It finally happened.
Beelzebub has taken up figure-skating. And, after many months, my ongoing job search has reached a conclusion! Yay!!!!!
What a long (long, long) strange trip it’s been. In the spring of 2008 I was laid off from my last permanent job. I got a contract-to-perm last summer working at a mortgage company (let me say that again… “mortgage company” and “last summer”, in the same sentence – so you can guess how that turned out). After that, I got a consulting job that lasted about three months before I got laid off again. That was November of last year. A lot has happened since then, a lot of changes, and a lot of people to thank for their help.
I spent four months doing the same old thing… applying to jobs online and following up to the best of my ability. I was getting responses, but there was a lot of competition out there… I kept taking second place on those occasions I could get an interview. Some of the jobs were “vapor-ware”… jobs that didn’t really exist except in the mind of someone hopeful that the company would get enough business to justify hiring someone. Some jobs were there, but then the company instituted a freeze, or shuffled existing employees to fill their needs, or changed its plans. (One company I interviewed with ended up deciding they were putting off the project for a year…).
During this period, it occurred to me that there was something wrong with my career, or with the way I was approaching it. I’d been through layoffs before, but with the economy as bad as it was, this time around it was truly beyond what I was prepared for. And yet… 90% of the workforce was still employed. People were getting the jobs I was applying for (with the companies that were hiring, anyway). It wasn’t my skillset (though at the time I was beginning to worry about becoming rusty). I was getting some questions about my job history… short contract assignments for the most part, pretty straightforward, and increased job “mobility” is just the way things are moving toward. But it worried me. Was I managing my career well?
At an LPJC meeting early this year, someone said something to the effect of “I’m looking for the next stage in my career, not my next layoff.” Looking back at my job history, it became clear to me that I had had a series of jobs, not really a career. I decided I needed to be more active in guiding my career, not just taking jobs that were available or that sounded interesting. Initially, though, since working on developing my career would take time away from the job search itself, I decided that the first priority was to get a job, any job, and only then start working on my career.
Apparently, I was confused about the difference between a cart and a horse.
But time wore on, and I was not becoming any more effective at getting even that “any” job. So finally in March I decided I was going to work on my career now.
The first stage in taking charge of my career, I decided, was to be more active in my career community. I decided I needed to participate in the local SharePoint User Group, but their monthly meeting had just passed, so I looked to see if there were any other SharePoint User Groups nearby, and I found the San Antonio SharePoint User Group. At the March meeting I listened to Tiffany Songvilay talk about SharePoint’s integration with Microsoft Office, and I got a lot out of her talk and the CD of podcasts I picked up and listened to on the drive home from San Antonio. But she also mentioned that she had reduced her blogging and had become more active on Twitter, that there was a very active SharePoint community on Twitter. I had heard of Twitter, but hadn’t seen the value of it. She made me curious.
Then on April 2nd, Kathy Lansford, who runs LaunchPad Job Club, sent an e-mail to the list asking for help setting up for and cleaning up after the meetings. Despite not heeding Kathy’s advice about networking, I had gotten a lot of value from attending LPJC, and wanted to give back. So I volunteered to help out – one of the best decisions I have ever made, because it brought me into contact with the inimitable Patty Adams, another volunteer. She went a lot further than just helping out, she took ownership of making sure everyone found what they needed, and kept people laughing, and generally made her boisterous, irrepressible presence felt. She made helping people (more than just helping out, but helping people) look fun. She gave me an example to emulate. And I started to meet people.
On April 21st, I went to the BridgeATX networking event put on by Kim Brushaber. And I surprised myself by having a great time. I had been both skeptical about and scared of networking. But I overcame the fear and learned how to do it.
On April 27, LaunchPad Job Club had its first Select Speaker event, featuring Jason Alba. Sometime soon I’ll post the full notes from his talk, but the short version was about making yourself an expert in your field, and making it known to your network, keeping people informed of your activities and what you know using a variety of tools, including blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. (“Hey, there’s that Twitter thing again. Maybe I should look into it?”)
So I finally got it through my thick skull… I needed to get out there and network, participate and become a presence.
In May I began blogging, got on Twitter, and joined Facebook. I stayed active in the SharePoint groups, and added Agile Austin and Austin SPIN, and kept attending networking functions. I also went to the Get Hired event, featuring Kim Brushaber, Brian Massey, and Christine Lambden. These folks helped me refine my approach to my career and to my search for a job.
And I met a lot of people. A lot of great people. Frankly, I had let a lot of friendships lapse over the years, and didn’t stay in touch with former co-workers. My network was practically non-existent. During this process I not only met a lot of new people, but I got back in touch with many people I hadn’t spoken to in years. But networking isn’t about collecting business cards and adding people to your LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter… it’s about maintaining those connections and developing them into relationships.
In early June I felt I had learned enough about what I was doing on Twitter I gave a presentation at LPJC on how to use Twitter to advance your career. In July, I gave a modified version of the presentation at TweetCamp San Antonio.
All the while I continued to interview at fairly regular (if less frequent than I would have preferred) intervals. And some of that was payoff from all my activities. Kim Brushaber got me in touch with Modis, who got me the interview with their client in July. Catapult Systems was intrigued by my participation in the San Antonio SharePoint User Group, and asked me to come in for an interview (for a vapor-ware position). Several other consulting firms reached out to me regarding work they might be getting.
Then, finally, at the beginning of September, it looked like things were beginning to break. One of the consulting companies had a few hours of work they needed me to do. One of the companies I was incredibly excited about (but not in Austin) scheduled an interview with me, and several others I had been talking to started talking about finally getting around to scheduling interviews too. As the day I was going to hear back from the out-of-town company approached, I circled back around to some of the companies I had interviewed with previously (but had not made a hire) and reminded them I was still interested. One of those was Modis’ client, who had expressed interest in hiring me but had gone into a hiring freeze. Then the out-of-town company I had interviewed with chose a local candidate, and the other interviews failed to materialize.
But then, last week Modis’s client finally came back around and asked me to come onboard, just hours after I had accepted more part-time consulting work!
From famine to feast!
I want to leave the following thoughts with you:
First, some lessons learned:
- Originally, I didn’t think I needed anyone else in my job hunt, even after hearing Kathy during my prior job transitions in 2004 and 2006. It took last summer’s chaos and another long dry spell before I finally GOT IT. Don’t let this happen to you! Learn from my mistakes and GET OUT THERE and participate, get involved, and connect with people!
- I like helping people. As I mentioned in an earlier post, volunteering helped me rediscover one of my passions, helping people and making things better for them.
- This is going to sound sort of stupid, but here it is – making yourself visible helps people see you. Getting out there, getting involved, learning something new… whatever it is, get out there and do it. No, it won’t directly lead to a job, but it opens up opportunities and ways of connecting to people.
Three lessons are a good start, but are by no means comprehensive of what I learned. You’ll be hearing more from me as I continue to blog.
Second, Take heart! The market is beginning to improve – one guy I talked to last week had his first interview in over six months. And several of the folks I have been networking with have responded that they are back at work too!
I’m going to miss my Friday morning emotional lift from helping out, I’m going to miss Kathy’s sense of humor, I’m going to miss hanging with the Meeting Logistics Team, I’m going to miss the Friday lunch group, and I’m going to miss the heck out of everyone at LaunchPad, even the folks I never got a chance to meet.
I’m NOT going to miss being unemployed!
But it’s not over – not by a long shot. After all, I wasn’t looking for my next layoff, nor was I looking for a job! I was and am continuing to build a career. I’ll still be out there participating and networking to the best of my ability. I’ll be staying in touch!
Jim Adcock is Vice President of Launch Pad Job Club, an organization in Austin, Texas, whose mission is help people who have lost their jobs to get the skills they need to land their next job, and to help them cope with the interim between jobs. Check out other career-related entries.