Status Update

ImageNo, I’ve not given up on the job search, or the blogging.  But it’s spring break for the kids, coming right after an out-of-town funeral for a beloved grandmother.  Accomplishments for the week thus far include:

  • dyeing Easter eggs (finished product pictured)
  • making Neiman Marcus cookies (yes, I know the story behind the recipe is an urban legend, but they are amazing cookies nevertheless, and are always welcome at family gatherings) 
  • a scavenger hunt at a local arboretum (while I was helping in the office, no less)
  • a closet cleared of outgrown clothes, duly donated to a friend
  • a trip to bang on ringing rocks with hammers (not my video, but you get the idea:
  • three movies
  • a birding excursion
  • a trip to the library
  • a lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant

Happy Easter, to those of you who celebrate it!


Bloom Where You Are Planted

Many years ago, my mother gave me one of those little wall plaques that have a cutesy picture with a slogan.  It took me some time to realize the message was an important lesson I needed to learn:  “Bloom Where You are Planted.”

In my college years and after I did a lot of international travel, moving, and job changing.   All of which is a good thing when you are young and trying to figure out who you are.   I’d recommend studying and working abroad to anyone as a fundamental way of broadening your horizons.  Plus, it becomes more difficult to travel as widely once you’ve acquired a spouse, mortgage and kids.

While it’s quite possible my mother was just wishing I’d stop leaving the country, the real message behind “Bloom Where You Are Planted” is to make the most of your current situation.  It’s very easy to keep searching for the next big thing: the dream job, the ideal place to live, the winning lottery ticket, and so on.  And we have to dream and have goals.  At the same time, true happiness often comes from making the best of what is around you, right now.   This means family, friends, community, and personally enriching activities you can enjoy without buying a plane ticket to somewhere exotic.

I live near Philadelphia, so I’m fortunate to be within a three hour drive of many of the nation’s top historical and cultural attractions, from Broadway shows in New York to the museums of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC to nearby Independence Hall.  Yet, when I talk to friends and neighbors who have grown up in the area, I’m often astonished by how many who’ve admitted that they’ve never been to see the Liberty Bell, less than 45 minutes away by car or train.  (And I don’t live in a low-income community where poverty blights opportunity.)   Every community has something of interest to explore, whether it be outdoor activities, scenery, historical attractions, or quirky local pastimes.

Although I won’t be on an ecotour to the Galapagos Islands this year, I can still learn and be involved in amazing conservation work being done in my backyard.  And my family has explored Philly, as well as making many day and weekend trips to New York and Washington, DC.

The same thing is true of the working world.  My next job is likely to be mainly for the money, not because it’s my life’s passion.  How many children dream of becoming a tax accountant or financial planner or IT project manager while growing up?  Yet those are all good jobs that are likely to pay enough to allow enjoy fulfilling activities outside of work, as well as being high-status enough to provide a respected place in society.

And every job, no matter how humdrum, will provide the opportunity to seek satisfaction by doing your job well, helping and learning from the people you work with, and serving your customer.  If you decide to enjoy your work, and do it well, chances are you’ll advance in your career, too.  You’ll probably meet at least a few people you’ll enjoy on a social level, too, and perhaps the one who will help you in your next career move.

Most of my life’s most important and formative events came completely out of left field, from a chance to work in Japan, to meeting my husband on a vacation, to the first job that led to my career in financial services.   I suspect this is true for many people.  Therefore, if you can’t predict the future, make the most of the present.  You never know which person you meet is going to provide you with a life-changing opportunity, either personal or professional.  And whatever it is, you’ll have more chance of making the most of it if you’re putting your all into whatever you are doing, not grumbling about how it’s not where you want to be.

Make the most of your current job, or if you are unemployed, find some interests to cultivate you might not have had time for before.   Make new friends, keep up with old friends, join local organizations you care about, volunteer, be a tourist in your current hometown, and find a creative way to pursue your passions now, rather than when you think the conditions will be more optimal.

Be open to the opportunities around you.  Have goals that you are working towards, but Bloom Where You Are Planted

The charting exercise here is a useful way to map out career options for someone in transition. This is from kgmitchell, who works for a Canadian center that helps job seekers.

Employment Counselling with Kelly Mitchell

Imagine if you will a circle in the middle of a large piece of paper. In the center of that circle, you print your name to represent yourself at this point in time, March 19, 2013. Now draw on that paper, extended out in relative equal proximity, 4 or 5 boxes with each representing possible career or job opportunities that you are interested in. It will not matter if they are in the same field or sector, and in fact the point might be better made if they were diverse in nature, so don’t feel constricted in your choice.

Now standing back from that paper, look at the image before you for a moment. There you are in the middle with a few options before you that you have an interest in pursuing. One of the first things you need to realize and accept is that because you yourself put…

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Looking back on the past couple of months, one of the things that stands out is that I’m more resilient than I was in an earlier stage of my life.  Yes, it’s true I didn’t get a job that I really wanted.  But I don’t take that as a personal rejection, nor do I have a grudge against the company or interviewer for not picking me.  Had this happened when I was interviewing at 22, I think I might have reacted differently, and viewed it more as a personal negation of my worth or skills.

The reality in this job market is even if I had eight or nine of the qualities and skills they were looking for, another candidate probably had all ten. I’m encouraged by the fact that I got to a third (two- hour-plus) interview, and the first two interviews (one with an HR person, another with the hiring manager) were far from perfunctory.  So I know that I was carefully considered, and was within the top three or four out of hundreds who might have applied for the position.  When I got the call telling me the bad news, I asked and received feedback that they were looking at an internal candidate, and one who had worked with that specific product. (Thus, the ten out of ten.)

Another thing to keep in mind: I don’t have to convince every company that I’m the best person for their job, I only need to convince one.  So it’s just a matter of plugging away until I find that one.

Volunteer Skill-Building

I’m far from the first person to suggest this, but it’s worth repeating that volunteering can be a wonderful  way to build new skills during a job hunt, if you are out of the workforce for awhile, or even if you are still working.  Here are a few examples of how volunteering has enhanced my value to an employer over the past few years.

  • In some ways managing volunteers is more challenging than managing employees.  Volunteers are only there if they want to be; you can’t force them to show up.  You can’t always select people who are the best match for the task at hand, and you can’t easily fire them if they are not well-suited.  So, you have to provide clear direction, constant feedback, meaningful opportunities for growth and social interaction, and reinforcement of the value of the work in terms of the organization’s mission.  Do I think my volunteer management experiences will improve my ability to manage employees?  You bet.
  • Since non-profits are always trying to do more with less, there are often opportunities for challenges you wouldn’t be considered for in a paying job.  As a volunteer, I’ve led much larger teams than I’ve ever led in a paying position, with far wider responsibilities.   I’ve also been able to participate in discussions about adopting software platforms, social media campaigns, and website designs, to name just a few areas, leading to new skill development.
  • Some non-profits have wonderful training opportunities, which are free as long as you commit to helping the organization.   Thanks to several non-profits, I have training in outdoor leadership, first aid, archaeology, invasive species management, and counseling, among other things.
  • Working with kids (mainly through Girl Scouting) has greatly improved my project management and communications skills.  There are few audiences less forgiving of a dull presentation than a group of nine-year-old girls at the end of a long school day, and few projects more likely to go awry without careful planning and continuous adjustment than a weekend-long group camping trip with a bunch of second-graders.
  • Volunteers often spend a lot of time with people who are very different that those they mix with in their usual community interactions.  I’ve learned a lot about others, and about myself, from interacting with nursing home residents, families who live in poverty, and teenagers, among others.  It’s much harder to take your own lifestyle for granted when you’ve spent some time viewing the world from other perspectives.

Of course, the most important part about volunteering is finding an organization or organizations where you have a true passion for their mission.   Volunteering requires a willingness to commit and roll up your sleeves to help with whatever needs to be done.   Case in point: I spent a couple of hours this morning doing data entry that urgently needed to be done, and made someone’s day by fixing a jammed printer.   Bonus for me: I then got to go see the wood frogs in the pond, who are starting to come out to do their spring thing.

If you find the right fit between you and a worthy non-profit, both you and the organization have a lot to gain from volunteering!

It’s always good to hear success stories!

Savvy Career

I am amazed at the number of people blogging and writing about unemployment. There are lots of heartbreaking stories out there in the blogosphere. You read about people who went from making $100,000/yr to now earning $10/hr. You also hear about people who were solidly middle-class pre-GR (Great Recession), and who are now homeless. Some of the hardest and most frustrating stories for me to read are the stories about people over the age of 50 who have been told by recruiters to not even bother looking for a job.

You start to get a sense of the scope of the problem when you starting reading these stories. Although I admit that it is still difficult to comprehend how pervasive of a problem unemployment, and underemployment is in this country. Gawker recently did a series of unemployment stories, and sometimes it can be comforting to know that you aren’t the…

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A Not So Great Week, Or Was It?

In terms of the raw statistics, it would appear that my job search is not going swimmingly after this past week.  That’s two “NO’s”, a likely “NO”, and a big question mark.  Although I’d be lying if I said there were no moments of self-doubt, I’m not feeling defeated.  Here’s why:

  1. The No (for now): screened out via a phone interview for a contract project manager position.  I received specific feedback why, which was a concern that I wasn’t deemed a sufficient power user of MS Project.  The role seemed to be less strategy, and more just providing the documentation.  Although I’m comfortable with MS Project, I can’t say that spending most of my day recording milestones is my idea of the ideal job.   The company deemed my communications and problem-solving skills to be very high, so they’d be willing to consider me for other roles, and the staffing agency is already looking.  The company is a large bank with many positions, so there is still hope here.  They pay well, and I’m quite flexible on the role to just get in the door.  
  2. The No (and I’m glad):  a somewhat disastrous interview for a non-profit position.  This was the “hidden” job market opportunity I mentioned in an earlier post. I knew little about the position in advance of the interview.   While it’s a worthy cause, this is a coalition management position, reporting to a steering committee comprised of members of different organizations.  Funding for the position will be eliminated in about six months, so a key element of the job is development.  Yes: a new role, with many responsibilities, including finding funding within six months, under the direction of a group of people with conflicting agendas. Is it just me, or does that sound like a recipe for disaster? Oh, and the position is currently funded to be a poorly paid 20 hours a week.  I probably wasn’t deemed qualified due to my lack of experience in grant writing, but I don’t think it is sour grapes to say this is probably not the right role for me anyway.  Instead, I think I should say a prayer for the poor soul who does take this on.
  3. The Probably No (darn it!): Had the grueling interview I mentioned in an earlier post for another financial services firm which included a logic question, seriously prepared peer interviewers, and a hiring manager with wonderful technical and people skills.  I want this job.  I liked the people, the company, and the role, but sense that I might not be their leading contender after their in-person interviews  (which was the third interview in the process).   I’m hoping I’ll get closure on this next week, although it may take longer than that.
  4. The Question Mark:  Had what was supposed to be a second interview with an HR person for yet another company.  We were on the phone all of ten minutes. I still don’t have much sense of what the actual job will require, or if it is a good fit for me.  I suspect that the interviewer didn’t know, either.  She set up an in-person interview with the actual hiring manager for a later date, so it appears that in this company, the hiring managers are tasked with doing their own candidate screening through interviews.  This doesn’t seem very effective to me. Not sure if this bodes well for the company.

In summary, I’m getting interviews, lots of interview practice, and some constructive feedback about what has not gone well, so I’m still optimistic about my chances of landing somewhere reasonably soon.  

I wish my fellow job seekers good luck , too. Unless of course, you’re one of the candidates for the job I want!