My Story: June 25, 2011

I will post updates to My Story – my unemployment story, my Great Recession story – at least once a month. Hopefully, My Story will show others they are not alone, and maybe help them keep going in the face of such Hard Times. Here is this month’s update. All updates can be accessed from the My Story tab.

June 25, 2011

Two people in my job group – including Louis G. – landed good positions in the last month. Both fit the profile of the three who got good jobs last month: Both had long-established careers in fields they didn’t change; they merely changed industries. And both fit well in corporate arenas.

I love it that they got good jobs, but it still leaves me in a quandary, because I don’t fit the profile. In fact, the facilitator of the 16-week job-search program I started this month told me, in a private meeting and in so many words, that I’d better come up with a “plan B” – because my “resume deficits” are so difficult to overcome, especially in light of my age. (At least she acknowledged the fact of discrimination, instead of repeating this tired refrain: “Age is an issue only if you make it an issue.”)

I had gone to her because I had realized – and she confirmed – that online applications are probably rejecting me in the first screening because a human or an automated screener first checks not only for matches in job titles and key words, but also for gaps and inconsistencies in my job history. All this before anyone ever sees, much less reads, my nicely crafted cover letter and resume that downplay those gaps and inconsistencies.

I have the same problem with fleshing out my LinkedIn profile, which, like online applications, requires you to enter start and end dates for all your positions. I had heard in a workshop last week, and she confirmed this week, that recruiters on LinkedIn won’t even look at people whose profiles are not complete – and one of the measures of completeness is how many jobs you’ve entered. I have one – a blanket, hide-all-blemishes self-employment position covering the last 15 years. Adding one more position would boost my profile’s completeness by 15 percent. LinkedIn tells me my profile is stubbornly stuck at 55 percent because I dare not show any of my job-history blemishes.

I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The facilitator’s solution is commonly heard: Network! Network! Network! But it’s no solution for me. When I asked her how networking could get me past this serious problem I have with online applications, she said I needed to establish relationships with people currently working at a target company who could advocate for me from within – and then the online application wouldn’t matter.

But she had to admit that for my primary target company, a large university with many small research units, establishing relationships would be pretty useless, because a contact in one unit wouldn’t be able to influence the hiring process in another unit – if they knew about those job openings at all.

And my larger issue with her “solution” is this: How likely is it that I could establish such a strong connection with someone I know only through an informational interview at best, enough for them to want to advocate for me from the inside? Not likely. And so this is a high-risk game: I’d spend a lot of valuable time – and our time is valuable, don’t let anyone deny that – on something that has little chance of paying off.

One of her suggestions did make sense (besides the plan B, which I already knew): Since I am re-entering my former field of editing and writing, I need some recent work samples, whether through paid freelance writing or as a volunteer. My career blog is not enough. She is right about that.

And I need to do something else too, which I’ve been resistant to because it is so much work: I need to revive and rebuild my Web site, using current techniques, which I am in the process of catching up on. Believe it or not, many editing and writing jobs these days also ask for Web and graphic design skills. Employers want everything in one package – and they generally don’t want to pay more for the “extras.”

So I’m not giving up yet on plan A: a good full-time, permanent job with benefits. But I need to focus on smaller companies and nonprofits – especially those without online application systems, where you just email a resume instead. It’s likely a human being will read my resume and cover letter, which highlight my many valuable skills and downplay the many bumps and potholes in my work history. I’m more likely to be happy in a smaller, non-corporate environment anyway.

But I am also shifting more of my energies to my backup plans, because it’s likely the facilitator is right about that too. I had two interviews this month, but no job offer. Five interviews in six months is not going to do it in this numbers game.

Onward.

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