Looking for work: a report from the front lines of life

I got one of the nicest compliments I have ever received the other day when a friend told me, “If someone like you got let go, I’m worried about myself.” It meant a lot to me, but honestly, I’m a normal guy like anyone else…I just happen to be good at a certain set of skills that don’t fall along traditional lines.

Having said that, I haven’t been overly concerned about finding the next great work adventure because I’ve always took a great deal of care in diversifying my interests. The jack of all trades analogy you hear a lot? I strive to be that guy as I feel it’s better to be good at a lot of stuff than really great at one thing…unless you’re responsible for curing cancer or something. In that case, stick with that, ok?

I’ve been successful every place I’ve gone and have rave reviews for references and people willing to go to bat for me. The only issue? Getting people to listen and finding the daylight to run toward. As you probably know, I’m looking for work in the greater Portland area. While the area houses nearly 1/4 of the state’s population has its employment advantages, the state isn’t exactly known for its diversity of industries. A mixed bag of traditional companies, banks and creative shops, there’s a underswell of smaller businesses that are intriguing but not necessarily hiring.

My early frustrations with the process:

-Where to look: The days of ‘Help Wanted’ in the newspaper have been long dead. There are now a tremendous amount of websites dedicated to providing job listings, in addition to individual company website listings. But for efficiency sake, it’s overwhelming at times because you don’t know where to start first. Luckily, I found Indeed.com, which scours a majority of these sites for your perusal. There are plenty of the ‘WORK AT HOME FOR $100K’ type ads which scream scam, but I’ve found a few gems amidst the rubble of skilled labor and hourly positions.

-The process: I’ve applied for four positions, all of which I’m definitely qualified for. But I have no idea when the respective companies are looking to make a decision, what their process is after they get my information or if they ever received it. I’ve done some follow-ups, but something new I’ve noticed on the job scene: they don’t want you to follow up. I’ve seen enough ‘Please do not call’ warnings out there, but there has got to be a better procedure out there. If I was on the other side in the desk, I’d list when they wanted to start interviewing and decision date at minimum, all with a tag that they reserve the right to change their minds. I realize companies don’t owe it to job seekers to tell them this information, but a little more public facing would be nice. I’m not a stalker…I’m just looking for a chance.

-The distance: This is merely a function of where I physically am, but it’s tough to get out there and look when ‘out there’ is 90 minutes away from where you live. This will change within the next 10 days, but I’m eager to get started to look around and turn over some rocks for opportunities. Since it’s coming on a month (!!!) since I got the news, I feel like I’ve been in neutral for way too long.

And that brings me to a simple statement: being unemployed sucks. I can see on the outside why people would think this lifestyle would be great, but it’s not. I can’t imagine anything worse. My day is waking up at 9:30 am, eating some breakfast while checking some email, scouring the job sites for new postings and then…that’s it. I repeat the job search later on in the day, but it’s a lot of sitting and thinking. I get to write a lot which is nice, but you tend to forget what it’s like to be needed somewhere….to help others with projects and to accomplish something every day.

I don’t feel worthless, but right now, I literally feel like I’m non-existent. I face a battle with motivation everyday and I understand how people just become lazy. If you resign yourself to the fact this is what your life has become, you tend to lose faith and lose hope. My apartment has become a four-room prison which is only fueling my desire to get out of here. This has been amplified by the fact I haven’t had a car all week, as it’s being prettied up after someone decided it needed a key mark down the right side. Thanks jerk.

I also had my first dance with the Unemployment Office last week, something I had never thought of until it was mentioned in passing when this all happened. It’s a humbling feeling walking into that office, seeing others in similar positions and wondering what the hell happened to get you to this low place. You realize that bad things are happening to good people all over the place and ultimately, that is what government-funded public assistance is for. Am I proud I’m going on unemployment? No, but I need a little help right now until everything gets figured out. As that first meeting wrapped up, my sole thought was to get out of this situation as quick as possible. Unfortunately, I think others in that room weren’t as motivated to do so, which is why so many have such an issue with the system.

I’ve always said that everything in life should be taken as a learning experience, no matter what it is. Whenever this macabre ride is over, I know that I’ll take some important life lessons with me that will help me not only understand myself but the plights of others that much better. The night is always darkest before the dawn and I’m going to do my best to see some starts before it breaks.

Job security, lifestyle and plugging along in the new economy as a 30-year-old

We must view young people not as empty bottles to be filled but as candles to be lit. – Robert Shaffer

There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist. – Mark Twain

I am facing a crunch at work with bringing in ‘numbers’. As my tenure has progressed, so have the expectations that the dreaded word of “sales” is more a growing part of my universe. I say dreaded because to be known as a salesperson these days can be a kiss of death. You’re known as always trying to push something. You have an agenda. You don’t have conversations, but exchanges of words that should mean something to your bottom line. I don’t think of myself as a salesperson, but rather as a marketer by heart that can help influence people into making decisions based on their current needs. I find myself thinking a lot more about the future and wondering what I want to be known for and what I want to do. I am 30 years old and feel like life is just beginning.

I was talking tonight with a friend who is having issues with his work. Because of an out-of-character shift in focus at his firm, he is now working in a lockdown environment. They have let quality people go because there simply wasn’t enough work for them but the excess they have piled on to everyone else with the expectation of just working longer hours. A 50-hour work week has now turned into an 80-hour work week. It’s starting to wear on him and he is thinking about looking other places for work, just a few years removed from finding what he thought was a home for a long, long time. He is also just 30 years old.

My friend and I aren’t alone as people of all ages are now trying to make their way in the new economy we are smack-dab in the middle of. You rarely hear that people are doing well, but rather surviving. Gas prices are high, food prices are high, medical bills are high and if you’re trying to invest as well, money can be tough to come by every month. I feel lucky that I got a great education and tried to diversify myself early on in life where I could do a multitude of tasks and still feel happy. It’s worked well so far, but others I know aren’t that lucky. I still don’t understand how people can financially raise kids at our ages. I would be terrified in a cut ’em culture like this that one day, I’d be without work and potentially have that child go without. Young parents are stronger than most give them credit for.

Another buddy found out his company is being sold. He now has the “luxury” of either moving to Wisconsin/Minnesota or finding new work by December. All he wants to do in work in investments, but he realized this too late in life. He either must go back to school or move to Boston in a hope of someone giving him a chance. He’s had several careers and just wants stability, but the clock is ticking and he’s not sure what to do next. He is 28 years old.

Everyday, there are more and more stories of mass layoffs in all walks of business. Do a Google search under News and type in the word ‘layoffs’. You’ll see story after story of 25 here, 200 there, a whole plant there. No one is safe these days, but what happens when the good people get let go? The ones that care about the company, put in the overtime and try to make a difference? Should they be the casualties or is it the responsibility of those in charge to do whatever they can to hold onto valuable employees for when things do change?

Another friend of mine was laid off last year and had a devil of a time finding work. An English major, she searched…and searched…and searched. She’s a good person that someone could surely take on and train her to the best of her qualities. But she is still searching and now has a job that is just that…a job, until the right key turns the right door and she finds what she is looking for. Sometimes even a college education isn’t worth the paper it’s presented on. She is 27 years old.

So during all this time, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking (big surprise) about two items: debt and efficiency. People have a tough time changing lifestyle, so my guess is that credit card debts are just going up and up and up. Combined with mortgages, student loans, car payments and the other necessities in life, it’s no surprise that there have been so many foreclosures and repossessions of property in the past few years. On efficiency, I often wonder if people look within their company to minimize inefficiencies so that they don’t have to let people go. My friend Chris is a logistical genius and is written up quite frequently in the news for his abilities to save his major employer money. He virtually is paying for himself time and time again simply by doing something so simple it’s scary: looking for problems that aren’t apparent and fixing them anyway. He is 33 years old.

Finally, there’s the story of my buddy Mark. He works for a major financial investment company that was recently in the news for laying hundreds of people off. During the time this was happening, he was on vacation and was unsure of whether he’d have a job upon his return. “I’m not checking my email or voicemail while I’m on vacation,” he said with a resigned look on his face. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I’ll find out when I get back.”

Even in this era of uncertainty, there one fact that has never changed: sometimes it’s still best to just stay in bed.