and money was its byproduct.

Without getting into a lengthy dissertation on the virtues of selfishness, in this context, it is perfectly acceptable to define success with a dollar sign. For me, if my contributions to the business world are effective and efficient, I will have generated more business for my company either directly or indirectly. Perhaps I sold more and generated more direct business for my firm. Perhaps my advertising was more effective than my competitor and differentiated our products better, generating more business. Maybe I was more ingenuitive in the engineering of my products, making them a better value than my competitors products, and earning more market share, and more dollars.

In the above analogy, my success is measured in dollars. To that end, I am not hung up on making $40000 or $400000, but it is important to me that I am compensated commiserately to my abilities and accomplishments. If a good copywriter makes $50000 a year, to pay me $12 an hour reflects that either I am not contributing successfully (and by extension achieving success) or you are dishonestly withholding from me the quantitative metrics of my labors.

If I am successful at my job, an honest employer will recognize it and compensate me fairly. If I do not perform to abilities, I will not be compensated. My internal acceptance of this is why I was able to work on 100% commission for as many years as I did. I do not desire dollars for the luxuries they entail. I only desire that I be treated with the same fairness that I treat others, and I am confident that in a quality employer, this role is fulfilled.

To that end, I don't feel like a jerk who defines his success by his paycheck solely because it allows him to buy a television that's 12" bigger than his buddy. Because I believe the fruits of my labor have value (defined by supply and demand in a macroscopic labor economy) I can morally define my success in terms of income and still be motivated by life's greater callings.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I have been filmed before a live studio audience.

I went to what I thought was a networking event, but really was more of a job support group than anything else. It was an event that somewhat surprised me on a number of fronts.

First off, I was the youngest person at this group, and it wasn't even close. At twenty nine, I pegged one attendant in her mid thirties, and everyone else was over forty. These were people definitely in a different stage of transition than I was in.

Also, while certainly I'm kind of stereotyping here, I got the impression I was dealing with a lot of people who had never faced the possibility that a job search might be in their future. Sadly, many of them stuck me as people who don't have computer skills, which are unfortunately at a premium in our modern world.

I showed up late, and the concepts were pretty basic. The moderators led a discussion on soft skills, which were basically subjective adjectives one would use to describe what you could add to an employer. Hard-working. Detailed. Integrity. It isn't as if those are bad skills -- few job positions that I've seen advertised requirements for narcissism and personal relativist ethics, but at the same time, I would have thought some of that stuff was common sense.

And because it really is common sense, what's tough in this environment is that with so many job seekers, you've got a tough row to hoe if ascertaining your soft skills holds educational value. Quite a few sites said to leave subjective qualities off your resume entirely as most hiring managers don't even give them a second thought due to the frequency with which they read them, and I tend to believe that.

Of all the advice that I read for constructing targeted resumes and cover letters, the one that I think is probably going to be the best principle to live by is that if it doesn't apply to the specific job at hand, strike it. And if the job requires "creativity" it's not enough to say you're creative, you have to cite an accomplishment you had at your previous job where you demonstrated creatvitiy.

Of course, I'm probably not necessarily fit to be dispensing advice and judgment. I still haven't had a call back from the leads I've pursued. I'm still confident that it will come, but I don't exactly have an idol of accomplishment to reflect sunlight's wisdom into the eyes of others.

I was asked to introduce myself to the group, which I was a little nervous about. After all, most of these people were laid off and lost employment involuntarily, whereas there was slightly more volition in the path that led me to where I am today. Furthermore, I anticipated resentment at the fact that I was blessed enough to have a cache of savings to buoy my career search.

The group leader asked if I felt grief about losing my position. I said that really I didn't feel any grief -- I am where I am because it was right -- but to an extent I felt stupid for failing at my previous endeavor and succumbing to the wishful thinking fallacy. Simultaneously, several members spoke up saying "why on earth do you feel that away? You are clearly not stupid." One gentleman turned around and said "you recognized the situation you were in and took a calculated risk that you vetted to the best of your abilities. Even though it didn't work out, I applaud you for that choice. I might not have had the courage to do that."

I felt a wave of emotion, and had to stifle a tear. It's one thing to have the support of your family and friends, but you sometimes wonder if their words of support are grounded in fact or merely their love for you. To have a stranger validate that I wasn't an idiot and that my career choices were valid and just relieved some of the regret I had over what has obviously caused some short term pain and discomfort.

Later in the meeding, the group leader discussed Amy Lindgren of Prototype Career Services. While I find the concept of career counseling attractive, I was resistant to pursuing it for two reasons. I think there's a lot of sharks in that industry who have no problem taking your money and telling you things you already know. Secondly, I have no wish to pay for services that if given time and introspection, I could accomplish on my own.

The group leader said that Amy, who writes a column for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, was the best in town by far. He said she's expensive, but worth it. One of the group members said that he had worked with her and considered it more than worth the investment. I was only able to find one review on line, but it basically said the same thing.

So I decided to set up the appointment. I spoke briefly with Amy over the phone about my situation, and I will be meeting with her for two hours a week from today. I asked if I could prepare a small MS Word biography so she could get a better perspective on who I am and better fine-tune recommendations with me, and she graciously agreed.

When evaluating whether to pursue career counseling, I wasn't able to find much on-line that advocated or denounced it. To that end, I hope to have something to be able to report back on whether it's positive or not. I suspect it will be, but either way, I'm excited to be able to glean some definitive information on a neglected job-seeking subject.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

This is the way of the modern world

Those familiar with all things Neil know that Bad Religion has been, is, and always will be one of my favorite bands. Brett & Greg are masters at the seemingly forgotten art of songwriting, and generally craft more memorable tunes on the back half of an album than many bands write in their career. Their lyrics are thought provoking, poignant, and generally reflective of a world I consider ideal.

That said, while it is a great song, I completely disagree with Bad Religion's lyrics to The Handshake. Despite Greg's insistence otherwise, a handshake is not a subtle eff you. While I know deep down Greg hates superficial human relationships, the fact is, nobody can telepathically scan your soul for the knowledge that creates lifelong friendships. All connections begin on some sort of superficial level. It's the effort that we put into them along with a sharing of common interests and a mutual respect that blossoms superficiality into camraderie.

I recently made contact with Tim Tyrell-Smith of Spin Strategy ( Tim writes a blog that is full of great advice for prospective job seekers. Not only that, he was kind enough to share personal correspondence with me. As Tim commented in yesterday's post, the world is full of conflicting advice on job-seeking, and separating wheat from chaff is frustrating work.

As someone who has read way too much now about how to do this, I think the best any prospective job seeker can do is take in as much information as they can, synthesize it, and apply it to what is right for them. While that's not an excuse to not push your boundaries, safely residing in your comfort zone, it is recognizing that inalienable truth taught to us by the Facts of Life theme song. "What might be right for you, might not be right for some. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life."

To that end, I think Tim's website (along with Alison's advice on Ask a Manager - discussed yesterday) has offered the most sensible advice I've read thus far, at least relative to my psychology. Staying active and making contacts is critical to a job search, not just in yielding results, but in keeping you connected to the world. I've never heard of an alcoholic or substance abuser who was told they wouldn't benefit from the support of others in a similar situation. Why would the same be true for those hunting for a job?

Today was one of my most productive days yet. I found two positions that are very very close fits for my skills and abilities. One of the firms supplied me the name of the hiring manager when I called, which was a welcome first. In addition, I applied for another position wijth a very strong corporate referral that offers a lot of the things I am looking for out of a career. While I have my moments, I still remain positive and am confident that my efforts will yield results!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It was the best of times....

One of the toughest components of conducting a job search is the overwhelming amounts of conflicting advice. I'm extremely fond of looking before I leap. I don't like to approach things half cocked, and I tend to do a lot of research to make sure that I'm not doing things incorrectly. Little is as frustrating as getting a quarter of the way through a task and then realizing you made a mistake in the beginning that invalidates your hard work.

As a result, I've read a lot of books. Read a lot of articles. Talked to a lot of people. And unfortunately, you can take nearly every position on job hunting and find someone who advocates it and someone who denounces it. Justifications are usually sound, but Eisenberg's uncertainty principle can't apply in this case. Somebody has to be right, and somebody has to be wrong.

I recently spent a lot of time on the Ask a Manager blog, which I think was one of the best resources I've visited thus far. Allison Green offers concise, well reasoned advice, and authors from the perspective that I wish to learn most from - the hiring manager. If you want to learn best about how best to beat a goalie, your best resource is to ask him what is weaknesses are. It's just fortunate in this case Allison is willing to share some of the most pertinent observations in her profession.

The biggest hurdle that I currently face is that I'm still not 100% sure of the direction I want to go. I have some vague ideas, but after doing literally tons of career exercises, I don't think I have any better insight than before I started. Most job books espoused the virtues of the hidden job market, all of which are somewhat meaningless when you don't know exactly what it is that you want to do.

Consequently, I'm going to follow some counter-intuitive advice for a different reason. I'm trying to best spend my energy targeting companies with growth potential. I'm willing to accept a more junior position at a larger firm that offers opportunities for advancement. I'm staying away from the career boards in the short term, focusing primarily on the positions advertised by the larger firms on their web page.

I'm hoping that once I apply for enough jobs, I develop enough quality resumes that I'm comfortable posting them on job web pages and trolling for a little activity in that regard. In addition, i think the only way I'm going to get a handle on what I want to do is explore the jobs that are on-line, and find out what's appealing to me. If I like it, I'll apply, and if I don't, I won't. By process of elimination, I'll be able to find the positions that are most suited to where I want to be.

I have a couple potentially good leads right now. One of my good friends has told me that to an extent, this is a numbers game. And while he is correct, it's a numbers game in terms of how many accurate rifle shots can you fire, more so than how many bullets can your Tommy gun discharge.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stomach Punch

As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Our friend King Hippo is a good example of this. Perhaps no fighter except for Glass Joe was easier to beat than King Hippo in Mike Tyson's punchout. Even Glass Joe though had unpredictable patterns, he was just incompetent. Once you discovered King Hippo's fatal gastrocentric flaw, anybody with basic rhythm skills was able to score one of the game's easiest KOs.

I made a trip to the workforce center today and as I was locking up the bike, two displaced workers were outside smoking a cigarette, pouring their heart out to each other. One had been out of work since January, and one had been out of work since October. The elder of the two said that during the first month he could handle it, but now he was slipping into a depression.

This conversation reverberated as I received my second rejection e-mail today for a job I had applied for. Interestingly though, at the Workforce Center, all anybody was doing was applying to jobs on-line. Another lady who was near twice my age was arguing with a counselor over why her resume doesn't need to be more than one page.

Two job-searching books that I've read, both of which written and published in 2009, discuss that 90% of time spent searching for jobs is using the Internet to respond to on-line job postings. Yet, the percentage of the unemployed who secured a new position in this way numbers somewhere between 4 and 10% and the actual figure I'd be willing to wager is worse than that.

In fact, looking back on my career, almost every job I've ever held came from me walking in to the establishment and asking to work. My friend got me a job at Best Buy at 18 working in appliances. At some point, I found out Sears was paying four times as much to do the same job. I marched in and asked an employee who I could talk to in order to get a job. I was interviewed, and hired. When I left Sears for my last employer, I did the same thing.

But what's funny is that at 29, the same courage that led me to walk into these businesses brazen and cavalier isn't there the same way it used to be, probably for the same reasons that I don't have the courage to get on a motorcycle or go offroad biking. You become conscious of your own mortality and other's perceptions. You may not have known much at twenty years old, but you didn't necessarily give a damn, and that works to your advantage.

So I understand those people that sit on job boards and apply and apply, waiting for work to find them. It has less "risk." The rejection stings less. To go into businesses is much much harder. However, in a down economy like this, it is absolutely 100% the right thing to do.

Right now, my research and focus has been more introspection driven. I need to make sure that I decide exactly what it is that I want to do with myself and my life. What will I enjoy? What can I do for forty hours a week that will not only fulfill me but somebody will throw me a check for doing? I made a misstep in judgment with my last opportunity, but the time is now to get it right.

I am confident that if I keep my head up and outwork, outthink, and outhustle my competition, the job of my dreams is there for the taking. As long as continuous effort is made, there can be no chance for anything else but results. Nobody who has found a job in this economy has credited crying and depression for their success. I've got to keep digging and digging. King Hippo has a weakness, I just need to figure it out for myself.

1.5 hour bike ride (holy cow that was exhausting)
.5 hour picking up new color toner and paper

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Must be nice to hope for the things you wish to want.

Well, I had my first official "we've bypassed you for other candidates" e-mail today. I kind of knew going into this process a little bit that it wasn't going to be free of stings and bruises - I could only hope that it's free of insanity and amputation. Still, it kind of bummed me out and I was in a head hanging mood for a little bit.

Unlike past rejections, I was able to get back on the horse relatively quickly. I applied for two more positions today. I finished reading the Career Changers guide to cowards, and managed to fit a bike ride in. I have to remember that this process is like how it requires thirty roses to extract one drop of floral oil. As long as I continue to stay motivated and work at it, I should be able to find success.

One of the positions I applied for today had a very, very long application process. It took probably three hours to navigate through everything. Not that you couldn't breeze through it in about ten minutes, but to meticulously comb through what you've entered, proofread every letter that's entered, ends up requiring a substantial amount of time the more pre-packaged information an employer requests.

It makes sense - if you're looking to get the bast candidates, well, the best ones should be able to power through the endurance tests. Still, when you've got some detail-oriented bordering on obsessive compulsive tendencies like me, it gets to be somewhat of an ordeal to ensure that everything you typed is spelled correctly and using proper grammar. It's all the worse when you don't realize until about 3/4 of the way through that if you just copy it from the web browser into your word processor and let the processor check it you can save substantial amounts of time. Lesson learned.

I've now plowed my way through about three books, and most of which have discussed you need to think, act, and operate outside the box to get a job. Passive job searching and clicking on job postings probably isn't going to be enough if that's all you do. Tomorrow I'm going to meet with a friend/mentor and discuss some of the potential choices that I've made, and we'll see if my ideas and the books ideas are on the same track.

1 hour bike riding
6 hours preparing resumes, cover letters, and applying

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

If you're going to ask me to prepare the meal......

I'm the guy who goes grocery shopping without a plan. I wait until I'm hungry, head out without making a list. The way one might fill up their plate at a buffet as the wonderful visuals and aromas of food lead you here and there until your plate is full of impulse. I wander around and find whatever food I have craving for that very instant, plus the occasional "oh that would be good." Invariably, 25% of what I buy spoils, and I end up settling for the same tacos I made twice the week before.

I want to make sure that my job hunt does not follow the same path. While I'm not "hungry" yet thanks to my savings, I don't want to wait until famine sets in before raiding the pantry for whatever's left. I want to make sure that I make a grocery list before I leave the house. I'd like to prepare a dish that is a little challenging, but something within my capability. Ideally, it should taste good too.

Still, when you're at the grocery store, there can sometimes be way too many choices. As a lover of fine yellow tortilla chips, I'm sometimes blown away by just how many jars of salsa once can actually choose from. Ben & Jerry's has something in the neighborhood of 400,000 flavors. Even coffee beans seem to have and endless amounts of roasts to choose from.

The bulk of my day today was spent researching the ingredients I would like to buy, or businesses I would like to work for. I would like to work for a firm who has a reputation for being a great place to work. That doesn't mean slacker country. For certain people, the ability to surf the Internet constitutes a positive work environment. I want to make sure that I have the freedom to work as hard as I can, that I'm in a climate where that's not resented by my co-workers, and that management has a good handle on when to give carrots, and when to apply sticks. I also would like to make sure tha there are opportunities for advancement and added responsibilities.

I would like to make sure that it is something I can prepare. I cannot make a smoking coq au vin at this point in my life, but that doesn't mean I won't be up to the challenge once I can make a good meatloaf. That said, I don't want to make Kraft macaroni the rest of my life. I've also made tacos way too many times, and though I'm really good at it, I think I need to expose my palate to new things. I would like to find work that is rewarding to do, that is challenging and pushes me, but not out of my capabilities, and definitely not a waste of my talents.

Now that I think I know what recipes I'd like to make and what ingredients I want, I'm ready to shop. In real life unfortunately, I don't have to necessarily cold call, work with recruiters, and network to find a grocery store. But, still, it was a pretty good metaphor. Tomorrow begins the work of convincing these fine grocery establishments that they should let me in so that I can whip up a good meal!

1 hour guitar exercises
6 hours researching companies and prospective positions
1 hour researching staffing companies (backup plan)
.5 hour reading LinkedIn and LinkedIn Recruiter Blog

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A long, long time ago the World was in an age of Chaos.

So I'm one of those codgers that sometimes has to be dragged kicking and screaming into social networking. Inevitably, I always give in, and it is a very short period of time before I recognize the inherent value in said software. Myspace was a great tool for my band. It also gave me my first blogging platform. Facebook was more fun and felt more close-knit than the friend-request happy nature of Myspace tended to be. In addition, on Facebook, I wasn't getting spammed five times a day by a concert promoter whose show was bombing and felt by plastering a 72 DPI poster on my page I might buy a ticket.

I heard a couple of months ago before this whole ordeal about LinkedIn. I saw it on one of those daytime tv shows I had happened to catch on a day off. In most cases, if daytime TV offers you helpful job advice, you've got some serious introspection to do. Most TV job hunting tips advocate sage advice such as "prepare for an interview" and "dress for the job" and "proofread your resume." Still, I kept hearing more and more htings about this LinkedIn thing, so I decided to give it a try.

After dinking around with LinkedIn, I didn't find it to be particularly easy to operate, the interface unattractive, and questionable in its point to existence. After five minutes of playing on Myspace or Facebook, you get what its all about. At that point you decide whether or not it's your thing. I filled my LinkedIn profile to about half completion -- being employed at the time I didn't have much motivation to do more.

Well, most 2009 job hunting advice I had been reading all but put a megaphone in my face and said "you need to check out this LinkedIn thing." I finally got my profile put together with a new photo. I recalibrated by summary and work experience to be a little more targeted and focused on the work that I would like to be doing in the future.

But most importantly, I got the point. I still don't think LinkedIn does a great job communicating that point. Most people hear the word Networking and think of a $5 word that involves awkward conferences where you wear a stickum name tag on your shirt and engage in superficial operation. If you don't know, LinkedIn basically is a way to help you develop an "in" at another company. Whether you need that in for sales, job hunting, or any other business to business function, it's a way of leveraging your own network of contacts into gaining more contacts into businesses you wish to explore.

As this job search is going to place an emphasis on working for a good company and less on job responsibilities, which is a change from previous job searches, LinkedIn is probably a little more useful tool. I'm one recommendation away from that 100% completed profile, which promises me 40 times more visibility than, well, something. Once I reach that, which I hope to by tomorrow, I will attempt to report on whether LinkedIn's claim has any veracity.

1 hour mowing lawn (and fixing lawnmower -grrr)
1 hour reading on-line LinkedIn articles
1 hour reading Careerchange articles
Set up appointment with recruiter friend at end of week to discuss career options
1.5 hour auditing LinkedIn profile
2 hours researching career opportunities with plans to apply tomorrow.
.5 hour resetting Careerbuilder, Monster, and Hotjobs profile

Monday, June 15, 2009

Set 'em up, knock 'em down

As someone who isn't accustomed to having forty to fifty hours available at his discretion, even with the best intentions of staying fully disciplined, it hasn't been easy. Finding a job in 2009 requires full time work. Unfortunately, I'm sometimes the guy who can get easily distracted by things around the house like impromptu omelet cravings, signing up as a fan of not being murdered by clowns on Facebook, and cats who choose inopportune times to be playful.

Time management is the key, and to that end, I think I've found the ticket. Of course, this will make me sound like a complete idiot, but this morning, I finally wrote a list of everything that needs to get done today. Everything I did after that would be bonus, but I had eight tasks to get through. Well, lo and behold, the potential shame of an incomplete list motivated me into one of my most productive days yet!

I finally applied for my first jobs today, both at the same company. Because I'm not always the brightest guy, I spent the weekend printing out classy looking hard copies of my resume. I had nice looking folders that contained tailored business cards, copies of my performance reviews, and samples of my previous creative work (these jobs were creative positions.) It was actually quite exhaustive as I was painstakingly anal about proofreading and making sure there everything was formatted to platinum standards.

So when I dropped by the corporate headquarters this morning, I was told they don't accept physical press kits and resumes, and that all of the job requests are done on-line. He was pretty nice about it and wished me good luck. To be honest, it didn't hit me as a complete surprise. I'm sure the amount of paper wasted in resumes and cover letters could save a forest given all the applicants in today's challenging market. Unfortunately, I'm still a little annoyed at myself for not having checked this out first and having wasted effort.

Still, I was a little disappointed. I completely understand why employers prefer on-line applications. It's easier to transfer into a hiring database and thus search. It's much less wasteful. It forces the applicant to really focus on the positions core competencies. The only problem I have with on-line application is that it's a little harder to demonstrate a passion for the company or position you're employing to when you don't have necessarily a physical product to work with. I always feel a little restricted by the formatting too. But, my friends assure me that many companies have adopted the stance that the well chiseled and laid out resume is just not as critical given the consistent reports that can be generated by human resources software.

That said, I was really happy with the targeted resumes I developed for this job. Obviously, I'm going to get smacked in the mouth a few times by this job search so my hopes aren't unrealistic. But just to get this done was the first step in what I'm sure will end up being a rewarding journey. Tomorrow's itinerary rests at my side, awaiting completion!

1/2 hour attempting to drop off application at corporate HQ (oops!)
1 1/2 hours applying on-line
1 1/2 hours biking to the U of M for unofficial transcript
1/2 hour compiling web bookmarks for career calendars and prospective employers
2 hours completing "flower exercise" from What Color is Your Parachute 2009
1 hour reading LinkedIn FAQs, blogs, and building network
1 hour guitar exercises
3 1/2 hours at band rehearsal

Saturday, June 13, 2009

.....driven by an unknown force to change history for the better.

It just wasn't happening. I made repeated phone calls to businesses. Most of them hung up on me. A couple of them gave me thirty seconds, and told me to send them literature. All of these were scenarios I had in theory prepared for in my studying, but it didn't make it any easier to deal with for the first time. I was able to schedule an appointment with one Twin Cities dealer who gave me five minutes and told me not interested.

While I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, my co-workers, both of whom had spent extensive time in advertising sales weren't making sales either. We got together and quickly revised the business plan. Our largest objection is that we were charging way too much money for a startup company, even though it was fair relative to what the industry was charging, so we changed the price structure to be extremely affordable.

I introduced e-mail into my sales routine which helped, but the rejection was pretty psychologically tough to deal with, especially when I'd really never encountered it to that degree in my previous job. I also learned that I'm not always the best boss of myself. Not in that I was a lenient boss, but I was a boss who was pretty unrelenting in expectations, didn't know how to necessarily do the job or train, and never left even when the workday ended.

Unfortunately, I had chosen the 100% commission pay structure based on business projections. Being that we hadn't made a paying sale, it turned out not to be the best choice I've ever made in retrospect. A week later, we revised the pricing and business plan a third time, still without any success. Several high profile clients when asked what it would take to subscribe to this service replied with "the only way I'd consider it is if it was free."

As a result, my boss decided to dissolve operations in the short term to go back to the drawing board. She decided she needed to bring in some consultants as well as give advertising space for free just to demonstrate the legitimacy of our services. Unfortunately, free advertising equals no pay. My boss apologizes profusely to me and said she felt terrible that I took a chance on this company and it didn't work out.

But to be honest, I knew what I was getting into. I knew there was risk. I'm a big boy and aware of the consequences. So, I took that blow to my ego of being laid off for the first time right on the chin. It stung a little, but I'm still here.

In truth, it's a blessing. Finding a job in 2009 is full time work, which means there's just not enough time in the day to get out of a bad job. I have a year worth of savings to cushion me and provide me the time to find what I want to do. I have no debt outside of my house. I have a girlfriend in the house now bringing in supplementary income. Most people in my position don't have the luxuries that I have, and I'm well aware of that and thankful.

It's my goal to make sure that my tenure of unemployment is not marked by sloth or laziness. To that end, my goal to update this blog everyday has been compromised as I have been busier than all get out.

Hopefully, this ends the sappy poignant tales of how I got here, and now I can focus on what is by far the more important cross-section of time - the future.

Day three, four, and five logs
Lifted weights two of three days
Biked three days
Attended St. Paul Chamber of Commerce Networking Event
Started career exploration exercises from What Color is Your Parachute
Purchased resume paper and other materials
Wrote two cover letters and two targetted resumes
Helped sister write cover letter
Probably a little more.....

Friday, June 12, 2009

Anyway, here I am bouncing around in time.....

So at some point, I had gotten in contact with an Internet startup company. As someone who's naturally cynical, I'd learned how to sniff out scams pretty well. Just googling " company name sucks" will generally be a pretty good indicator of whether you have stepped into a legitimate opportunity or a Nigerian scam.

What was unique is that for this company, I couldn't find anything. Usually I can unearth a couple nuggets about even the smallest firm, but I was coming up empty. All I could find was an LLC registration in my state's business directory, and an address. I used Google Satellite Maps to zoom in on the address and found that it was somebody's house!

When I interviewed with the head mistress in charge, I was armed with more questions than John Stossel interviewing a banking CEO. And to be fair, my prospective boss had great answers for all of my questions. Nothing was evasive, nothing was fuzzy or non-committal. They weren't always what I wanted to hear, but I was very impressed. In addition, the business plan for this company seemed extremely sound. Without divulging propietary details, it really seemed like this was a great idea from a business standpoint.

So I left my previous employer of seven years. I was asked "don't you think this is a little risky?" Of course, I knew this was a risky venture. I researched working for startup companies. I explored the business model looking for any cracks or weaknesses. And to my previous employers point, it was still a life. But, what in life isn't? I explained that fortunately, I was in a point in my life where downside to career risk was thankfully somewhat limited, and to reach the level of success that I believe my abilities merited, I was going to have to stick out the bare flesh of my neck on a calcuated assumption that the guillotine wouldn't drop.

In preparation for my new role in Internet marketing and advertising, I devoured books. I read by my count about eight books (my favorite and what I believe the most helpful included Keith Rosen's Idiot's Guide to Cold Calling) and took diligent notes. I completely overhauled my office as I would be working from home to ensure that I would be working in a professional environment. I developed a schedule and method of time management that would guarantee that I would remain productive and profitable.

When we got together for our first meeting, I met with my new boss and fellow sales associate. We spent a couple days putting together the business plan. We solicited and gave feedback. I couldn't have been more excited. I spent eight hours with the company's software tutorials to ensure that I would have the same mastery of my computer system that contributed to the success in my previous job.

I researched the leads that I felt would be ideal candidates for our services from a variety of sources. I practiced out loud my sales presentation, even making a mock presentation to my girlfriend. During our final pre-launch meeting, I role-played with my co-workers and dazzled them with my prepared sales pitch. This was going to be great, and I was ready to take the next step in my life.

So what happened?

To be continued.

Day Two Time Account:
1/2 hour lifting weights
1 hour biking
1 hour researching business directories

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It all started when a time travel experiment I was conducting went.....

So just how did I get here anyways?

For really most of my post graduate life, I have worked in large ticket commissioned retail sales - specifically appliances. How I got into the business is interesting. When I was 18, I wanted to sell CDs at Best Buy because of my passion for music. They had no room for me at the time, so they stuck me in appliances. Much to my surprise, I found myself enjoying it. I moved to Sears during college as the commissioned pay was much better, and they were willing to give me part time work while I went to college.

After I graduated, I latched on to a prominent independent leader who was positioned in the marketplace as a higher end alternative to the big box store, both in terms of goods and services. While my employer was a multi-million dollar corporation, it was still a family business, and family members held all of the ownership and equity in the company.

There's no denying that selling high end household appliances during the housing boom was a fun and lucrative career. Commissioned sales developed my communicative abilities, both verbal and written. It taught me how to think on my feet and rise to challenges both efficiently and effectively. In addition to selling, I managed our outlet merchandise area, worked with purchasing to redo and order displays, developed the company's buying guides and blogs, helped implement our database and order entry software, and trained new employees among other functions.

However, when the market crashed, the industry suffered. Luckily when the tide came in, my company was still wearing swimming trunks. Many competitors went out of business. Even standing after the crash though, both commissions and sales volume were slowly but surely falling. It was becoming clear that my job as I knew it was becoming substantially more price driven, less specialized, and forever altered in a way that was not going to be in alignment with my long term career goals.

Furthermore, the opportunities for growth had vanished. While the short to mid term survival of my job was not in question, it was clear that I was going to have to develop new skills and move into a new position or risk stagnation. Unfortunately, upward and lateral movements just weren't going to be an option. I truly believe that my company wanted to give me the opportunities to grow into roles of greater responsibility, but given the economic conditions, it just wasn't going to be feasible.

Luckily I was at a point in my life where I could take a chance. Years of frugal living had built up a substantial reserve in the bank account for weathering rainy months. My loving and supportive girlfriend had moved in, bringing in supplementary income. Outside of my house, I had no outstanding debt. With the exception of two needy felines, nobody depended on me for food or shelter.

To be continued.

Day One Time Account:
1/2 hour lifting weights
1/2 hour biking
1 hour gathering prospective employer names

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Like Martha Stewart says......

It was a good thing.

This week, I found myself joining that sadly ever growing class of Americans known as the unemployed.  

I am twenty nine years old.  Since age fourteen, throughout high school, I have maintained continuous employment for fifteen years.  I have only taken three weeks of uninterrupted vacation during the past seven years with my primary and previous employer.  To be idle is an unnatural state and the prospect of its duration is certainly uncharted.

But today was the first day in as long as I can remember that a business owner did not require my services.  For many, unemployment is a morass from which escape seems unthinkable.  For others, it is a time of blissful existence so long as it can be afforded.   For the unfortunate, it represents a very real threat to not only their well being and pursuits of happiness but of their loved ones and dependents.

Of all of the avenues I have elected to pursue in seeking employment, launching this blog is perhaps the most exciting prospect.  I have always loved writing, and to have a chance to chronicle what is certain to be a pivotal crossroads in my life will at very worst, have some biographical significance.  But there are other reasons that, especially now that I have time, I wish to keep up this blog.

ACCOUNTABILITY  -  I've known far too many people who when faced with the ocean of unemployment recoil to the safety of X-Box live, boxed wine, and daytime television.  And while I've certainly enjoyed the fruits of all three of these trees, prolonged dance sessions with these seductresses of leisure seriously jeopardizes the likilhood that I will reach my eventual goal - permanent and fulfilling work with a quality employer.  

It is certainly a possibility that working as hard as I can will not yield the results I desire, and that external economic factors out of my control will prevent me from reaching my goals.  However, failure is a certainty should I permit paralyzation and inaction to become routine.  By honoring the responsibility to persevere and fight not only to myself and my loved ones but hopefully an engaged base of readers, I will put myself in the best possible position to succeed.  

POSITIVITY  -  Let's face it.  Negative news sells.  Are you more like to click on a story that talks about a positive development in the fight against cancer or a story that highlights the most recent percentage point uptick in the unemployment rate?  News organizations are paid by the click, and because we click on the negative, that's what's going to get emphasized.  That's not their fault, they're a for profit enterprise.  

Furthermore, I've spent far too much time in life wasting energy on people who are small, negative, and seem to have no other purpose than to destroy those around them.  They can generally be found like grains of sand in the comments section of a business news article or dwelling the forums of Craigslist.  They can be found at your current place of employment and have no means of addressing their own personal turmoil above and beyond dragging those around them to their level.  

Just as inaction guarantees failure, so to does unbridled negativity.  That isn't to say I advocate denying reality or playing Pollyanna, but for me to be successful, I need to channel positive energy.  The more I write, and hopefully the more people derive value from my words, the more positive energy I not only channel for myself but hopefully can spread to others.   

THERAPY  -  When you work for fifty hours a week, have a full time band, girlfriend, and an unquenchable desire to make sure you don't miss Rock of Love, it leaves precious little time for self reflection.   If I took one thing from my philosophy degree, it was a better (though still limited) understanding of what it takes to achieve true happiness.

You only get one crack at this life to the best of anyone's knowledge, and to deny yourself happiness and shackle yourself to misery disrespects your existence and your maker.  Still, every time I think I have it figured out, I continue to learn things about myself and experience that frustrating of feelings known as change.  Hopefully I will become a better person through my writings, and if I can help someone else shed insight on their own path, even better.

CAMRADERIE  -  People need people to survive, and despite my abilities, I wouldn't have made it to the point I am in life without the presence, intervention, and support of other people.  Hopefully, I've made a difference in someone else's life as well.  Relationships are what matter most in life, and hopefully, I'll be able to not only nurture and foster the ones I already have, but generate new friendships and camraderie.  

I've got a bit of a journey ahead of me, and I hope very much to share it with my family, friends, and any prospective readers.   I know that by putting in the work and staying positive, I am in a place in my life where I have a chance to seize destiny by the horns and be happier than I have ever been.

Thanks for reading, please subscribe or follow if you enjoy, and I'll continue to keep you updated!

It is a good thing.