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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reinventing yourself, every day

A little over six months ago I lost my job, as did a more than a few of my co-workers. This was right before Christmas, so naturally getting things initialized with the state took a little bit of time. I was prepared for this.

Things got off to a slow start, but I've been through this once before, so I tried to hit the ground running. Knew which sites to delve into, which local government offices to get involved with. Heck, I even volunteered to run a blogsite based on the work that was being done by our transition team, made up of recently displaced workers acting in conjunction with the Pennsylvania CareerLink.

Part of the deal with the way we lost our jobs is that we are eligible for special training, paid for by this special program. It's mostly geared towards getting people into "high priority" careers in things like medical records filing and being a nurse's assistant. For a lot of people who walked right out of high school and into the jobs they had just lost, this is a great deal. Me? I have a degree in Physics, dammit. I've studied Total Quality Management, and was considered the Statistical Process Control guru for our company (which is a damn sight better than "Six Sigma Black Belts," thank you very much.) I wanted to go right back to work.

There are jobs available in this area. Appropriate jobs -  well, that's another thing. Right out of the gate I could have put in a job at a home improvement store or a local call center. But I wasn't ready to do that yet. Besides, jumping at an inappropriate job would almost certainly mean taking a job that paid far less than I had been making - maybe even paid far less that I was collecting in unemployment, thanks to the insane amount of overtime I put in last year.

I scrutinized the job lists for things that sounded good. I was given leads by friends. I polished and reworked my résumé, and wordsmithed cover letter after cover letter. I didn't put in for a ton of jobs, but I put in for ones that seemed like good matches for my skills and experience.

And heard nothing.

OK. This happens. That's the new paradigm. Nobody actually gets rejected - you either get accepted, or you get put on a "maybe" list. Or they toss out your application without letting you know. I would just soldier on, and be patient. All metrics indicated that the economy was improving, the job market was rebounding.

Until a few weeks ago, when those metrics indicated that the most pessimistic predictions were also the correct ones. While the national economy may have officially come out of recession in 2009, it was in a "jobless recovery" mode. Locally and nationally, things that had seemed to be getting better were now getting worse.

It was reflected in the variety and quality of jobs showing up on the job boards, too. But my problem, I realized, went beyond that.

I have an insanely unique résumé. A B.S. in Physics - well, that and $7.50 will get you a coffee at Starbucks.* Nineteen years of experience in industry, ranging from a grunt at a solar cell manufacturer, to a low-level manager at a solar cell manufacturer, a grunt at a CD manufacturer, a statistician specializing in Statistical Process Control (through the Deming school, not the Juran school) for the CD manufacturer, a statistics specialist getting down and dirty with old-school data collection methods for the CD manufacturer, the DVD Assest Manager for the newly-created DVD branch of that same manufacturer - an invented job that combined heavy-duty math, customer service, project management, and all sorts of technical jiggery-pokery (in the best sense of the term) with the assets that went to make up a DVD, and then, following my first layoff, back to being a grunt, this time operating three lines that molded and bonded these same DVDs. Through it all I have picked up a broad array of skills, some taught to me, some I had to develop on my own.

That's not what companies are looking for.

Specialization is for insects, as Heinlein said, but companies are looking for specialists. Left-handed veeblefetzer repairmen. Oh, you know how to repair a right-handed veeblefetzer? Sorry, not exactly what we're looking for. Sure, we could train you, but we'd rather wait. An unemployed left-handed veeblefetzer repairman is sure to come along any minute now.

This is not meant as any disrespect to people who have trained for these specialized jobs, and are getting them. These specializations can be excellent things, and you may even make a career for yourself.

When I was in DVD Asset Management I managed to convince myself that I was on a career path. I even had a back-up plan - in the event I lost my job, there is actually another, competing DVD Compression, Encoding, and Authoring facility in Northeastern Pennsylvania. But they were not hiring in 2007, and they are not hiring now. The DVD industry is busy collapsing, in part because of the slumping economy, in part because of piracy and competing streaming formats, in part because of third-world manufacturing competition, and in part because people long ago replaced their VHS collections with DVDs - and are being a bit slower to replace their DVD collections with Blu-Rays.

I even considered pursuing a career based on my experience as a Statistical Process Control Coordinator. But I had the bad fortune to study under the Deming school, when Motorola was hard at work establishing their own brand of SPC - or "Six Sigma," as they called it, with their martial arts fanboy focus on "Black Belts" - as the industry standard. And the industry bought into it, and won't even look at you if you don't have a "Black Belt." (At a recent gathering I met quite a few unemployed Six Sigma Black Belts, and word is that the market is flooded with them. Apparently the business of training and certifying people as Black Belts is more profitable than actually putting these Black Belts into action.)

Yesterday I attended a presentation by a woman who specializes in job placement. She told us about someone who had complained to her that he had sent out two hundred résumés and had yet to hear back from anyone. She told us that this person should long ago have realized that he was doing something fundamentally wrong. He would have to completely revamp his job search technique if he wanted to get different results.

So this is the position I find myself in, every day. I send out a group of applications to jobs that seem appropriate, and wait patiently to hear back. And as the responses fail to roll in, I continue to scour to job listings for things that might have some small connection to something I have done, and try to think of ways of reinventing myself, recasting my past experiences, to be a better match for these openings. Project Management for a health services organization? Well, my Asset Management job involved a lot of project management. Lean Manager for a glass manufacturer? I've studied Total Quality Management, and Lean Management was covered in that.  Quality Control for a different glass manufacturer? Sure, I know all about quality control. Technical Writer? I've written plenty of stuff explaining technical processes for managers, and I have some online writing experience, too. Trainer? I created and taught a course on Statistical Process Control.

Nothing. No response, no response, no response.

Today I received a notice from one of the job boards I've signed up with, stating that they've found a job that matches my résumé:

Team Member Night Shift

Position Description

Team Members are responsible for receiving, processing, stocking, selecting, moving, and loading by hand or powered industrial equipment manufactured goods received by the distribution center in preparation for shipment to retail stores.

Job Requirements

Grasps and lifts by hand (floor to overhead) and carries heavy and/or bulky merchandise. (Must be able to lift up to 70 pounds.) Uses and verifies accuracy via Laser Radio Terminal (LRT) to receive, process, stock, ...

Hey, I've done stuff like that before, and worse. My résumé shows that. Maybe this time I won't be so quick to disregard a job with such potential.

*I have no idea how much coffee at Starbucks costs. I never go there. Who can afford to pay for pre-made coffee, anyway?


dr.antony said...

Coudnt imagine the job situation was so difficult.We need to modify the resumes to suit the job application.I never had to do that,doctors generally get offers of emplyment.
A friend of mine has been doing the same for last few weeks,hunting for job and sending resumes.It is a difficult situation when we dont have choices to make.Ultimately, one might end up with a job he dislikes altogether.

Be confident.Brighter days are ahead.

TheAuthor said...

I recently lost my job, through no fault of my own (as far as I can tell) and I know how hard it is out there. I had to take any job I could get I have in fact ended up in a job I hate (see dr.antony's comment above). There's more on that in my blog. I'm new on Blogger so please have a look at my blog and comment. Thanks.