At the time, I imagined that finding a new job would be pretty painless. I felt this way because I’ve been rather fortunate when it comes to gainful employment: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, I have over seven years of experience in the IT industry, and I have a knack for resolving computer problems without making anyone feel embarrassed or stupid. Furthermore, every organization I’ve worked for recognized me as an exceptional employee, and therefore commemorated my contributions with an impressive letter of recommendation.
In other words, I felt like I was hot shit: I believed that potential employers would be just dying to hire me. Lucky to hire me. Fighting over one another to hire me. I was therefore surprised when six months passed without hearing back from a single job inquiry.
It seemed unbelievable. I applied to over 100 jobs, none of which resulted in more than a preliminary phone screening. I knew that I was qualified for the jobs I was applying for, but something about me was turning employers off. I convinced myself that it was because I lived 600 miles away.
That explanation made sense to me. After all, if I was an employer in Michigan who was choosing candidates to be interviewed in person, I would probably eliminate the applicant from New Jersey first. An in-person interview from an out-of-state applicant would require special accommodations — so unless they possessed extraordinary skills and experience, there was no reason to consider the out-of-state applicant over the qualified local candidates.
I felt like I had found the answer: Employers weren’t taking my application seriously because I wasn’t already living in Michigan. I’d been trying this “Get a job first, and then move” approach for six months without success. It became clear that I might wait forever before receiving a job offer while still living in Jersey — so I changed strategies. My new plan of action was to “Move to Michigan first, and then get a job.”
Everyone I knew thought I was nuts. When they heard I planned on moving out of state, they assumed it was because I was offered a better job. They couldn’t understand why else I’d be moving, and so the questions began:
“What did you, get a job in the auto industry?” — “Where will you be working then?” — “You don’t have a job waiting for you there?” — “Why are you moving then?”
I explained that’s where my girlfriend lived. I said that she would finish college soon, and that we wanted to put an end to this long-distance thing. I thought they would understand, but my “explanation” just caused them to ask more questions:
“Don’t you know that Michigan has the highest rate of unemployment?” — “Don’t you know that the job market out there is awful thanks to the struggling auto industry?” — “Do you really think it’s smart to quit your job in Jersey for some girl in Michigan?”
The thing is, Cassie may have been the primary reason I wanted to move — but she wasn’t the only reason.
First of all, I wasn’t in love with my career. I thought that moving away would give me a great opportunity to reinvent myself, and so I looked forward to starting with a clean slate in a new state.
Secondly, I had been tossing around an idea in my mind for a while involving an unusual way to earn a living online. Since I had experience in the computer industry, I possessed the knowledge of how to create and maintain my own website. I imagined that I could create a blog similar to the one I kept while I was in college, and that a popular blog could turn a profit using advertisements. If it actually worked, then I might not even need a job.
Finally, I felt like it was now or never. I was at a point in my life when nothing was binding me in place. I wasn’t paying a mortgage. I wasn’t married. I didn’t have children. I hadn’t invested 10-20 years into one career path. If I was going to do something risky, illogical, or downright stupid, then I’d better get to it before I lost my chance. I was afraid that saying “maybe next year” for too long might transform me into a middle-aged, do-nothing-outside-of-my-routine office worker that always complained about how I’m “too old” for change and that “I don’t have a choice anymore.”
So I did it. I resigned from my job, sold nearly everything I owned, packed up what was left, and moved away — all in the name of love.
It’s been an exciting adventure. I embraced my love for writing and set up my new website, LifeReboot.com. I wrote about being tired of the computer industry and my desire to reinvent myself as a writer. As my blog gained its audience, I learned that I’m not alone in my unending search for a career that’s both personally rewarding and financially stable.
For a while, I believed that I discovered my own personal paradise. I was doing what I love to do, and the money-making systems I had set up on my blog were earning a respectable amount of money. I was living my dream by writing to live, and I was proud of what I was doing.
Unfortunately, the fact that I am proud of my writing doesn’t negate the fact that it simply doesn’t earn enough to live off of. For one year, I tried to see where LifeReboot could take me. I wrote several popular articles that were featured on Digg, and whenever this happened, my site managed to earn a few hundred dollars in a single day.
It was something, but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t writing popular articles frequently enough to pay the bills. Consequently, I spent more money than I earned for an entire year and depleted my savings.
I don’t regret it. It was a choice that I made by my own free will: I was investing in my dreams. Although it hasn’t turned out as well as I had hoped, it’s a fair start.
Whenever I reach these points in my life — times when I see how something needs to change in order to move forward — I like to ask myself “What’s the next step?” It helps me ignore the overwhelming aspects of the future and lets me focus on the now.
Right now, I need to find a job. Unfortunately, right now is a rather bad time to be looking for one. The state of the economy is such that more employers are letting people go than bringing people in. As a result, I’m having a hard time finding anything despite my somewhat impressive skills set.
It’s interesting because when I began this adventure, I imagined that the option to “Get a dayjob” would always be there. I would have never predicted that returning to the “wake work sleep repeat” lifestyle would prove to be this difficult. In other words, I never thought that what I was doing was risky. What I did think, was that my worst-case scenario was that I might need to get a job again someday.
Now that day has come, and I’m finding myself in a cruel “Career Limbo.” I can’t seem to just pick up where I left off, because no one in this economically depressed region will offer my previous salary as a starting salary. When I try to apply to positions that are one step above my last position, I’m told that I lack experience. When I try to apply to positions that are one step below my last position, I’m told that I’m overqualified. When I try to apply to entry-level positions in an industry unrelated to my major, I’m asked why I’m interested in working [part time, for minimum wage, in an unfamiliar field, etc.]
I’m reminded of the summer of 2002, the first summer after the attacks on 9/11. I had difficulty finding a job that summer because people were reluctant to spend money. Consequently, the places I was applying to were reluctant to hire anyone. One restaurant owner even said “Sorry, I don’t hire smart people” after he found out I was halfway through college. My knee-jerk reaction was “Well why not?” He explained that it was a waste of his time to train new workers if they would only move on to something better after the economy stabilized.
I was reacquainted with this attitude this year, while dealing with the hiring manager of a Fortune 500 company. After interviewing for a particular position, I was informed that they decided to hire a different candidate. In an attempt to learn from the experience, I sent the hiring manager a message asking for pointers. Some highlights from my message:
“Is there something I could have done differently in order to make a more favorable impression? Was there anything I said that significantly reduced my chances of getting hired?”
Her reply: “You mentioned that you were trying to pursue a career as a writer, so it seems as if you might want to do something other than [work for us] after a few years. This information might make some potential employers wonder as to your dedication to the position and/or the company long-term. Many employers look for a good return on their investment in terms of the training and benefits provided.”
I’m glad that she was willing to share what I quoted above, since most recruiters aren’t willing to disclose such information — but I think it’s a shame that I was penalized for being honest. The question I was asked was: “So what have you been doing in the past year, if you haven’t been working?” I told them about my attempt to become a writer, and how I was using the Internet as my publishing medium.
Would it have been better if I said that I’ve done nothing in the past year? Would it have been better if I said that I’ve spent the entire year searching for a job? In short, would it have been better if I lied?
Not really — or at least, not long term. Making up lies to give a “better” first impression during a job interview may help in the short term if it causes you to get the job, but lying will most likely come back to bite you in the ass. I believe it’s more important to be yourself during job interviews.
Incidentally, I was once in an interview where I was asked if I was familiar with a popular software package. I said yes. The interviewer named another, less popular software package. I said yes. He named a rather obscure software package. I said “I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never used it.” After that, every software package he named was something I had never even heard of before. I shamefully admitted that not only was I not familiar with them, but I didn’t even know what they were. “I’ve never heard of it.” — “I’ve never heard of that one either.” — “I’m sorry, I don’t know that one either.” By the time he had finished naming the entire list, I was convinced that I wasn’t qualified for the job.
As it turns out, I had never heard of them before because the interviewer made them up. They weren’t real software packages! The reason he asked was to test to see how honest I was: Was I the kind of person that is so eager to impress that I would lie about knowing the fictional software, or was I the kind of person capable of admitting that I didn’t know everything? According to him, many interviewees are nothing but job beggars who will say anything to get hired.
In the above case, honesty clearly helped my chances of getting the job. Although most interviews aren’t that cut and dry when it comes to being honest, this one helped me understand that it’s worthwhile to tell the truth. I believe this also applies when you’re in a situation where the job is not a good match for you.
For example, I recently responded to a job posting described as a “Technical + Assistant.” The job details specified that applicants should be able to perform computer maintenance on a small business network consisting of only three computers. After submitting my resume and cover letter, I received an invitation for an in-person interview the following week.
Over the weekend I got a haircut, pressed my pants, and bought a new pair of black dress shoes. On the day of the interview I suited up and drove to meet this woman at her realty office. Within the first few minutes of the interview, it became clear that there had been a misunderstanding.
She was describing the position as though I would be her personal assistant. Although the “technical” requirement of servicing the office computers was an important aspect of the position, it was a secondary to the duties as her personal assistant. Once I realized this, I explained how I thought I was applying for a technical support position, and that I wasn’t interested in a position as a personal assistant. I went on to say that we might as well end the interview right now.
I stood up, extended my hand for a shake, and apologized for wasting her time. She agreed that we probably weren’t the best match for one another, and said that she appreciated my honesty. I left feeling like a bit of an asshat for making a mistake, but it was definitely more courteous to speak up once I realized it.
So anyhow, although I’m actively looking for a full-time job, I’m still in Career Limbo. Interestingly, I read an article today that suggests I’m not the only one: Raised in boom times, many Gen-X and Yers see their dreams go bust.
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