Month: September 2012

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One way to handle a job application rejection (CAUTION: Coarse Language)

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Know Not, Have Not

Puzzled Icon released under GNU License by Christophe Dioux, obtained through Wikimediacommons

In my country, Ontario is now classified as a “have-not” province. What this means is that Ontario is not generating enough revenue to cover the cost of provincial government services. To compensate for this, we have an equalization payments system  (handled by the federal government)  that helps out those provinces considered “have-not”.This wasn’t always such the case for my home province. At one time, Ontario was Canada’s economic engine. Toronto once had enough financial clout to be seriously considered a “province” of it’s own. Ontario used to have a vibrant automotive industry in Windsor. That was then. Between a domestic shift of economic power to the West, and the continued outsourcing of jobs overseas to Europe and Asia, Ontario is not the darling of Confederation it once was.

A good chunk of the blame can be laid on the last three governments of Ontario. What has gone horribly wrong is an issue of leadership. More specifically, government no longer wants to take ownership of a problem and tackle it head on, such as unemployment. This trend began with the NDP in the early 1990s, the Progressive Conservative Party that followed, and now the Liberal Party, who are currently in power but as a minority government.  Let me share with you a personal example of what I mean.

TUJA of the “The Unknown Job Applicant” suggested in a comment to one of my posts that I contact my immediate representative in government about my dissatisfaction with the employment agencies. I thought it was a great idea, so away I went to prepare to do just that.

Kathleen Wynne is the MPP for the riding I live in. I’ve talked with her a few times in person and even participated in a couple of her “Earth Day” cleanups. She’s pro-transit and pro-clean energy. She’s a very approachable and likeable person, and is the first openly-gay cabinet minister in Ontario’s history — (Seinfeldin’) not that there is anything wrong with that! Nor is it relevant.

I’ve seen her ads on the elevator wall which says to contact her if anyone had questions or problems with government services, so I jotted down her Email address and wrote her a somewhat lengthy but well-paragraphed Email outlining my unemployment situation, outlining all the things I’ve tried (and mentioned in this blog). This included my three unsuccessful associations with employment agencies. I bolded this for a reason, which will become apparent later at the end of this post.

I won’t post the full Email here — as I said here, it is somewhat lengthy — but the closing paragraph of my Email stated the following:

I get the impression I’m missing something, but I can’t seem to find it. Perhaps there is a government service that works for mature workers like me, or maybe I need a suggestion that will get me to think out of the box. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to let me know.



In simple plain English, suggest something I haven’t done on the list in my Email. Don’t ask me to network with friends, co-workers and family members. Don’t suggest I use Workopolis, Torontojobshop, or Monster. Don’t tell me to peruse the newpaper classifieds. Don’t (especially) recommend I sign up with an employment agency. I’m doing all that already.

Give. Me. Something. Fresh.

Within two hours I got a reply back, which for government is surprisingly fast. My spirits were buoyed and my hopes were raised. What a shame that feeling did not last long.

I didn’t get a response back from Ms. Wynne, but instead from the Constituency Assistant of the Office of Kathleen Wynne, and here was her reply:

Hi David, 
 
Thank you for the e-mail. I am sorry to hear you are having a difficult time obtaining employment. I would recommend you contact a very good employment agency in Don Valley West: —– and ask for an appointment with an employment counsellor.  

Thanks,

Oh, for f—udge’s sake! I wrote in my Email I’ve been to three employment agencies, and now I’m getting a suggestion to contact a fourth one? Was my Email even read? Come on!

This is precisely what I meant earlier. This is not a government that solves problems, or even listens to the concerns of constituents like myself. This is a simple “pass-the-buck” right back to where I started.

Jethro Tull. No wonder Ontario is a have-not province.

Thanks for reading

David

P.S. I did make an appointment with this employment agency for next week. I don’t have a lot of optimism this fourth one will be any different than the last three, but I am going to give it a try. I’m willing to give anything a shot to get back to work.

Masquerading As A Job Application

Having your résumé stored electronically on job search sites like Monster, Workopolis, and Torontojobshop is a real time saver when applying online for advertised job positions. All you need to do is enter the user ID and password you use on any of those sites during the Submit Application part and your résumé is sent. Indeed has a lot of job openings spidered from those three I’ve mentioned, so it looks like from my end I’m dealing with one big job search engine and not three smaller ones.

Before I actually enter the real user ID and password, though, I try a fake one first. Why? Well, I did mention in another blog post there are indeed job scams on the Internet, even through reputable commercial and government services that host these ads. To date, I caught one scammer where my fake user ID and password actually went through like a real one. For that unlucky scammer, I sent the screenshots and URL to the service hosting the ad.

Monster, Workopolis, and Torontojobshop are not the only source for online job postings. For example, some positions are advertised on a corporation web site using a separate web page, usually spartan in design. It describes what the job position is about with either an upload option for your résumé or just an Email address you can click to compose an Email containing the résumé. It’s barebones but it works.

Some companies have gone the way of creating their own little Workopolis’ or Monsters by running a separate employment database. They work the same way as the other services. You create a profile and upload your résumé and cover letter for the hiring managers within that company to review. Job seekers can use their online profile to apply for open positions within the company.

I call them “island job banks” and I hate applying for jobs through them for a few reasons. First of all, some of the software used on these services is coded in-house and not as user friendly (or reliable) as the bigger job search sites. I remember on more than one occasion using the résumé upload feature to import my work and education history into my profile, only to wonder in frustration after seeing the mangled mess why I just didn’t manually enter the data in the first place.

There’s also the question of convenience. When I look for work online, I want to spend as less time as possible finding open job positions so I can spend more time applying for them. Creating yet another online profile and uploading my résumé is a time waster, especially since I’m not going to return again to check for any open positions. I have a tab formatted text file containing a list of nearly 50 of these island job banks where I created a profile just to apply for a job. My job search day is between six and eight hours long. Do you seriously think I have time to return to each of these sites on a regular basis?

My final comment — more of a concern — is what the data, stored on a corporation’s private network, is going to be used for. Consider the following terms of conditions statement from one of the companies where I just created a profile on their job bank:

I hereby authorize [omitted] to communicate with appropriate third persons in order to ensure the accuracy of any and all information I have provided during the application process. I hereby release from liability any person giving or receiving such information.

That basically says a third party that associates with the company offering the open position that I’m applying for can use my information as they see fit, whether it applies to my job application or not. There’s a lot of marketing and sales data in my résumé and online profile that can be useful to mass marketing companies: my education, my past work experience, where I live and my telephone number, my hobbies and interests, and so on.

It makes me wonder if I’ve applied for a job, or unknowingly filled out a sales and marketing survey….

Thanks for reading!

David

False Purpose

Where is the assistance in these so-called job assistance centres?

I was told by my contact at One Voice Canada that my résumé needed revisions to be more marketable, to pass that “10 second attention grabbing test” when HR looks at it. Despite the fact that The Career Foundation and The St. Stephens House previously redid my résumé because it was wrong before, it’s still wrong in the eyes of my contact, so it needs to be revised.  Again.

<facepalm>Holy Macaroni.</ facepalm>

I play along with it, because that is what you do when you are a job seeker. It’s like playing Snakes And Ladders, except it’s a game you were never asked to play and definitely want to get out of. I grind my teeth but still politely thanked my contact for his suggestions. I then made my way home in the pounding rain,  my umbrella at risk of being turned into Swiss cheese.

Once I dried myself off, I turn on my computer and looked over my base résumé. That’s the one I never send, because it’s the template I use for the variants tailored for each type of job opening I apply for. I spend six hours distilling my work history of 20 years into marketable action words as instructed, while at the same time trying not to come across like I’m Green Lantern protecting the galaxy from the evil clutches of the villainous Sinestro. I think it’s a big waste of my time because I’ve already done this before with the past two job placement centres I mentioned, but I go ahead with this because I want One Voice Canada to help me. They won’t continue to help me if I don’t at least follow their advice, I reasoned.

Toward the end of this tiresome process, there was a question I had about some marketing words coming across as too fawning, so I sent my contact at One Voice Canada an Email on September 4th for some advice. I didn’t hear back from him. Because I promised him the résumé would be ready by Friday, I worked it out as best I could. After all, keeping a promise shows your job assistance centre contact you are serious about finding a job, so he will keep helping you. Right?

On Friday, September 7th, resumeV3.0.docx is done and I send it off to my One Voice Canada contact in the following Email:

Good morning,  (omitted)
 
I didn’t hear back from you so I went ahead with what I mentioned two days ago and changed the resume in the following ways:
 
a) I added a banner as the first working line of my resume
b) I changed the work history wording so each skill results in a positive return or outcome. In other words, “I did this, and the following good thing happened as a result”
 
Let me know what you think and we can take it from there. I’m willing to meet with you any time for additional job search counseling and hopefully some leads on a “survival job” to keep the bills paid.
 
Kind Regards
David

 

With that distasteful task done, I go back to my job search, sending off the Version 2.0 variants of my résumé to many job openings, in case my contact wants further revisions to Version 3.0.

When he gets back to me. I mean, I did ask him to reply back….right?

A week of looking for work goes by, and I haven’t heard from him. It’s starting to look like Career Foundation and St. Stephen’s house all over again with the rudeness of not replying to my Emails and my phone messages.

I send a second Email. I’m a bit ticked off, but I try to keep my tone friendly and non-confrontational:

Good morning (omitted)
 
I’m following up on your opinion of my revised resume, as you instructed me to change per our last meeting. If you can send me some feedback, that would be greatly appreciated
 
Kind Regards
David

 

It’s Monday September 17th, and I still haven’t heard from him. No out of office memo, and I can’t find anyone over the phone at One Voice Canada who knows where he is.

So much for getting that much needed help I was afraid I was going to lose in the first place.

After I calmed down enough, I took an opportunity to look at the background of the people of the three job assistance centres who used to represent me, including the one at One Voice Canada. One person ran their own private businesses or SOHO. A few others were executives at large businesses that catered to the Asian Market. Not one of them had any past professional experience with job placement and career counselling.

This is precisely why I now have a negative view towards these job assistance centres. These centres claim they want to help you. These centres claim they have all the personnel with the answers.  I believed in these agencies at the beginning of my job search. I even said in a video and in my very first blog post that I thought they were a good thing because that’s what I used to believe. Now I know better:  they are nothing more than a publically funded equivalent of the false purpose grammar error: something that inaccurately applies intent to an action. I’ve had better luck getting interviews with this blog and my Kijiji and Craigslist ads.

I ended my association with One Voice Canada with the following communication to my contact.

Dear (omitted).
 
I was hoping to get assistance from you regarding my résumé, which I spent not only a great deal of time revising (even though two previous job assistance centres have revised for me), but have tried to get a hold of you without success for the past two weeks.
 
I must say I’m disappointed. I showed a great deal of initiative and willingness to work with you and follow your advice so I can get help from One voice Canada to get myself back to work. Once again, just like Career Foundation and St. Steven’s house, I’m getting the same treatment: lack of assistance and lack of responses to my communications.
 
Please close my file.
David

 

That was not an act of pettiness. I simply got rid of something in my job search strategy that was not working.

Thanks for reading!

David

Accept For What I’ve Become

This is my third attempt to write about this particular subject since I started the blog. Each time I’ve tried, I ended up too angry to finish it. It’s still a sore point so please forgive me if I appear to stumble a bit in this post.

As a friend from London, England once told me, “you find out who your mates are when things go to hell fast”.  He’s right. It’s a life lesson everyone has experienced, a painful one to learn yet must be learned. In my case, it was my unemployment that served as the litmus test that weeded out those fake friends I thought I could count on.

I’m not going to name names, or even try to be vague by stating “let’s call him or her whatever”. I’m not even going to bring up real-life examples. That will make me appear petty and vindictive. What I will say is that I found people I know have responded to my unemployment in one of three ways.

The first category consists of friends who will behave as friends should. They will ask how you are doing nearly every day. They will keep their eyes open for any openings at their place of employment or provide job search tips, even if you do not ask. If you don’t have the money to go out to a movie or some drinks, they will turn it around by saying “Well, I really could use some company. I don’t want to go to a movie or a bar alone because it’s no fun so I’ll cover for you” just so it sounds like you are helping them out instead of the other way around. Some of them will say nothing but just listen to let you get things off your chest, without making it seem like it’s a chore for them to be there.

The next category is made up of those who can’t seem to deal with the fact you are unemployed. They are afraid you might start asking for help, or maybe your “unemployment disease” is contagious and they will lose their jobs tomorrow if they hang around you too long. They suddenly become too busy to return your phone calls or your Emails. They get testy or uncomfortable if you say something like “if you know of any openings out there, let me know and I’ll fill out a job application”. If you try to talk about your job search, they will change the subject to something more cheerful. They now feel they have to watch what they say, particularly about their own place of work, so it makes them feel like they are walking on eggshells around you. Maybe they think hanging around with an unemployed person is like hanging around with someone of a lower social status so it tarnishes their image. These people tend to be the ones you once went to their defense when they were in trouble, even if it meant putting yourself at some risk or inconvenience.

The final category I didn’t think existed until after I became unemployed. This is composed of people who are friends of a friend, or someone you nod a greeting at because your eyes have met on past occasions. It could be a storekeeper or someone who works at the department store or coffee shop you frequent. It might consist of people you might have had an unpleasant first contact with so you would not have considered them friends, or drawn an incorrect conclusion about their character through their reputation. These people surprise you when they offer assistance or an ear if you want to talk, so you experience a “wait, what?”moment before responding. They probably have travelled down the same unemployment road that you are now on, so they can empathise. Maybe they just feel that “any friend of so-and-so is a friend of mine” and want to help.

To quote Shakespeare, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” Because we tend to wear a social mask when dealing with people, that acceptance does not become apparent (sometimes brutally) until the chips are down. On the bright side at least, it gives you an excuse to go through the address book or contact list online for a little spring cleaning when the dust finally settles.

Thanks for reading!

David

Career Transit-ion

The closest thing I own that resembles a set of wheels to get from here to there. This is a Toronto Transit Commission keyring that holds tokens for bus fare. One is loadedI’ve been on countless interviews since January 2010, and I’ve heard nearly every reason why I was not chosen for the job position I applied for. Before my previous computer went belly up, I even had a running count that grouped the reasons into categories.

At the lowest end of the count — zero, and therefore not on the list  — was because I left the interviewer with a sense of unease. How do I know this? I asked! I always follow up with the interviewer to understand why I was not considered. It helps to know so I can improve my job search strategy.

At the top end of the count, which sadly I cannot remember the exact total, was that “little extra” the other applicant had that I did not. For example, I applied at a pharmaceutical company that used SAP, but did not get the job because I did not work in the pharmaceutical business. At another job offer, I remember I was up against someone who was a former accountant before she changed careers to information technology. Such considerations are up to the company offering the position.  I have no say in that.

In-between these two points on the scale are the other understandable reasons: employment equity quotas, changes in the job requirements after the application was sent, changes in management within the hiring company, the hiring company closing, the hiring company moving to another city, the hiring company downsizing, and so forth.

Then we get the silly reasons. I’ve been told I wasn’t considered for a dog dropping scoop job because I was overqualified (I’m still scratching my head over how being a system administrator of a SAP system would prevent me from picking up poop). I’ve been told I was under qualified for something that would not require a lot of skill or time to learn, like the cash register position I wrote about in a previous post.

The one that stands out as the most bizarre though, for three positions I applied for, was that I did not have a driver’s license.

I’m not talking about applying for a job that required me to have a driver’s license as a qualification, such as sales, transportation, or warehouse work. What I am talking about is the interviewer’s opinion, because I use public transit, I would not be able to get to work on time in case of extreme weather (such as a thunderstorm or snowstorm).

For each of these three positions I applied for, it is true it would take close to an hour to get to work by public transit (known as the TTC in Toronto). Having said that, I still disagree with the belief that using public transit is a barrier to employment for the following reasons:

  • In Toronto, we have an excellent subway line with a simple design that runs both east and west and north and south in equal parts — and underground. At the risk of sounding sarcastic, it’s pretty hard for snow and rain to get underground.
  • Any such weather pattern that disrupts transit would also disrupt commuting by car. Ever drive on the highway in a snowstorm or thunderstorm? You get the idea.
  • Not everyone can afford the cost of owning a car. For the low-income worker, public transit is the only choice.
  • Anyone can leave 30 minutes or even an hour earlier to compensate for any transit issues as a result of the weather.
  • Most understanding employers would accept lateness if the employee called ahead explaining the reason.

In the early 2000s, the last company I worked for moved to Vaughan Township. That’s the area around and north of Toronto. Because of the relocation, I commuted every day to work two hours up and two hours back — yes, a round trip of 4 hours — for nine of my 17 years at that company. It wasn’t easy, but having a newspaper, a Scottish/Irish heritage that granted me superhuman persistence and stubbornness, and an empty bladder made it doable. Here is my previous transit ride, for those of you who are curious.

The one thing that perhaps irks me the most about this being the reason why I did not get the job is that it makes a personal lifestyle choice a job requirement. It’s my choice not to drive and that, along with the other things I believe in, is really not relevant for the position. I’ve argued in the past that your work should not dictate the personal life you want, and conversely, your personal life should not get in the way of your job.

With the growing importance to promote a clean and healthy environment for our children, and the need to be more fiscally responsible these days, I would have thought using public transit would be a positive selling point about my character. Guess I was wrong. I’m still not going to invest the time and money to learn to drive, buy a car, and obtain insurance, even if the company offered to pay for all of that. There’s only so far I’m willing to go to get something before the requirements become unreasonable.

Thanks for reading!

David

P.S. This is not a swing at anyone who chooses to drive a car. I understand that using public transit would not work in some cases. Some cities or towns may not have a robust public transit system like Toronto has. Some of you may be parents and picking your children up from school using transit would be impractical. Some of you may have jobs that require the need of a car.

I *Don’t* Have A Best Before Date!!!

While looking for ways to maximize my job search, I stumbled across this blog post from the Express Employment Professionals web site. It discusses age discrimination faced by mature people looking for work and how to combat it. The suggestions set my teeth on edge after reading them:

“avoid listing dates such as high school or college graduation, as these can reveal your age”

“make sure that not only your résumé reflects your knowledge of current work trends, but your attire reflects current styles as well”

Telling a mature worker to do this to address age discrimination is like telling a member of a visible minority not to wear a hijab or a turban —  or suggest changing one’s name to something less ethnic — in order to fight race discrimination. It does not deal with the discrimination in question, and it makes it seem like age is something to be ashamed of. I’m going to return to that point later.

This advice, along with most advice given by some of these job assistance centers (which I have over 2 years of experience dealing with) is useless. Employers who perform a background check of the candidate’s information (such as employment history, education credentials, and criminal record) will have access to the dates as well. And they will likely not need much effort to work out the math of how many years (decades?) since those things happened.  As a result, hiding it is not only pointless it also implies a bit of subterfuge, like the employee needs to hide things to get a job.

I’ve never been one to hide things. I’m open. That’s the way I did things for over 20 years as an information technology professional. That’s why I lasted that long as an information technology professional. Honesty. That’s an admirable job qualification last time I checked, but it seems to be overlooked by things more frivolous like age.

I am 48 years old. I am not ashamed to be 48 years old. In fact, it should not matter that I am 48 years old in order to get a job. The fact I lived this long must imply

a) I’m healthy

b) I made good life choices (ever seen a granny gangster? Didn’t think so)

c) I was, until recently, employed for most of those 48 years.

And, while still continuing with this open disclosure, to any potential employer who is reviewing my resume right now who has a problem with my age, please delete my application. I do not want to work for any company that judges me for how I look, what my skin color is, my gender, how fashionably dressed I am, and certainly not how old I am. I want to be judged, fairly, by my ability to do the job based on the hard and soft skills on my resume. That should be the only deciding factor.

I think the problem some employers have about age is that once you reach a certain age, you are past your “best before” date, like the tag on a loaf of bread. You can’t cut it like the young people can. You are inflexible to change, obsolete, out of shape, yesterday’s news.

What foolish talk. I’m in better shape now at 48 then when I was 38 or even 28.  When the elevators in my apartment went out for two weeks, I was one of the few people able to climb over 10 flights of stairs during that time without losing a lung, while people half my age were lamenting on how to get to the 5th floor every day. I can walk for hours. I’m not an athlete, but contrary to the view some employers might have about people in my age group, I’m not hobbling around with a walker either.

I’m still as mentally sharp as when I was in college. As chronicled in previous blog posts, I was able to teach myself how to write programs in Winbatch and design a SAP device description for a printer. I also went to George Brown College and learned Visual Basic at again, 48 years of age. I still got it.

I’ve experienced a lot of things: viewpoints, ways of doing things, the ability to see the other person’s perspective. That makes me a valuable team player, not someone who is obsolete and inflexible.

Old? Past my “best before” date? My best years behind me?

Hah! I am just getting started…..

Thanks for reading!

David