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6 Things I Learned While Looking For A Job

On the resumes that got the most traction, and on the one that lead to me getting a job, I stopped hiding. I even mentioned my testicles.

So you’ve been downsized. Hey, welcome to the new normal! The modern world is all about doing more with less and you’re knee deep in modernity. And guess what, once you do find a new gig, you’re going to keep doing more with less. First, though, you have to find that new gig, which is not easy, not fun, and generally a miserable endeavor in today’s economy. Thankfully, I’m a Gen Xer, which means I gained some skills and built a solid résumé before I was downsized. For you Millenials, well, you’ve still got the change if not as much hope.

Regardless, it took me 5 months to find a job. (I was given a month’s notice of my impending release and started the search immediately. I’ve only been shaving intermittently for 4 months.) During those 4 months, I have learned many lessons and now I will lay bare my soul and share them with you. The new normal may be more efficient–or, as Ian Faith might explain, more selective–but there still are jobs out there. Somewhere. And with some luck and by following my advice, you can find one*. (*Not a guarantee.)

6)  Searching for a new job is horrible.

It’s really horrible. It’s really, really, really horrible. Human Resources experts have guaranteed that most job postings are nebulous traps designed to pull in a wide array of applicants. So while you may think your skills and experience perfectly align with whatever you’re applying for, they actually don’t. Not even when you squint hard and put the best possible spin on your résumé. Moreover, your most recent job pigeonholes you and probably biases possible employers against you. For example, I worked for University of Phoenix. Not only did I come from the world of education, I came from non-traditional for-profit education. When I applied for non-education jobs, I could plainly explain how my experience at a performance-driven organization made me more business and less education, but my most recent job was still at a university. And coming from for-profit education doesn’t help you get into traditional education. You can apply for a position with the exact same title and responsibilities as your previous job. You will not get an interview, though you will receive a nicely worded form email alerting you to the fact that your résumé, while impressive, does not align with the position for which you applied.

Or maybe you’re a recent graduate. You did not earn the correct degree. Or perhaps you did get a vaunted STEM degree. Doesn’t matter. Because while you were helping fuel the education bubble, you were not gaining needed experience. Just look at college dropout Scott Walker, who sits on a throne made of the skulls of his enemies. While you were busy not learning things, he was actually developing a pedigree. Ergo, no throne of skulls for you.

In other words — just give up because you’re wasting your time and you’re never going to find a new job. Employers are looking for an intern who can write code, who will work round the clock without complaint, and who thinks feudalism is totes awesome.

5) Your résumé is horrible too.

It is. You’ve done many incredible things. You can even explain them with action words. As you were riding along the new normal and wearing a plethora of hats, you arrived at a point where describing your attributes and experience can make John Galt’s interminable speech seem downright laconic. “What did you do at your last job?” “Well, I managed 8 people. Handled some procurement. Did various forms of demand forecasting. Had to make sure the lights were on. Something something profitability. Put out fires. Maintained compliance with federal regulations. Myriad other things.”

In other words, you were a factotum. Factotums are great. Factotums make the world go around. It can be difficult to dazzle an employer when attempting to pack the ephemera that was your average workday into the part of the interview during which the interviewer is still paying attention.

There’s also the fact that you have to explain the aforementioned degree you wasted time earning. I have a Bachelors of Business Administration in Music Business and an MBA with no specialization. The former just confuses people and the latter isn’t always as impressive as some claim. My wife, who has been a professional for long enough to get past her degree, no longer has to explain why she has a Master’s in Latin American Studies, but for a hot minute it was almost more impediment than benefit. “I have a master’s from Vanderbilt!” “Yeah, but…”

4) You’re not qualified to do anything.

As you were previously a factotum, you have no easily marketable skills. You are not a master of anything requiring technical expertise. You just existed at the right time and place and weren’t afraid to learn some things. As such, you’re looking to find a new right place and time in which to exist and learn some new things. At least you shower daily, so you’ve got that going for you.

3) Don’t feign perfection.

We’re all prepared for that one question: “What’s your biggest weakness.” Don’t reply with, “Well, my biggest weakness is I’m a perfectionist.” It’s bovine excrement. When I had my first sit-down chat for my new job, the man with whom I met said, “Looking at your résumé, I gather you’re a very organized person.” “Actually, I’m not at all. I have goals. I work toward those goals. Do I follow the same path from day to day or even minute to minute? Probably not! I guess you could say I’m loosely organized.” “Great! That’s just the answer I was looking for.”

In such situations, you might be tempted to lie. To outline all the ways you know that Outlook, Excel, and your smart phone can be put to good use. If you’re a mess of sticky notes and mental cues, just throw it out there. Type A’s exist, but they don’t hold a monopoly on success. And, as I was, you may be a candidate for a job that will later be described as “slightly organized chaos.” Had I lied, I may have taken myself out of the running.

Similarly, own your existence. On early résumés, I highlighted certain things. I omitted others. But the thing is, I’ve written about my balls on the internet. On the resumes that got the most traction, and on the one that lead to me getting a job, I stopped hiding. I included such tidbits. “Hi. I’d like a job. Here’s a hyperlink to some writings of mine. If you pay attention, you’ll notice I’ve written about my testicles.”

My new boss’s response? “You’re a talented writer! I used to freelance. I’m going to teach you some things about how to apply that skill to marketing.”

2) But the thing is, it’s not about you, it’s about who you know.

You think ‘Merica is a meritocracy, just because the words are similar? Stop being an ignoramus! We are a glorious plutocracy, defined by greased palms and lineage. So, yeah, you got some skills, but your connections are weak, so no soup for you.

When I reflect back upon every job I’ve ever had, only one was just a job I found based on my education and skills. The rest, and this stretches back to junior high, were found via other people. My wife too. And I attempted to find more examples via Facebook, but though crowdsourcing is often frustratingly light on specifics, the consensus was still “who” trumps “what.”

For example, I started college on a full scholarship. I dropped out after a series of F’s. (Being an English major is pretty boring and uninspiring, even for those of us who love language.) I decided I should transfer to a smaller, more exclusive private school to pursue a different degree. Technically, I didn’t have the grades to transfer. But what I did have, thanks to a quick afternoon meeting, was the backing of a graduate of said school who had never lost his taste for donating money. And off I went, but once there I had to actually earn the degree. Because this section is only half-true, the real truth is…

1) It’s actually all about you and not about who you know.

Wait, what? Didn’t I just say the opposite? Yes, I did. Now shut up and listen. Why do you know who you know? Why do they care about you? Why are they willing to wager their reputations on you? Because of you! Sure, Mommy and Daddy may know the right donor. Sure, that donor may say he’s going to do this or that. But does he actually have to do it? Hell no! White lies make the world go round.

Instead, that donor or friend or fellow church member or professional associate will actually send an email, make a phone call, or have a conversation because he actually, truly, really believes that you are not going to make him look bad. In fact, he thinks you’re going to make him look good. So while that connection may help you skip a few steps, the only reason you’re skipping those steps is because of you. Unless you’re talking about Daddy and Daddy owns the business, nobody cares enough about you to risk their daily bread. Stop being such an egomaniac.

Instead, remember that you have something to offer. That your crooked path from accumulating debt or building a throne of skulls to now might have equipped you with some skills and experiences that no one else has. And that’s why the person who is not your daddy is willing to stick his neck out. All those ridiculous hourly jobs – from waiting tables to shooting video for the local NBC – weren’t for naught, but you have to sell them correctly. (Yes, sales is in your jobs you won’t do list, but you’re going to have to sell to get there.) So stop being afraid and sell yourself. Make those phone calls, send those emails, distribute your terrible résumé far and wide. You never know when you’ll get a phone call that ends up making you happy that you got downsized. Your next position may scare the hell out of you because you’re moving way out of your comfort zone. That’s a good thing. Otherwise you might end up with a coherent résumé and marketable set of skills that pigeonholes you even more than your last job did.

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