Saturday, March 1, 2014

So you want a job, do you...

More often than not, my blog posts tend to be on the humorous side—lighthearted, silly, entertaining, witty, etc. Unfortunately, a post has been brewing inside of me for quite some time now, and humorous, lighthearted, silly, entertaining, witty, etc. it ain't. In fact, you may detect a sense of anger here. But my anger is far from unjustified. I've been looking for work for more than three years now, and am no closer to rejoining the workforce than I was three years ago. My intention here is partly to vent, but also to try and explain why getting a job these days is not like the simple task of going down to the corner and getting a newspaper as a lot of people seem to think—those people being the ones with jobs, of course.

Just a word of warning: this is a fairly long read, so make sure you're in an uncomfortable place so you don't get too relaxed and drift off to Dreamland. Also, make sure to leave any refreshments you choose to consume out in the kitchen so you'll have to get up and defeat the sleep monster. Something with caffeine would be a good choice, as it will help to keep you awake as well as make you pee, which (hopefully) will also help to keep you awake. That's called "covering the bases."

Before I lay into employers and job agencies, I have to admit that I have a few things working against me. I'm over 50, I've been out of the game for a long time, I'm battling a chronic disease with no cure that sometimes leaves me with less than a healthy appearance, and I lack the esteemed Bachelor's degree. Rest assured, you'll get my thoughts and opinions on all of these and more. And you won't have to make three payments of $99.99 or pay shipping and handling.

In no particular order, I'll start off with the education. I see jobs posted for basic data entry positions that require a Bachelor's degree? Seriously? And they'll pay you, what, $10 per hour to do that? I've been working in offices since 1978. It would take but an hour to show me how to do the job since I already have the basic skill set. Recently I found a job for an AutoCAD drafter for which they wanted to pay $12 per hour. What is this, 1993? And that position required a Bachelor's degree! I've been using AutoCAD for 20 years! All they'd need to show me is where my desk is. More and more companies will not train you how to do anything, which is completely ridiculous because they do have to show you how their process works. Not all companies do the same thing the same way. A friend of mine recently had a technical writing job at a major company, and when he asked how to get started on writing a set of instructions for the product, he was told, "We don't train people. You'll have to figure it out for yourself." Really? Needless to say, he didn't last long there.

Perhaps not getting my Bachelor's degree was not such a smart idea on my part. But the thought of going into tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt that I would be paying off for years just didn't sit with me. I was in a good field (engineering support) and figured that I'd learn as I went. This is just my opinion, but I believe that some companies are using the "requirement" of a Bachelor's degree as a means of weeding out the crowd. No degree? Get lost. A degree these days seems to be the coveted FastPass® to landing a position.

That said, I personally know a number of people who are no smarter with a Bachelor's degree than they would be without one. And I know people who have never darkened the door of a college and are among the most intelligent people I know. They just "get it" and always have.

At one time, many companies had a big sign set up in a prominent place on their property, easily seen by passing motorists or pedestrians. On that sign was a list of available job opportunities. All you had to do was to stop at the front desk, pick up an application, fill it out, and submit it with your resume. Then all you had to do was wait to be contacted. You were either told that the job was filled or you weren't qualified, or that they were interested and would schedule an interview for you. You could be told over the phone or via regular mail. But these days, it's entirely a different story. Most companies use job recruiters (temp agencies) to screen applicants and only see the ones they would consider for the position. One place where this poses a problem is that if the recruiter feels that they can't "market you" in some way, then you are out of luck. One of the problems that I'm seeing more often is that a company will advertise a position on an Internet job board (and I'll get to those in a bit) in more than one place. Several different temp agencies will be handling that same job. The same friend I mentioned before applied to one agency for a particular job, then applied for a similar job at the same company through a different recruiter, not knowing that it was actually the same job. And that agency told him that he was no longer being considered. Because recruiters make their money based on placing applicants, they don't take kindly to another agency trying to place a person into the same position. It's understandable, but, unfortunately, we jobseekers get caught in the middle of it.

More and more agencies are contacting people from clear across the country—if not the world. I regularly get calls from people with Indian accents telling me about a job, say, out in Irwindale. That's only 70 miles one way from home. [rolls eyes] Do these people have any idea as to how Southern California is laid out or what our traffic is like? I also get calls for, say, a six-month contract job in South Dakota. What do I do, sell my house and move there so I can look for work and housing again in six months?

Oftentimes, companies will advertise a position on a job board when such a job is either non-existent, or they're unsure as to what they want. People apply and anxiously await contact, only to find out that the position has been canceled.

Newspapers these days are of little or no help because most positions are handled by job recruiters or posted on the Internet. When/if anything about a position changes or the position is filled, it often continues to run in a newspaper because the ad was paid to run for so many days.

But there's no excuse to keep a job running on an Internet job board. Many times I've found a position that I'm interested in, only to click on it to view the job description and see the words, "This job is no longer available." It's not? Then take it down! If you run a job board, then you should be monitoring it more often than once a week! Another annoyance with some boards is that when you click on a job to view it, you're taken to a page that wants you to buy something or sign up for a service of some kind. There's usually a little link that says, "Skip this offer" or "No, thanks" that you can click to get to the next screen for the job.

All over the Internet, there are articles for jobseekers telling them what they should/should not put on their resumes or cover letters, and many of them flat out conflict each other. So who really knows the "correct" or "proper" way to handle these matters?

Don't even start me on the Employment Development Department (EDD) here in California. That back assward agency is stuck somewhere in the late '80s or early '90s. Their Job and Career Centers are a great idea. They offer the use of computers and printers for jobseekers to look for work, create or update resumes and make copies, and offer seminars about the various job hunting skills. However, they forbid the use of the popular flash drives and CDs that most people use these days to store information. At the Job and Career Centers, you have to use 3-1/2" floppy disks. Remember those? That is akin to having an 8-track tape player in your car. I asked one time and was told that flash drives are forbidden because of the danger of someone releasing and spreading a virus into their system. You mean viruses didn't exist until flash drives came out? Anyone looking to do such a thing could compress an evil file onto a floppy disk and set it to unzip and release the virus onto the world.

I never did understand why so many companies don't hire older workers like myself. We are the most loyal folks you'll find and tend to spend our work day actually working, not looking at Facebook or playing games online.* Maybe we want too much money? It costs too much to provide insurance for us? Were it me looking for someone to get a job done, I'd look at someone who has shown that they have the skills needed or be willing to learn. We want to work and stay put. I believe that many companies are scared that they train someone and that person will leave for greener pastures, taking that training—and the company's investment—along with them. And that's sad because it could be prevented by offering the training or education on the condition that the employee continue working at that company for X amount of time. There's nothing unreasonable about that.

*OK, I'll admit it, I've done these things, but it's only when there's been nothing to do or I'm at a point where I'm eagerly waiting for something to come back to me from another team member or department for further work.

Regarding gaps in employment, I can understand why any employer would prefer someone who has been working continuously, but given the status of our national economy over the last decade or so, it's quite obvious that some people have lost jobs through no fault of their own, and with fewer jobs and more people looking, getting hired (read: winning out over everyone else) is tough. Again, like I mentioned previously, employers need to look at the skill set/experience and at least interview the person. You can't hire someone if you don't talk to them—preferably in person, but even over the phone. Some of us haven't worked in awhile, but many things are like the old saying about riding a bicycle. You just don't forget how to do it.

In my experience, a couple of recruiters abruptly stopped submitting me for jobs, even though I was qualified. One actually got terse in her e-mails to me and would not take any phone calls. If I did something wrong, or if a client did not like me for any reason, it would be a service to let me know so I can correct the problem. Was I not dressed appropriately enough? Did my easygoing personality and sense of humor come off as unprofessional or annoying? Did I smell? See, if I don't know, then I can't make things right for the next time, can I? And recruiters: please keep us jobseekers in the loop—even if it's the dreaded, "You didn't get the job." It's better to find out and move on than to wait for the job that isn't coming.

In all fairness, I have to say that like with anything, there are good recruiters and bad ones. I've had the pleasure of working for both kinds, and a few have been absolute gems.

So there you have it. At least some of it, anyway. It's very likely that there will be more as I think of it. I am not an expert on these things, but have had enough experience to know what's going on. Any thoughts or comments are appreciated if you so choose.