By Sean M. Wheeler, LT, USNR-Ret
In the dead zone of this stagnant economy, it’s reasonable to say that most everyone is probably tired of the whole thing and with good reason. As August approaches the politicians debate how to address the debt ceiling before the Federal Government runs out of money, America’s unemployment line grows longer and tempers get shorter. At this point, I don’t want to hear any more arguments about who created the bad economy. Everyone and their dog knows the liberals will say conservatives did it, and the conservatives will say liberals did it. I’ll say this much, everyone of you in Washington better figure it out and soon. “It” being the sick and tired, worn out, had enough of this garbage mood of the American people.
At the grass roots level we feel it every time we buy gas or go to the grocery store. We don’t have cushy pensions after a couple of terms in Congress either, where Anthony Wiener can expect a possible windfall of around a million public dollars in pension, even after his display of extraordinarily bad judgment.
We don’t care what party you are in because if things don’t start to change and soon, a lot of you (in both parties) are going to be out of jobs come the next election. Then you can wallow in the mud created while you all pursued personal agendas and were not working for the American people. Ahh, I feel better but that is subject matter for another article anyway so I’m moving on. — After all this article is titled Hidden Blessings in Unemployment.
The truth for me is that I continue to have hope, even though I’ve been in the job search mode since September of 2010 when I first learned of my pending layoff. That news was painful on a very personal level, but I have come to accept it because nothing I can do will change the past. What I do have is total control over how I react to this new “adventure” along the way. It’s had its ups and downs for sure, but I’ve truly found some blessings in this situation. Impossible you say: To lose half your income and consider that a blessing in disguise? Yep, it’s true, well sort of. I’ll explain how in a bit. For the moment I’ll say that my hope comes from several sources, not the least of which is the number of interesting new people I’ve met along the way along with a few other unexpected blessings as well.
I’ll start with the interesting people angle, those whose path I would never have crossed had I not been laid off. Many are more than interesting: They are inspirational and their contact in my life, however brief, simply renews my hope. I would never have known or found HirePatriots.com or connected with the people there if I had not started the job search. They have a great site with a lot of good things on it to keep me motivated. I would have probably not gotten into LinkedIn or Twitter either. Yet on both those sites I’ve met people who are not only supportive, but who really care about me too even though we have never met in person. One such great individual is a retired Marine “Master Guns” who calls me every other week or so just to check in, see how things are going.
None of my friends from the old office has called to do that, not once since my December layoff. But now, through LinkedIn, I have a new friend who I never would have met in my old life. Another of my interesting contacts came through Twitter, where I exchanged tweets briefly with David Kim, CEO at Baja Fresh and author of the book “Ignite: The 12 Values that Fuel Billionaire Success”. It’s not that we have become friends; but, what really picked me up was the fact that a man following 10,000 plus folks on Twitter took the time to send a nice tweet to me. He’s got to be really busy running Baja Fresh and a couple of other companies. I had seen him on Undercover Boss where I was impressed with his willingness to be open about his faith in God. He and his father both inspired me that night to be grateful for what I do have. I realized that I still have much more than most of the people in this world, even if I don’t have a job at the moment. That is why his tweet lifted my spirits, which I do need on occasion.
If we think about it, many of us looking for work still have a lot of blessings. Ok, I don’t have a new car, but I have one that works fine and gets me where I need to go. I also eat well enough, nothing fancy and not in restaurants, but I’m not starving. It’s been a good thing too as I’ve cut down on treats and lost nearly 40 pounds since December. We also have a nice home and are making our bill payments, having trimmed the fat. Dave Ramsey would say that’s a good thing and I’d agree. (Google him if you don’t see the reference.) I’ve also got decent clothes, nothing new except a couple of pairs of pants I’ve bought because of the weight loss. One can’t look baggy at the interviews when they come. Thus for I’ve got presentable clothes to wear. I also have the love of my family, some old friends at work, people at church and others. Every one of these things is a blessing to be thankful for: Remembering all of this helps to keep me going so that I can focus on a whole world of opportunities to explore.
I know from experience that my new life will be better than the old. This is my 5th layoff due to budget cuts and each time I found a better job. In the meantime, I’ll keep hold of fond memories and let go of the regrets. Of course, those in the unemployment line have a few justifiable gripes that the working folks may think sound like whining, but it’s one of those things you won’t get unless you’re unemployed. You lose a lot when you lose your job: from income, to self-esteem to friends, and connections held dear from your old office. What I want to do with the balance of my time here is take a look at the complaints from both sides, and offer what I think are reasonable responses and hope as well.
I’ll try to be brief with the gripes but I want to say some things other’s in my situation can relate to, for the benefit of those who don’t get why it’s sometimes very frustrating here. One thing I’ve find real disturbing are the complaints from people who now say they have so much more to do with fewer people in the office. Tough. Please folks, don’t complain about how hard your working life is around people who are unemployed or their family members either. — Yes your office dynamic has changed and yes you have more to do, but you are still getting a paycheck. Be glad you still have that.
Another disturbing trend I’ve seen is coming from Human Resources types who show up on employer panels at job fairs, at networking groups and in work centers that I visit. They say, “we are just overwhelmed!” — In Colorado, HR offices have complained so much to the State Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) about their work load, the State has levied a new and burdensome requirement on the unemployed. — Here’s a question: Isn’t that what you are paid to do? Imagine life without your pay and take another look at that pile. You could be part of it.
In response to this whining, Colorado has come up with a new program to make the lives of hiring managers easier, at the expense of the unemployed. It’s called the “Colorado Career Ready Certificate”, gotten by taking an ACT test for grown-ups. Why? The logic is the unemployed need to prove they are ready to enter the workforce. — I’ve worked since I was 15 years old and now the State wants me to prove that I can do basic math, reading and that I can find something in the file room. I hold two degrees and that should say things about me. I should not have to prove this to anyone. I’ll take this one on more in a future article. For now, I’ll just say it’s a stupid idea in my humble opinion.
Anyway, now that I’ve done a bit of my own whining I have to admit there are some legitimate complaints for employers too. We, the unemployed, need to recognize this. We can do some things differently and by doing so, maybe help the hiring managers, and maybe even stand out enough to land the job. That’s the ultimate goal anyway.
DON’T THINK OF STARTING OVER AS NECESSARILY STEPPING BACK
It’s true employers are getting a lot of resumes as the result of so many desperate people being out of work. I’m anxious too, but one thing I never do is apply for a job when my resume shows absolutely nothing that relates to the job description. Doing that wastes peoples’ time, mine and the potential employer. It won’t pan out for me or them, so why bother?
There are entry level jobs I’m looking at where I do meet the requirements for that position. If you are thinking why go there (and I’ve done that) the answer is you may have to if you want to work. — I’ve had to start over several times over the years. Every time however, I’ve landed a better job with a better income and had no regrets in the end. This time I’ve decided that in this weird economy the rules have changed. Starting over must be on the table as an option for me today. In addition, the entry level job will pay more than I’m making now…which is nothing…and it may come with good benefits too.
Consider this case in point. I’ve applied to be a barista at Starbucks. Yes, I’d be working with a lot of early 20-somethings, and likely working for some of them as well. People in their 30’s and up may think this is a step down while I don’t necessarily look at it that way. After all, who says I can’t learn something from the right younger person? Not me, and perhaps I can teach them some things too. I’ve also met a lot of “kids” who are in fact very wise, very good at what they do and who a refreshing energy level to the work place. I’ve been described as hyper so I’ll keep up, and love it too! It is simply foolish to eliminate talent and wisdom based on youth. Another plus, I’d be part of a team again and maybe it will be a group of people like I had in my last office. We considered each other like family and while I miss that, I can find another team to be part of with the same outlook toward their fellow employees. There is a lot of good to be gotten from living in this kind of relationship that goes well beyond the monetary benefits. It can bring us joy.
Another concern for many is that in all likelihood the pay will be less than what we made in our last job. Again that’s now ancient history as far as I’m concerned. There is an upside here as I see it. First and foremost, I like Starbucks or I would not have applied there. I also like their product and being in their stores. So OK, I start at the bottom again; but, I would still be back in the workforce and it would be at a place where I’d enjoy working. It’s income and maybe things will lead to promotions, as I suspect Starbucks will recognize I have experience and point me in that direction. I have also heard many times that Starbucks takes good care of its employees and has good benefits too. This comes not only from employees for Starbucks who I’ve met, but from other’s who know people working there. I’ve never heard anyone say they hated working for the company, and that says a lot to me about the quality of the organization. They haven’t called yet but I’m hopeful, and who knows it could lead to something bigger and better than what I left behind.
I should add one other thing about resumes. Spell and grammar check them and have others look too. I personally am a terrible speller, but I use spell check, and look things up in the dictionary. The same also holds for cover letters. For more on what to put into a resume, the types of formats, etc. see my previous article at HirePatriots.com. There is a lot of free help available for putting together a great resume and cover letter so I won’t address that again here.
SORRY BUT YOU’RE OVER QUALIFIED…HORSE HOCKEY!
With all deference to Col. Potter from MASH (where I got the horse hockey line), over the past few months I’ve run into a number of people who say they’re told “we’re sorry but we think your over qualified” at the interview or in the follow-up conversation. Regrettably I’ve only had one interview, and the comment didn’t come up. I’m ready for it when it does. I’ll simply say that I’m not over qualified to eat. I’m also ready for the follow up comment too that is often, as I’ve heard, “well you’ll just jump ship at the first better opportunity to come along”. My answer to this…you think the 22-year-old just out of college won’t? I’ve posed this response to recruiters on employment panels and they’ve all been stumped. Unlike my parents, my generation did not grow up with the idea that you start at a company and stay there for 30 plus years. From what I know by talking with many of them, the current generation of college kids and 20-30 something Generation Y’s share this idea with those of us in Generation X.
For that reason, there is no greater risk in hiring me than a kid coming out of college kid. There is less in fact, because I’ve already had my share of moving around from company to company. When presented with these answers, the recruiters on employment panels had to admit it was true. I’ll then move in for the kill so to speak. Yes, I’d say, I’d like to move up but within your organization.
There are a few more benefits those of us over 35 offer employers too that the fresh out of college crowd often does not present. For one, I’m not going to question why the principal or CEO makes more money. I already know they’ve earned that income and all the perks that come along with it. I know I’ll eventually earn more too and I’ll be worth it because I have already got solid experience I can bring to the job. With me it’ll be less on the job training. In addition, you don’t have to worry about me having “tat’s” or “weird piercings” that have to be covered up at the office as it’s not a good business image. I’ve never gone in for that and I’m not about start now. I’m also not going to ask to bring my dog to work, I’m not going to ask for every Tuesday off to go to yoga or find myself, and I’m not going to expect your office to change its culture to accommodate my lifestyle of the week and I’m not going to expect that you provide over-stuffed chairs where I can lounge with my laptop because cubicles are so yesterday, Dude. — Further, I know how to show up on time and not leave early, and what it means to put in an honest day’s work. — Hiring managers should really start to consider all these factors when they are looking at the older worker vs. recent college graduate question.
Think I’m making this stuff up? I’m not. When we were on our way back from Japan in 2008 from a visit to our Marine son, I read an article written about the challenges of hiring Gen-Y. Written by a human resources expert, she concluded that kids today expect all the things like comfy chairs, yoga afternoons, dogs at work and most of all more money and perks from the start. She even said they are not just asking, but demanding these things and threatening to walk if they didn’t get all of it. Her conclusion was that employers had better accommodate these demands or they will not get new employees. Reading that I kept saying to myself “what a crock”! Since when, in the annals of time, have the kids determined what the post school hiring world must provide. I would have sent every one of them packing and moved onto the next candidate or the next, until I found the kid that was realistic in what they expected, or until I found someone who understands that a better salary and perks are earned, not entitlements.
When I left grad school in 1995 I started at a company that paid $24K a year and I was happy to get it, even with a Master’s degree. Guess that makes me sound like the Grumpy Old Man character years ago from Saturday Night Live, and I don’t care. Its how someone just starting out should behave, with gratitude that they have the opportunity. At my last job with a County Government, one department was paying interns $12.00 an hour because they said they could not get interns if they didn’t pay that much. Out of all the students looking for internships I bet they could find good ones who would be happy to take minimum wage. My internships paid that and I loved the work. It was more about getting real life experience and should still be that way today. Yet again, the employer is accommodating an entitlement expectation. It’s worse in this case, because it’s at taxpayer expense too.
The reality is that since 2008 the employment picture has changed radically, but not the expectations of recent college grads from what I read recently in the local newspaper. With so many qualified people looking for work, why are employers even putting up with this? Yet, I still hear recruiters say that hiring me is somehow more risky than hiring a Gen-Y, even though the risks are not greater and I bring more experience to the table for the same money. So there you go, my answer for the over qualified and looking to jump ship concerns. I believe, of course, that I make compelling arguments but I have to admit one thing. I have yet gotten the chance to put it into practice. It is also the truth, and truth is always the best defense I say.
IT’S AGE DISCRIMINATION! MAYBE NOT…
I’m sure there are cases of this but I’m equally certain some people use this as an excuse. I’ve heard as well that while it used to be if you were 60 or older, it’s harder to find a job. In the last 10 months people have told me that number has dropped to 55, 50, 45 and now 40 depending on who I’ve talked to. I don’t buy it. To me it’s about finding a company where I would be the right fit for the job they are offering and age won’t play into it. Besides if I buy into that depressing logic, will “they” say next that the definition of an “older worker” is now 30 or what? If the negative thinkers have their way, ultimately the Pampers generation better prepare to grab that briefcase and bottle, and toddle off to work instead of pre-school. My advice is this; don’t cave into the negative stereotypes about older workers and their challenges, whether you are on the hiring side or the job seeking side. Even if it’s true to some degree, it is not true for every job, every company and every older worker. I believe that in all of these cases there will be people who look beyond age and more at the individual. It’s about finding the right fit with a company. I know there are jobs out there for people of all ages so I’m not going to spend time around people who insist on being negative and want to drag me down with them.
The truth is it’s not only the kids who feel entitled either. At a recent job fair class I listened to a freshly retired Army Colonel make the age discrimination complaint. He was convinced that because the companies refused to pay what he was worth…it was really age discrimination. Bull! I wanted to tell the Colonel that when he left the service he left his rank behind as well. I didn’t get the chance as the instructor leapt right on it. The instructor did not follow up with what I would have added however. I’d have told the Colonel that American business does not exist to offer you a job at a certain pay level. You are worth what the company says you are worth to their organization. It’s their money to spend how they see fit. You have to earn it. It has nothing to do with age if you are turning down jobs because the pay is not what you think you are entitled to. That, in a nutshell, is why I could work for Starbucks as a barista. The pay for that job is not going to be what I made before, but that’s what Starbucks pays. I’m also sure I can show them I’m ready for management training once I learn the ropes on the front lines where the heart and soul of the business lives. I can do that quickly I bet. Thus the low pay is only a temporary situation and I’d have my foot in the door with a company I’d like working for because of all the reasons I’ve listed above. Starbucks, call me. I’m ready, excited about the chance and I love your product line. — Enough shameless pandering.
My hope is that I’ve offered some thoughts on why there are blessings to be found in my being unemployed, no matter how difficult it is in the short term. I know that others have it worse I know too such as single parents who’ve lost their job, or homes where both spouses are out of work. Unemployment rules that prohibit people from taking part time work as that “income” gets deducted from unemployment do not help. For those people, I want to offer my final source of inspiration, blessings and hope. At this junction if you are not a religious person or you’re offended by religious views, you can stop reading now and take what I’ve said for whatever you think it is worth.
I am religious, I’m a Christian in fact. My strength in these days comes from my relationship with God the Creator. As I said, I’ve been laid off due to budget cuts 5 times now in my life. Each and every time it has led to a better job, new friends and a more blessed life. Thus God is batting 1000 in my book. I also know this from my faith; I am not defined by what I do for a living, what I do is defined by who I am. Looking at it that way lets me know that I have a lot of options, aside from the job search activities. For example, I’m looking at starting my own business. Maybe I’ll get more schooling in restaurant management and open a franchise. I’ve already got solid people skills and know I could hire a good manager and other staff too. I’ve also got solid customer service skills learned through hard work, trial and error and most of all practice. Those are two key skills in running any business that I already have. There’s money available out there to help, but I have to look for it. In the end I’d be creating jobs instead of looking for one.
I’m also considering setting up a 501c3 to create a site where historic structures can be relocated, preserved and have their stories told. With that I’d create a series of historic botanic gardens to be a further attraction. I’m a landscape architect by education, and I know I can do this. God has given me a big dream to pursue here but I’ll need to do the work. Money is available for that as well, and a number of well-placed folks in my community have expressed support for the idea. I’m on it. With that and everything else in mind, I know this is not the end for me by any means. I fully expect my best years are ahead. My approach is best summed up in several quotes I’ve found recently.
“Pray as if everything depended on God, work as if everything depended on you.” — Author unknown but I totally agree.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding… acknowledge him, he shall direct your paths.” — Proverbs 3: 4-5 — (Thus God has already lined up the people I need to help me and has my next job set too. I just need to be patient, which is not my greatest strength.)
And finally a good one from Walt Disney…”All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me.”
So keep the faith folks, know this is not permanent, and that God holds you in the palm of his hand….
Sean Wheeler is a retired Naval Officer and writer along with being a former public sector landscape architect, project manager and land use planner. He lives in and a loves life in Northern Colorado. From there he’s looking in faith to that next great adventure and opportunity.