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Monday, March 13, 2006

Part One: My Job Search Dilemma

But before we get started, a couple of odd thoughts ...

Job Interviews - are you tired of the insanity? Can't there be another way (or three) that employers and employees can get to know one another or size one another up before critical decisions are made? A more frank, out-on-the-table, on-the-level meeting of the minds? Perhaps, for me this blog can accomplish that.

But beyond that, did you ever wonder who winds up getting these jobs that you read about and apply for on Monster, CareerBuilder, etc.? Wouldn't you love to follow them around for a week or few just to see what the job is like and if you really would like to do it?

On to part one, the first installment in a sort of "catch up series" on my personal job-hunt. The series will discuss a couple of dilemmas I am encountering on this particular job-search, take a breather and a look at some of the advantages I've found in being in job-hunt mode, then recount (as briefly as possible) the events that lead me to my job search, then back off for an philosophical overview of ethics and lessons learned. I hope to find some kindred spirits out there, smilarly engaged in job-hunting, and also some sophisticated and savvy employers. In short, I hope to help and to find help.

Life has its share of roller coaster rides where people's hopes and dreams are on the line. Making an offer on a house. Going through a lawsuit. Searching for your one and only soulmate. Getting accepted, hired, chosen for ... you fill in the blank. I'm sure you all can add more entries to this list. I count job-hunting among all these, particularly if you happen to be coming off a difficult job situation, as I am.

In my case, I had a stellar 21 year career at the university. I was allowed to grow in my career, realize different job opportunities, earn advanced degrees, and climb the salary ladder to undreamed of heights, at least for me. And I was able to help others in their careers by the good work that I did. Even the least positive position I held there had strong ly positive points.

But when it comes to today's job-hunting environment, I have a very real problem. I've had many interviews in my field over the last year, but none of them have resulted in a job offer. I worry that I might be getting too old, or too out-of-date, or that when prospective employers do their background checks they may be hearing something negative, or that working nights at a factory and getting up after 3 hours sleep and driving to Indy or even to Lafayette for a job interview doesn't allow me to put my best foot forward, or that maybe I'm not that great at networking, an essential job-hunting skill. Honestly, there could be any number of reasons. I just know that interviewing didn't used to be this hard.

Back to the background checks for a minute. Here's my dilemma with that. Oddly enough, the fact that I did have such a long-standing and successful career at the university sort of "works against" me at this point in time. The reason? There's hardly anybody left to speak for me there.The witnesses to the success stories of my life and career have also moved up, on, and out to other companies, or have retired, or like me, have lost their jobs in untimely fashion. So when a prospective employer calls for a background check, that just leaves the supervisors in my last (full time) position to speak for me. Don't get me wrong. As I said, that position did have its strengths, and I don't mind giving those folks a chance to speak their piece. But they are not in a position to speak about or even to know my work experiences and successes, my strong suites, and yes, my weaknesses, over the entire 21 year span of my career at the university because they didn't live it with me or with the supervisors and colleagues who worked with me, valued me, advanced me, and held me in esteem.

Are any of you, my phantom readers, currently facing a similar difficulty?

So what's a person to do in this situation? This has been THE BIG challenge of my job search and for a while, I must confess, it had me really stymied. At first I didn't know what to say in interviews or what to put on job applications, so after a few false starts, I sort of hung back on interviewing until I could figure out that piece of the puzzle. However I've worked pretty hard to put my career back on track. At first I sought legal help, something I never dreamed, not in a million years, that I would ever need to do. I'd never talked to a lawyer before in my life. I also finished my master's degree and went back to the university for a very successful one year graduate assistantship, and even after I graduated, collaborated on a scholarly article with a professor and assistant dean in the school of technology. I presented it last fall at InfoSecCD 2005. I also presented in the university's Teaching, Learning, and Technology Showcase for three years in a row. Early on, after taking a course that taught us some Macromedia Flash, Fireworks, and Dreamweaver, I put my portfolio online so that people can actually see some of my work. I also did some free lance consulting with an agency in town and turned my skill toward promoting my husband's antiques and furniture refinishing sideline and reaching out to similar businesses with their web and computing needs. Finally I tested the waters of rehirability by going back to my beginnings. After 25 years, could I still get hired to work at a restaurant? A retail store? A factory? To my relief, the answer was yes. Eventually I started applying in earnest for jobs in my field and found to my surprise that I was fairly successful at getting that first interview and even at having some people call me first. However, none of those have resulted in offers to date.

So there it is. Don't get me wrong, however. Staying in job-hunt mode these last few years has also had its advantages, not the least of which was being allowed to :

1) finish my masters degree in a more timely fashion

2) find new venues for Benny's furniture refinishing sideline, including setting up at flea markets and antique shows and maintaining booths in two Antique Malls - actually we did this out of necessity as a way to replace my hopefully temporary loss of income.

2) purchase and remodel a 1920's farm house with some nice outbuildings on three acres on land next to a fairly busy through-way. We think this move will give Benny's furniture refinishing sideline a real boost. It was nice to be able to step back from the job search during that period of moving, and remodeling, and buying our new home (and selling our old home).

3) stay home and take care of Benny after aortic valve replacement surgery this January. The temp company I have been working for since last May very graciously gave me a month off (without pay and without penalty), to take care of him during his recovery, for which we both are very grateful.

4) take a sabbatical in a sense, work in new areas and see some cool things most people never get to see, and to learn, refresh, and regenerate for an eventual return to your job.

But now with spring in the air, and Benny on his way to recovery, I turn to the job search once again, hopefully a more seasoned and confident job searcher. My long time career at the university ended in an untimely fashion, due to a series of really unfortunate management decisions that seemed totally out of character for the university and its mission and its history and for me and my years of service there. It happens. Employers don't and can't always act in complete accordance in their own ranks. Employees and employers both make mistakes and don't always do "the right thing" because "the right thing" is not always easily knowable or readily apparent. The challenge for me has been to reach a balanced perspective, to take the good with the bad, and to keep the faith, not only with such an august institution as a university, but also with myself and an over all really great career.

More to come on other job search dilemmas. Can any of you relate? If so, I'd love to hear your perspectives.

In the meantime, Happy Job-Hunting!


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