Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“I’m On My Way. . .”

Yep, you heard right.

I'm. On. My. Way.


Well, at least I think so.

After six face-to-face interviews totaling more than sixteen hours of questions. I've been told I'm the "leading candidate" for a great job.

No, not the job I interviewed for in March. After three interviews and making it to the top two finalists, that nonprofit job went to a guy with manufacturing experience. Many executive jobs in manufacturing these days, all requiring manufacturing experience, and he just had to horn in on my field. Go figure that one out.

It's a different job.

A better job. A way, way, way better job.

A better commute.

A better company.

And, the reason, I'm being considered? Because I failed to get the other job.

Well, let's face it, if I had gotten the other job I wouldn't have even been available for this one. At the time, my friend the executive recruiter didn't even have a contract to do this search yet. But my performance in the interview for the job I failed to get landed me an interview for this one.

Is it really possible to score an awesome job by failing to get a just-OK job?

Apparently so.

…you will fail at some point in your life. Accept it. You will lose.  You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something. There is no doubt about it. …I'm telling you—embrace it. …But do you have guts to fail? …If you don't fail… you're not even trying. …Sometimes it's the best way to figure out where you're going. Your life will never be a straight path. …Because the chances you take, the people you meet, the people you love, the faith that you have—that's what's going to define your life. …Never be discouraged. Never hold back. Give everything you've got.

And, a recent Nike commercial featuring NBA-great Michael Jordan recounts his many failures before stating, "I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And, that is why I succeed."

Because I tried so many times and so long and so hard, I've failed.

Because I've failed and picked myself up to try again, I will succeed.

People who never do anything, never fail, but they never succeed either.

And, while failure can be a great learning tool in itself, sometimes it places you on a different path that turns out to be a better path—the right path.

It's not over yet.

There's still much to be done before I cross that finish line.

I'm almost terrified to hope again. But my annoying, internal voice seems to be the eternal optimist. My head is saying "Don't get your hopes up again."

My heart is saying "This is it."

I don't know which one to listen to, but maybe I should listen to both.

I don't even know how to feel.

But, maybe that's the real in real life.

I'm excited.

I'm scared.

I feel like dancing.

I feel like going back to bed with the covers over my head.

And, with all those feelings, I wait for the news that may change my life or dash my dreams.

But, in spite of those nagging thoughts, I can't help singing "Tell everybody I'm on my way. . ."

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Just for Fun: This song is just so happy that I can't help but smile when I hear it. Enjoy Phil Collins singing "I'm on My Way" from the Brother Bear movie soundtrack.

And, check out Michael Jordan's commercial.

Enjoy Denzel Washington's speech to the University of Pennsylvania's graduating class in 2011.

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Photo credits: Note: Ariel not pictured.
Untitled: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rileyalexandra/3763114296/


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me

I've hit a wall in my job search.


Hit. A. Wall.


The two-year job search is finally taking its toll.

'Bout time, you say?

Uh-huh. You're probably right.

It's been 25 months of job search and 17 months on the dole.

I'm exhausted.

I'm sick of it.

I'm really annoyed with the whole process.

After hundreds of résumé submissions and job applications—thousands if you count all those generic e-blasts sent to recruiters—and countless hours of work and networking, I've reached the end of my energy.

As we say in the South:

I'm plum tuckered out;

Worn to a frazzle;

Slap-dab sick of the whole dang thing.

The irony? I'm starting to get interviews for the first time in ages.

Two weeks ago, I had a real in-person interview—only the fourth dress-up-and-go situation since this nightmare began. Sure, I've had numerous phone interviews, but can you believe that in 25 months this was only the fourth actual look-'em-in-the-eye event?

A lot of good it did to pull on that tummy-tucking-feels-like-cast-iron-even-though-it's-spandex thingie (dare I say "girdle"?), style the hair, drive out of town for hours and stay overnight. As usual, the lucky winner is not this girl. Instead, they chose two internal candidates to move forward in the process. I've lost to more internal candidates than I would like to think about.

We interrupt this blog post for a rant:

Why, time after time, do companies, post jobs, hire recruiters, get applicants' hopes up, when all the time the person who'll wind up with the job is already sitting in the company's office at the time of the posting?

Sometimes they think they can "do better" but, c'mon, how encouraging is that to the internal candidate who ultimately gets the job?

Most of the time, it's about money. They suddenly realized they can save thousands by not paying the recruiter (And if you think I'm ticked off you should hear what these recruiters have to say! They usually only get paid if the company hires their candidates). And, internal candidates play right into their hands—they're happy for a promotion and a raise (never realizing it was probably far less than they would've given an outside candidate). Besides, companies score financially, too, when they don't have to move anyone in from out of state.

Even if they hire an external candidate for the position vacated by the recently promoted employee, they have just pushed the real opening lower down the experience ladder and salary scale.

And, yeah, I've tried to get the lower position too. The response? Over-qualified.

I get it, you cheapskates, I get it. Really, I do.

But, in the name of all that is holy, must you disrupt the lives of innocent applicants who don't know this? Must you put us through the agony of going in for a job interview that we don't have a snowball's chance in you-know-where of getting? Really, MUST YOU?

I'd rather stay home in my sweatpants than take on the anxiety of a job interview when you had no intention of really considering me anyway.

And, now we resume our regularly scheduled programming.

But, I've got another interview scheduled. The job is almost identical to my previous position in a similar type of organization.

It's local too—a thought that makes me sigh with relief.

I'm realistic about moving if it comes to that, but I prefer not to if possible. I've built a life here. My family is here. I'll do whatever I have to do, but as nice as some other parts of the country are, I can't see myself shoveling snow or battening down the hatches for a hurricane.

It's just as well because most recruiters and hiring managers seem interested only in local candidates. I found a wonderful job at a great organization last week. I deployed a unique and creative marketing scheme, and it paid off—the recruiter seemed to love me. But, the position is out-of-state, and the recruiter said the client only wanted local candidates. I understand that, but I would have been perfect for them.


I would have.

(Mini-rant alert: Could they not have included that in their job post to save me from applying for something I would never even be allowed a shot at?)

But, I've got another interview coming up—a local one, remember?

Interviews can be exciting—for about the first ten minutes after you get off the phone from setting up the appointment.

You'd think nervousness would be the next emotion, but, no. Instead the emotion is gloom that descends faster than a San Francisco fog.

It feels as if the closer the interview date comes, the closer I am to hearing that particularly painful "no" yet again:

"The client has decided to go with an internal candidate."

"We have chosen another candidate who more closely fits our needs."

"We've decided to only interview local candidates".

Or, worse yet, deafening silence.

I want to send out an email that says: "Hello, anybody out there? Is this thing on? Is there a black hole at the end of my internet connection?"

You see, each time, at the end of the interview, I feel like a single woman out on that awkward first date that ends with the dreaded words: "I'll call you."

Still, you smile as you must, give him the number and know in your gut that he will never call.

The exhaustion has been difficult enough, but now panic has emerged.

My last day of insurance coverage is April 30.

At $464 per month, it's been expensive, but manageable with my ever-dwindling savings account.

I called my insurance carrier yesterday for rates on an individual policy.

It's bad.

Really bad.

$1,224-per-month bad.

But, then it got worse:

"Now, remember on this policy, there are no co-pays," the insurance representative chirped happily. "The plan does not cover anything until you meet your $2,500 deductible."

What the heck? You mean, nearly $15,000 per year buys me nothing?

"It's really more of a catastrophic plan," she continued, ever more cheerfully.

Catastrophic is right. It's the policy that's the catastrophe!

She went on to explain that after the deductible is met then the policy will pay a whopping 70% of medical bills.

"It does cover psychiatric care and counseling," she remarked. "If you need that sort of thing."

"I don't need that now, but give me a few months on that premium, and I just might," I quipped.

After 20 years of administering employee benefit plans, doing without coverage is just not an option for me. I know the really scary things that can happen to people without coverage. I have actually known people who died because they could not afford medical care.

And no, before you bring it up, I can't get the new government health coverage either. For the next few years, you have to be totally without coverage for at least six months to be eligible. Even then, the premiums are astronomical and cover almost nothing.

Accordingly, while I was out yesterday, I spoke to the manager of the drugstore down the street about a job and left the store with a job application.

Thereafter, in anticipation of expanding my job search to those offering minimum wage, I re-did my résumé. I can't tell you how much it pained me to remove my hard-earned master's degree, ninety percent of my previous job responsibilities and all of my significant accomplishments. In it, I no longer call myself an "executive". Supervisor or manager is the most I'll admit to now.
It's not that I'm too proud for a minimum-wage job. It's an honest way to make a living. I'm happy to do almost any job. But, what many folks don't seem to understand is that once you accept a job at that level, you're hard pressed to ever move back to your previous job (and salary level) ever again.

For those minimum-wage jobs, you work awfully hard. You stand on your feet. You work overtime to make an extra buck. You come home tired. You have at least 40 fewer hours per week to devote to the search for a job such as the one you previously had.

Plus, the lower the job level, the less scheduling flexibility a worker has. How would I ever get the head cashier to understand that I needed to swap shifts so I could go on a CEO or VP interview? The reality is that I wouldn't.

How would I choose between the "sure thing"—$7.25 per hour with benefits—and the opportunity to get my career back on track?

But, soon none of those concerns will matter anymore. In six weeks time, I'll get a monthly insurance bill that exceeds my entire monthly dole income. At this point, I no longer care about salary any more as long as the job has insurance benefits.




It's really starting to hit me now.

My inner optimist rails against the oppressive weight, but there is a rising, slightly nauseating feeling that's rolling in.

This cannot be the course of my life from now on.

Or is it?

And, despite the overwhelming feeling nipping at my heels, I trudge on. Next week, I'll put on my best suit and go to that interview. I'll smile as though I don't have a care in the world. I'll exude confidence, optimism and professionalism. I'll swallow hard and fight the queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Because I am totally, completely out of options.

But, I WILL get that job. I WILL.

Because I have no other choices. Because this time I have to.

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Just for Fun: This really cheered me up! Remember "Hee-Haw" the classic American TV show from the 1970s? Yeah, it was cheesy but also pretty fun. I watched this show every Saturday night when I was a little girl. Enjoy this clip from the show.

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Photo Credits: 

Note: Women pictured are not Ariel.

The Scream: Painting by Edvard Munch, painted 1893 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scream.jpg


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Musical Interlude: “These Boots Are Made for Walking”

From a February 8, 2009 cover letter. . .

Dear Sir or Madam:

Please accept my attached résumé in response to your search for . . .

Hold it! TWO YEARS???

Seriously, has it really been two years since I began my job search?

In February 2009, when I sent that first cover letter, I could barely breathe from the mental effort it took to hit the “send” button. Yet, it had to be done. It had become clear my much-loved, 12-year job would be eliminated when a new company took over. But, mentally, in looking for other employment, I felt as if I were cheating on the organization I’d given 100 percent loyalty to for so long.

At the time, I was emotionally devastated, feeling “kicked to the curb” like so much useless office debris.





Even, embarrassed as if I was the one doing wrong—which I was not.

But, things are better now.

True, it’s been a long, hard two years. There were times when I wanted to crawl under the bed covers on a rainy morning and just stay there, whining, “I give up. I just can’t do this any more.”

But, I didn’t.

I got up every day. Got out of my PJs. Put on my game face. Refused to watch daytime TV. Faced the world. Made networking calls. Improved myself with healthier eating and weight loss. Worked my contacts. Cleaned out closets. Attended meetings and community events. Did volunteer work. Developed a bare-bones budget. Developed new skills (such as website design and social media marketing). Met for coffee with anybody and everybody who had any connection anywhere no matter how small that connection. Took classes with an outplacement specialist. Reworked my résumé and reworked my résumé and then reworked my résumé. Joined a local job-search support group. Practiced interview questions. Applied for as many jobs as I could find each week. Made cold calls to companies that might have contract work for me.

Still, the economy and job market teamed up to fight me. No matter what I tried, I got . . . nothing.

But each time I got knocked down, I got up again and refined my efforts and intensified my focus.

Yes, I knew intellectually back in February 2009 it might take a long time to find a new job. But, emotionally, I didn’t think this could or would ever happen to me. Throughout high school and college and my work career, I had been the golden girl—the one who got chosen, promoted, praised. Whatever I wanted, somehow I made it happen.

Or, as my mother put it sometimes, “I’ve never seen anybody so good at pulling the rabbit out of the hat at just the right time.”

Truly, I am thankful that two years ago I did not know I’d still be doing the job hunt two years later. I’ve always been practical, but living through two long years like these turns you into a realist.

I did try to be proactive way back in February 2009 before things fell apart. I launched my search seven months before the job actually went away. My plan back then was a seamless, blissfully short transition to a new—better!—position. Why not? My life experience was that better things followed good things. I had no experience with nobody wanting me on any team for any position at any salary.

Yet, two years and hundreds of applications later, I sit in the same chair at the same desk in—thankfully!—the same house still scrolling through job listings for that still elusive full-time job that will pay the bills and offer some security.

Two years is a long time, but some things have changed for the better:

1. I’ve doo-wopped out of my “Nervous” phase. In early 2009, I worked 12+ hour days, freaked out with worry, unable to sleep, and terrified my boss would discover my job search and fire me on the spot. These day, although I haven’t morphed into some Pollyanna with no cares, I’ve made it emotionally intact through this on-the-dole journey so far and feel sure I’ll make it the rest of the way with my self confidence intact.

2. I’ve sock-hopped out of my “Teenager in Love” phase. Early on, I sent out applications and then constructed romantic scenarios in my head: Would I like this job? Were we a good match? Was there a future there? Could I forsake family and friends for a new life in Iowa or Alaska—or even the South Pole? (Yes, I actually applied for a job in Antarctica! I really did.) Today I still apply for jobs—any job, every job and in most states east of the Mississippi (and a few beyond), but I no longer daydream. I do a little research to see what the company does so that I can tailor my application to their needs. I hit the “send” button. No emotional investment. I can analyze possibilities if they call me.

the way... Pictures, Images and Photos
3. I’ve quick-stepped out of my “Wishin’ and Hopin’” phase. In the beginning, I often pinned my hopes and dreams on exciting job opportunities. I’d look at area real estate ads. I’d picture living in the new location. I’d speculate about co-workers. I’d clean out closets in anticipation of a move. I daydreamed about what it would be like not to have to spend every spare moment searching for a job. I fantasized about buying new clothes and going out to dinner. I even dared to dream of replacing that broken-down clothes dryer. But, disappointment is too great when you’re rejected after so much Springfield-esque “wishin’ and hopin’”. In December, after losing out on a job that I really, really, really wanted—like so many other “close calls,” they discarded external finalists and hired from within, saving salary and relocation expenses—I decided  opportunities have to be mentally closeted in the waiting process. The key to not letting a really long job search weigh you down emotionally is to not pin your hopes on any one opportunity.

4. I’ve strolled out of my “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” phase. I’ve learned to wait without fretting. Companies take three to 12 months to make decisions. That is today’s reality. Worry does not make it go faster. Waiting is still not my preference, but tying myself in knots while doing so is nonproductive. These day, I calmly send the application in and then network and follow-up. And, mentally, I move to the next posting the same day the application goes out.

5. I’m now doing the go-go right on into my new “These Boots Are Made for Walking” reality. I’m creating opportunities. I’ve started a business, and I have clients now—yes, real paying clients—not every week, but some weeks. (On those weeks I do work, I am not eligible for the dole check.) I’m still not ready to say too much here about my “real” business just yet, but it’s progressing.

Meanwhile, I’m reaping dollars from all that closet-cleaning effort by launching an eBay business—“Aunt Ariel’s Attic”—in addition to my regular business. I sell my own treasures as well as a few pieces from other people. Apparently this is a great way to make a few extra dollars. Who knew? Well, I didn’t! But this is fun!

Neither business venture is full-time and neither offers those much-needed health benefits right now—something I’m seriously concerned about because my COBRA insurance ends in April—but I’m optimistic. I can keep a roof over my head and food on the table in the meantime.

I never expected to be where I am today. I never could have imagined that after two years of job searching and 16 months of unemployment, I’d still see no end in sight to my on-the-dole journey. The future looks very different than I originally imagined it.

Yes, it’s true that while in job search mode, you can never really shake the “wishin’ and hopin’’” feeling entirely, but, while I’m sending out applications, I’m also keeping “these boots” walking by planning and progressing. And, one day, when I’m employed again—and I will be—my new employer will benefit by getting a far better employee and person than I was two years ago.

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Just for Fun: Enjoy Nancy Sinatra’s performance of “These Boots Are Made for Walking”. And, after you enjoy this fun retro video, click on the links above for a hidden musical surprise.

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Photo Credits:
1950s Magazine: http://media.photobucket.com/image/1950s/gbug1993/1950s_dress_debbie417x589b.jpg?o=504