In my second installment of “Job Seeker Stories” I focus on the plight of the long-term unemployed job seeker. I interview Shannon, a marketing professional on the West coast, who just landed a full-time role. Shannon had a job search experience that contains some themes that I’ve found universal among other job seekers who have been looking for work for a period longer than one year. Read on to learn what Shannon came to realize about her job search journey and the specific things she would have done differently at the onset of her search (or even while still employed permanently) if she would have known then what she knows now. As you’ll see in the Q & A below, and of particular note, is Shannon’s acceptance that adding new and relevant skills to her professional value proposition was necessary to boost her confidence and position herself more competitively in the current job search market. Shannon also created opportunities to keep her skills sharp by immediately taking on consulting work and, eventually, freelance work. Finally, acknowledging the value that a thriving network plays in the life of your career was another takeaway for Shannon that is now a permanent fixture in her long-range career plan.
Shannon worked for her last employer for 17 years in marketing with a focus on direct mail in the cable telecommunications industry. She lost her job, through no fault of her own in early 2017, as a result of the acquisition of her company. Shannon knew for a few months prior to her job elimination that it was coming. She was “prepared” in that sense but states she was totally unprepared for the way the job search has changed in the last 17 years. After her separation from the company, they provided the displaced workers with 90 days of career counseling support through an outplacement firm which she describes as somewhat helpful in resume improvements. What she didn’t gain from this outplacement support, though, was guidance in a direction that made sense for her. She wasn’t sure if she should start her own business or seek a traditional full-time position with another company. She then embarked on what would be an 18-month job search.
Q & A with Shannon
What were the thoughts and feelings (positive or negative) you experienced when you launched into your job search?
I battled overwhelm more than anything. I was excited, looking forward to my next adventure, but afraid I would not find the right job for me and get stuck somewhere I didn’t want to be. My reaction to stress is to stay busy and to learn new things. I was taking branding, business, leadership and productivity classes even before the separation. I was excited to try what I’d been learning. Right out of the gate I took on a big branding project with a consulting client that allowed me to test skills I had been developing over the years and through classes. Meanwhile, I was both looking for traditional jobs and learning what it takes to run a business. It was a full six months before I made the final decision to seek a permanent traditional position with an organization versus building my own consulting business. Working as a consultant, I missed the connections and focus of my corporate role. I wanted to work in a team environment, to do something together that would make a difference and improve the lives of others. I still didn’t know what kind of job I would seek, but at least I wasn’t pulling myself in opposite directions between building a business and finding a permanent position.
What surprised you about your job search?
My job search was so much harder and took so much longer than I ever expected. A lot had changed since I last looked for work. The last time I looked for a job I was a graphic designer with a physical portfolio in a giant black case. I found an ad for a job. I called and made an appointment. I showed up with my giant case. I got the job. I had never been turned down for any job for which I applied in person. The job search is completely different now. The process is much less personal now from the start, more reliant upon the online application process yet also more dependent upon who you know. Networking is much more important than I realized. It didn’t occur to me how important keeping a viable network could be to my career in the long run. Building a network is an invaluable skill I’ve learned over this year+ of job-seeking, and something I feel is essential to continue building. Besides, it’s not painful. It’s fun and enriching to meet new people and keep in touch.
What did you learn about yourself, your skill set and what employers are looking for in 2018?
There is always more to learn. That’s something I’ve always embraced, but even more so during this long job search process. Many things have changed in my field over the years when I was fully immersed in only one company’s point of view. I knew things had changed, but I didn’t fully recognize the changes until I milled around and listened to speakers at a marketing conference. It inspired me to expand my knowledge and update my vocabulary. I studied and achieved certification for Content Marketing through the American Marketing Association. The knowledge I gained gave me more confidence in my interactions with potential employers. I could more easily speak their language.
What would you do differently if you could go back to when you were securely employed in your last long-term job and job searching wasn’t on the horizon?
Network. Just pay attention to what your contacts are doing and send them a note now and then. Plan lunch with new people, learn about them. Networking is more fun than I thought it would be. It expands your perspective and gets you the connections that may come in handy in the future, not only for job seeking, but for other pursuits you can’t even predict. You never know who you know until you sit down and learn about the people around you. For introverts like me, who don’t naturally seek networking, I recommend taking a class on building more confidence in networking interactions and enjoying the interactions with people you just met.
Later in your job search you expanded your efforts to include activities that were not exclusively job-search related. Describe those activities and how they contributed to your ultimate job search success story.
In the spring of 2018, I attended an American Marketing Association conference that lit a new spark for my career. I highly recommend such conferences to revitalize your job search and get a bigger picture of your industry or field. The learnings from this conference introduced me to newer concepts and approaches in my field that I had not been exposed to in my previous role. This knowledge armed me with an understanding of skill areas that are in demand currently. I also took on freelance work as well as the consulting I was doing for my one main client. The freelance work kept me focused and was also a form of networking. It re-established my confidence at building working relationships and producing satisfied customers who would be happy to refer me to others. A job search can be so isolating and demoralizing. Demonstrating to others (and, more importantly, to myself) that I was still able to contribute my marketing expertise, even if outside of a traditional employment situation, was the morale boost I needed to make me present myself more authoritatively and assuredly in networking interactions and job interviews. This was a key contributor to my landing my new role. I was armed with some recent successes and relevant work examples.
Shannon never thought her job search would take as long as it did nor did she want it to extend from one calendar year to the next. Shannon’s story is a valuable reminder of proactive steps any professional can take while fully employed and not facing uncertainty in their job situation. Keep an eye on changes in your industry. Even if your company isn’t implementing the latest technologies or adopting new methodologies, own your learning and absorb this information in any way you can – through workshops, online courses, conferences. Don’t let your skills become obsolete. You may eventually be on the job market and competing with other job seekers whose skills surpass yours. You want to be a viable contender in these battles. Continue cultivating your network even when you are fully employed and even if you don’t think your job is in imminent jeopardy. By continuing to add value to your network and adding new, relevant and meaningful relationships to your network, helps you have the resources you need to facilitate important introductions, connected to new job opportunities, in the future. Finally, most job seekers that find themselves in a job search while being unemployed would tell you it is a largely unpleasant experience. Seeking out freelance work or landing project work for clients where the skills that you possess solve a problem that they have, keeps you active, relevant and reinforces the knowledge that you are still a contributing professional. The battle wounds of a long-term search also tend to make you more sensitive to others going through the same thing and creates the opportunity for you to offer help and advice to them, thereby perpetuating the valuable practice of continual and ongoing networking. If you find yourself in a similar situation to Shannon’s, my hope is that some of her concrete tactics help you reduce the length of your job search and get you to your final destination as soon as possible.