Nobody Finds A Job Alone

University of Central Florida

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Nobody finds a job alone.

I was thinking about this last week, after dinner with a former co-worker on Thursday. Both of us had been brought into my current company by the same man, who was trying to get him to return to the company the rest of us still worked for.

As I was driving home after dinner, I thought about the dozen or so jobs I had helped people (some friends, some acquaintances) start over the past decade, and I realized that none of them had ever helped me get a job in return.

But, you know what? I haven’t yet helped the three men who found jobs for me:

  • Neil , a former grad school roommate who moved to America ahead of me and guided me into his company;
  • Marty, who called me for months before I finally agreed to interview;
  • and Mark, who I briefly worked for at Kronos, and who introduced me to my current employer after moving there himself.

All great men. All, I’m sure, have helped many other besides me. I’m part of their dozen, and others are part of mine.

Isn’t that strange? It’s as if career assistance is a giant game of pay-it-forward. Three people helped me. I helped a dozen. Hopefully, some of that dozen will help others whom I will likely never meet. And on it goes.

Which brings me to to 2010. I last looked for a new job in 2007, and I believe the landscape is very different today. For me, 2007 was like 2004, and 2001. The companies and jobs I have found through connectors like Neil Wornes, Marty Wells, and Mark DeArmon, have been good fits, even if I didn’t think they would be at the time. The jobs where I connected through unknown third parties tended to be brief, and bad matches, despite my initial feelings after the interviews (I’m looking at you, Robert Half).

But 2010 is different, apparently.

Prior to this year, I didn’t notice much of a social networking component to the job market. I joined LinkedIn in 2003, but only recently have connections there crossed over into the real world. I’m one of the geeks who has 400+ LinkedIn connections and actually knows nearly every one of them personally.

So I want to to walk you through a decade or so of job search history from age 29 to today, and discuss what worked and didn’t, and what I still recommend and don’t, and a few lessons that I hope are useful to anyone about to start a new job hunt.

Part 1: Prior to social networking sites.

Lesson 1. If you are young, and especially if you are in school, get out there early.

I was lucky (and financially already in trouble) when I started, so I had nothing to lose by taking anything I could.

When I returned to school after my bachelor’s, I walked directly to the career placement office and told them I wanted whatever odd jobs a technical person could do. That got me two short-term gigs almost immediately, as the ‘computer guy’ for an A/V company at a large annual software conference, and as a trainer for a subsidiary of MCI teaching people basics about MS Office and the web. The first led to my meeting a local event planner, whose small jobs kept me fed while I was in school. The second led to an opportunity to write a 1-day primer course for local telephone company workers who were being introduced to this new Internet thing.

That 1-day course course, and being the trainer who conducted it, eventually led me to a job at that telephone company. That was my last full-time job before I left for America.

Lesson 2. If you get the call, jump. Trust your new friends to know you.

When my former roommate called me from a company in Virginia, and told me I would like working there, I needed convincing. I had never lived in America, and I had about 10 reasons why the timing was wrong. But I decided to live in the States for 2 years, get some experience, and return to Canada.

[Note: over time, I met a lot of guys who have moved to America without already having family here. Those who remain here seem to fall into 2 groups. They came for a job and stayed for a woman, or came for a woman and stayed for a job. I’m the former)]

I stayed with that company for two years, but left after talking with a recruiter at another firm about the job of a lifetime that really wasn’t.
Lesson 3. As soon as you can, start speaking to groups, meeting folks, and helping others get work.

After a couple of years, including immigration issues and a post 9/11 economy, I met Marty through our accountant, who I think put us together because we were roughly the same age and were ‘computer guys’. We hit it off, in part because we were (and still are) in different parts of the industry; he’s hardware, I’m software.

Other than a one-time introduction to Darden Restaurants I made for him (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, those guys), which didn’t work out for either of us, I don’t know why Marty kept in touch with me, and kept asking me to join a company he had become a manager with (after meeting the owner on a plane, in first class, of course. Marty’s often lucky like that). But he kept calling, and eventually the budget opened up for a new position, and while I wasn’t sure about the company, I trusted Marty, and joined.

That job was my first return to management in years, and gave me the chance to help a lot of people get hired (and to hire some myself). I especially focused on helping recent grads and immigrants, spoke at colleges and universities, and at one point offered whatever help I possibly could to a meeting of 400 international students at UCF.That talk at UCF was a valuable lesson for me. I was the last speaker, and it took me half an hour to get out the door after I finished. Those folks were motivated to find work (this was about two years after 9/11, things in Florida were still bad), and a small mob peppered me with questions and requests before letting me leave.

From my talks at colleges I ended up either placing or directly hiring at least 4 people in my short time working alongside Marty, including one who graduated from UCF and, I swear, called me every 10 minutes for as long as it took to get me to hire her. I am still friends with her and her husband today, they are great people.

Extra Lesson: You never know where your next connection will come from. That UCF speech was by invitation of a truly amazing lady related to my wife, Melanie Parker. Today’s she’s at MIT, where I’m sure she helps many, many people find jobs after graduation.

Lesson 4. Know what your salary number needs to be, and especially if it’s a big boost for you, argue for it. Once you accept the job, you join the annual review / salary adjustment track, and might never see a big boost again.

From working with Marty, I went to KRONOS, and set to work getting more great people hired there. KRONOS was the kind of company where, if you set your mind to it and didn’t mind the travel, you could meet an awful lot of people, both colleagues and clients. I worked with Honeywell, GE, state and county governments, and many, many others. I also worked with a lot of client HR teams while working both with and for KRONOS (I was a KRONOS customer when I worked with Marty), learned a lot about payrolls, and saw the truth of the old adage “People don’t get what they deserve, they get what they negotiate”.

If you could see who-earns-what in your own company, or the company you are looking at joining, you would be SHOCKED. Many of the hardest-working and critical people in every company earn so little, you can’t believe they actually raise a family on it. And some of the lowest contributors (and least useful) people earn so much, you can’t believe they are kept on. Also, in my experience, especially these days, few people actually rise within a company. And the larger the company is, the truer this becomes.

Extra Lesson: My busiest day ever at KRONOS was when a large layoff was anounced. I knew several people who were laid off, and from a Jackson, MS airport spent hours on the phone (took a later flight) to call everyone I knew who might have openings, to place people into new companies as quickly as possible. The lesson… somedays, it’s your turn to deliver real stuff to real people. When that day comes, don’t hold back. Don’t hold back. Don’t hold back. Pay it forward.

Lesson 5. Somedays, it’s your turn to accept the phone call. It never hurts to listen.

Near the end of my time at KRONOS, Mark DeArmon was hired and became my manager, only to leave six months later. Soon after that, KRONOS went through some major changes. I had been there three years, and decided to accept his introductions to hiring managers at my (now) current employer. Similar to Marty, I don’t know why he singled me out and kept calling me, but he did, and after talking to three different hiring managers, I joined that company.

Summary of Part 1:

These are three men. There are people who think they are ordinary, or worse. But they made big dents in my universe. As I made big dents in others’s. No one finds a job (or starts a business, or does anything big) alone. There are people who can make a difference. You already know who they are. Stop putting them off to another day, a better time, or any other excuse you have. Let them help you. If I knew you’d, I’d help. I have to pay it forward, especially since I haven’t helped them yet.

Next: Part 2: What Social Networking sites change about the job search (and what they don’t).