Month: May 2012

Even Clint Never Wrote A Program!

Having looked for work for a little over 2 years now, I am familiar with the year-round hiring cycles. This is the part of the year I hate: summertime.

I have nothing against summer as a season. It’s just that companies start to ramp down their hiring needs around this time of year. Everyone has the cottage, camping, and vacationing on their minds. It usually does not pick up again until around September. This is not a good thing: I can’t afford to hit a dead end in my job search because no one is hiring!

I’ve made it clear in my job search ads on Kijiji and Craigslist that I am not interested in being an entrepreneur. I want to work for someone (be it an individual or a corporation) and not be, to use the term “my own boss”. In the same breath, however, my job search has evolved over time to include methods I would never have considered. When I first started looking for work in January 2010, I stuck to the core approaches to look for IT-only jobs: newspapers, networking, and the job search engines like Monster.Ca and Workopolis. As time went on, my job approach was modified to include the aforementioned Craigslist and Kijiji, and now I am looking for practically any opening available. Now it’s time for my approach to change yet again. I’ve decided to try my hand as a “hired gun”.

Before the theme song of “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” starts playing in your head, let me explain that a hired gun is someone who loans out their services for a fee to anyone interested in getting something done. I previously hinted at doing such work in my Kijiji and Craigslist ads (search on “David Needs A Job” in the City Of Toronto section) when one of the things I was willing to do was come to someone’s neighbourhood to clean out a public area (like a park) that people are sick of seeing full of trash.

I was unsure what services I was going to do as a “hired gun”, as most of my work in my 20 year IT career involved working on assets that were fixed in their location, such as SAP instances and Iseries midrange systems. Even the programming languages used on those two systems are unique to them. It was not until I remembered doing Winbatch programming at my last job. Winbatch, for those of you not familar with the programming language, is a Windows-based language meant for automating tasks on a Windows PC (client or server) originally handled by users. It has a programming syntax and IDE very similar to that of Visual Basic.

After coming up with an hourly rate that I considered reasonable, I created an ad on Craigslist and Kijiji. You can find them both under “Looking To Automate Some Tasks?” if you do a search. There’s a lot of ads from other “hired guns” (I don’t remember the Old West ever being this crowded!) so I’m not sure it will be noticed, but then again, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I’ll keep you posted on how successful this segment of my job search goes as time permits.

Thanks for reading!

David

 

UPDATE June 24, 2012: So far, I haven’t been hired as a contract programmer but I have received a lot of replies. The problem, however, is that some people need to take the time to read the ad before replying. Consider the following response (I removed some parts of the ad to hide the actual names):

Hello,I am a divorced 35 Years old man and am searching for a Nanny to take care of my 18 Months old son{his name is (removed)}and you will earn $400 weekly.Write me a message if interested so i can give you details.

(removed)

If you check my ad out on kijiji it has a graphic of some programming code I wrote, and my background as a programmer is decribed in detail. I don’t point this out to mock people, but to stress that replies like this are not helpful to both myself and to the person making the reply.

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Not According To Plan

Interviews are not just about the date and time you have to be there by. There’s a lot of preparation involved before going to one. There’s research about the company, made easier thanks to the Internet: what the company is all about, when it was started, what products does it make, what charities it sponsors, and so forth. There’s the practice interview where you try to answer any question asked, either with a friend or family member or in front of the mirror. This includes the tricky questions like “What did you least like about your last position? What are your weaknesses? Why do you think you should be considered above everyone one else for the job? If you were a tree, what type of tree would you be? (I didn’t make up that last question, I actually was asked that during an interview! My answer was “A willow tree because I’m flexible!”)”. You wrap it up by making sure you know where the place is and how long it takes to get there, again thanks to the amazing power of the Internet. I used to rely on a pocket Perly mapbook to find places, but now Google Maps is my best friend.

If you prepare the way I did as shown above, 99% of the time the interview will go according to plan, and all that is left is to wait for the result. There are times, however, it will not go according to plan. In some cases, it will feel like it went as badly as that exploding Delta 2 rocket launch picture I embedded in this blog post. I’m going to share with you today the only two examples of my two year job search where an interview went wrong and, as a fellow jobseeker, how you should handle things after all is said and done.

As I said, out of the many, and I do mean MANY, interviews I’ve been on since I started looking for work in January 2010, two interviews went horribly wrong. Both share a common reason of why they went wrong: I never made it to either place, despite researching where the place was on Google Maps and how to get there with more than enough travel time required.

The first happened in February of 2011, where I had an interview at an IT consulting company in Toronto that catered to clients using SAP. Seeing I had SAP experience at my last position (as a BASIS Administrator and an ABAP/4 programmer), I previously applied for a job opening at that company. I was later contacted by a senior project manager who, though a little brusque, seemed like someone I could work for. He offered a place on his team for a six month contract position but he needed to interview me first to make sure I was “a fit”. I went through the standard preparation for the interview that I always do: the mock interview, the research about the company and what clients the company did SAP migrations and installations for, where it was in Toronto and what bus route I needed to get there. I also heard on the radio that a snowstorm was going to hit Toronto on that same day, so I added one hour to my travel time to make sure I was not going to be late. As a precaution, I took my cell phone with me in case I needed to call. When that snowstorm did hit, while it was not the worst snowstorm in Toronto’s history, it was enough to throw a monkeywrench in my bus commute. Despite my preparations, including factoring in the storm, traffic on the road was slowed to a crawl and I was going to be late. I called the project manager on the cell phone to let him know I was going to be late. To say he was upset in his response was an understatement. He railed over the phone that I “was playing games with his time” and that I was “not serious about the position or the project”. I tried to apologize and offered to come again the following day. He told me in these exact words, “don’t bother” and hung up. Maybe he had a rough time getting to work that morning because of the storm, or maybe the planning of the project was getting to him. It didn’t really matter. It took everything I had just to keep my composure as I got off at the next stop and turn around to go back home.

The second part happened this month (May 2012). Apparently a CEO saw my Kijiji ad and read my blog and my videos and offered an interview for a position at her video company. The hours were during the evening but I did not mind. I did a lot of night shift computer operations work in the early 1990s and my attitude was “if I had the skills to do the job, I’ll do it”. Again, I made the preparations as above and was ready to go. When I arrived at the intersection shown on Google Maps, with plenty of time to spare, I couldn’t find the darned place. Was Google Maps wrong? There was a lot of construction in that area, so was a sign being blocked? I spent half an hour looking for the place. I asked people nearby if they heard of the company and the address but even with their help I still could not find the place. I took out my cellphone to call the CEO to inform her of my situation, and as Murphy’s Law would have it, the cell phone battery died. I went back to the subway station and called from a payphone to tell her I was having trouble finding the office and that I was sorry. Since she had a meeting about some production work that evening, I told her I would be happy to come back on the following day for the interview. She replied that she was not going to be free until the following Tuesday, but we agreed to meet on that day at the same time for the interview. I felt I resolved that professionally but I also got the impression she was unhappy that I did not show up. This feeling was further underscored by the lack of response to an Email that I sent her confirming the date and time of the rescheduled interview. On that following Tuesday, I received an Email (not a phone call) two hours before my interview was to start that the position was filled, and that Email was sent by another person within the same company. I won’t lie to you when I say I was disappointed with how that was handled.

In both of these cases, these were situations where I had no control over the outcome. I prepared, I planned, I rehearsed. It just didn’t go as expected. While I was not happy with how things went, I didn’t beat myself up over it. As Alexander Graham Bell once said:

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us”

Wise words. I can’t change what happened in what is now the past, but there are still opportunities ahead for me to take. I can’t afford to have a pity party of what was, at the expense of what I could have. It’s time to move on.

Despite these setbacks I will keep trying to get a job, and for those of you who have found yourselves in the same situation as myself — for any reason– you should keep trying too. There is no shame in failure through trying, but there is shame in failing to try.

Thanks for reading!

David

Once Again, Being Unemployed Is Not A Crime

I’ve been following, with great interest, the news about changes to the Employment Insurance Plan here in Canada. I’m not currently on EI, so that was not the reason why I was following this story closely. What got my attention was the following statements Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made at the press conference:

“There is no bad job, the only bad job is not having a job. I drove a taxi, I refereed hockey. You do what you have to do to make a living.”

And:

“We are going to have significant labour shortages in this country. That means we are going to have to encourage more persons with disabilities to work, more seniors to work, more aboriginal people to work, including young people. We need to get rid of disincentives in the employment insurance system to people joining the work force.

-source: www.680news.com but the underlining added by me for a reason.

Mr. Flaherty, respectfully, what do you think that I and other unemployed Canadians have been doing? We are already doing just that. We are trying to get any type of work we can to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table. What you just said implies that I, and others who are unemployed, are lazy and do not want to work.

Let’s use for example how hard I’ve been looking for work over the last two years. In addition to applying for jobs in my chosen field of information technology (of which I have experience in for 20 years), I’ve also applied for the following jobs (this is a sample of an even larger “hit list”):

  • •Internet Café Cashier
  • •Accounts Payable Clerk
  • •Home Depot Floor Worker
  • •Insurance Broker
  • •Goodwill clothing store sorter
  • •Any type of work in Fairmont Hotels (cleaning, bellhop, etc)
  • •Dog dropping scooper in a park (I was told I was overqualified)

On top of that, I go through the want ads in the newspapers every morning at 7:15 a.m., the time my job search starts. I network with friends and former co-workers. I’m registered on various job search portals and the Canada Job Bank to apply for jobs. I went to Career Foundation for workshops on resume writing and interviewing. I use Indeed, CareerDoor, and even have an ad on Kijiji and Craigslist. I have a Youtube Video and a Google+ video, and I chronicle my job search efforts on my blog. While I am still out of work, It is no contest when I say I’ve taken extraordinary steps to find work. Yet, the impression I am being left with after listening to the Finance Minister is that somehow I, and many other unemployed yet extremely qualified individuals, are lazy because we are out of work and haven’t tried enough.

I wrote in my previous blog post “Being Unemployed Is Not A Crime” that the issue of unemployment is not easily explained with a simple single sentance. I’m not going to repeat the points here, but I will say it’s a complex problem that deserves more than just a soundbite to fix. I’d like to go over some of the points in Mr. Flaherty’s statements.

He first of all claims that everyone should take any job that comes to them. That on paper is a valid point and, in my case, I have branched out to apply for positions outside of information technology (see above). That’s my choice. However, I am concerned about the message he is sending to our young people and to others who passionately care about their career. When I was in my teens, I was told by those in positions of authority (including the Canadian Government) to consider post-secondary education to get a better job instead of settling for a high school diploma. I took their advice, worked in IT for 20 years, and got my shot. Now I’m hearing someone from the Canadian government say it’s somehow ….wrong?….to try to get into the career of their choice that they spent so much of their money to get trained for. Isn’t that their personal right to do so? To get their shot like I did?

Section VII of the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms states as follows:

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”.

What does this mean? It means freedom to act without restraint, within respect of the law. It also means the power to make personal choices that touch, “the core of what it means to be an autonomous human being blessed with dignity and independence in matters that can be characterized as fundamentally or inherently personal.”. If a person wishes to focus their job search on the field of their expertise, not only is that their choice, it’s their right under the law of the land to do so.

There is also Mr. Flaherty’s argument that there is a shortage of labour in some provinces like Alberta, and people should consider going there to look for work if work cannot be found close to home. Again, valid point, but again, more complex than he thinks. Relocation is a big step, and a decision not to be made lightly. It involves splitting up families and separating those from others who need special care or assistance.

The reason why I would not consider moving to Alberta is that I have no family or friends there to stay with while I get back on my feet. There is also the issue of qualifying for important provincial services. To qualify for AHCIP coverage, for example, one has to reside in Alberta for at least 183 days in a 12 month period. Think about that for a moment. If one decides to go to Alberta to take a new job, and during their first 182 days of residency requires medical care (accident for example), that person has no medical insurance. No insurance, and no one to fall back on in their new home: not exactly a position I’d want myself or anyone else to be in.

There’s also the question of what happens to those provinces that are considered “have-not” status if their population flocks away to where all the jobs go. That doesn’t exactly solve that province’s issues that makes it a “have-not” province, does it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to find a way to make that province prosperous and a generator of good jobs so people would not have to leave in the first place?

A person has the right to decide for themselves where they want to work. Take a look at the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section VI):

“(2) Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right

a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and

b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.”

I underlined point b) for a reason. There are many good reasons why a person would not want to make that decision to leave their city or even their province. Maybe the idea of breaking up a family could prove too disruptive. Perhaps it’s the care of a sick or elderly parent that is keeping that person where they are. Or, hey, maybe they just like where they are. There’s nothing wrong with deciding where you want to be, and to be told that you are not trying hard enough to get a job simply because you do not want to move is, quite frankly, harsh to the point of being uncaring. Your job is a part of a life, but your job should not dictate how you live your life. That choice is up to you.

As I said, the issue of unemployment is a very complex and difficult challenge our society must deal with. It certainly deserves more discussion and thought than the comments presented by our Finance Minister…a member of a government that we elected to solve the unemployment problem in the first place!

Thanks for reading!

David

The Path Once Not Taken

An example fo replies from my kijiji and craigslist advertisementAs I mentioned in my first blog post, I was returning home from a job fair interview held by Rogers when I realized I was hungry (actually, I was getting the tummy rumbles during the interview,  praying the two men doing the interviewing did not hear it). I decided to get a bite at Tim Horton’s just off the subway line at the Lawrence Square Shopping Centre. Since I still had my newspaper from the morning’s job hunt, I turned to the classifieds to make sure I didn’t miss a job posting. As I ate my impromptu lunch, I circled a couple of ads with my pen that I initially ignored.  At the time, they didn’t seem like something I wanted to go for, but I decided to check them out in tomorrow’s newspaper in case the ad appeared again. As I was doing this, I got the feeling I was being watched and looked around. To my right, there was a gentleman about my age, with a Leafs’ baseball cap and a cheerful look on his face. He said to me, “You out of work?”. Not to come across as rude by ignoring him, I nodded and smiled, tapping my newpaper with my pen. “Me too,” he said. We started talking, and I learned his name was Tony, and he hasn’t had full time work for five years, but managed to keep himself going by doing a lot of odd jobs here and there. I asked Tony where he got the jobs from, and he explained they came from Craigslist and Kijiji. Surprised, I replied, “Really? I thought those were buy-and-sell spots”. He grinned, shook his head and, with hands waving, said “You can get anything you want from those sites, even jobs if you know how to cut out the scams and garbage”

After getting some tips from Tony, I logged on first Craigslist and then Kijiji to get a feel of the two sites after I got home. I never used either service before, though I have heard of both, Craigslist in particular stood out in my mind because I heard a news story about some people who were murdered by others they met through the service. Both Craigslist and Kijiji have a fairly easy-to-navigate site path, though Kijiji’s color scheme is easier on my eyes. Replying to ads and creating your own ads are free of charge on both services. You do not need to create an account to use the service, though I ended up doing so for both because it makes things easier.

I tried looking for some computer-related jobs, but there is really not a lot of IT jobs in both services. Since I did make a change to my job-search parameters in the fall of 2011 to consider applying for non-IT work when offered,  I looked for job advertisements that required no experience. Bingo! A slew of jobs came up, and I went through each one. Note: if you are looking for work as a security officer, there are TONS of advertisements for security at concerts and malls. All you need is to get trained for a license.  Not my kind of work, since I’m only 5’8″.

Some of the ads I got a match were what you would expect from a service where, as Tony said, you can get anything you want. He wasn’t kidding…..

Get Paid For A Good Time (GTA)
 
Looking for escorts, no experience necessary. Trustworthy, honest, fun, friendly woman wanted. You choose your own schedule! Make big bucks today $$$ Must be 18 +   Email a little about yourself, pictures, experience (if any), ect.
 

No chance of me getting that job!

The important thing to remember about these advertisements is they use a lot of visualization words but say very little about what the job is about:

Fantastic Opportunity!
 
A new marketing division has a ground floor opportunity! We are seeking outgoing individuals who enjoy a challenge, are willing to learn, and wish to grow. We offer free training, and outstanding growth capabilities. We are currently developing our marketing managers with inside promotions. No experience necessary.
 

Sounds like a dream job, right? It probably is, but after following up through the contact link for other job ads I came across, it’s not quite what it seems (quelle suprise!).  I’m not saying they are scams, but a good chunk of these ads that are worded this way are either investment portfolios or running your own franchaise or brokerage. That’s not what I was looking for: I wanted a job that followed the traditional model of going to the office, putting in a good day’s worth of hard work, and then coming home. Over time, I learned to create a list of questions that I would ask that got to the heart of what the job was about when replying to these ads:

Hello. In response to the ad below:
(blanked)
I would like more information about the position you are offering in your company, so here are a few questions I have: 
  • Is it an office or warehouse job, and not a business I run from my home?
  • Does it involve any investment of money?
  • Do I need a car for the position?
  • Is the job within the boundaries of the City of Toronto?
Please reply when you have a moment.
 
Thanks and have a good day.
 
David

 

This put the author of the ad on notice that I was interested in the job, but at the same time made clear of what I wanted. After I learned what the job was about from the  author of the ad , it was left up to me to decide if I wanted an interview. To be honest, there were a few job positions that did pique my interest enough to go for an interview. Some of the places, to my surprise, were very large corporations. While I did not get any of the jobs offered, I would not consider applying to them a waste of time either. The number of interviews I was getting now, when compared to the time before my meeting with Tony, increased significantly.

I was happy with the increase in interviews, but felt I could get more if I put up my own “Looking For Work” ad. I put up an ad on both Craigslist and Kijiji. If you are interested, you can find them under a search for “David Needs A Job” on both Kijiji and Craigslist. I won’t link them here because I do repost them every three weeks to keep them on top of the match list, which breaks the URL link. The advertisement explains my situation but also makes clear, as mentioned above, about what I wanted for a job. I liked the Kijiji ad more because you could include a picture along with the ad for free.

Some of the replies I was receiving gave me the impression some people cannot, or do not, read. I would get an offer for a job that was the complete opposite of what I wanted. At first I thought it was simply a spiderbot replying en-mass to all the ads but after reminding one person who didn’t bother to read the whole advertisement about what type of job I wanted, I got a response from an actual person. Some of these responses can be quite snarky if they get their noses out of joint after you politely turn that offer down.

Kijiji and Craigslist isn’t the silver bullet that got me the job yet, but it’s one of many options for jobseekers to try, and I will still use it as part of my job search portfolio. If you haven’t considered using either service as part of your own job search, there’s no harm in looking into it for yourself. Who knows, you may get lucky.

Thanks for reading

David