I are a flower

Canada’s employment rate was 7.3 per cent in May and the consensus expectation is for it to stay the same in June when Statistics Canada makes its monthly report on July 6 —  at least one group expects it to rise a tick. The usual suspects of deteriorating confidence and unsettled international outlook are to blame. Lack of confidence might well be laid at least in part at the feet of those laying off workers — people who lack money to spend and who lack prospects for earning money to spend are not contributing (or feeling good about their prospects for contributing) to the economy.

That said, the Conference Board of Canada‘s Help-Wanted Index, which measures online job ads, actually rose in May. And if posted jobs are just the tip of the open-position iceberg, then it’s a logical extrapolation to think  that the numbers of hidden jobs must be growing as well.

There are a number of ways to go about getting those jobs — for example, you can do what I’ve been doing a lot, and applying for every opening (with your fingers crossed more for some than for others); or you can do what I’ve been doing a little as the job postings dry up:  researching companies you’d like to work for, and sending them targeted job applications.

Richard N. Bolles has made a career out of helping people figure out how to find their best job — and he must be pretty good at it, because his book, What Color is your Parachute, is currently in its 40th edition. And his website is JobHuntersBible.com — and you’ve got to be pretty authoritative to declare yours the last word in job-seeking orthodoxy. The book comes with a companion workbook to help job-seekers focus in on exactly what it is they’re looking for in order to narrow their job searches and more reliably end up with a job they really want — even when “there are no jobs.” On Page 1 of the workbook, readers are invited to think of themselves as six-petalled flowers, with each petal representing different wants and needs, and the centre made up of their skills.

For the exercise, readers are asked to list (all in order of priority) the values they want their employers to have, the special areas they want to work in, the people-environment they’d like to work in, the working conditions they prefer, the levels of responsiblity and salary they want and their chosen geographical locations. In the centre, they’re asked to list their top six transferable skills – physical, mental and interpersonal.

Once you are a fully realized flower, it seems, you can choose your own garden and blossom as opposed to throwing your petals to the wind.

This smacks of goal-setting to me, and as I’ve discussed, I’m not very good at that sort of thing, but it probably wouldn’t do me any harm to imagine myself as a beautifully scented wild rose with six vital petals and a bunch of black and yellow stamens in the middle with bees buzzing all around… Uncredited photo from website FreeAlberta.com

See, this is the problem with imagery, I get carried away with it… Anyway, next time you see me I will be a flower. And I will also spend some time studying my job hunter’s bible. Can’t hurt.

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.