Friday, May 30, 2014

"Fool me once, shame on...shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." --George W. Bush

Well, I nearly unfollowed someone on Twitter today -- a company, actually.. I'm not going to say who, but I am going to say why, which means if they read this blog they'll know it's them (but no one else will, I think). Sorry.

Everyone likes a good inspirational quote; the internet's full of them. You've probably shared a bunch of them yourself. On Twitter, with its 140-character limit, they thrive. But I've mentioned in previous posts that I have a knack for trivia. That doesn't just mean that I remember lots of otherwise useless information. Oh, no, if only it were that innocuous. When I learn something new, I have to be sure it's true. That means if you tell me a rule, I will pull out the rule book. If you assert an odd fact, I will google it. And if you quote someone, I will look up the source. It's not that I don't trust you, it's just that I'm going to want to use that bit of trivia myself, and when I do, I'm going to want sources to back me up.

That's why I'm considering unfollowing them. You see, they like to tweet quotes. LOTS of quotes. But they don't check the sources, and it drives me nuts when they misattribute them, as they so often do. Some examples:

"A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes -- The Supremes."  Oh, no. That's from Disney's Cinderella. Written in 1949, when Diana Ross was just 5 years old. The Supremes may have covered the song, but they're not the source.

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again -- W. C. Fields."  Really? Nope. That's from Thomas H. Palmer's "The Teacher's Manual," dated 1840. Funnily enough, if they had just tweeted this, without attribution, I would have just accepted it as an aphorism of no particular origin.

"Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching. --Satchel Paige." This one's tough, because the Satchel Paige attribution is fairly widespread. But according to The Quote Investigator website (where they've actually done some real research on it), it's much, much more recent. I'm talking 1987 recent, derived from song lyrics by Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh, and performed here by Kathy Mattea.

Anyway, for someone who has an obsession with a perfectly normal appreciation for trivia like I do, this is maddening. I'm not going to unfollow them, though. Oh, no. Now, when my Twitter feed flickers and a new quote appears, I'll just take a deep breath, open up my browser to, and take the opportunity to learn something new.
By the way, the quote in the title? I didn't make that up

Thursday, May 29, 2014

You Say You Want a Revolution

There's a small revolution building in the business world, spearheaded by people like Liz Ryan of Human Workplace and Stacy Donovan Zapar of Zappos. It's a paradigm shift in the way employees and potential employers interact. In the future these two business leaders envision, the day of the job board is over, and cover letters have gone the way of the dodo. What's interesting is that they're coming at the same problem from opposite sides of the table, and arriving at pretty much the same place.

Liz Ryan approaches the issue from the point of view of the job seeker. I've mentioned "Pain Letters" before -- Liz Ryan is their creator. To that she adds what she calls the Human-Voiced Resume, aimed at taking your resume beyond a simple list of who-what-where and turning it into an accurate look at the person behind it. It's revelation she came to when an applicant for a job she was hiring for wrote on his resume, "Other: Unusually wicked sense of humor for a Finance person." [Click here for the whole story on Liz's LinkedIn page.] Liz's strategy, in short, is to avoid the hell of keyword-based "applicant tracking systems" by writing directly to the the actual boss, not the HR department. You don't apply for an opening; you tell them why having you on the team would be to their advantage. The expectation is that the boss will see the human and not the buzzwords, giving you a leg up.

Stacy Zapar is in charge of "Social Recruiting and Employer Branding" at Zappos. Why does an employer need to brand itself? That's her weapon in the hiring revolution. Zappos has done away with job postings. Instead, they've developed teams, like the Creative Services Team, the Marketing Team, or the Administrative team. They've invited potential employees to become  "Zappos Insiders," and through social media like Facebook and Twitter, the current Zappos employees and managers interact with people who've expressed interest in their teams. Everyone gets an idea of what everyone is like, and when an opening comes up, they don't post a boring old keyword-infested "help wanted" listing on a job board. Instead, the Customer Loyalty manager says, "Hey, that guy Bob, he's expressed an interest, he seems to fit the culture, and from what we've seen he can do the job. Let's get him in for an interview."

The big difference between these two is that Liz Ryan is asking a job seeker to step outside the usual comfort zone and take the risk of offending a potential employer. It is, she says, a risk worth taking. Stacy Zapar, on the other hand, has repurposed social interactions in such a way as to make the job seeker feel like they are already part of the team, they're just waiting for the hiring letter to arrive. In both cases, however, they advocate re-humanizing the hiring process, and getting back to the days when employers looked at the person first and the resume later.

This posting is also posted simultaneously on my LinkedIn space.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A really big shoe

Now I know how those variety-show plate spinner guys felt.

I say this a lot, but I'm pretty lucky; this time, it's because I know I have a fairly wide range of options in my career search. I've been focusing on writing, and looking at translation jobs, but I've been doing so to such an extent that I forgot my other "preferred" career: teaching. I'd love to be able to take these languages I've learned and pass them on to other people, and not only is it something I like to do, it's something I'm good at.

So this past weekend, as we were sitting around enjoying our days off, I was browsing through a job listing website, and I came across some teaching positions that look right up my alley. I tidied up the ol' resume and wrote a nice cover letter. I tried to make a contact before sending them off, but I don't know how successful those efforts will be. Time will tell.

But back to the plate spinning. I had nearly forgotten that teaching had been my first choice for post-military careers. Susie, on the other hand, has been doing substitute teaching, and working on getting her Florida teacher's certification. She's taken a bunch of the required tests, passed them all with flying colors (no surprise there), and is well on her way to certification in several subject areas. She got a test result back tonight, in fact, which reminded me to check out what's required for me to teach in MY subject area ("World Languages," they call it here...)

Turns out, I've already completed most of the requirements. Well, gee. No sense in holding off, then, is there? Two hours later: application submitted, transcripts requested. Once that's all sorted out, I can start applying for teaching jobs in the local area.

Now I need to look around and see if I've left any other plates spinning.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

To absent friends

This isn't a post about job hunting, or career change. It's a post about gratitude.

Yesterday (Monday) was Memorial Day here in the US. It's a day set aside in memory of those who gave their lives in defense of our country. It's a bit strange to people in many other countries, because most of the rest of the world celebrates that on the 11th of November. If that sounds familiar to you Americans, it's because that's the day we call Veteran's Day, and we celebrate and thank all those who have served, living or dead.

There's a sort of schizophrenia involved for most Americans where Memorial Day is concerned. It's the unofficial start of "summertime," so the instinct is to celebrate with picnics and parades. That may be the cause of the confusion. We want it to be a celebratory day. Many stores have sales, towns have parades, and almost everyone who knows a veteran will take time to thank them for their service. As a veteran, I appreciate the sentiment, and I'm grateful for the support. I know it's meant kindly, which is why it would be churlish of me to offer a correction.

As a veteran, I'm very lucky, especially given the fact that our country has been involved in armed conflict for the past 13 years. I've never been exposed to direct combat. Yes, I've been in places where someone could have shot at me, if they wanted to, but no one ever has. The number of people I know personally who made the ultimate sacrifice is, in round numbers, zero. But I do have close friends who have lost close friends, and I know that the well-meaning but misguided thanks offered bothers them more than they'll admit.

So I'm going to say it here, the churlish thing. Not for myself, but for those who can't, and for those who won't.

Thank you for your kind sentiments, but you're thanking the wrong person. This day is for the ones you can't directly thank, because they're the ones who never came home. Take a moment, while you're grilling your burgers. Think of them, when you're raising a beer, and drink a toast to them.

Friday, May 23, 2014

4 days? Cool!

Well, folks, I have an unexpected 4-day weekend in celebration of Memorial Day. That being the case, I'm going to start by declaring a 4-day weekend here on the blog as well.

I'll be back with a new entry on Tuesday. Also (and this is kinda cool) LinkedIn has granted me access to their Publishing Platform. That means I'm now allowed to publish a blog directly on LinkedIn. If you're a contact of mine there, you may have already seen a notification when I reposted Thursday's post from here over there.

What does that mean for this blog? For now, nothing. Fairly soon, however, I'll probably start posting alternate days here and there. So if I publish here Tuesday, I'll publish there on Wednesday, and include a link back here. Then on Thursday, I'll publish here, with a link over to the LinkedIn blog. Or something like that. Still not sure.

In any case, if you're in the US, enjoy your long Memorial Day weekend. I'll be back on Monday!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Well this is a bit... meta.

Writer's block sucks. How do I know? Because I have it right now. That's a bad thing for someone who has committed to write a new blog entry every day about his mid-life career change. It's even worse when the field I most want to find work in is writing.

So I just decided, just a moment ago, that if I couldn't think of anything of real substance, I'd just start writing. It's a valid technique, and it often breaks a writer's block.

I've wanted to write for a long time now. The first creative thing I wrote was in 5th or 6th grade, I think. Our school had some visiting author/poet/puppeteer/something couple in for a few days, and on the first day, we talked about creative writing. I wanted to impress them, so I wrote a story. It was horrible. The plot was, "Can the hero disarm the bomb before it blows up the cruise ship?" I thought I was being so clever, because the last word of the story was "Boom!" How tragic, the boat sinks, everyone dies.

The next creative story I remember writing, I actually presented to my teacher as fact. We were supposed to write an essay about a vivid memory. Well, I made mine up. I spun a yarn about walking through the woods with my dad and my grandfather, while Grandpa's dog ran around us in the snow. We were looking for the perfect Christmas tree, which, of course, we found. I got an A, and a "Well written!" from the teacher. I was so proud of it, I rushed to show it to my grandfather. He read it, smirked at me, and said, "You little prevaricator." I remember that specific phrase because we'd just had the word "prevaricate" as a spelling word.

Then came high school, and most of my writing was boring research papers. I did have a couple of nice articles in the school paper, but not much more than that. And after I joined the Air Force, of course, it was reports and translations and transcriptions and analyses. All told, 20 years of technical writing, formatted writing, free-form writing, performance reporting. Not much call for fiction or creativity there -- well, sometimes, in the performance reports... I kid!

After the internet became a thing, I started a blog. No, not this one, another one. I wasn't very assiduous in keeping it active, but I wrote some stuff over there that I'm still quite proud of.

I guess I've kept writing this because I found something to write about after all. It's something I've mentioned here before, if a bit obliquely, and it's this: I know I'm no expert here, so who am I to keep writing this blog? Who said I should do this?

I found the answer a little while ago, in a blog post written by game designer Will Hindmarch. He was writing as a guest on Wil Wheaton's blog, and while he was using the occasion to publicize his game and story creation website, he answered my question quite succinctly.

To paraphrase: Who says I should do this? I do. I'm writing this because I want to. I hope I find an audience, and I even hope that someone in that audience can help me on my path to employment, but the real reason I'm writing this is because the page was blank, and I needed to fill it.

Here's the link to Will Hindmarch's post on Wil Wheaton's blog.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

You never know where the road might take you

I hit a rough patch this afternoon, and oddly enough, it touched a little bit on what I posted about yesterday. I recently read an article by Liz Ryan about a new sort of job search. Liz is an advocate for using "human voice resumes" and, instead of a cover letter, what she calls a "Pain Letter." A Pain Letter is where, having found a company you want to work for, you identify what need they have. That's The Pain. There's someone sitting up nights worrying about it. So you write a letter to that specific person, and say, "You guys are having a great year, aren't you? I see that you've got a new contract for framistat exports to Overthereistan; that could be a tough sell. When my last company had a new export contract, I found a way to double our production while cutting costs by a third, which meant we had a profit of $45 million more than we expected. If you think this is the sort of expertise you need to help your new venture, my contact info is on my resume."

Anyway, I mention this because what a Pain Letter does, among other things, is focus the hiring authority's attention on how you can help them, and not on "well, your resume doesn't have all the keywords." Of course, you have to back it up, but it can fast-track the process. So as I'm doing my search, I realize that most of the local jobs are service-oriented. Lots of truck driver, hotel night clerk, and retail store manager type jobs. And I started to panic. This area is a tourist area. Sure, there are other industries here, but mostly it's tourism. There's no one here for me to send a Pain Letter to, if I wanted to. Which means I'm probably going to have to find my job the old-fashioned way, which means I'm probably going to have to start at the bottom.

Now this is a known thing, with us military folks. We have lots of experience in our jobs, and we are given TONS of experience in managing people, almost from the very beginning. We really don't want to start at rock bottom, and honestly, we probably shouldn't have to. But many employers are wary, and since our military jobs don't translate exactly, they justify it by admitting we have experience, just not the right experience. Hey, it's their company. But today, that thought really bothered me.

So I took a break from my search, got myself a soda, and started talking with my wife, while searching the web sort of randomly. She said, "It's pretty obvious we're going to have to broaden our search area; why don't you start looking farther afield?" Well, that's not ideal, but it's true. So I fired up or something, put "writer" into the job title with no geographic limits, and hit "search."

Soon enough, I came upon a job that looked exactly like something I could be very happy doing. And, miracle of miracles, there are two work location options. One is teleworking. We wouldn't have to move? Well, cool! The other option... is San Francisco. That's one of the very few "hell, yes, I'll move there" cities on our map. But bad news... they want x years of experience doing y, they want a portfolio of z, and some other stuff. There has to be a way around this, I thought. This is a job for a Pain Letter.

I went to their website. It's pretty casually written, like the job ad was. Irreverent, even. Good, good. Keep digging. And then, jackpot. A whole page about how the founder discovered his passion for his industry, clearly written by him, very chatty, very informal. And at the bottom, it said, "If you want to work here, and you think you can fit in here and do a, b, and c, but don't see a listing for a job, write to us, and tell us YOUR story."

So I did. I keyed my tone to the tone of the founder's story. I told them MY story of how I found a passion for their industry. I told them why I had the expertise they wanted. I told them why they needed to hire me, and not someone else. And I pressed "send."

This may not have been the most sensible thing, but it felt right. It felt like the perfect way to connect with this company. If it wasn't, well, they weren't going to hire me anyway. But if it was... home run.

Just the act of writing that letter boosted my mood. Sending it wiped away all my earlier doubts. I had taken a positive step, and that's the most important thing I did today.

And then I went out for sushi with Susie. Cuz that's how we roll around here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Throwing darts

I've been spending a lot of time looking at job boards and trolling through LinkedIn for opportunities in the past couple of weeks. I've even had a couple of conversations with recruiters and hiring offices, by phone and email. The problem has been that most of the jobs are not in the area where I live now.

Relocating for a job is a big move, but it's something I've done more than once. It's sort of an occupational requirement in the military. But we've just moved here, less than a year ago. We thought this was going to be our last move, and we're getting settled into the area. So whenever one of these employers asks me if I'm willing to relocate, I'm really hard pressed to answer. I've given it some thought, though, and what I've been saying is the simple truth.

"We've just moved into this area, and while we'd very much prefer to stay where we are, I'm always willing to consider relocating for the right opportunity." I think this is a fair answer to both me and the employer. I am willing to relocate, I'm just not eager to do so. And there are many factors that go into what makes up the "right opportunity." Of course, salary and benefits are right up there, but those would be a factor for any job. Of course, I haven't gotten that far in any discussions with employers, so that's moot for now.

One of the big factors is "Do I want to live in [insert city here]?" For 20 years of  my military career, I have had almost no say whatsoever in where I lived. For the first time in a long time, I can go anywhere I want. I have two children in school -- does the new city have good schools? Are there cultural opportunities? Is it a "red state" or a "blue state," and is that the color state I want to live in? What's the weather like? Can I stand to shovel 3 feet of snow every couple of weeks in the winter? Does the very thought of 100-degree summer days make my brain melt?

I've been taking this sort of as-and-when for the past couple of weeks, but I realized today that there were so many more opportunities available if I just broadened my search radius. If I'm really "willing to relocate for the right opportunity," I need to sort those questions out now.

So Susie and I are going to get a map of the US -- a big one. We're going to look it over, and draw colored circles on it. Maybe green circles for "take any job offered here, it's our dream location" and red circles for "not for a million dollars." Blue circles could be for "you know, this place isn't that bad, but the pay would have to be a bit higher" and yellow circles for "gosh, I'm not thrilled with the city, but if the job is perfect and the pay is outstanding, sure."

Google will be our newest best friend. We'll know average rainfall and number of museums. We'll know if there's a minor league baseball team or a pro hockey team. We'll know if there's a light rail system or a draconian city recycling program.

Of course, being military has advantages here as well. We know someone, or someone who knows someone, from just about everywhere. Networking isn't just for job searching.

Once we've got a master list, then we'll have the info I need to be able to tell the recruiters, "Thank you for contacting me, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and I'd love to work for your company, but my family and I aren't willing to relocate to Frostbite Falls right now."

Are you willing to relocate for a job? If so, would you take anything and go anywhere, or are you selective? If not, why not?

Monday, May 19, 2014

What's playing at the Roxy?

Well, here we are. Monday again. I spent the weekend with my family, goofing off, which was really nice. I did have one significant accomplishment. I taught my 15-year-old son an important life skill: how to mow the lawn. When we lived in England, the place we rented had a huge garden (they call them gardens there, not backyards). It was so big we had to have a gardener for the trees and plants, and a lawn guy to cut the grass. I was once asked if I had a lawnmower for all that grass, and the answer I gave was, "Yes, I do. His name is Paddy, and he comes every other Thursday." Now that we're in a much smaller place here in Florida, we take care of it ourselves. By which I mean, now when asked if I have a lawnmower, I can say, "Yes, I do. He's my son, and he mows every other weekend." (OK, it's not as funny that way, but I can still say it.)

I taught my son to mow the lawn for a couple of reasons, one of which was that I didn't want to mow it myself. Well, it's true. We're lucky that the grass in our yard is some special magic grass that the previous owners put it, that sort of only grows so high and stays really thick, but it still needs regular cutting. So on Saturday, I passed on the lawn mowing torch. In the business world, we call that "delegating."

What I really wanted to write about here was motivation. In my story above, I wasn't motivated to mow the lawn -- but I was motivated to teach my son how. So here it is, Monday. It's either back to work or back to a job search for most of us -- maybe both. If you have a job, the motivation is pretty obvious: go and do the job, or don't get paid (and lose the job). But if you're a job seeker, the motivation is all internal. If you decide to skip a day and go see a movie, no one is going to fire you. Yes, in the long run, you need a job to pay the bills and support yourself (and maybe a family), and that's motivating, but a job search can be demoralizing. Day after day of calls, letters, research, resumes, and if you're lucky, interviews. Day after day of no callbacks, "sorry, not hiring," "thanks but no thanks," and "we'll get back to you." That can wear a body down.

So how do you keep yourself going? Is it enough to just keep telling yourself how important it is? Or do you have some little tricks to get you through? An ice cream cone after every 10th application submitted? A special dinner with the wife after every interview? No TV until you've made 15 cold calls?

I'd love to hear your tips.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Show me the money? But...

I had two very interesting telephone conversations today, both with potential employers. The first was with the founder of a very interesting non-profit, who was looking for translators and translation team coordinators. The second was with a resource manager for a government contractor, who was looking for a specific sort of intelligence analyst.

The first conversation was a very relaxed one. The founder is quite proud of his organization, and was telling me about the good works they do. It was quite enlightening, and it was definitely something I could see myself doing, especially if I could get in on the ground floor. The biggest problem is that it's currently an unfunded organization. Everything they do is pro bono. There's financing in the future, and the intent is to pay people eventually, but for now, it's all done for love. Honestly, I'm pretty sure I'm still interested. He did make an unusual request regarding a sort of cover letter/application/music video he wants, but in his context, it makes sense.

The second interview, however, went off into left field within the first five minutes. Let me back up a bit...

Yesterday, I got a LinkedIn connection request from a resource manager in a company I didn't know. Naturally, the first thing I did was look at his profile, then at that of the company. OK, fair enough, it's a legitimate company, hiring people who do what I do. Of course I'll connect with one of their resource managers! So I clicked on the LinkedIn request, and found that there was a note attached. In it, he asked if I would be interested in [specific job]; if so, would I send a resume?

Well, [specific job] isn't something I have experience in, but I assumed he must have seen my profile, and seen a possible fit. Not knowing what the job was, I sent my most broadly-targeted resume, thanking him for his interest and asking for more info about the position. This morning, I woke up to find a response to the resume, asking if I'd be willing to take a phone call. Well, that's a no-brainer, right? I set the appointment.

At the appointed time, my phone rings. I answer, we exchange pleasantries and small talk for a moment, and then he asks the first question: How committed am I to staying in Florida? I told him that while our preference is of course to stay where we are, as it's least disruptive to our family, I would certainly consider relocating for the right opportunity. He laughed, and said, "Sure, I can understand that. I mean if someone offered you a million dollars..."

And then he asked the bombshell question. The topic I've been told never to broach on an initial interview. The one that shouldn't even be considered until a second interview, or an offer is made.

He asked me, "So, what sort of salary range are you thinking about?"

Well, I hadn't even considered this question yet. At this point, we weren't even really having an interview, just a preliminary discussion that might lead to an interview. Remember, I had asked for more info about the job, but I still didn't know exactly what the job was, or even where it was. I suppose I should have laughed and said, "How about a million dollars?" Unfortunately, I wasn't thinking that quickly, so I vamped.

"I'll be honest with you," I said, "I hadn't gotten as far as considering that, because there are a lot of factors that play into it. There are other benefits to consider, the location and cost of living. For instance," I went on, "if a gallon of milk is $3.00 here, and $5.00 there, I guess I'd need about 40% more money just to break even. I'm sorry, but I couldn't even begin to come up with a number right now without more information."

"Well, that certainly makes sense to me," he said. And then he went on to ask a bit more about my qualifications. We realized fairly quickly that, while I do possess skills that his company hires for, in the case of this specific job, I really wasn't the one he was looking for. Fair enough. I'm not going to represent my skills dishonestly and apply for a job I'm absolutely unqualified to do.

We closed the call on a friendly note. He specifically asked if he could keep in touch via email and LinkedIn, and said he'd keep my resume handy (yeah, they all say that, but I believe him). And after we hung up, I remembered to shoot him an email thanking him for the call.

So... is it just me? Or was that weird? I thought the money question was one that was saved for later in the process. You know, "If they want me, then we can talk money."

Has this ever happened to you? Do you ask this question of your candidates? How did I handle it? I'd really like to hear some opinions here... I'm a bit confused.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Frank Bank

I just had a friend on Facebook post a plaintive request: "Oh, power of the interwebs, what is the piece of music that you often hear played when something is running on TV? Horns, strings, and some marimba/xylophone in it?"

Instantly, I answered, "That must be Khachaturian's Sabre Dance." I was correct.

I'm convinced that I've got an extra lobe in my brain, that only holds trivia. Like... who played "Lumpy" on "Leave it to Beaver"? (And what was the character's last name? And what was the character's actual first name?) Not just things like that, but quotes. I can quote whole scenes of movies I've only seen once. I can often name an artist or song just from the first few notes. Man, I wish I could be on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" or "Name That Tune."

That's the real problem with a job search. Everyone has a talent of some sort. But how can you make that pay? My talent seems to be that I'd be good on a game show, which... well, not really a steady source of employment. I just don't know. Is there a job out there for a guy who knows that Lumpy's last name was Rutherford, and that his first name was Clarence? (I already told you who played him in the title of this post.)

What about you? Does anyone out there have a talent that they are better at than anyone they know? I mean something like, "I can throw a Frisbee 100 yards and hit a target every time." Sure, there's disc golf, but I don't know if there's a pro circuit, or how to break into it. What about, "I have always been exceptionally good at whistling"?

Is there something that you can do, that you love to do, that no one else can do, that would make you wealthy, if only someone would pay you to do it?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Slow news days

They happen. They're not fun, but they happen more often than not, I'm told. Well, today sure was one. I didn't see any new postings, I had no new views of my LinkedIn profile, and, well, I didn't have very many views on this blog today either.

But I must keep on. When the day is empty and the prospects seem to be thinning out, it's really important to find something else positive to look at. I can see how it would be really easy to get discouraged, and then depressed, when things slow down.

Fortunately, Susie reminded me that I had been in touch with a college last week, and I need to call them back. I was looking around at some Masters programs, and I found one that looks like it would be the perfect fit for me.

Remember I said I got certified as an Accent Reduction instructor, and that I'd really like to be able to teach foreign languages? This program is a Master of Science in Second Language Instruction. It's not a teaching certificate, it's more involved with theory and pedagogy, and certain to be helpful to me.

I spoke with the deputy dean last week, and she said, "Where did you find out about this? That's a new program we've developed and we only just got approval for. In fact, I don't even know when we're going to start teaching it." I told her it was on her website. She laughed, and said, "Oh. OK, then, I guess we're actually going to teach it!"

So I need to call back, and talk to the dean. She's going to have the information about the program, and when and where the classes will be offered. I'm really hopeful that this works out. And that's a good thing, because otherwise, there wasn't much hope in today, job-wise.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I almost always say "transitioning" when I talk about the direction my life is going now. To quote another of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." It implies a smooth change of states from one to another. It would lead you to believe that everything is planned out, every step mapped, and everything will flow along without a hitch.

That's not how it is. "Transition" is a good word, but "transformation" may be a better one. Or maybe "violent upheaval."

OK, that's a bit much. But there is a lot involved with this process that you never think about until it's time to go through it. There are medical exams, dental exams, and meetings with the finance (payroll) office. There are classes I have to take (which I took, and actually got something out of, and which I already talked about on this blog). There's a meeting with a rep from the VA, where they'll take my medical records and decide if anything in them indicates any form of service-connected disability. I have to meet with the education office, to tell them how I'll be using my GI Bill benefits. I have to go to the housing office, and get them to tell the finance office that I'm not occupying military housing. I have to go to the "mobility office," to get them to agree that since I was never issued a gas mask or protective suit, I don't have to turn them in. And it goes on. Each of them has their say, and they each have to sign a paper that says they're done with me. Then I have to take all of those slips of paper to someone else, who counts them, and weighs them, and says some magic words over them, and decides that I have "out-processed."

It is a transformation. It's a step-by-step dismantling of my lifestyle, which will end on the final day of my service when I take the uniform off for the last time... and have to start actually deciding for myself what to wear to work in the morning.

Of course, that's if I have a job by then. My god, I still have to look for a job! I still have to write resumes, make phone calls, send letters. I have to make contacts, and go to interviews. I have to assess and re-assess my skills, re-target my resumes, and start a second wave of applications, and a third, and a fourth. And all of this while I'm doing all of that up there, until finally someone decides that I have been "hired."

As it turns out, this isn't either a "transition" or a "transformation." It's a race, and if I get to "out-processed" before I get to "hired," well, that won't be the result we're looking for.

Here's hoping you're cheering me on, and, as always, if you've got anything to help me get there, I'd be grateful. That's not cheating. It's networking.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A quick update to my last post

In a strange coincidence, this article was posted on LinkedIn this morning...

Who are you going to believe, your buddies or some lah-dee-dah corporate bigwig?

I've been noticing a disturbing trend on the message boards on LinkedIn lately, and it's got me in a bit of a bind. You see, there are a lot of people out there writing blogs and articles on how to find work, how to get your resume seen, how to get an interview, that sort of thing. I know I've been reading a bunch of them, and I bet many of you are as well. The problem is this: some of them are being written by job seekers, and they're putting out advice that contradicts what I'm reading from hiring authorities.

Here's just one example: an increasingly common bit of advice I'm seeing is along the lines of, "I believe cover letters are pretty much useless now. They're just a sales pitch and I don't think anyone one reads them anyway. Concentrate on making your resume look good." And then lots of commenters chime in about how this is a good idea, and it's going to save them time, etc., etc.

Really?? I have yet to hear of any hiring manager saying, "Yeah, his resume looked good, but, damn, I had to wade through that well written, concise, on-topic 4-paragraph cover letter to get to it. I wish he hadn't had that extra sheet of paper there, otherwise I would have hired him."

Seriously, if a hiring manager thinks a cover letter is pointless, he'll skip it and go to the resume. He's got to know that cover letters are standard, and won't ding you for sending one (unless he's already told you NOT to, but that's a different story). But if he wants one, and it's not there? Yep, the round file.

Why does this put me in a bind? Well, it's not because I have or have not followed that advice. It's that I've said from the start that this isn't an advice blog, it's just me sharing my thoughts on my personal transition process. I don't hold myself up as an expert on job hunting -- if I were, I would already have a job. Yet here I am, giving advice with one hand, while criticizing other non-experts for doing just that.

I think -- I hope -- there's a difference. I'm not saying "I think" or "I advise" anything. If I've given anything that could be construed as advice, it's not a suggestion from me. It's something I learned from an expert -- a successful executive, a hiring manager, an actual job-search counselor. I'm just passing on what I've learned, in the context of how I've applied it to my search.

So, that said,  now I am going to give some advice: If anyone offers you some advice on job hunting, consider the source. And if you're a hiring authority, reading this, and I get it wrong, please, please, correct me.

Friday, May 9, 2014

3-2-1 Contact

When I went back to using LinkedIn last month, one of the first articles I saw was entitled something along the lines of "9 Ways You're Using LinkedIn Wrong." One of those ways was "Using Linkedin like Facebook." It went on to say that the point of LinkedIn is to make connections in the business world, and if you're as selective with contacts there as you are on Facebook, you'll never find someone who can help you -- or who needs your help.

I agree with this, about 98%. In the past few weeks I have received connection requests from a number of people, some of whom were 2nd degree connections, some of whom were members of groups I was in, and some of whom were complete strangers. In the case of 2nd degree connections (friends of friends), I always accepted. Any friend of a friend of mine is a friend of mine, right?

If the request came from a fellow group member, again I would be inclined to accept, but I'd usually check out their profile first. Mostly just to make sure they didn't have "serial killer" listed among their hobbies.

It's the last case that gives me pause. As I said, LinkedIn is about connections. If I turn down connections from people I don't already connect with in some way, I lose. My network grows more slowly, which means I miss out on potential job leads. But if I connect with everyone, I open myself up to some things I'd rather not.

What I do, in cases like that, is troll their profile. I'll check out their group activity. Maybe see if we have any 3rd degree (or more) connections. I'll try to figure out how they came across me as someone they wanted to connect with. I received a connect request from someone two weeks ago who picked me simply because he was graduating from high school in the same town as I had. I honestly think he just typed the name of the town in the search bar and hit "connect" and when it asked how he knew me, he selected "went to school together." I wrote a nice (I think) note explaining that while I was flattered that he wanted to connect, I wasn't sure I had much to offer a brand new high school graduate, currently in a different part of the country, who had no experiences in common with me.

But usually I'll accept the request, because I figure it was made for one of two reasons: 1) This person has something they want to offer me (job lead, connection, advice), or 2) This person thinks I can help them with something. Well, shoot, I'd be dumb to turn down the first, and if someone thinks enough of me to ask for help, I'm probably going to help them.

What about you? Are you super-selective with your LinkedIn connections? Do you automatically accept everyone who asks? Or are you somewhere in between?

Thursday, May 8, 2014


One of the things we talked about in our resume-writing class was the importance of STAR-type statements. You  know, "S"ituation - "T"ask - "A"ction - "R"esult. What was amusing was that the briefer spoke of these as though he thought they would be a new concept to us.  Clearly he'd never written an Air Force performance report.

STAR statements are the backbone of the Air Force performance report. We don't call them that, though. We just call them "bullets," as in "bullet points." And space is limited, too. I only have about 25 lines to summarize a person's performance over the last year, each one a bullet representing a specific achievement. I can't just come out and review the performance like I wish I could:

"Joe is an outstanding mechanic who always comes to work on time and does his best. He's the most reliable person here, and knows everything about everything we do. He should be promoted immediately!

Oh, if only it were that easy. Since it isn't, I have to translate that statement into a list of the wonderful things Joe's done this year: And I have to use the very specific format of  "Accomplishment; result--impact" (without the quotation marks, but WITH the mandatory semicolon and double-dash)

My nice straightforward summary above gets transformed into this:

Repaired 25 school bus engines; maintained the entire fleet at top readiness--pivotal to the success of section's mission

Which, due to space constraints, has to be whittled down to something like:

Fixed 25 bus motors; maintained rdyness of fleet--pivotal to msn success

Now comes the really hard part. All writers have editors, and there's no exception here. My carefully crafted bullet statement now has to go to my boss. I don't mind edits-- wait. Yes I do. All writers do. But we live with them; they come with the territory. And here they come:

Repaired 25 bus motors, kept flt at top rdyness--key to msn accomplishment

Then HIS boss looks at it, and she prefers this:

Maintained 25 bus engines; flt kept in top shape--guaranteed msn success

Then her boss will look at it, and he likes this better:

Fixed 25 bus engines; maintained fleet readiness--key to msn success

Then his boss will ask,

"How exactly was he key to mission success? Was the fleet 100% ready at all times, or do you mean we met tasks even if we had some broken buses? Did he fix them by himself or did he have a helper? Did he really fix all 25 engines, or did he just do maintenance on some?"

And there are some 20+ lines on the form, in 6 very specific categories. If ol' Joe up there volunteered babysitting sick puppies, there's a section for it. If he took college classes, there's a section for that. It just goes on and on. Oh, and I have to adjust these because the bullet has to fit exactly on the line. No "white space" at the end allowed... OK, maybe one space. So "deployed" becomes "deply'd" and "established" becomes "estab'd" (or worse, "estblshd").

Were all of those edits substantive? No. Were they necessary? No. Did I make the changes? You bet I did, because you write what the client (boss) wants, the way she wants it.

It's annual performance review, Twitter-style. 

STAR statements are nothing compared to these. At least on my resume I don't have to keep the statements shorter than 64 characters, so I don't have to use asinine abbreviations. Better yet, since they're all about me, I can say what I mean. 

I do have to ask someone to read them over for stupidity, though. Thanks, Susie!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sometimes opportunity uses a battering ram

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I live in the Florida panhandle. If you saw the news last week, you may have seen that we had some severe weather here last Tuesday. Tornadoes, flooding, severe thunderstorm damage. It caught us all by surprise -- hurricanes, sure, but tornadoes? Pfft. Riiight.

Anyway, on Saturday, we got a flyer in the mailbox. One of the local new car dealerships was offering free flood damage inspections. That was pretty nice (because flood damage can really wreck the resale value of a car), but not unexpected (because they can sell you on having them do the repairs). What was, to me, an unexpected extra was their offer, with no other conditions, to store your car on their property for up to a week, while you wait for your insurance to get sorted out. Not "if we do the repairs," just "we'll store your car." As in, "Your driveway's still flooded? Bring your car here, we'll keep it safe for you." I don't know, it's probably not such a big deal, but to me, it said two things. One, that dealer knows the value of going a little bit beyond expectations. Two, that dealer saw an opportunity, and wasted no time striking while the iron was hot.

That second item spoke to me. Just recently, during our transition assistance class, we were talking about what we wanted to do after we got out of the military. I mentioned that I'd like to try writing, or technical writing, but given my language skills, I'd really like to try language teaching -- and not necessarily how you might think. I said I'd like to be able to help ESL speakers overcome accent difficulties. I remember how hard my language teachers worked to get us to speak their languages with as "native" an accent as possible. I also remember how hard it was for many of them, when speaking English, to make themselves clear, even when their grammar and vocabulary were correct. The funny thing was, as I was saying this, it was actually the first time I had ever considered it. It sort of popped into my head as a thought, and it really appealed to me.

What happened next, though, must have been fate. The next presenter, who had been observing from the back of the room, came up to give her presentation. She opened her mouth, looked at me, and began to speak, in grammatically correct colloquial English -- with a very thick Peruvian (she said) accent.

I had never met her before, never heard her speak. I was in shock, and a little embarrassed. I was sure that she would think I had been directing my earlier comments at her. In fact, had I realized she was there, I probably wouldn't have said what I said. And when, after the class, she came up to talk to me, I was worried that she had taken offense. Instead, she asked me if teaching accent reduction was really something I wanted to do -- because if it was, she wanted my help.

Opportunity knocking? You bet. We arranged to meet to discuss what she wanted to achieve, and I made sure to tell her that this was something that I was NOT trained in, and had NOT developed any plan or coursework. She said she understood that I was still "in transition," but she was willing to wait. Even if it took as long as several months for me to figure out how, or if, I would be able to help her, she wanted me to have the opportunity.

I did some research, found some online training, and as of today, I am a certified "Pronunciation of English as a Second Language" Accent Reduction instructor. I still don't know if I'm a GOOD certified PESL instructor, but I now know how to go about it. I have materials, a syllabus, and a plan. I'm going to take some time, talk to my potential client, and let her know that she's going to be my guinea pig. She's going to get a course at a very reduced price, I'm going to get practice teaching, and if, at the end, she likes the difference, it's a win/win.

Fortunately, this is something that is a sort of "spare time" opportunity. In the meanwhile, I keep my job search going, resumes and cover letters continue to go out. If it turns out this really isn't for me, well, I got some good information from the training. And if it is, it just might become a nice little sideline.

This transition thing is a long and winding road, that's for sure, and you really do need to be focused on where you want to be. But you have to be ready to seize an opportunity when you see it -- you might not get another chance.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stop and smell the tulips

I think I've mentioned that my family and just came back to the US from an 8-year assignment in England. It was truly wonderful there, and we really miss it. We were close enough to London that we could take the train on the spur of the moment and be in the middle of one of the most vibrant metropolitan areas in the world in just about an hour. We were also far enough away that our house was a Georgian-era farmhouse on the estate of a Norman-era castle surrounded by farms and forests, and only a 20-minute drive from the shore. We made some wonderful friends, and had some amazing experiences. My wife and daughter even got presented to (and had a brief conversation with) Her Majesty the Queen.

I mention this because there were also people there, lots of them, who hated every minute of their time there, and couldn't wait to get home. They couldn't stand the uncivilized practice of stores that actually closed at the end of the day. They were astounded that there was no Applebee's within 75 miles. They were so closed-minded that they missed out on all the good stuff.

One of the cool things we did was participate in the 2013 Edinburgh MoonWalk to raise money for breast cancer research. We had some extra time in Edinburgh, and as we were walking around enjoying the Royal Mile, we came across a kiosk beside the road. It was a crepe stand, and there was music coming from inside. It sounded... happy.

We walked over, to see what was what, and maybe have a crepe, and we saw the owner, sitting in the corner on his stool. He was happily playing a ukulele, and singing along. He wasn't performing, or trying to attract customers (well, not obviously so). He was just enjoying himself, playing his music, and selling a crepe or two.

As we walked along the street, eating our crepes and listening to the music fade behind us, I turned to Susie, and I said, "That's what I want to do."

"You want to open a CREPE STAND?" she asked, a bit incredulous.

"No. I want to find a job where I'm happy. That man was happy with his work and his life. I want a 'ukulele job.'"

Now, I get that not everyone gets to have the "ukulele job." But I realized -- really appreciated -- for the first time that day exactly how important it is to have a happy balance in life. If your job can help you get that, that's tremendous, but if it doesn't, you have to get it from somewhere else.

I actually bought a ukulele, and started to teach myself to play. I also bought a guitar, and started to teach myself to play that. And they're both fun, but I haven't picked up either in quite a few months. Thinking about it, it's been since this transition became a possibility. Don't get me wrong, I'm really happy. I think this transition is a positive thing, and we're moving in the right direction. It's just (and I'm sure Susie would agree) a wee bit stressful.

I'm reminded of something I wrote about on my other blog, way back when. My son, who was probably about 9, had just gotten a new toy, a hand-carved wooden truck that he picked out himself at a craft fair. He was down on the floor, zooming it back and forth, when he turned to me, out of the blue, and said, "You know, when you get down on the floor with a toy, you can't just help but be happy." I can see the guitar from here as I type this, and the ukulele is behind me, on the piano. I really should pick one of them up and get playing. Because you have to find the joy wherever you can; it's usually not going to come looking for you.

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Spread the word"

One of my favorite movies of all time is Volunteers, a hilarious 1985 film with Tom Hanks as an unwilling Peace Corps member sent to build a bridge in Thailand, and John Candy as his eager-beaver, hyper-motivated, can-do teammate. Candy's character, Tom Tuttle (from Tacoma) is fond of motivational speeches and rousing calls to duty. His favorite book is entitled "Maximizing Growth Potentialwise." It's good for a laugh in the film, but that sort of thing sure can rub the wrong way in real life. 

I'm fully aware that I tend to verbosity when sharing my thoughts by means of the written word, and so I make every attempt to eschew the excessive verbiage in favor of a more simplified syntax.

Huh? "I know I tend to write long complicated sentences. I'm trying to do better." Well, why didn't I just SAY that? Good question. The answer is, I don't know why I do it, I just know that I do it. I am trying to do better.

It's not just complicated sentences that are deadly, though. It's also buzzwords. Jargon. Idioms. Whatever you call them, unless your audience is in the know, you're going to lose them. They are one thing that makes "civilianizing" (if you'll permit me the word) my military experience so difficult. I have to remember to consider my audience. EPR. OEF. TDY. AOR. Downrange. Contingency. Mobility. Readiness. Most civilians won't know what those acronyms and words mean. On a resume, they all usually mean the same thing: continued unemployment.

Here's an example: I had a statement on a resume that I had worded as "Oversaw seven subordinates in the implementation of revised standards for record-keeping." (That's not the actual statement, but it's similar.) What's the FIRST thing you see wrong with that? I'm pretty sure that my military readers and my civilian readers are going have different answers.

I'm going to bet that my military readers will say something like, "'Oversaw' isn't a strong verb, you should make it 'managed.'"

I'm going to bet that my civilian readers will say something like, "'Subordinates?' Think pretty highly of yourself, do you?"  At least, that's what the civilian expert who looked over my resume said. He went on to explain, "Civilian jobs aren't like military jobs. Sure, there's a boss. Sure, there's a team. There's a hierarchy. But it's nowhere NEAR as strictly defined as in the military."

To a military person, "subordinates" just means "people who work for you." To a civilian unfamiliar with the military, it often implies "inferiors." My poor word choice, simply because of a different perspective on vocabulary, could have cost me an interview, and a job.

So, to end this, I'm going to share an actual quote from a US Air Force website. I'm sharing it because it inspired me to write this today. Its jargon content is so high that it actually defeats its own purpose, which is scary because it was a response to the recent Internet Explorer vulnerability. Here it is:

"Request socialization of the impact of this vulnerability across your organizations to the maximum extent possible."

What should they have written? Read the title of this post.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Broadening the horizons

This isn't my first attempt at a blog. The other one was for fun, mostly, and also as sort of as a diary where I could share thoughts with my family while I was away. I wrote about work, life in England where we were stationed, life away from home, things I did with my family, pretty much whatever struck me.

Writing it is what cemented in my head the notion that I really would like to write professionally. I know I've talked about taking my military skills and finding skills that translated into the civilian world. For example, I've called myself a "linguist" for so long, it was easy to forget how much technical writing is part of that job. So, since one of the jobs I've been looking at is technical writing, I started this blog. It's not technical writing, but it's writing. Here, I can practice the craft of writing, have some good discussions about whatever's happening in my search, help out fellow jobseekers a little, and maybe even make a network connection or two. 

I got an email today from a friend, in which he suggested that this blog doesn't have to be entirely about the job search stuff. I told him that I was actually planning to do some other "life stuff" soon, but that I figured most of my readers came here because that "job search stuff" was what I was advertising.

But he's right.  I just can't post "I did a job search and sent out 5 resumes, made 9 calls, and got no interviews" every day. That's boring. Yes, this blog will be mostly about my career change and my job search, but I am going to share a bit more about myself and my family. I'll share some posts from my other blog, when appropriate, and I'll write some new stuff.

I hope you'll stick around; I've enjoyed your company so far!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Is this job worth it?

Now that, my friends, is what we all have to decide when job hunting. Or is it? One of the job coaches I've been following on Twitter tweeted a link to an article today. I tracked down the original, and I'll link it below, but the gist of the article was this: "Stop looking for 'the perfect job,' and start looking for 'a job.'"

It really started me thinking. The author posits that, like looking for your idea of the perfect partner, if you're too picky you miss all sorts of opportunities to find an actual perfect partner. It sort of made sense. How will I know I hate ditch-digging, unless I'm willing to TRY ditch-digging? I can always keep looking for the better job. On the surface, and maybe a little deeper than that, it does make sense. I do need to make a living, and there are lots of jobs out there that I could certainly try out.

But I think there's more to it. I think you do have to be at least a little bit picky. I know there are some things that I really don't want to have to do anymore, and I'll pass on almost any job that requires them. Why? Because I'm in a position to do so. That's the key.

If it's a matter of my kids eating or not eating, then I will waste no time going down to the local fast food joint to be the oldest french fry cook in town. I will put up with "You gotta work tomorrow at 6 AM, or don't come in at all next week" and "Sorry, we don't need you the rest of the day, go home." I will put up with "You missed a spot when you mopped the floor." I will put up with it, and I will hate it, and rest assured, when I do find something better, I will give my 2 weeks notice, and I will leave it.

I don't think anyone reading this would disagree with me, either. But right now, it's not a matter of my kids eating or not. I can afford to be a little more picky. Since my kids are going to be fed, what do I want to do? What am I able to do? And the question I didn't ask above, what am I willing to do?

Here's a personal example: I'm retiring from the military. Many of you reading this can relate. I've just returned from an 8-year assignment in England. During that time, I spent more than half of it away from home. Not all in one go, but in about 12 trips, varying in duration from 2 weeks to 6 months. Sometimes I had lots of notice, sometimes not very much. Sometimes my trip got extended at the last minute and I had to tell my wife I wasn't coming home yet after all. I missed birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.

And you know what? I signed up to do it. I did it. We knew it was going to happen, it was part of the job, and we dealt with it.

But now I'm going to be a civilian, and I'm going to work for... well, someone good, I'm sure. But for me and my family, extended travel is not what I'm signing up for. Yes, I'll go on trips. I'll go away to a training course, or off to teach something, or whatever. I'm not saying I'm never willing to travel. But my job will be at the home office, and my travel will be incidental. That's the sort of thing I'm talking about.

And I really think that employers would rather have a happy workforce than a grudging one, don't you?

Now I'll ask you: what are YOU looking for in a job? Do you want free time in the afternoons for soccer practice? Do you want an office of your own, finally, instead of a cubicle? Do you absolutely need to know that you'll never be awakened at midnight with an "office emergency?" What do you hate? What's the deal-breaker, the one thing that will make you turn down a decent offer? Let's talk about it in the comments below.
Here's the link to the article I mentioned above, which is on the website of Mike Rowe. You may know Mike as host of TV's "Dirty Jobs."