The War On Debt: On The Hunt For A Job

The war on debt: on the hunt for a jobAfter a few months cleaning up our spending habits, we’ve saved a bit of money per month…

But it’s still clear that if I want to pay off The Colossus in five years or less, I must increase my income.

There are two ways I could achieve this:

  • Write a business plan and aggressively build my freelance business, or…
  • Get a nine-to-fiver that’s worth a mid-range income.

Casual freelancing suited me when my kids were young, but they don’t need me anymore. So…

Do I want to build a business when my career goal is simply to write and sell fiction?

For now, I don’t have that luxury. Not while I have this monkey on my back—a debt that, without drastic intervention, will never be paid off except by life insurance.

Where to start?

But getting back into an office is a daunting task…How do I do it?

I had coffee with Dan Martin, the director of partnerships and new services at Priority Personnel, an Atlantic Canadian HR consulting firm. With 10 years of experience in personnel recruitment, he currently specializes in career transition.

There are no easy fixes, he warns.

The road back to meaningful work—the kind that suits my experience and won’t leave me wanting to quit within a few months—will NOT be easy.

I wondered if additional training would help, but he is reticent. Unless you’re getting the same message over and over at interviews, Dan says, training is not a turnkey solution, even when you’re retraining for a new career. The job search process is always the same.

Advice for those in the market for a job

1. Decide what you want to do.

This seems obvious, but I have been undecided for a long time, and it’s meant that I’ve done nothing at all.

A writing-related job is preferable, but barring that, what else?

A Joe job—little money, little responsibility?

Or do I want to break into my previous career and work for a PR department—more money, more responsibility?

“It’s easier to pinpoint opportunities when you have a defined picture of what you’re looking for.”

2. Set your targets.

After you’ve identified what you want to do, now you must identify where you want to do it.

“Make a list of 10, 20, 50 companies that are interesting to you—whether they’re hiring or not, and try to set up meetings at these companies of interest.”

An HR department’s first response is to say, “we are not hiring right now, but we’ll keep your resume on file,” but Dan says your goal is to set up a short meeting to discuss what kinds of jobs are available at each company, and what talents and experience a successful candidate would need.

I told him I applied for the same research/online writing job in town at least six times in the last three years. The company is within walking distance of my home. I even had an acquaintance who is an employee submit a resume for me.

No calls, no interviews. Not once.

Does this mean they’ve decided against me and I should forget them?

“Not at all,” Dan replies, with a shake of his head. “Call them up. Ask to speak to HR or whoever is involved in a hiring capacity. Say that you are information gathering, you have no expectations, but you’d like to talk about the company and what’s required to work there. It plants a seed, and next time there’s a job opening, they might remember you and call you.”

(That sounds like the daunting part.)

3. Polish your resume.

Currently, my resume is only a one-pager, a thin version of my latest career experience…

He told me it wasn’t long enough, which is the opposite advice I received in college.

He shrugged and said, “It’s an inexact science, and everyone does it differently, but from what I’ve seen, your resume is only one page and it gives an inadequate snapshot of who you are. You have 20 years of experience, and I can’t see it.”

Also, he prefers san serif text set up in a traditional way—not placed in artistic columns with drawings, lines and boxes or graphic fonts.

“But that’s just me. Perhaps I don’t deal with your kind of industry. But in the private, corporate sector, we prefer a traditional format.”

4. Brush up your LinkedIn account.

I confessed that I rarely use LinkedIn, and I don’t use it to its fullest potential.

He grinned. “It doesn’t matter if you like it. It’s a free database for recruiters.”

5. Seek out networking opportunities.

Unless you’re an extreme extrovert, you probably don’t enjoy such things, but professional networking events serve an important purpose.

Dan says to think of such activities as “a set of planned introductions.”

Even in the best economies, jobs don’t fall into our laps. “If you’re only responding to the Career Beacon alerts that appear in your inbox, you’re only doing what 90% of other candidates are doing,” he says.

“Somehow, you must get your face in front of people, and make yourself memorable.”

And when you do snag that interview...

Get people, titles and the company address right.

What floor is your interview on? Where should you park? Make sure to arrive early. That’s just the standard stuff.

Dan offered a few more interview pointers to put your best foot forward:

1. Shake hands with each interviewer on the panel and show confidence.

You set the tone.

There’s a different start to the interview when you’re friendly and confident rather than nervous and closed-in.

Make sure you get off on the right foot.

2. Find commonalities with the interviewer.

The point is to make the interviewer like you.

Is fishing a hobby of yours, let’s say? And do you see fishing photography or memorabilia in his/her office? It’s good to point it out. “Is that a bass in that photograph? I go bass fishing all the time.”

3. Behavioural questions are really important.

Most of them are scenario-based and indicate how you will react on the job. “Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult customer.” When you’re faced with a question you didn’t anticipate, you can say:

“Let me think for a minute.”

It’s okay to filibuster for 10-20 seconds, because the interviewer will only remember what you said, not the time you took to answer.

4. Go in prepared with questions.

Company interviewers want people who want to work there.

Bring a list of ten meaningful questions only they could answer, not basic stuff from their website.

Half will be answered through the interview and when they ask at the end, you can pull the list out of your pocket and ask a couple more.

It’s very impressive to an interviewer, because it shows energy and enthusiasm for the job, which matters almost as much as qualifications.

5. Follow up shortly after the interview.

Make sure you say, ‘thanks for the interview,’ by email on the same day.

After a second or third interview, a handwritten note is impressive. (Listen to your instincts here.)

6. You are entitled to feedback.

Always be proactive in following up if you expected a decision by a certain date.

You can touch base afterward if you don’t hear, but be polite. “Just wondering if there’s any progress?”

Related: Why Negotiate Your Salary

Outside my comfort zone

The adage is you can’t do the same things over and over, and expect a different result.

New actions require courage.

But people reinvent themselves all the time, right?

“You’re still young,” he said, with a shrug. “You’re only 49.”

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Ana's picture

Hello Debt Dispatcher,
Your biggest fan here:) Thanks so much for sharing all this useful info. I am going back to school to further my skills, However, I'm also aware (learned the hard way, really!) that my degree alone will not be enough to land me a job. I need to have more social media presence. I do have a Linked In account, but also plan to blog my experience as a student in my specific field, etc. so that when the potential employer googles me, they see a significant online presence.

I have had a 9-5 job for the past six years. My journey to getting a full-time permanent position had many twists and turns: for two years, I worked as a casual employee with only hourly pay and no benefits/pension. However, this allowed my name (and work ethic) to be out there, so when the right opportunity came by, an upper manager asked me to apply for such a position. I think the HR you interviewed expert is right: there is no right science when it comes to the hiring process. My advice (gained through my experience) is that take any short-term, casual, etc. job openings. That way, you'll have your foot through the door and you'll never know where it might lead...


June 29, 2017 @ 11:42 am
Cheryl's picture

I wouldn't put too much stock into what Dan says, other than his interview pointers and updating the LinkedIn profile.

Decide what you want to do? You want to be a writer. Can you get a job at it making a decent income is another story. Maybe you've also decided you want to be a pro hockey player. There's a big difference between deciding what you want to do and the reality of settling for a job with the first company that will hire you.

Make a list of 10 to 50 companies? Why stop there? Make a list of hundreds of companies. It doesn't matter how long your list is. If they're not hiring or they're looking for staff with different skills, you're just spinning your tires making lists instead of doing something actionable. The list thing is just to give you hope. As long as you've got companies left on your list, there's still hope that you've got a chance to get a job there. Hope and dreams don't pay the bills.

The sad reality is ageism is alive and well in Canada. It's really hard for people over age 40 to find jobs unless its some upper management position that requires tons of education and experience.

Your best bet is looking for public service, government jobs. Might not be easy to get in, especially if your area doesn't have a lot of them, but they're not allowed to discriminate based on age. No company, no HR person, is ever going to admit their hiring preferences are youth because they don't want to be sued. I've seen it firsthand and just as I was getting ready to quit, that company laid me off with a huge severance package. And then started downsizing all their older staff, and some of them didn't get the package I got.

Don't waste your time spinning your wheels on Dan's advice, it's not realistic for too many people who are just looking for a job, any job. You might have to accept a less than attractive job just to get some income rolling in and then keep looking for a job that you might like better or pays better.

Good luck to you!

June 29, 2017 @ 11:54 am
DebtDispatcher's picture

Thanks Ladies! It is difficult advice, to get out there and meet people in an effort to create opportunities, especially if a person is not extroverted. I believe the world is built by and for extroverts.

But sometimes, in the words of a friend, you just have to "put your big girl panties on and deal with it."

Yes, Ana, I'm likely to take anything offered to me at the moment. All I'm concerned about it is an income. I'll worry about fulfillment later.

And yes to Cheryl on the ageism. I do suspect there's a lot more of it than anyone would like to admit. An over-50 friend who landed a very good job in my city mentioned the same thing the other day. The struggle is real.

As for looking for work in the public service, bilingualism is required in the federal government and in my province-- not just spoken, but written competency. I do not have these skills, which take years of training and practice to master. It does complicate matters, even for Joe jobs.

It's a pretty negative picture.

However, one of my favourite movie quotes is from "Glory," an exchange between Colonel Robert Shaw and Trip, one of the fighting men in his regiment.

Trip: I ain't fightin' this war for you, sir.

Colonel Robert G. Shaw: I see.

Trip: I mean, what's the point? Ain't nobody gonna win. It's just gonna go on and on.

Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Can't go on forever.

Trip: Yeah, but ain't nobody gonna win, sir.

Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Somebody's gonna win.

Trip: Who? I mean, you get to go on back to Boston, big house and all that. What about us? What do we get?

Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Well, you won't get anything if we lose.

June 29, 2017 @ 12:46 pm

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