Happy Canada Day!

On Sunday, July 1, Canada turns 145. There will be picnics and barbecues and fireworks and much jollity will ensue over the course of a long weekend.

You measure time differently when you’re unemployed — an hour is still an hour, sure, but a day isn’t necessarily the same length, and a holiday weekend is a different animal altogether.  When you’re working, you try to cram as many things as possible into the three- or four-day stretch, have the prescribed amount of fun while — if you’re me — also trying to spend as much time just relaxing as humanly possible before you have to return to work.

I don’t know what I’m going to do this weekend. I had hoped to be able to go to Nova Scotia for a short visit, but I finally admitted to myself yesterday that it’s not going to happen, which is contributing to my increasingly foul mood. My grandmother was born on July 1 and my family has a tradition of gathering for birthday celebrations that it carried on even after she died. It would have been nice to see the extended family, and to take a little trip up to Cape Breton to see friends at the tip of the beautiful Bras d’Or Lakes, before heading back to Halifax, the Annapolis Valley and the Baie Sainte-Marie

Cape Blomidon from the 101. Taken from website http://www.panoramio.com/photo/13094849 and credited to photographer Lucybear

to spend time with other friends and family. There’s something about being with people who love you and want the best for you — and who’ve known you for decades and therefore have a better idea than you do yourself what you need — that soothes the soul and feeds the spirit, and I could use some of both.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen about coping with layoffs is to not isolate yourself — professionally or socially. That’s my go-to tendency — all the Myers-Briggs testing puts me firmly in the “introvert” corner, and as a general rule I’m far too happy with my own company. I have to work against my nature at the best of times. My neighbours have been good for getting me out of my bolthole. But on holiday weekends people tend to scatter to the winds — even on the Internet, the things that have been entertaining me will be less active because of the weekend — so I’m actually going to have to make an effort to get out and talk to people. I’m invited to a barbecue on Sunday, and from the sound of the forecast, tomorrow will be a good afternoon to sit in a dark, air-conditioned theatre watching the new Matthew McConaughey movie, which a friend has promised to come see with me. After that, I think Monday may take care of itself.

RIM posts dire first quarter financials admist delays; layoffs – Computer Business Review

RIM posts dire first quarter financials admist delays; layoffs – Computer Business Review

I wonder what this means for the communications jobs RIM has been advertising…

Actually, that’s colder than I feel about the news that Research In Motion is planning to lay off a third of its workforce. I’m not a BlackBerry addict, but I think there are a couple of things here that relate to my situation.

First, while BlackBerry is still the Cadillac of smartphones, it is facing increasing competition from devices which may not offer the same level of business security but which have a host of other features that they provide better than BlackBerry can. So if you’re going to just have one smartphone, you go with the one that serves your needs most fully.

Second, while RIM has attempted to reply to this growing competition, it has turned out to be a slow-moving ship, relying far too heavily on its past sucesses and reputation and not moving quickly enough to address the challenges posed by far more flexible organizations.

(RIM is a far smaller company than Apple, and is one of its biggest competitors. That’s not nuthin’.  The product is good, never forget that. It’s consumers and shareholders who keep demanding newer and better, like rats in a lab, conditioned to press the bar that provides the new treat, even if they’re not hungry.)

I can’t help but compare RIM’s plight to that of the newspaper industry. Like the Waterloo, Ont., company, newspapers are facing increasing competition — from the 24-hour news channels; from the Internet, and it has been slow to respond to the changes brought by and challenges posed by its competitors. The response, however, has been the same: layoffs, redesign of the mousetrap using the same materials, more layoffs. As RIM discovered, those knee-jerk responses don’t fix the intrinsic problem: people are no longer particularly interested in what it’s selling. It’ll take a more profound redesign than changing the position of the keyboard — or the font on the front page — to bring clients back. I hope both RIM and the newspaper industry can do that before they disappear altogether.

Another day, another five job applications

I have sent out at least one job application each working day for the last nearly seven weeks — to both actual jobs and to companies I’d like to work for which had no posted openings. That’s a minimum of 35 — I suspect the real number is higher. So far I’ve had two interviews, one of them pretty positive, and received two no-thank-you letters (both in response to cold-calls). I have had one cryptic non-official offer of a job I don’t know that I’d take, and another cryptic communication that sounds like it might be an offer in the making but it’s sure taking its time cohering into something I can put on my CV.

Even though I’m trying to spend as little as possible, I feel like I’m watching my bank balance trickle away. The bills still need to be paid, after all; I still need to eat.  I’m someone who’s not particularly suited to counting pennies if there are quarters in the jar. So when my enabling neighbour knocks on my door and asks if I’m interested in an outing — to the grocery store, or that store where you have to have a membership and you buy toilet paper rolls by the gross, or the nearby big-box hardware store — I go, promising myself that I won’t spend a dime, but I always end up seeing some small thing I can’t live without. Drip drip drip goes the money…

My mood, which was unrealistically bright and sunny seven weeks ago, is becoming darker. I’m yelling at the cat, impatient with myself and my friends — and about to come to blows with my ISP. The little no-see-ums that are impossible to escape on the front lawn reduced me to tears the other night (and the Off clip-on that I bought to combat them and the mosquitoes in the back was useless against them).  I’m becoming tired of penny-pinching and frustrated at the lack of action on the job front.

My job search hasn’t even dragged on that long, relatively speaking. I just started with such good energy, it seemed like it would be impossible for it not to pay off in some way, and  quickly. It’s hard not to measure myself against the success of my fellow layoff victims. Of the ones I know about (there are a couple that I’m unsure of) about four or five have landed in a better position than they left (though three left the province to do so); a couple of others have regular freelancing gigs; a bunch took lower-paying jobs at our former employer’s new workplace; a couple more are back in the old office as summer interns. I may have come flying out of the gate, but I’m currently one of the very few among those original 25 who is not re-employed in some way. And that’s freaking me out, say what you will about the relative “success” of those who took their old jobs back for less money.

I’ve started to be assailed by self-doubt, imposter syndrome, wondering if maybe I’m not as good as I think I am and worrying about what happens when the money runs out. And I don’t care if this is something that happens to everyone in my position. My position is that I have years of experience, have been told I’m really good at my job, have been told I’m doing all the right things to find a job, and have been told that there’s lots of work out there for someone with my qualifications. When the sum total of all those parts is continuing unemployment, I figure it’s my right to feel like hitting something.

You know what’s funny? I actually wrote about the exact position I’m in while I was still employed — about being over 40 and out of work and not being able to sell employers on your fabulousness. I have to be better at following up on applications I send out, but otherwise I’m managing to avoid the traps I described in those articles. I’m beginning to think, however, that there are pitfalls to this job search thing that I failed to warn me about.

Are you job-hunting like it’s 1999?

A few weeks ago I blew a young colleague’s mind when I said that I’ve been unemployed for about six months total since I started working as a journalist. Given the working world in which she operates, where people her age jump from one six-month contract to another, that’s an unheard-of feat.

While I have looked for work with greater and lesser intensity in those years — eyes always open but able, from a position of employment, to pick and choose among the opportunities that presented themselves — I’ve never mounted a full-on job search. In the past six weeks or so I’ve found that some things have changed considerably since the last time I was unemployed and looking for work, but in other ways, well,  plus c’est la meme chose.

I grew up in Nova Scotia, the notorious home of pork-barrel politics, where voting the wrong way could mean your job. They always said it’s not what you do, it’s who you know. I used to think of that as Nova Scotia’s shame, but it turns out that’s just how the world works, it’s just called by different names  in other places. In this networked, hooked-up, LinkedIn world, it’s even more about who you know than it ever was.

And that’s because of the hidden job market. Think of the job market as an iceberg: jobs that appear in classified ads and on job boards are the pointy bits above the water, but about 75 per cent of the available jobs are lurking beneath the waves. And some of them haven’t even been created yet — they’re waiting for someone savvy to come along and “discover” them, suggests Pam Lassiter, an author and consultant who thinks it’s a little masochistic to reply to job ads.

Others say reply to the ads, but know that everyone else in the world is replying to them too.  Better to use this  time to tap your network, put the call out on Facebook, to your relatives and friends, former fellow students, former colleagues, your kid’s soccer coach — no matter how random the acquaintance — not asking for jobs, but asking if anybody knows about something that might be out there. Because life is random and so is dissemination of information — you’d be surprised who knows someone who knows someone. My grandmother, who hardly left her rocking chair in my lifetime, had contacts from all around the world because my travelling aunt introduced her to people and my grandmother stayed in contact with them, storing away their news like nuts for the winter. My grandmother had mad networking skills.

Cold-calling is also vital in the hidden job market — best to do so with a referral (see above re: tapping networks), but even without one, sometimes you’ll never know if there’s an opportunity unless you ask. You need to get in touch with your inner pushy self, shoulder open a door and announce your presence. That’s easier, for me at least, in the age of email — I get to say my piece uninterrupted. At the same time, you often don’t know whether anyone’s actually read your electronic introduction unless you follow up with a phone call.

I think the best advice about conducting Job Search 2.0 can be summed up in one word: focus. Focus first on yourself — who you are, what you want, what you can do, and what you can offer an employer. Then focus on the kind of employer that you want. And then focus on prospective employers, fit them into your box, if you can, instead of twisting yourself around to fit in someone else’s. And then, once you’ve decided who you’d like to work for, contact them, let them know that you’re not just cold-calling a name on your list but that you’ve targeted them, you’ve chosen them. And then let them know why they’d be foolish not to hire you. It may not work, they may not have any openings, but you’d have made an impression — a good one — and that’s its own kind of currency in the job market.

Will it go round in circles?

One of my friends, a fellow journalist who professionally has climbed heights I’ll probably never survey the world from, is slowly being driven crazy by her job (undocumented, but you learn to recognize the signs).  In fact, since I’ve known her she has had three jobs and every last one of them has made her that little bit more unbalanced.

She’s a better-than-average journalist,  but she has a wild case of imposter syndrome, which means she’ll work twice as hard as anyone else in the room because she feels she has to continually prove she even has the right to stand in the doorway. That work ethic has certainly served her well on paper — and it’s why she has her current job. But having established early on that she’ll work like a fiend, she finds herself constantly called on to do so. That, combined with her family obligations, leaves her with little time to enjoy her husband and kids and the other fruits of her labours.

Which is why, whenever the two of us talk, the conversational circle will always come back around to “if we didn’t do this, what would we do?” It’s almost a heretical question for true believers — those who live to serve the news, and are in turn nourished by it. And some parts of our souls will always be faithful to the cause.

Our apostacy is rooted in a number of causes: for both of us it’s disappointment in never having, for whatever the reason (and they are legion, and at least some of mine are my own fault) done the jobs we dreamed about doing when we entered the profession.  For me there’s a lot of frustration at not being able to pass through closed doors and low ceilings; for her, it’s exhaustion and never being able to admit she’s exhausted (her world is far more cutthroat than mine). And that’s just for starters.

So if not this, then what? I don’t know what it’s like in your workplace, but I suspect this is also true outside of my own profession: when you’ve trained to do a certain thing, and your very training for that thing teaches you to put on the blinders of the faithful and not to consider doing other things (journalists are continually warned against the evils of the public relations field which tempts with better hours and pay) — well, you eventually stop being able to see over the walls of your box.

Another friend is a guidance/career counsellor and a few summers ago when this question was once again making my head spin, she took me through the exercises she gives her clients to determine what they’d be good at. Mine came up “newspaper reporter/editor” but that’s at least in part because I weighted my responses so that it couldn’t be anything else in top spot. Other potential careers for someone with my skills included politician (ha!) researcher, public relations agent, book editor — the list went on.

It was mind-opening in some ways, because as I said, once you’re in that box it’s hard to see over the sides to the bigger world — especially, I might add, if you’re a desk jockey, as I have been for most of my career, with limited professional exposure to the public. Working nights, as I did for years, limits your exposure even more.

But just having the list wasn’t the answer either, particularly in this day and age when it’s nearly impossible to walk into a workplace, claim you have skills and a willingness to learn more and get a job. A B.A. is the new Grade 12, and a Master’s is the new B.A. For every kid with a dream and a desire to learn from the ground up there are a kazillion others with credentials who get first pick. Given my own disdain for “citizen journalists” I have to be careful of hypocrisy here, but I will admit — and argue — that credentials aren’t everything. And even if you took the time, did the work, to become credentialled, there’s no guarantee of employment in your chosen field, especially if you still lack experience.

All this leaves me back in the circle with my friend, who’s starting to suffer physically from the stress she’s under. If not this, then what? How? When?