By Bob McIntosh
Most job-search articles, posts, videos, and podcasts offer tips on how to succeed in various components of the job search. This article is different. Different because it’s based on the failures of my job search. I’m writing it because I believe one can learn from the successes, as well as the failures of others.
Since my failure of a job search in 2003, I’ve coached thousands on how to do it properly. In a few situations, I was successful in hunting for other jobs because I practiced what I preach. This article’s purpose is to tell readers not to do what I did.
My story begins when I was laid off from marketing, where I was unhappy. My unhappiness wasn’t due to the people with whom I worked; it was due to a lack of purpose. I was peddling software I didn’t believe in.
Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, claims that purpose is a key motivator. He’s correct. I saw my purpose as helping people land jobs, not marketing document storage media.
After being laid off, it took me seven months to land a job which was a gap filler at best. Looking back on it, I can see clearly what I could have done to make the journey shorter for me and my family. Here are my failures.
The beginning of unemployment wasn’t too bad, but it became worse
When I was laid off, I wasn’t devastated; it was more like I was relieved. I was called into a conference room where my boss and our “HR” person was sitting with papers spread out on the table. “This isn’t good,” I thought. Sure enough, I was getting laid off.
My boss, who happened to also own the company, was weepy-eyed, a little upset, and constantly apologizing for having to lay me off. During the meeting I was the one who was consoling him, not the other way around. “George,” I said, “It’s business, nothing personal. I’ll be alright.” He seemed relieved to hear me say this.
I found comfort in getting together with a former colleague, who had been laid off with me, by drinking beer at a pub down the road from where I live. Our times of commiserating became increasingly more frequent; so frequent that I had to call a halt to it. I realized that it was destructive behavior.
Two months after I was laid off it became apparent to us that we needed more than what Unemployment Assistance was providing, $565 which included allowance for three dependents, and that using credit cards was not the best option
My wife had to return to work full-time at a nearby town. Now raising the kids became my full-time responsibility. This wasn’t a bad thing necessarily; it was unfamiliar territory for me. I now had to tend to their every needs. Our oldest daughter was 7, followed by our 4-year-old daughter, and the baby boy was 1.
Looking back on it, I was grateful for the opportunity to spend quality time with our kids.
Quality time included bringing the two youngest to play group while the oldest was at grade school. I was also responsible for driving the kids to their locations and grocery shopping. In all instances I was the only male present, which was embarrassing. I once witnessed a woman at playgroup breastfeeding two children at once.
I felt trapped at home while my wife was doing what I wanted to; she insisted she didn’t want to work full-time, but she was growing happier with “real” responsibilities as I was growing miserable with unfamiliar responsibilities. Was I jealous of my wife? Yes.
My temper grew increasingly moodier and at times angry. I lashed out at my wife who was only doing what had to be done. There came a time when she demanded that I see a therapist. I agreed and met once a week with a kind gentleman with whom I couldn’t relate.
If there was one thing I could have done better, it was not turning into an asshole.
My time management skills sucked
To say raising the kids impeded my job search would be an excuse. The second failure that comes to mind was the inability to schedule job-search activities around caring for the kids. I could have risen early in the morning to job search and continue the process when my wife got home from work.
When I had some free time away from the kids, I could have done some administrative work, e.g., written resumes and cover letters. But my mind was consumed with making sure the kids were fed and entertained.
Instead of using the evenings to call people who I could have met while networking I walked the streets of my city for hours. I had to clear my head of the frustration that was building inside me. I often tell my clients that walking is good medicine, but in my case it was a way to escape the family.
One of the good things that came from being home with the kids was creating a website and maintaining it for my oldest daughter’s school. I asked the director if she would allow my child to attend school free of charge in exchange for the website. Apparently she didn’t know how easy it would be, because she happily agreed.
I didn’t network
I said I should have contacted people I met while networking, but the sad fact is that I didn’t network as much as I should have. The extent of my networking was sending a group email to everyone I knew, letting them know I was out of work and attaching my resume to the emails.
This method was ineffective, as I hadn’t clearly indicate what kind of work I was looking for. My resume was sound but not targeted to the career I was pursuing, career development. This explains why group emails are not the best way to network.
What I should have done was reach out to people individually and asked to meet for coffee or simply have a phone conversation. I should have asked for advice on where I could pursue positions in career development. I should have gathered information on the labor market by talking with said people.
Who did they know that I didn’t? Who would they suggest I talk with? One of my contacts might know people in the nonprofit world, perhaps in a municipality. That could have led to connecting with people in social services. I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to ask for information.
Networking groups? I had no idea what they were and that they even existed. I hadn’t visited my university’s career services, where they would have told me about job seeker networking groups. Perhaps they would have mentioned professional associations. When it came to networking, I was totally in the dark.
The bottom line: I should have been more proactive
To preface, the first job I landed in marketing was through a referral from my university professor. The second position was an interesting story. Briefly, I was laid off from my first job in marketing. The same day my president introduced me to the marketing manager of the second company for which I started that day.
These jobs were essentially handed to me. This time around I didn’t have help like this.
I sent close to 40 resumes and cover letters for jobs which resulted in two interviews. Even in 2003, the way to land interviews for rewarding jobs was not to send a generic resume and a tailored cover letter to employers, especially if you weren’t qualified for said jobs.
The shotgun approach wasn’t working. I became increasingly more discouraged. The one thing I had going for me was knowing what I wanted to do, as well as what I didn’t want to do. (To the chagrin of my wife, I wasn’t applying for marketing positions.)
This must have made employers wonder why a marketing guy wanted to work in career development. Had I asked for informational meetings I would have built a more focused network. My one attempt at asking for an informational meeting was a complete failure.
I only landed two interviews and one job
The first interview after my marketing career ended was as painful as it could get. It was for a Development position at my alma mater. I was ill prepared and insulted one of the interviewers by asking her why she was on the interview panel. To my defense, I phrased my question wrong, but the damage was done.
My second interview was the winner…in a way. I landed a job that was a two-year gap filler as a program manager for technical training for people with disabilities. There were enjoyable aspects of the position, but I was yearning to get more entrenched in career development.
The most important skill I developed in this program manager position was the ability to speak in front of groups of people, explaining the purpose of the program. It was during one of the speaking engagements that I employed my networking skills. I presented to my current employer directing my attention to my future manager.
Whether directing my attention to my future manager was the reason I landed the job is debatable, but it certainly was intentional. The interview had with her was a formality because it lasted 15 minutes. Half an hour after the interview she called to tell me she was forwarding my name to the city manager.
My suggestion to people who’ve lost their job for any reason is first, think about the others around you who are probably struggling as well. I should have been more cognizant of my wife’s feelings; rather than thinking only of mine.
Second, don’t let caring for children or elderly adults be an excuse for not getting things done. I had a client who said he would rise at 5:00 am to conduct his job search until his children would rise at 7:00 am. He would grab any moment he could during the day, including attending my Job Club in the afternoon.
Third, be more proactive in your job search. Simply sending out resumes won’t do it. Implement networking into your routine and follow up with those you network with. Again, the resume shotgun approach will not yield great results.
Lastly, anyone you run into can be a potential boss. Do your best to impress people who have the authority to hire you, like the person who became my boss after my presentation.
One more: don’t be an asshole during your job search.
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