Watchful Waiting

No, I’m not talking about what doctors sometimes recommend for a  slow-growing cancer, although there are days when the job search feels a lot like that.  I’m referring to the fact that it can take a long time for the right opportunity to appear (or reappear, like one of those slow growths).

Within the past few weeks, three positions have opened up at three different non-profit organizations that I’ve been interested in and at which I’ve applied in the past.   One is a large organization for which I’ve volunteered for a long time. The others were non-profits I became aware of through my job search.

First time around, I got no interviews at any of the three.  Since then, I’ve done some networking, which has resulted in one interview so far.  For the other two, I’m confident my resume will at least be reviewed, since I’ve gotten to know people inside the organization in similar roles and learned more about the skills and experience that are deemed most important.  And for good measure, one of those resumes will probably go through the CEO, since I know somebody who knows her.  Sometimes you have to pull out the big guns, but it’s important to keep your powder dry for when you really need it, too.

The interview I did get might also have had something to do with the fact that I’ve been volunteering with an organization with a similar mission, and recently completed a relevant certificate program, paid for by the organization I’ve been volunteering with.

A similar situation occurred with a for-profit role, too.  I had been phone screened, but was told I wasn’t a great match since I didn’t have enough experience in a certain area.  The interviewer was great –she said she was impressed with my experience in other areas, and gave me good, honest feedback.  She recently contacted me, asking if I was still looking, and noted there was another role I might be a good match for.    That trail has since gone cold, so perhaps her hiring colleague had other things in mind, but it is still nice to know that someone thinks I’m qualified for something!

The moral of the story is to identify organizations you are interested in, and make a point to get to know people there, even if they don’t have an immediate opening, or if you’ve been rejected.   Find out what skills they are looking for, and tailor your resume accordingly, or develop them if you don’t have them.  If they are a non-profit, consider volunteering for them or a similar organization.  And of course don’t burn any bridges. Ever. You never know who might be helpful in the future.

This can be a long and difficult process, but it can bear results.  I guess that’s why they call it networking.

A side note to non-profit HR departments:  it’s not good PR to diss your volunteers.  The organization where I’ve volunteered for many years rejected me last time with a form email that bordered on rude, telling me that I wasn’t qualified.  They should have incorporated questions about volunteer service with them into their employment application, so that volunteers can at least receive a kind rejection that acknowledges their volunteer service even if they are not a good fit for the job.  Last time around, I’m not sure a real person even read my resume, since their online app is long and convoluted.  That’s part of the reason I enlisted the big guns this time.

Enough with the military metaphors for now, although the husband is dragging us to Gettysburg soon, so I’m sure I’ll have an endless supply after that.

Are Non-Profits Defending Their Tribe Against Zombies?

Job descriptions seem to veer between the too general and the overly specific.

It’s either:

  • “Applicant must be willing to contribute enthusiastically to our company’s mission, be goal oriented, and somewhat conversant in the English language.”


  • Or: “Applicant must have 17+ years of experience marketing commercial-grade industrial coolers to Aleutian natives, be a power user of XYZ Software Version 8.7, and possess a graduate degree in plate tectonics.  Familiarity with Napoleonic Law and Hunan Chinese culinary techniques also desirable. “

In the latter case, this seems to point to my theory that some organizations don’t accept the idea that skills from other sectors of the economy might be transferable.

Case in point: I recently had an interview for a fairly low-level development position at a small non-profit, where I suspect the salary is somewhere around a bucket of peanuts.  (This was in response to a job posting, FYI.)  The interviewer asked a lot of highly specific questions about my previous experience, with which she seemed to be less than impressed.

Really, I can manage an IT implementation, make sure collateral gets created and distributed to 1400 locations on a tight timetable, make presentations at conferences, and plan all of the details for taking 14 eight year-olds on a camping trip for an entire weekend.   But you don’t think I can manage a small golf scramble?   And is your software program really so different that I can’t figure out how to use it if I’ve figured out how to use several CRM systems on my own?

I understand that in order to design bridges or do brain surgery there are some hard, non-negotiable skills that you need to have.  But I suspect that a lot of industry-specific requirements, especially in areas such as non-profit management, are not always about having the skills to get the job done.

Non-profit salaries are already lower than elsewhere, in part because someone will work for less money if they are helping infants in the developing world to survive, ensuring the preservation of historic buildings, or (name your favorite cause here).  In my experience, few people are willing to take a pay cut to ensure that more consumers use their employer’s deposit products or credit and debit cards.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with deposit products or credit and debit cards, mind you – I’m actively pursuing financial services jobs.)

Methinks there may be a bias against industry changers or non-traditional applicants.  Is this really a matter of finding the best candidates with a passion for your mission?  Or a way to keep the already large applicant pool from growing larger, or to make the screening and interview process less work?  I’d love to get some industry feedback on my theory.

However, as I’ve noted elsewhere, the zombies ARE circling at the gates!

Marvelous Layoffs

I’ve heard a fair number of horror stories about people being laid off in demeaning ways .   As in “pack up your things in a box right now while your co-workers are watching and a security guard is standing over you.”  If you’re being fired for threatening the boss with a semi-automatic weapon or for embezzling large sums of money, this makes sense.  But, I’m wondering how many people are actually planning a vengeful attack on their way out the door.   Isn’t it possible to protect company interests without stripping away all sense of dignity?

To counter this, I’d like to offer two layoff experiences of my own that were overwhelmingly positive.  I’ll always hold these two firms in high esteem, even if they did have to lay me off.   Although I suspect there may have been some deviance from standard operating procedures…

The first was from a large engineering firm.   The economics practice area I was in had suffered from a low volume of work for some time, and the higher-ups had been making heroic efforts for months trying to find billable work for their junior staff.   When the day finally came, I was still shocked (in retrospect, I’m not sure why) but I’d swear my supervisor had tears in his eyes, too, when he had to deliver the bad news.  Not only was I allowed to quietly creep away that day and collect my things later, they insisted that I keep the company laptop and access card for awhile, and they encouraged me to come into the office on my own after hours to print things if I wished.  (This was in the early days of the internet, when you still had to mail or hand-deliver resumes.)  Even though my junior employee severance package was just a few weeks of pay, I still feel grateful for being treated like a trustworthy adult.

In a later experience I was part of a bank that was purchased by a larger bank.  The day the merger was announced, we knew our entire division was toast; it was just a matter of when.  The outgoing executive management negotiated very nice severance packages, even for the rank and file, which was classy, even if there were pragmatic reasons behind it.  (Transferring customers and products from one banking system to another is neither quick nor easy.)  For me the timing was especially nice, as it corresponded with a family leave.  Division management was especially accommodating during the merger period, in part because they were on the way out, too.  (I think they spent the year’s party and entertainment budget on us during the first quarter before the merger closed, but that’s another story. The bread and circuses were a nice added touch, though.) Best of all, this experience created a huge diaspora of contacts all over the region within the same industry, a network I’m still drawing on today in my job search.

I challenge HR departments everywhere to treat people with trust and respect on the way out, even if you can’t leave them with the keys to the office.

In retrospect, the Miami office of that engineering firm was an anomaly in several ways – as far as I know, they were the only company location at that time without functioning voicemail, and the only one with a kick-ass expresso machine.  Bot that’s another story, and if you’ve ever spent much time in Miami, you know that the usual rules do not apply there.

A Warning to HR Professionals

Alert: At all costs, beware of people who have been out of the job market for some time.   There’s nothing good they could have been up to.  They  might have doing irrelevant things like learning new skills, volunteering in your community, raising children and perhaps even travelling.  If they did work during this time, it might have been part-time, at a less senior level, or even worse, in a different field.

As we all know, unrelated experience is a killer – you do not want to bring someone into your firm who might have a different perspective on life.  It’s disruptive to the status quo, and can make current employees uneasy to have to interact with someone who is not exactly like them.  Worse, it could lead to changes in business practices.

That’s why your resume screening software is SO important.  The only relevant skill in determining future on-the-job success is the ability to put the right key words from your past job or two in the right place in your resume.  The software captures that ability perfectly, and screens out all of the silly nonsense about judgement, motivation, and other irrelevant intangibles.  Keep up the good work!

UPDATE: There is reliable field data that suggests that people who have been out of the job market are blood-sucking zombies.  They will infect your current workforce if you let them in.  Skeptical?  How else can you explain current societal obsessions with zombies and vampires?  How about the rise of virtual reality shows?  Those zombies are at the gates of your corporate campuses, trying to get in by any means.  DO NOT let them in!


OK, I got that off my chest.  Now back to being relentlessly positive, and the coffee shops!  And yes, I know there are some HR professionals who do get it, and realize that you can lose some good candidates by relying too heavily on screening software.