Pop, pop, pop!

After eight months of applying for jobs and virtually no responses, four organizations contacted about interviewing within a 10-day period.  I have no interviewed with all four and wanted to post an update on what I am finding in the Brave New World of job seeking.

Job #1: A position similar to what I do now with a similar firm, except that they consult with nonprofit organizations.  Before she even scheduled the interview, she asked if I could live with about a 20% cut in pay (and 20% more hours, since I currently work 4 days a week).  I said I would consider that “in the context of the full compensation package.”  The (phone) interview was so loaded with corporate speak that I had no idea what the job really entailed, and then she said, “We work hard here.  I put in about 60 hours a week.  They expect us to respond to emails on weekends and evenings.  I haven’t used a vacation day in 8 years—using vacation is frowned upon….”  I don’t know how I came off in the interview but the next day I wrote here a nice “Thank you so much for your time and no thanks, I’d be crazy to give up my golden handcuffs for less money and more work” note.     

Job #2: A job I’m perfectly capable of and would enjoy, with an organization I admire.  This is the one that, if someone had asked, “What is your ideal job?” would be an 8 out of 10.  One small detail: it would require moving across the country to a place where I know absolutely no one.  However, I’m willing if that’s what it takes.  I had a 20-minute phone interview and a second phone interview schedule for 4:00 today.  I was kind of crabby about the fact that they had taken nine weeks to contact me, but it turned out that they had needed to hire the guy who would be my boss, first.  It was a reasonable explanation.  An affirmation that you never know what’s going on behind the curtain.

Job #3: A job that would be a stretch with an organization that does good work but on a very small scale.  This one was in person and everything was going great until they said, “We only have 6 months of funding for this position.  Is that a problem at all?”  Say WHAT?  Uh, yeah, that would be a problem if I spent 8 months searching for a new job then took one which would land me on unemployment after just 6 months.  They talked about how their plan would be for me to raise my own salary so as to keep the job going.  I’m confident in my abilities and I’m a risk taker, but there’s a limit.  And spending all my effort raising money for myself would sort of defeat the purpose of moving into meaningful work.  It seems to me that  they should have disclosed the funding situation in the ad.  I wrote them a nice thank you letter also, wishing them luck.

Job #4: An exciting, challenging job with an organization I like.  The interview went great and I have a second interview in a few days.  The catch: It’s only 20 hours per week and has no health insurance.  If I took it, I would have to approach my current boss about dropping from 4 to 2.5 days a week in order to juggle 2 part-time jobs and still have health insurance.  Sigh.  The aim would be to make it a full-time job in a year.  I was really, really relishing the thought of making a clean break from my current job.  On the other hand, it wouldn’t involve a 1,500-mile move. 

So it’s true, what you hear about jobs and job seeking in America.  More part-time jobs, expectations of working more hours, people having to pull up stakes and move for work.  But after all, this blog is called Wrestling with Restless, and a cross-country move would fit that bill.       



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The Freudian Send

Today I am thinking about acceptance, gratitude, and keeping calm. I’ve had a good couple of weeks at work. Nothing has changed in the office except my attitude.

I’ve written a lot about how I’d like to do a different kind of work, but haven’t mentioned the impetus for I’ve been job hunting now. I’ve been in this position for a little over four years, and it’s had its ups and downs. I’ve been in favor with my boss, then out of favor. Eight months ago I was in a trough. That’s when I got the shove.

As in any office, there were a number of us who were unhappy. My boss was apparently unhappy with us as well, because he wrote an email to another higher-up in the firm outlining his plan to eliminate my position, “counsel out” another co-worker, and demote a third.

Then he sent it to the person he planned to counsel out.

He realized what he’d done and got his boot-licking assistant to break into my coworker’s email account to retrieve his message, but not before she saw it and forwarded it to me and the other person involved.

My first reaction was euphoria—I would get laid off! I would collect unemployment for the summer, and for up to two years—because, due to the recession, it had been extended. Whoopee!

But then fear set in. After two weeks of waiting for the ax to fall, I confronted my boss. He denied everything. If only I could have remained calm! Maybe I would be collecting unemployment and enjoying summer to the max right now.

Everyone agrees (because everyone in the office now knows, of course, although we all pretend to not know) that the boss is too conflict-averse to ever fire anyone.

Seven months have passed and nothing has happened. It was a good kick to get me moving and looking for work I would really enjoy. Not that that’s worked, but ….

So here’s where the acceptance and gratitude come in: I have a work life a lot of people would envy. I work in a beautiful office overlooking a nature preserve. Eagles soar past my window. Yes, I have a window! I also have a door, which is big, as you know if you work in a cubicle. We have a full-size (American) refrigerator stocked with beverages and fresh fruit, and cupboards full of healthy(ish) snacks. There’s a separate wine refrigerator. My boss is rarely in, so there’s no one looking over my shoulder. I like most of my colleagues. We work an 8-hour day and take a full hour for lunch, so it’s really only a 7-hour day. I only work ¾ time, so I have every Friday off. I’m paid well and have good health insurance.

And in the last few weeks, I’ve somehow managed to get back in my boss’s good graces by finding new ways to contribute.  What a wonderful position from which to seek a new job. Wouldn’t it be great to go out on a positive note?

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My new career as a nursing assistant!

I admit to engaging in a particularly unproductive exercise: comparing myself to others. “Why do I always struggle to find decent work, while great jobs just seem to fall in my friend’s lap?” Why did that author of crap novels get published, but I’ve been rejected by a dozen agents who said my work was ‘promising’?” “Why did my sister meet her husband two days after telling me she was in no rush to get married, while I’m still waiting 20 years later?”

The list of “why-her/him-not-me” questions is endless. It’s important to keep in mind that we are comparing our insides to other people’s outsides when we do it.

You also invite irritating answers when you ask these questions, answers such as, “You’re one of those people who is meant to find meaning in struggle, not attainment.” Or, “I believe those people for whom everything seems easy are having a karmic rest.” Or, “You are fully awake to possibilities, while those people are sleep walking.” Really? Then let me go back to sleep walking!

I think the real answer is, “I don’t know why.” Most of us struggle so hard to figure out why, to predict the future either through logic or metaphysics. For me, it’s a relief to just say, “I don’t know.” As the Zen quote goes, “If you understand, things are just as they are. If you don’t understand, things are just as they are.”

All we can do is observe what others may be doing differently from us and emulate them where appropriate. Maybe that friend who appears to get good jobs so easily is a super networker. Or maybe she’s just lucky. Maybe that other author got published because his formulaic novels are what sell. Or maybe his brother-in-law is an agent. My sister is now getting divorced after living of 20 years of abuse. But no one knew—it all looked so perfect from the outside.

Job search update: No new interviews, fewer jobs to apply for, news that more people filed for unemployment in the 2nd quarter of 2011, which means employers are actually eliminating jobs, not just not hiring. And, could it be that my personal email account is somehow adapting to the emails I’m sending with titles such as, “Application for Communications Manager Position” I’ve started getting loads of spam asking, “Unemployed? $500 to complete a survey!”, “Immediate job offer – click here!” and “Start a new career as a Nursing Assistant!” Almost makes me nostalgic for the Nigerian Lotto spam mails.

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Meaning, schmeaning

In my 20s, the hot career book was, “What Color is Your Parachute?”  I recall spending days hunkered over it, completing its many exercises.  Essentially, it was a long-form version of, “do what you love and the money will follow” and posed the question, “If you could do anything you wanted, without fear of failure or destitution, what would it be?”   

Now, with a nearly 30-year work history, I also look back—for patterns, for insights into what I could do differently.   

There was an article in Forbes this week by a career consultant who offers a free career change assessment.  The title was, “Top 6 reasons people want out of their careers.” 

And the 6 reasons were:  Balance Money Skills Respect Meaning Struggle

Ah ha!  There’s that word—meaning.  The content of my current work is meaningless to me. I have tried to get excited about it.  I have tried to argue with myself that all work is meaningful as long as it’s done conscientiously and honorably.  To no avail. 

Once again, I hunkered over the exercises, hoping to uncover some blind spot that’s been tripping me up.  After hours of career navel gazing, I can’t say I learned anything new. 

It did reinforce what I already knew, that I thrive on newness, challenge, and meaning. The first two require that I change jobs every two or three years.    

Who am I to demand that I have meaningful work?  Am I a prima donna?    Am I really searching for meaning, or am I just a disgruntled, ungrateful worker, a dissatisfied person who will never be happy regardless of my circumstances?  Was I just born restless?    

Job search update:  Today I took stock of the job search I conducted 5 years ago, and the one I’m doing now.  Last time I applied to 52 jobs over a period of 10 months.  I interviewed for four positions and got the one I’m in now.  This year I have applied for 32 jobs over a seven-month period and I’ve interviewed for one.  I begin to wonder, am I up against age discrimination?  I am searching for a job in the midst of a major economic bust. BUT, I am employed now, whereas last time I wasn’t. 

Sigh.  No amount of number crunching or exercise-doing can help you see the future.

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Transdisciplinarians shall inherit the earth

Back to the search for meaningful work.  Am I one of Thomas Friedman’s “turtles”—people who are out of touch with trends and technology, who are trampled by the twitterers.  Maybe my Skill Sets are not Aligned with the Forward Movement of my Target Institutions.

I watched a webcast a few weeks ago called, “Disruptive Forces and Future Work Skills.” It was based on a report by the University of Phoenix.  While Phoenix isn’t exactly Harvard, they were joined by people with titles like, “Vice President of Global Thought Leadership” at Manpower and IBM’s “Innovation Champion and Director of IBM University Programs World Wide.”  Wow! 

Here are some of the qualities you’ll need to survive in Career World 2020:

–       Sense making – seeing patterns and meaning in data

–       Computational thinking – ability to translate data

–       Transdisciplinarity – broad and deep knowledge in dozens of systems

–       Cognitive load management – ability to filter, discriminate, and focus

–       A design mindset – ability to design engagement processes (wha…?)

Oh, and plan on having 20 jobs over your lifetime and earning 5 degrees to keep up.   This was no time to nap, which was my first inclination at the end of the presentation. 

When I stopped and thought past the lingo, I realized I have a lot of the qualities above.  But how do you convey that in a resume?  How do you demonstrate them in a portfolio or at an interview?  I also realized that 95% of the job announcements I’d seen didn’t require anything like these qualities.  They simply wanted applicants with X years of experience and X degree.    

An update on that job for which I had a second interview last week.  My “calling,” as I’ve called it, has been toward big-picture work.  I went from an international development agency to a national consulting firm and it felt like I was dying.  This job would have been, not even national, or state level, but limited to the city where I live.  How would it benefit anyone for me to take a job I already felt was way too limited in scope?  So I withdrew from the search and cancelled out of the third interview.  Now I have several emails from the place telling me how impressed they were with me and asking if there was anything they did wrong.  I guess I will tell them some version of, “It’s not you, it’s me,” trying not to sound too precious.

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The You Shoulds

I wrote in my first post that the age-old question of unfulfilled desires could be asked in any area of life, but subsequently have written only career-related posts.

So here’s a bit about the unfulfilled desire to meet a partner.  I’m 51.  I’ve never been married.  I’ve never lived with anyone.  I’ve received a lot of well-intentioned advice from friends, relatives and strangers.  Most of it could apply to job hunting, with a few judicious word replacements.  Herewith, the list:

You are trying too hard.  When you stop looking, he’ll just appear.

You are not trying hard enough.  You should:

–          try speed dating

–          tell everyone you know that you’re looking

–          shop at the most expensive grocery store in town, late at night, in heels

–          hang out in coffee shops/libraries/sporting events/hardware stores

–          try match/plentyoffish/jdate.com

–          join a singles club

–          don’t have sex until the 2nd date/2nd month/you’re married

–          hire a matchmaker

You are too picky

You are not picky enough

You are too smart/well-educated/financially well off/serious

Don’t try to be funny.  Let the man tell the jokes and laugh at them even when they’re stupid.

Once you resolve all your “issues”, he’ll appear (note that this isn’t required for the other 99% of humanity, just me)

You travel too much.  You should stay put so you can meet someone local.

You should go work in a refugee camp so you can meet a doctor!  

You don’t really want a partner. 

Never let a man know that you want him; let him do all the work.

Once you’ve broken your pattern of dating alcoholics, you’ll meet Mr. Right.

It’s okay to date alcoholics, as long as they’re in AA, or rich.     

Try dating men 10 years younger than you.

Men are only interested in women 10 years younger than them.

Go to sporting events even though you hate sports.

Pursue your own interests so you’ll meet men you have something in common with.

More than once, friends have said something along the lines of, “I don’t understand why you’re single—you’re beautiful, smart, funny, kind—men should be lining up.”  Which is nearly exactly what others have said about my job hunt, “People should be lining up to hire you!”

Someone tell the men!  Someone tell the hiring managers!

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This is how I find my bliss?

Having concluded in yesterday’s post that it’s essential to keep thinking positively, today I want to vent on some of the absurdities of online job seeking these days.  I know, I know.  Networking is still important, and I do my best.  But you still have to apply for jobs. 

First, there is the tsunami of information: Just to take one source as an example, DevEx posts jobs in international development and one can create customized email alerts, as I have done for communications jobs.  I still subscribe to the daily list of all jobs posted; that typically runs to 50 new job postings a day.   

If you’re thinking 50 doesn’t sound like too many to scroll through, many of them have mysterious titles which require closer inspection.  There are the highly-specialized, such as “Okra Production Short-term Volunteer Assignment in Egypt” and “Mud Crab and Milk Fish Cultivation Expert, Timor Leste.”  I know I don’t know nothin about mud crabs, so those are easy to rule out. 

But there are the generic titles, like “Associate”—associate what?  And the truly baffling “Experts to the project: TA for building the capacities of the training sector of the Central Agency for Organisation and Administration.”  Yeah….it could have something to do with what I do ….   So a lot of clicking through and logging in is called for, and it isn’t until you dive into each job dexcription that you see that fluency in Bengali or a Moldovian work permit is required.   

Then there is the joy of online applications.  Some organizations allow you to send your resume as an attachment; most have an online form.  Nearly all require that you create a user name and password.  Some online forms allow you to upload your resume as it is; many require that you re-enter all the information line by laborious line.  What day, month, and year did you start your master’s degree?  Don’t know?  You’ll be forced to make up a date in order to progress in the form.  If you get a phone call in the middle of completing an application, you may come back to find that “Your Session Has Expired.”  A recent application required that I answer four essay questions, “using no more than 5,000 words per answer.”  (!!)  A couple times, an online system has told me “Thanks for submitting your application!” before I had indeed finished it. 

I have found that 50% of the time after submitting an application, there is no response, ever.  The other 50% are form emails.  Applying online is something that must be done, but seeking meaningful jobs this way sure feels crummy.   

The good news today is, a former Oxfam colleague just landed a job with Oxfam Intermon in Juba, the capital of the world’s newest country, South Sudan.  She’s been in a sort of purgatory for the last three years, working in a very low-paid administrative position for an NGO in London.   If she can find a decent, meaningful job–by filling out an online app–I can too.

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