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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction!

I have been silent for a long time now. I was involved in a challenging exercise that took me through a gamut of emotions over time, and I just did not feel like writing during that time. That exercise was a job search that has ended up with me acquiring a new job now. As they say, all is well that ends well, but until it was over, it was quite a roller-coaster ride.

All of this started at about the end of April. I told my current employer that I wanted a change of scenery. They could provide it by giving me a good promotion with a substantial raise, or I would go out and get it on my own. I know now that this was quite a tall order, given the state of the economy, but I had no idea what I was embarking on at that time. My employer judged the economic climate quite accurately and told me to go pound sand (not in so many words, of course. In fact, they were very polite and told me that I was highly valued where I was, and I should reconsider carefully before I decided to strike out on my own).

But, my mind was made up, so I turned in my notice to my bosses at work. I told them that I would be gone by the end of July, and they should prepare for my departure by that time. Why didn't I find a job first and then tell my employer I was quitting? It is a long story, but the end of April was a deadline for an early retirement scheme with my employer that I was interested in taking advantage of. So, I had to turn in my early retirement papers by April 30th, but I wanted to give myself enough time to land a replacement job (I am not old enough or wealthy enough to actually retire, in case you are wondering!), hence the July 31st departure date.

And then, my job search started in earnest. I had some early successes that really buoyed my spirits and gave me a sense of misplaced over-confidence. I had a phone interview within a few days of my job search, and a friend of mine said his employer was reorganizing his department, creating a lot of jobs that I would be eligible for.

But these things turned out to be false starts. The phone interview never turned into a face-to-face interview (even though it was the CEO of the company that interviewed me over the phone, and he told me twice on different phone calls that he would certainly get me in for a face-to-face interview). My friend's company's restructuring is still ongoing, and it seems to be so disorganized that no jobs have yet been created, for me or for anyone else.

And then started the drudgery of applying for jobs out of job boards and career websites. The internet has its own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to looking for a job. The advantage is the presence of job boards that allow one to do detailed searches to narrow down jobs based on the criteria that you specify. There is no need to blacken one's hands looking at job wanted ads in the local newspaper or lose one's eyesight trying to read them.

The disadvantage turned out to be the ease with which companies can set up websites to take the applicants' applications. Each of these websites are set up differently, and ask for different pieces of information, making the process of applying online for the jobs quite exhausting and boring. In the past, you went to the nearest Kinko's, made a bunch of copies of your resume and cover letter, and then sent them out by snail mail to the contact addresses on the job wanted ads you had circled in the local newspaper. Instead, now I had to cut and paste parts of my resume and cover letter into various different boxes on dozens of different job application portals! After a couple of weeks of doing it, I was beginning to dread the whole process. But, I had not had any success, so I was forced to keep doing it day after day.

It would have been tolerable if all this activity produced any discernible effect. But no, nothing of the sort happened. Copies of my resume seemed to be going into some kind of black hole, with nothing coming out afterwards. Some companies sent out rejection notes, but most did not. I must have applied for at least 200 jobs if my estimates are correct, and I got absolutely nothing. My optimism was evaporating, replaced with dark visions of the homeless panhandlers I was seeing on the sides of the road on my way to work!

Finally, when all is said and done, all my applying online produced only 3 phone interviews, and those were probably only because I had contacts in those companies and they talked to the hiring managers and had them call me for the phone interviews. In this economy, it seems to be virtually impossible to land a job without having good contacts at potential employers. So many people apply for each job that resumes get buried under each other, and never see the light of day.

Out of these 3 phone interviews, I actually got 2 job offers. And far from being promotions and substantial pay raises from my current job, they were jobs at pretty much the same level and the exact same levels of pay as I am getting right now. My job search pretty much looked like an exercise in cutting off my own nose to spite my own face, and it had not even been easy! And if someone with advanced degrees and more than a dozen years of highly technical experience in my field was having this much trouble, I could only imagine what was happening to new graduates and people who did not have the advanced qualifications or experience I had.

And what does all this have to do with the truth being stranger than fiction? Well, I am not going to take any of the two offers I have talked about so far. Why not? Because I ended up with something much better through a weird series of coincidences that make them stranger than fiction!

One of the phone interviews I was scheduled for involved a job that required mathematical skills in a field that was different than the one I was used to. So, I started looking online for academic papers and other articles that would help me prepare for the job interview. During that search, I came across a paper that was written by a former colleague of mine who has gone through a couple of job changes in the past 5 or 6 years. He has since also moved away from where I live, so when I started my job search, I did not reach out to him for help or contacts. My thought was that he was now out of town, and could not possibly help me land a job where I was (I did not want to relocate).

To get hold of his paper, though, I sent him an email asking for the paper. In passing, I also mentioned that the reason I was asking for the paper was so that I could prepare for this interview as part of my job search. By this time I was quite unhappy with the way my job search was going, and I was more going through the motions than actually being enthusiastic about it.

In any case, my friend sent me a copy of his paper, and also forwarded me an email he had received from a recruiter. He felt that the job the recruiter was recruiting for was a good fit for my experiences and skills. He was not interested in the job because he was happy where he was, but he hoped it would help me out. So, I got in touch with the recruiter, and introduced myself. I told her that I was qualified for the job she was trying to recruit for and she should take me on as a client.

That relationship eventually turned into the job I eventually ended up getting, and which I am going to be taking up after the end of July. It is a very good job, fitting well with my analytical orientation, and it is also a good promotion and substantial pay raise from what I am making right now.

So, here I was, staring defeat in the face. I was going to end up with substantially the same job with the same pay at a different employer. My current employer was going to tell me "I told you so", and was probably going to use me as a cautionary tale to other employees to think long and hard before they decided to take their career in their hands. By a serendipitous combination of good luck and good timing, I managed to snatch victory from the jaws of that ignominious defeat. That is the truth, and to me, it certainly sounds stranger than fiction!

I will give more details about my job search in my next post, along with observations about the job market, and some hints about what might work if you are in the job market. I hope that helps someone who is in in the position I was in a month or so back. In the meantime, if you are looking for jobs, just keep in mind that the jobs are out there. It just takes effort to find them, and even more effort to get them. Don't give up! The one thing you choose not to do, the one person you choose not to contact, the one lead you choose not to follow up on, could end up costing you your dream job. So, leave no stone unturned in your effort, and good luck!!

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