Monday, November 25, 2013

My First Job(s)

Linkedin has been running a series of articles recently with various business leaders sharing the story of their first job. It has me thinking about my early jobs, and my early "career" positions, which the placement agency advised me to leave off my resume, not only in order to fit within the 2 page maximum recommended by almost everyone, but also because those positions "date" me.

My very first job was cleaning house on Saturdays for my grandmother, DauDau. I asked her for the job, my first and only experience in landing a position created just for me. I don't remember how young I was when I started, but I know I earned a dollar each Saturday that first year, and I received a dollar raise on my birthday every following year. I think I was making about $10 when I finally gave up the job in high school. I was crushed when DauDau confessed to me years later that I was never very good at the job. I know I liked dusting - removing all of the framed photos and odds and ends from the book shelf, spraying the Pledge, wiping everything down and then carefully arranging everything back in its place. You wouldn't know it looking at my desk these days, but I think I was developing an appreciation for order in my first job.

As a teen, I had various odd jobs, including baby-sitting and cleaning houses, especially for young moms in our church, and during summers, I worked in the fields with my sisters and cousins, hoeing weeds from peanuts and peppers for my uncle. I didn't necessarily need a paying job to understand hard work, however. We grew up with horses, so my regular "chores" included shoveling poop and hauling hay bales and 50 pound feed bags. The summer after my junior year, after an impressive showing with my high school newspaper at the NC Scholastic Press Association convention, I landed a "real job" writing features for our local weekly newspaper. This was huge for me. I was an introvert by nature, and this job forced me, at least a little, out of my shell. I had to schedule and conduct interviews, with grown-ups, in order to follow my dream of getting paid to write. And now that I think about it, I was wrong in the last paragraph, because this was my second (but I am pretty sure my last) experience landing a non-pre-existing position.

It is a shame, really, that we do not talk more about our first jobs when we seek new opportunities later in life. That's where our character is truly formed. That's when we really learn how to serve others in exchange not only for money but for recognition and an increase in self-esteem. My character was influenced by those experiences, just are surely as my skills were sharpened in my later years. And I'm not done yet - I'm not too old to keep learning, "dated" or not!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Job Hunting with Transparency

I've been job-hunting since my layoff May 31st, the day before my 8 year work anniversary with the company. I worked with a placement agency to tweak my resume. I have searched (and searched and searched) for opportunities with various tools online and directly on corporate, government, and university websites. I've taken online courses to improve various skills and used online tools to review my personality type, work values, etc. as I've considered potential career "transitions". I have tried to do the "right" things and have tried and failed to avoid the "wrong" things - depression, feelings of rejection, bad sleeping and eating habits. I believe I have been pretty honest with myself about all of my activities, good and bad, except in one important area: revealing my authentic self.

I quickly "scrubbed" my online presence in early June, deleting in particular my more political articles and blog entries, and I have avoided writing anything new. While I have made efforts to network, both in real life and online, I have been afraid to reveal anything more than the "me" on my official resume.

Last week, I realized it was time to start pursuing self-employment opportunities since the job offers are not exactly blowing up my inbox. As a start, I attended Martin Brossman's "Growing Your Business with Social Media" workshop sponsored by the Martin Community College Small Business Center. I was not really expecting to learn a lot, since I am fairly familiar with using social media, but in addition to picking up a new tip here or there, I knew this was an opportunity to at least get out of the house and do some real-life, in-person networking. Brossman did an excellent job of using each participant's brief introduction to integrate useful examples into his presentation. He even pulled up my linkedin profile and gave me solid suggestions to tweak it. But the first thing he told me to do was post a blog entry at least once a week and share it on linkedin.

I cringed. Blog? And share it on linkedin? What will I write about? I feel like an "expert" on next to nothing right about now. I have neglected my blog, and all of my online writing activity, for years.

On the drive home (in a strangely early snow flurry, by the way) I thought about why I felt this way, why I was literally afraid to share right now. Part of it is obvious - insecurity is part of the territory for the unemployed. But why wasn't I writing before my layoff? The easy answer is that I was busy. A lot of people think that those of us who work from home have it made in the shade. The truth is that like most of my virtual colleagues, I usually worked more than 10 hours a day, skipping breaks and eating lunch in front of my computer. And I was terribly busy, especially since I made it through the first few post-merger reorganizations which reduced the size of my team and the teams I supported.

I have also attempted to keep my online personas separate - linkedin for my "professional" connections, hubpages for my freelance writing, and facebook primarily for family and real-life friends. I made a few exceptions on facebook, but only for professional colleagues who truly crossed the boundary into friendship, and for a few online writers.

But the truth is, I've been hired for almost every position I've held in the last 15 years or more because of someone who knew me, the real me, warts and all.

That should be no surprise, really. The experts out there in job-hunting land tell us that most opportunities are found by networking rather than responding to online job postings. It has been true in my experience - the only interviews, in fact the only communications other than the automated email acknowledgement, that I have received in my job hunt so far have been because of personal connections and recommendations.

I doubt I will ever be as transparent as one of my favorite bloggers, Glennon Melton at I admire her honesty, her ability to share her whole self with her readers. But my husband would not be as tolerant as Glennon's if I told you everything about our lives. Still, I think it is time in my job hunting strategy to share the process, the lessons I am learning, and more of who I really am. I will probably make some mistakes. I will probably do a lousy job of following the "how to get a job" advice that my placement agency and other career professionals promote. But I bet that I can help someone else on this journey feel more normal. If that is the only good that comes from my writing, then it is enough. That is the kind of "networking" I want to pursue, not just the pursuit of employment, but connections that allow me to serve others.