Career Limbo

Two years ago, I was living in New Jersey but applying for jobs in Michigan. I wanted to move to the Detroit area because that’s where my girlfriend lived, and we wanted to live together after she finished college. The natural course of action was for me to secure a job first, and then move.

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, 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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15 Responses to “Career Limbo”

#1 Stephen on 29, Apr, 2008 at 12:15 am

Man you have got to get out of Michigan. That state is the Liberal testing ground for every crackpot economic theory that those Marxists have. North Carolina and Oklahoma are booming. All of New England is gearing up for the tourist season.

Some of these casinos, resorts and hotels will even pay for your moving and lodging. They are desperate for English-speaking help.

#2 Jason on 29, Apr, 2008 at 12:53 am

I know that your dreams will pan out Shaun. I live in Michigan and also work in IT Support. The economy is definitely not booming and it is not encouraging to hear of workers being layed off every other day but keep your head up man! The important thing to remember is not to give up. Whether it be in Michigan or some other state, eventually the dice will have to roll for you.

#3 Matt G. on 29, Apr, 2008 at 9:29 am

“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.”

Its ashame that this happens, but sometimes you need to twist the truth here in Michigan, why not apply some good-ole American politics? : ( Someone wrote that you need to get out of Michigan, sad to say it but I think they’re right. Its time to talk your girl friend into leaving for you.

#4 Christopher Calvi on 29, Apr, 2008 at 3:18 pm

I know exactly what you’re going through, and here is some unsolicited advice that may help you:

Get involved in local organizations, meetups, etc… it doesn’t have to be a professional organization (thought that is best). This will help expand your network and enable you to make connections.

Also, try informational interviews. I’ve never done it, but have heard good things.

Lastly, perhaps you could go into the computer consulting business for your self?

#5 The Tumultuous Job Market | IST Building on 29, Apr, 2008 at 3:42 pm

[…] brutally honest how little water the term “recession-proof” holds. I refer you to this, this, and also this. Quite literally every industry will be feeling the squeeze in the coming months, […]

#6 James Urquhart on 29, Apr, 2008 at 6:49 pm


I’m glad to see that you have analyzed your situation. Hopefully you can draw from it new ideas to land yourself that full-time job.

In any case, i wish you the best of luck in achieving your dream of reinventing yourself as a writer. And yes, I still believe you can do it.

~ James

#7 Jinno on 29, Apr, 2008 at 9:37 pm

Yeah, it hurts to hear so many stories like this lately, but it’s certainly a sign of the times. I’m not so inclined as others to believe that it’s a near hopeless situation, but I’m more than willing to extend thoughts of good will to you.

I work as an intern in an IT department here in Indiana, most money I’ve made in my life at a mere $10 an hour. Granted, I’m only 18 years old but it’s a start for me. But I work for a trucking company, and we’re certainly feeling the effects of the economic woes. My boss, the director of IT to be specific, was asked to resign today, and we’ll have a new one on Monday. We’ve laid off at least 6 people in the 4 months I’ve worked there.

I’m becoming worried as to my own job security, and I’m about to go to college at that.

But the best of luck to you. I still enjoy your blog, and I really hope that you can still find the time to write often, and that it may take off soon.

#8 Bryan Sawicki on 30, Apr, 2008 at 4:12 pm

After years of hard work, I found that the hardest part of college was not actually getting through it alive, or graduation, but actually getting a job. I found it really frustrating that even my own career services department at school was not really able to help me find a career after college.
Since we are all in the same boat here I figured I would Google some sites that could help (like Monster) but everything was for those with more extensive job experience. One website I found was UVisor at which seems to be a really solid resource in linking up college students with employers as well as helping us students really figure out our career path. I forget what the statistic was specifically, but I remember it being something like 80% of people do not choose career paths that are pertinent to their majors.
Anyway; definitely check out UVisor or AfterCollege or CollegeGrad (However UVisor is the only free service).

#9 James on 30, Apr, 2008 at 9:49 pm

You moved to Michigan to be with the misses, yet, you have not mentioned the quality of that relationship (note: I have only read a limited amount of entries). So, has the move been worth it in that sense?

I’m assuming she’s graduating soon, so would she be willing to relocate after college? You can still “reboot” your life in another state.

#10 Cam on 01, May, 2008 at 11:05 am

Um Shaun, I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here. Take a look at your “popular articles” in the side bar there: specifically, “Ten reasons it doesn’t pay to be the computer guy” and “The Working Dead”. I don’t know whether or not you direct potential employers to this site, but if they were these particular posts I don’t think it would work in your favor. Then again, I could be (and sincerely hope I am) wrong. No ill intent here: just an observation you understand.

All the best in your quest brother!

#11 Kate on 01, May, 2008 at 8:51 pm

hey Shaun, hmm maybe you should think about going back to school. Maybe get a master’s degree or something? Have you thought about applying to a MFA program? I think they let you work as a TA while you are going to school (at least cornell does). That’s what I would do if I wanted to be a writer (and I wasn’t going to med school).

#12 bibi on 03, May, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Hi Shaun, have you tried some of the suggestions from people who have left comments? Have you tried the unemployment bureau, food stamps, etc.? You would be eligible after one whole year of locating.

#13 Jenny on 03, May, 2008 at 8:27 pm

I was in your shoes- I have an MBA and was out of work for 8 months, applied for over 150 jobs with 2 interviews. Now I’m on the other side of the coin as the hiring manager and I am having a hard time finding good employees. I never dreamed it would be this hard to find employees after all the trouble I had finding a job!

Somethings I have noticed up on while I’m on the other side of the desk:

1. persistence pays off- our office is so busy that some weeks (not days) but weeks go by before I even have a chance to sit down and look at what has happened. If I want to hire someone, I will likely forget who I even talked to, sending reminder emails or making phone calls helps to know the person is interested and it keeps them in front of me as a reminder
2. Sending a thank you letter (not email but letter) after the interview. I have interviewed over 20 people in the past month and not one of them sent me a thank you card. Your probably already doing this but this is one easy way to set yourself apart from the rest of the people interviewing. If I got a thank you card I would most likely keep it on my desk (again having the reminder around)
3. Asking the questions- When I was looking for a job and had questions after the interview I was always afraid to ask for fear I would bother the person I talked to. Now that I am interviewing people, the more questions they ask (especially after the interview) gives me a chance for further interaction and to see if it is a good fit for both of us. It doesn’t bother me when I get questions after an interview, I may be busy but it gives me the chance to gather more information about the person
4. Dressing the part! I know this isn’t a problem for you from reading your blog but so many people have came in for interviews and they were not dressed up! I could not believe it. I have actually had people come in with extremely low cut shirts and another came in wearing a t-shirt like top with dress pants?!
5. Honesty- I definitely agree that honestly is the best policy, you never know when it will come back to get you.

These are just a few tips I’ve seen, I hope this helps and you are able to find employment. When I read your other post about the interview at Google, I so wanted you to get that job! I actually gasped out loud when i read it was a dream!

Just remember everything happens for a reason, I know its an old cliche’ and you’ve probably heard it a lot but if you think about it that way it makes it a little easier to keep moving forward.
Best of luck.

#14 WereBear on 08, May, 2008 at 9:30 pm

Have you considered temping?

I used to move to a new city, sign on with a temp agency, and be working within a week. And, most of the time, I would get a job offer.

I haven’t done it in a while, but temping can be a way of employers evaluating you while you are also making money.

You might want to check it out.

#15 Alex Golden on 10, May, 2008 at 11:33 pm

Why not try substitute teaching until you find something more substantial?

If you knew some Japanese and were willing to relocate to Tokyo, Japan I could guarantee you a job. There’s too many projects and not enough programmers out here. It’d be one hell of a life reboot for you!

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