Month: August 2012

The Unmasked Job Seeker

I originally had a list of ideas to choose from for my next blog post. After visiting TUJA’s blog, The Unknown Job Applicant, (which was recently featured as a Best Pressed choice by WordPress), I shelved that list for another time. At the risk of writing a “copycat” post, I decided instead to explain why I chose to make my job search public through this blog.

As mentioned in my very first post, there were many reasons why I started to blog about looking for work. The first was to showcase my skills and experiences. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if it is done professionally and truthfully. It’s no different than uploading my resume to torontojobshop.ca or monster.ca for consideration by hundreds of employers. So far, the blog has caught the attention of a few managers looking for new hires, which led to requests for my resume and interviews. It’s not as much attention that I get from my “David Needs A Job” ads on Kijiji and Craigslist, but it certainly has not hurt my job search in any way. More about that point at the end of this post.

By running a blog about my job search, I’m announcing my status as someone who is looking for employment. Again, not that different from, say, going to meetup.com or LinkedIn or telling your friends and family members in order to network. The only difference is the scope of people you can reach through a blog. I’ve received visits from as far away as India and the Philippines. I’m not planning on moving there to work, but I mention this just to show the range a blog can reach.

With these visits come words of sympathy, supportive comments, and suggestions on how to improve the way I look for work. These things mean a lot to me, more than people realize. It lifts my spirits when I am feeling low, keeps my job search strategy fresh and innovative, and introduces me to material to read about. We have a lot of intelligent bloggers here on WordPress. I’ve learned how to improve on my own blog by following other blogs like TUJA’s, though I admit there’s still room for improvement.

Blogging is a form of catharsis. I’m going to be frank with you: when you are unemployed, there’s really not a lot of people to talk to during this time. This can make someone feel somewhat isolated and can work against you. Once I get something off my chest in a blog, I find I can focus on my job search better and produce results that lead to more interviews and referrals.

All of the above of course depends on how much I choose to reveal about myself in this blog. Before writing the very first post on March 29th, 2012, I struggled with the question of balancing my job search blog to be all the things I mentioned before with the amount of my private life I wanted to reveal. I am not an introvert, but I’m not a person who constantly seeks attention nor wants to draw too much attention. My blog is visible to both people who know me and perfect strangers (like employers screening potential hires through social media).

I agree with TUJA when he said, quoted “if you’re looking for a job, it’s imperative that you take a look at what’s out there about you, and do what you can to clear out the things that might not be the most flattering towards you.”. For that reason alone, he is absolutely right to adopt an alias.

In the end, though, I decided to go unmasked in order to get past the unemployment figures reported on radio, TV and the newspapers. These are sterile numbers that statistics people love to use to measure trends, but does not tell the real story about the unemployed who are looking for jobs. You can’t really understand what it’s like until you walk a day or two in the job seeker’s shoes, and distilling parts of my life could have gotten in the way of that understanding.

What you are reading about me in the blog is not only the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it’s the uncensored truth. So, if you are left with something to ponder after you read about my frustrations with job assistance centres and interviews, the amount of time, effort, and creativity I employ looking for work, or my wonderings if I am ever going to land a job, then this blog and giving up a bit of my privacy was worth it.

And as always, thanks for reading!

David

I Beg To Differ

BegsList Logo And The Website Is Property And Copyright Of The Owner Of BegsListIt’s so hard to look at the text I’ve just typed on the screen without getting sick to my stomach or feeling ashamed of myself. No, it’s not this particular post. I’m actually quite proud of what I am writing here on WordPress. This is my 20th entry of a once-a-week posting schedule, and I’ll get an accolade for that. Getting accolades reminds me of one of those free-to-play MMOs or Facebook games where you get a badge or title for accumulating some category total.

This is the block of text I meant. I can’t believe I wrote that. I never thought I was ever going to write anything like that. Yet, there it was, staring back at me. I’ve done what was once considered unthinkable.

When I first started looking for work after New Year’s Day of 2010, I knew the economy was not producing jobs.  I knew my profession (information technology) was going through a transformation where off-shoring data centres was the current trend and the in-house model was going the way of the cassette tape and 8 track. Despite all this, I promised myself I was going to try my hardest to get a job, and keep a sense of decorum and pride while doing so. I wasn’t going to stand at the corner of Queen and Yonge Street, for example, begging people for a job. I’m a proud man. I’m not one to easily ask for help. Even doing the “networking” part of a job search is a bit tough for me.

Yet, even the firmest resolve can shatter, like a forged shield that has taken one hit too many after countless battles. Last week, I was filling out an application form for a position in the customer service department at a shipping company, 15 minutes before my interview time. One part of the application asked, “How many months have you been out of work?”. It took me a few minutes trying to decide how to answer that. Do I write down 32 months or try to sugar-coat it by writing it as a decimal number in years (2.6) to make it appear shorter? I answered with the latter, but the unease I felt lingered with me long after the interview was over.

When I got home, I figured it was time to Google some new ideas to incorporate into my job search. I’m always trying to find ways to expand and tune my job search so it doesn’t seem like i’m doing the same stale thing. I can’t remember what I typed in for the search argument but I came across an Ask.com post from someone requesting help in finding a job. He was admittedly in much worse shape than I was. He received a number of sympathetic responses and some suggestions on what to do. One of the suggestions was to cyber-beg on BegsList.

I’ve heard examples of people going online to cyber-beg for help, because they lost their jobs, or are about to lose their homes, or that their child was sick and they needed money for that special drug that was not covered by the standard drug plan. I’ve also heard of scams that people pull to elicit money, and this one was a beaut. I’m surprised people can be so trusting to send money to others on the Internet they don’t even know. but apparently it works in a small number of cases.

I was even more surprised I decided to try that option. I tried to justify it the way I did in a previous blog post about making compromises in order to find work. I tried rationalize it by saying, “well, aren’t you in a way begging for help to find a job with your videos and your Kijiji and Craigslist?”. Try as I could, I couldn’t convince myself. In my past job search efforts, I was just asking for assistance to find a job. This time, I was actually begging for assistance.

After posting that beg on Begslist, I went to two other similar places to post the same thing. It wasn’t as hard the second and third time around because I used copy and paste to repeat. Once you start doing something you thought you would never do, the following attempts come easier.

Starting tomorrow, things for the most part will remain the same. I will get up at 7:15 a.m. for another day of looking for work. I will hunt for advertised jobs on indeed.ca, Craigslist and Kijiji, Monster.ca, and other sites. I will go through the newspaper want ads for any openings. I will network with a few contacts about some job leads, and follow up with companies I’ve just done interviews for, including that shipping company I mentioned earlier. The one thing that will be different is the reason why I need to get a job. It’s not about finding full time employment and a steady income any more.

I also need to get a job so I can get back my personal pride I just sold out on by writing that block of text.

Thanks for reading!

David

Update: I uploaded a new video on YouTube called “The 1000th Day Initiative“. On September 29th, 2012, I will be out of work for 1000 days if I am not employed by then. That’s a record I do not want to meet.

Update: 9/3/2012: I’m sick of this Mobian cyst not healing itself so I went to the doctor last week. He said I needed expensive antibiotics and possibly micro-surgery to fix. As a result, since I have an account on BegsList set up, I uploaded the following video there. Not sure how successful I’m going to be with this but as TUJA from the blog The Unknown Job Applicant once said, there’s no shame in trying anything to get a job.

Scams? Online? Oh, Indeed There Is!

How times have changed.

When I first started my career in the information technology field, the Toronto Blue Jays have yet to win a World Series Championship, Netscape had the best browser for the Internet, and speaking of the Internet, it was not yet available at the consumer level. Who would have forseen, who would have thought, over 20 years later, the Internet would play such an important role in our lives?

Before the Internet, the only “citizens” residing in cyberspace were people like myself, computer enthusiasts pushing the limits of their dialup modems and computer hardware and software.  Now cyberspace is the Internet, and the Internet is one big “gimme machine”. Anything you want, you ask for, and you get. You want to know the current weather in Osaka Japan? Internet. You want to order a pizza, triple cheese with ground beef, pepperoni, mushrooms and garlic? Internet. You want to buy or sell something? Internet. You can even even use your cell phone to surf the web, or order movies to watch over the Internet.

Thanks to the Internet, the way we look for work has changed. Using want ads in the newspaper classifieds, the phone book, or pounding the pavement looking for “Help Wanted Signs” in storefronts? That’s still an option, but if you are not using the online resources on the Internet to find work, you are already at a disadvantage in your job search. In addition to Workopolis, Torontojobshop, and Monster, I’m also using private job banks run by book stories, grocery stores, hardware stores, and financial institutions. While the Internet plays a role in my hunt for that elusive prey known as employment, there is some risk when using the Internet to find a job.

The Internet is not just a “gimme machine”. It’s also a “gotcha machine”: child pornography, terrorism, fraud, and identity theft are just a few of the examples of online crime, and it’s the identity theft that makes me uneasy at times. I have my resume uploaded for review on many job banks by thousands of employers looking to fill a vacancy, and all that is required to view my resume is to purchase an account. I’m positive there’s not much screening involved by those hosts before giving that type of access out. That stinks, but if I want my resume to be viewed by potential employers and want to be able to apply to positions offered by employers, I just balance my worries with my desire to look for work and take the plunge.

This does not mean I’m reckless in the information I give out. I’m both fiscally cheap and a skeptic when it comes to offers that are too good to be true, so I ask questions to make sure there are no catches or traps, particularly where my Craigslist and Kijiji ads are concerned. Still, while I’ve never been ripped off or fallen for a scam, I have been surprised by how some scam ads appear so genuine at first.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: In the next section following, I am not implying Indeed and Ticketmaster are responsible for the scam you are about to read about.

One time I was using Indeed.ca to find a job, searching using the words “No Experience”, and came across this ad from Ticketmaster. Well, I thought it was from Ticketmaster but I’m jumping ahead of the story.

Maybe I should have looked more closely at the Email address, but the job description caught my eye. It was not full time work, but the description seemed like something I had the skill sets for and it would fund my job search in the meantime. I sent my resume to the Email address provided, and got an automated reply back. The content of the Email itself made me frown a bit: it was poorly written, and it described a Customer Manager position where clearly I applied for a Account Service Clerk position. As a precaution I detached the job description and the application form and ran a virus scan. After the scan revealed nothing malevolent, I opened the description and read it. Once I reached the following line, I knew right then and there I had a reason to frown:

You should transfer the payments into your account, withdraw this money from your account, keep 5% and 95% you should transfer to our Representative by Western Union or Money Gram.

Personal accounts and other assets being used in a business operation? In any large corporation, that’s a Sarbanes-Oxley violation. In any other type of business, that’s so incredibly wrong it smells. I did a google search regarding this job ad and came up with the following matches.

Unbelievable. The depths the filth behind this scam would stoop so low to do in order to take advantage of those needing desperately needing  help. Particularly the unemployed. Specifically myself.

I hope whoever is behind this scam is arrested and put into prison until the start of the next century.

Thanks for reading!

David

Are You Experienced? (With Apologies To Jimi)

Today is Simcoe Day in Ontario, and while others are no doubt enjoying the long weekend, for me it’s another day of job searching. While most businesses are closed this holiday Monday, a manager of a store that had a vacancy for a cashier position used his Blackberry to tell me my application was turned down. After over two years of job searching, you get used to the “sorry, you were not considered” responses….when they at least have the courtesy to respond, that is. This particular turndown, however, rubbed me the wrong way.

As with every application where I do not get the job, I ask the hiring manager in question the reason why I was not considered. Not in an accusing or snarky way, mind you. More like, “can you explain the reason why I was not considered so I may learn from this experience for future job applications?”. I was told, as quoted below, in the reply below:

“you — have no experience behind a regitser (sic) and I have no time to train”

It is true I haven’t recently worked behind a cash register, since I worked at a movie theatre in the 80s. The machine I worked with was similar to the image supplied in this post. The drawer would jam sometimes, and when it did pop out, it’s best to stand back a bit so you didn’t get a surprise whack. One time the key snapped in the lock when I turned it, so we had to phone for help to get the fragment out.

But enough with the walk down Memory Lane. The point I’m trying to make is that employers used to have the time to train people for entry-level positions like this. At that theatre I worked for, I had the manager standing next to me telling me what to do, such as how to count the change back to the customer after they paid for their popcorn and soda. Oh, and to always remember to say “Enjoy the show!” Even though I made mistakes, and the theatre was pretty busy at times, I learned how to use the cash register.

Because I applied in-person at the store that was advertising the cashier position, I know what the cash register (POS terminal) looks like. It’s basically a computer with it’s own operating system and a bar code reader. You don’t even enter the price of the product, you scan the reader over the product’s bar-code and it displays everything on screen. It even computes the change for you so you don’t have to work it out yourself.

Look, no offense to anyone reading this who has worked with these terminals — and please feel free to write to tear a strip out of me if I’m oversimplifying things —- but I was once responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hardware and software. If I can apply a kernel patch to a SAP instance, learn a new programming language (Winbatch) on my own time, and compile a new device description using PCL to get a Canon Imagerunner 5570 to print properly, I’m sure I can learn, in time and with patience, how to operate a POS. What rankled me was that I wasn’t even given a chance to try.

I’m not saying “to hell with experience” and let any Tom, Dick, Or Harry (or Tammy, Donna, Or Helen!) come in and take jobs without ensuring these people know what they are doing. Some high-level professions in science, engineering, and finance require knowledge and experience that would take far too long to learn on-the-job, and any beginner’s mistake could be disastrous. What I am saying is that not all job positions are like that, despite the overinflated opinion of some hiring managers that don’t understand the position they are trying to fill. Some job positions can be understood through employment mentorships or other forms of on-the-job training. I briefly touched on this in a previous post.

We must make it easier for job-seekers to get work experience for entry-level positions like this. Otherwise, young people and those trying to change careers will continue to face the Catch-22 that keeps them unemployed. How can anyone build work experience if managers won’t hire them because the applicant has no work experience?

I’d like to close by saying that being a good employee is not just knowing the job inside and out. It’s about being fearless. It’s about the willingness to try and to think outside the box. It’s about having a good work attitude. I remember one time, at one company I worked for, a young man who was brilliant with computer technology. He really knew his trade. The problem was he also loved to party late into the early hours and would often stagger in late for work looking like Keith Richards. The information technology manager went above and beyond his duties to try to set the employee straight, but in the end he had to let him go because he couldn’t straighten up and fly right. In the end, he didn’t lose his job because of experience. He lost his job for the other important things that were required for the position.

It’s these other important things that hiring managers sometimes forget to factor in when trying to find that experienced employee to fill a vacancy.

Thanks for reading!

David

UPDATE: 08/16/2012 – Eleanor Gordon, a secondary level languages teacher looking for a change in career, has written an excellent article  about her own frustration at hitting the experience wall, despite having so many amazing skills.

Silence Is Not Golden

If you’re a job-seeker like me (or remember the last time you had to find a job), the waiting game after the interview is a nail-biter. During the interview, you dressed sharp, smiled, sat up straight,  and did your best to sell yourself as the best candidate for the job (while pacing yourself carefully so you didn’t come across as an arrogant you-know-what). At the end of the interview, the interviewer asks if you have any questions. If you are drawing a blank, the correct response is, “When can I expect to hear from you again?”. The most common responses I get when I ask that question is either “Two to three days”, “sometime next week”, or “you are welcome to follow up on the status of your application”.

Time passes, and you haven’t heard anything from the person who interviewed you. You already sent that “thank you for the opportunity to meet with you” Email that shows you are still enthusiastic about getting the position, but there’s no reply at all. To keep that interest going, you follow up with another Email. Perhaps you decide to add a personal touch by phoning, only to be told by the receptionist that the person who interviewed you is not available.  Days pass, follow ups are done, but you never hear from that person again.

If I had a dollar for every time I didn’t get a response to post-interview follow-ups, I’d have enough money to pay for cable TV for a month…if I didn’t cancel it a year ago in order to save money. One example I had was at a office support agency that had openings for contract work. It wasn’t information technology, it was entry-level and required no experience. The agency was well-known, and not a fly-by-night operation. I filled out an application form and sent a resume along with it by to the agency by Email. Two days later, I received a call from a manager who wanted to see me for an interview. We had an excellent conversation that lasted a little over 45 minutes. I felt the manager and I got along well during the interview. At the end of the interview, I was asked if I could provide a void cheque (YES!) which is required for direct-deposit payments for contract work completed. Seeing I had my chequebook with me, I provided one while trying my best not to bounce up and down in excitement like a kid at Christmas. I felt things were looking up: I was finally going to get some kind of income flowing into my home to pay the bills. I wrote a short but sincere thank you Email for the interview to ensure the job was sealed.

Turns out I was overly optimistic. I never heard back from the manager who interviewed me, despite leaving 4 messages to contact me on the status of my application. I had to contact the head office of that agency to ensure my void cheque was destroyed. Big letdown.

In this age  of free Email, system automation, and reliable high-speed computer networks, I never understood why some companies can’t return a short response to a job-seeker’s followup. It only takes a minute to return a phone call. If there are a lot of applicants, it’s a cop-out to say “there are simply too many people to respond to”. There’s such a thing as form letters and mailing lists. At my last job, I configured our company’s SAP system to Email invoices to customers each business evening with very little human intervention required.  If doing something similar is that much of a chore for some businesses, I’ll be happy to hire my programming skills out to code something, at minimum wage.

I’m not going to use this post to rant and rage about employers who don’t call back, especially if they fail to inform me that the position is filled. I am, however, going to offer some friendly advice to those managers (referred to as “you” in the section following) who are currently hiring.

The first thing to remember is any employee who works for a company represents that company. It doesn’t matter if that person deals with customers directly or not. You work for the company, you are the company. Any act you do on-the-job that results in a negative response reflects on the company in a negative way. If you treat a job-seeker the same manner I was treated in the above example, that person is going to remember the company name even if the name of the interviewer is long forgotten. Now that we have social media spreading the word about companies and their products, the last thing you want is someone slagging your company name because so-and-so in the Human Resources Department did not return the job-seekers calls about the status of the position they applied for.

If there is a chance you are not going to be able to follow up with every job application for a position, say either at the end of the interview or write at the bottom of the job advertisement, “Only candidates in whom there is an interest will be contacted”. This tells the job-seeker that if they do not hear from the company, they didn’t get the job. This frees them to move on to the next job advertisement. Don’t say you will call the applicant on some date or time and then fail to do so.

Also, the interview is not just a chance for the job-seeker to sell him/herself. It’s also the chance for the interviewer, who represents the company (see above), to sell the company to the person being interviewed. If you fail to return the job-seeker’s calls for a status update, what does that say about you (as an employer or co-worker) if the job-seeker is hired? Is this the kind of thing the new hire is going to experience on the job?

For any person in charge of hiring for a position, if you are not returning the job-seeker’s inquiries because you are afraid to tell the person he or she didn’t get the job,  that’s unprofessional. We won’t take it personally if we learn we were not hired. Life goes on, and so will we.

Thanks for reading!

David