Sunday, January 25, 2009

Who Am I?

Who am I and how can I help you find a job? I am just a guy like you, a guy that has to look for a job from time to time. I was once a computer programmer and now I consider myself a technical writer. I am not sure whether I can help you find a job, but you have to admit the price is right -- free.

I am not here to sell you my secret for finding a job because I don't have one. I am here to post my thoughts about getting a job. I am currently looking for a new job myself. If there is a secret to finding a job, maybe we can discover it together.

There are books about finding a job, like What Color Is Your Parachute, which I read a long, long time ago. The guy that wrote that book has updated it several times since it was first published in the early 1970s, probably because what worked then does not work now. The basic premise of that book was: figure out the job you want, how far you want to commute, and the companies that meet those requirements. Then you find a way to get into those companies with your resume and talk to someone that might be able to hire you. Why it takes so many pages to say that is anyone's guess.

That basic routine should still work today. You have to figure out what it is you want to do for around 40 hours a week, you have to have a resume, and you have to get into an acceptable company and talk to someone, face to face. Sounds pretty easy, right? Not really. Lots of people have read that book since it came out, and a lot of those people run companies and work in the Human Resources departments of those companies. And those HR people do not like to be bypassed by people trying to talk to the boss or managers of the company.

One of the hardest things I have had to figure out is what I want to be when I grow up. I am one of those guys that never took charge of my career. I also read a book about that -- Taking Charge of Your Career. I suppose I have done that to a certain degree. When presented with a job opportunity, I take charge and say yes or no. But does anyone have much more control than that? Even lawyers or doctors are always lawyers or doctors (unless they change careers altogether). It is just a matter of where, and maybe when, they practice their craft. As I recall, that book was suggesting that we should all be a little more proactive about where that next offer comes from.

I am not sure about you, but I have always been one of those guys that works mainly to make money with as little hassle as possible. Consequently, my career has been a series of happy accidents. I have a degree in mathematics and computer science, so I became a mainframe computer programmer. In my second company, I became a quality assurance manager. In that same company, I was asked to manage the documentation department, which got me into the technical writing and documentation business. I have done technical writing jobs since then. I worked for two different companies during my first twenty years after graduating from college. After being downsized out of the second company, I have worked at maybe six more companies, mostly as a contractor.

As you can see, I have reinvented myself along the way. I called my career a series of happy accidents because, with every new job, I have moved closer to something I like to do. I was a math and computer science major in college, but I also took a lot of writing and English classes as electives. So maybe my progression wasn't an accident. Maybe I have just been moving from jobs I can do to jobs I want to do. I have no secrets about finding a job, but I would say the secret to doing a good job is doing something you like to do because you are going to be doing it most of your days.

Another piece of advice that I have always heard is that you should find a new job while you still have a job. I have always admired people who do that. I usually like the job I am doing, but, even if I don't like the company where I work, I figure why jump from the frying pan into the fire. What if I take another job and it is worse than the job I have? I have known people that change jobs like that and soon they are back (if possible) or looking for another job. Of course, many successful people move from job to job, climbing the ladder. That brings other thoughts to mind like the bigger they are, the harder they fall and the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle says "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his/her level of incompetence." Yes, there was a book written about that, too, in 1968 (see Wikipedia for the full story). That makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. Everyone finally gets to a point, if they keep taking on more advanced jobs, where their knowledge runs out. Most everyone finally takes a job for which they are not qualified. Why do you think you have had so many incompetent managers? They were probably great at doing the work, but they stink when it comes to being a manager. That is not always the case, but many times it is.

I suppose all that is a bit off the subject, but your career path does play a part when it comes to finding a new job. Do you want to keep doing the same job somewhere new or do you want to go a different direction? Just about every time I lose a job or my contract ends, I throw up my hands and try to figure out some new way to make a living. I think of playing the lottery in hopes of striking it rich, of inventing something like the Flow Bee, or of starting my own business. Many people turn one of their hobbies into a business. I recently heard about a programmer who lost his job and started a photography business. He uses his programming skills to display and advertise his photography on his webpage. About the only hobby I have is playing the guitar. I used to do that for money, but I doubt that I could support my family by doing that these days. I do write songs, most of which only have one verse. Not many singers want to buy unfinished songs.

Anyway, your expectations have to be realistic. While I might be able to land some kind of writing job other that technical writing, I am not likely to be hired as a medical writer. If you are a bread truck driver, you could probably become a FedEx truck driver, but you are not likely to become a FedEx airplane pilot without some serious training. That goes back to managing your career. You could take airplane lessons in your spare time and then you might become a pilot for FedEx sometime in the future. I know a lady who was laid off not long ago. After trying to find a job for a while, she decided to take a project management course. She is now certified in project management and soon found a job with a consulting company. The last time I spoke to her, she was managing an account on site at a local Fortune 500 company. So, if you can afford the training and can afford not to be working for a while, you might consider updating your skills to fit the requirements out there today. Your present company might even pay for training that would help you move into a higher-paying job in your current company. I have personally taken advantage of that in the past.

I suppose that is enough for an introductory post. I have been told that no post or documentation item should be more than a couple of screens long because hardly anyone has that much of an attention span these days. I know I don't.

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