Monday, May 9, 2011

Work It

I had an interesting conversation with a friend on Saturday night.

She is in the middle of a job search because she is not able to find enough work as a substitute teacher, and it is really tough for new teachers to get a permanent contract (at least where I live it is). She is thinking maybe she needs to change fields altogether.

She is not exactly sure what type of work she wants to do, but has been applying for a bunch of different things just to see what happens. She was complaining about how she has not heard back from any of them, and I asked her if she follows up with any of the companies she is applying to, and her answer was...

"Oh I don't know".

??? Okaaaaay......

Her answer was clearly defensive, almost as if she was aware of how silly it was that she HADN'T followed up on any of these jobs, but just didn't do it anyway for whatever reason. And really I can't blame her. Following up with potential employers is annoying, and it can be embarrassing, too. And, there is no guarantee that following up on a job application will even do anything to help your chances.

Still. I couldn't help but wonder if she is going about her job search in the right way. If there is anything I have learned in the past "Year of Magical Temping" (as I very sarcastically like to call it), it's that you HAVE to set yourself apart from the competition. If you are not offering a potential employer something unique, why would they want to hire you?

The answer is, they won't. Not because you are a bad person or not qualified (necessarily) but because they will forget about you. In a stack of hundreds of resumes, and in an age where managers are more and more limited for time, yours will be passed over. Or if you are lucky enough to have them pick yours out and contact you for an interview, you STILL have to set yourself apart in some way or you will lose your place in the race at that stage instead.

In any case, the fact is there is a lot of competition out there for jobs and many employers have their pick of great people to hire, so anything you can do to make them notice you and remember you is important.

In talking to my friend, I was surprised at both the lack of effort on her part to find a job, and the long list of "requirements" she said she is looking for in a position. I feel bad saying this because there is nothing wrong with having standards, but you have to be realistic. You can't expect a job to fall in your lap just because you apply and you have the qualifications. Sending cover letters and resumes out into the void and leaving it up to chance is simply not enough anymore in today's job market. You have to work hard - it's like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it, and if you are putting very little effort in, well...

This fact really sucks, but it's also true. And the sooner you accept the fact that it IS true and you can't change it, the sooner you will find a job. You can't control what a potential employer does, but what you CAN control is your own behaviour. You can choose to let the suckiness of the job search get your down, throw your hands up in the air and proclaim "I'm just never going to find a job!", or you can change your tactics. You can grab the job search by the balls and make it come to you.

I mean, why do you think I'm temping?! I'm certainly not doing it because the money is good (HA!!). In fact, I hate temping - I make just enough to get by, I have no health plan or vacation/sick time, and can be fired at any time with no just cause. But the reason I am temping is because I tried (to no avail) to find permanent work, needed something to pay the rent, and recognized that temping was a way to get my foot in the door of some notoriously hard-to-get-hired-into companies quickly (e.g. unionized organizations, such as the University I currently temp at, are very picky about their hiring and often have a ton of competition for any positions they post bc of the job security, high salaries, etc). I am temping because I know if I work my butt off in this position and really show what I can do, when the time comes for them to fill this position permanently, I will be at the top of their choice list. Bottom line is, I am willing to deal with some short-term frustration for long-term gain.

I'm not trying to be preachy here, or act like a know-it-all. I sure as HELL don't have all the answers (if I did, I would be super-rich by now). I can only speak from my own experience, and what has worked for me may not work for others. But I hope that my advice at least helps people who are job-searching realize they are not alone and that they might, in fact, be just steps away from success and just need to change their tactics or way of thinking a little bit.

There is nothing wrong with you. There is just something wrong with your strategy.
And that, in a nutshell, is the most important thing to keep in mind as you conduct your job-search.

I would love to hear about your job searching experiences! Please share your own experiences in the comments!


Ashley said...

I stumbled upon this through 20sb, and finding full time teaching work is a challange I think in any province right now, but NS and Ontario especially (at least from what I know). I work as an Instructional Systems Designer writing courseware for an e-Learning company and most of my peers have their B.Ed but have found their way to becoming ISDs because of the tough time finding stable work, the politics that go along with working for a school board, because they hated teaching, or because they just wanted a change. It's a pretty good gig, so I just figured I would share my two cents :P

Anonymous said...

Standing out to an employer isn't easy, especially in the teaching field. I also used to be a teacher and had to leave the pofession a few years ago for similar reasons as your friend.

It is sad, but can't be helped I suppose. A person can only sub for so long before you eventually need to find something more stable.

I found that employers in other fields didn't look too favourably on my years of teaching experience. That might be what happened to your friend. It took me forever to find someone in a non-teaching profession willing to take a chance on me.

You'd think that many of the skills would be pretty easily transferrable - communication skills, management skills, conflict resolution, to name only a few 'teaching skills' that should be valuable to ANY employer. But often it is not seen that way. And - all too often, the hiring process can be biased and becomes all about knowing the right people who can pull the right strings (but that is a different issue).

It sure takes a lot of time and perseverance. Hopefully things have worked out well for your friend. I remember those days well and feel her pain.

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