Friday, May 10, 2019

Making Looking for a Job More Fun

I spent a year unemployed looking for work.
While my computer skill set is broad and highly sought after, getting the best jobs is often competitive and the most skilled jobs for a while were mainly inside the San Francisco city limits and I didn't want to have to make that daily commute. I finally did give up on not going into SF and interviewed there as well. While I eventually found something closer to home, at the end I was casting a wide net.

I was lucky because I did have the resources to cover my expenses once my six month unemployment ran out though I did have to do more explaining about the gap in my employment. Fortunately, I could completely tell the truth. I was tired of being laid off (three times), and I burned months looking for a government (not federal) job. Then I could easily segue into all the topics I'd learned during the time. Given that learning is a huge part of my profession, they heard me.

With all that said, looking for a job turned out to be a very positive experience for me. It was stressful and frustrating at times, but a lot of good things happened. Completely irrelevant to my topic, it gave me time to spend with the last few months of my very senior dog's life which was an unexpected gift. However that wasn't under my control. What was under my control was my attitude about looking for work, and to make myself see the positive aspects.


1. I got to talk to and meet a lot of people.
This is something I actually very much enjoy. The interviewers were almost always interesting to talk to and wanted to explain what the job would be like and what the company was like. In some respects, they have to sell the job to you. They want to make it sound appealing and for the most part they succeed. Job descriptions seem to be designed to sound intimidating. The interviews are the reverse of that. Even when they're asking hard questions they are not there to put you down or to frighten you. They are looking for that elusive "fit."

2 I got to go to a lot of work places.
If you get through the phone interview process, you will likely be invited for an on-site interview where you spend 2-5 hours at the job site talking to a lot of people. In two situations I had to make a presentation of something I had worked on. Sometimes I'd be talking to a roomful of people, but for the most part I would be talking to 1-2 people for 30 minutes to an hour and then the people would switch. They were always good about offering me water or coffee though I always bring my own in a Nalgene bottle that wouldn't leak if it got knocked over.

3. I got a lot of practice interviewing and got very good at it.
You will get sick of talking about yourself and repeating the same stories over and over, but they've never heard the stories before. There are a limited number of questions they can ask you, sure they will come up with a new one every so often, but practice the ones you know they will ask. Examples are: "What was a project where you have the a lot of impact on the outcome?" "If you had it to do over again what would you have done differently?" "What was a project that didn't work out so well?" "What would you have changed about that?" "Describe a bad situation and what did you do to resolve it?"

4. I had the time to learn even more.
I now have a considerable collection of online classes, and I put completed classes at the end of my resume. When I started putting the courses on my resume, I thought no one would pay attention to it. How wrong I was. Continuing education is such an important part of my profession that a very common question was: "How do you keep up with current issues in your field?" A question would come up: "Have you worked with X?", and I would answer: "I've worked with Y, but I've studied X in detail." And then I would give enough detail to let them know that I was familiar with X.

5. Have canned examples of your work style that you can adapt to most questions.
Sometimes in my field, I'm asked to stand up in front of a white board and design something. It's usually not that arcane, but they want to see how you approach designing something. Have a couple of examples in your head that you can tailor to the situation. For me, one would be a diagram which usually looks like connected boxes and a different one being a set of instructions like computer code.

The most important thing is to look at your job search as a series of mini adventures. It helps keep it looking like less of a chore and a little more fun. Admittedly it's not fun, but it doesn't have to be torture.