The Timpanogos Times came out again this week. Here is my latest column wherein I explain the challenges of being out of work for over a year.
Just a foreshadowing for tomorrow, this was actually my second proposed article. The first was deemed “out of place” for my quiet little town’s paper. I’m actually pleased. It means that I have found the editorial borderline. It means I’m not boring.
Anyway, this is a reprint of an article that originally appeared in the November 20, 2014 edition of the Timpanogos Times.
We’d like to offer you a position with our company.
The relief was palatable. Like I’d been holding my breath for 13 months and finally could breath again. I never thought it would take this long. What I discovered about myself during the year long search for a new job was both enlightening and more than a little scary.
First a bit of background. The above conversation happened back in March of this year. But, that wasn’t the first time I was out of work for an extended amount of time. In 2007 I went into partnership with a guy in Wisconsin. It was a rafting company and literally out of my league. After 23 days on the job I figured out my “partner” was a liar and a crook and when I found out, he fired me, the final indication that we weren’t really partners.
It was rough. I had 12 kids at home. I was heavily in debt and I was living in a part of the country (Northern Wisconsin) where I knew no one needed my computer skills. I spent many sleepless nights worrying about the wolf at the door. Finally, I ended up in Utah working for a large non profit organization. That was about six years ago.
I realized that being out of work wasn’t the worst thing. The worst thing was being out of work and owing a lot of money. My lovely wife and I spent 5 years paying off our cars, our credit cards and every bill except our house. We were just about to start on paying down the house when I got the news.
Rodney, I’m really sorry, but we have to cut 8% of the IT department and your position has been eliminated.
I was disappointed, but not terrified. In fact, I wasn’t even particularly worried. I loved my job and was sorry to leave, but the severance package was very generous. They offered 7 months salary and offered to pay our COBRA, or continuing insurance for a year. With eight kids still at home, that was a huge benefit. And besides I was confident that I would find something soon.
My friends at church were naturally concerned. We had moved into our neighborhood in east Pleasant Grove, UT a little more than a year earlier.
Will you guys need to move, do you think?”
“Move? Why would I move? My house has 9 bedrooms. No one is ever going to want to buy a house with 9 bedrooms. I’m never going to find another house with 9 bedrooms. No, I’ll find something locally. Either that or I’ll commute.
That was one unshakable requirement. We were not going to move.
Utah is a great place for IT, or computer jobs. Adobe recently moved here and opened a big office in Lehi. Novell is still around. There are literally hundreds of small to medium sized computer companies along the Wasatch front. And I can read an unemployment report. Utah’s unemployment rate was well below the national average. I couldn’t have picked a better spot to get laid off. My real challenge would be in deciding which company to go to work for; which offer to take.
Except the offers didn’t come pouring in. They didn’t even come trickling in. I tried all the strategies. I created a custom resume for each job. I researched companies. I went to networking events and job fairs. And the money in my bank account got smaller every week.
I even cast far afield. I used to work for Microsoft in the Seattle area. Working as a consultant the money was fantastic, anywhere from $60-$100 / hour. I figured if I could stay with family in the area, I could afford to commute back and forth to Utah. Except no one at Microsoft wanted to hire me either.
Desperation started to set in. And the doubts started. At first, when I didn’t get an interview it was easy to move on. There were lots of fish in the sea. It was their loss if they didn’t want to hire me. But then, I didn’t get interviews for jobs I really knew I could do. . .or did I only think I could do them? Maybe I really wasn’t qualified to work in IT. Maybe I’d gotten too old (late 40’s) and I’d let me technical skills slip enough that I just couldn’t compete.
In the mean time, I took whatever jobs I could to bring in some money. I mowed lawns. I worked on houses. I got a great temp gig doing a research project for $5000. I got a book contract.
A couple of things that finally turned it around for me were something I did and a piece of job training. The thing I did was start to write. I was offered a chance to write for Timpanogos Times. I also started writing a blog everyday at www.staging.rodneymbliss.com. The blog focused on business lessons I’ve learned over the years. If a prospective employer did a Google search on my name I wanted them to find examples of my job successes.
The second thing I did was accept job training through LDS Employment Services. I’m a project manager but I never got the certification for it. I never really felt the need to take a test to prove I was good at what I did. A year of futile job searching cured me of that. I took a Project Manager Professional (PMP) course and passed the 4 hour certification exam. I then went back to some of the jobs that I hadn’t been qualified for, at least on paper and started my job search anew.
Last March, after three rounds of interviews I got the phone call. Health benefits from my new job kicked in just as the COBRA was ending. Through the grace of God we had avoided an gap in insurance coverage.
As I looked back on the year I spent looking for work, I thought about how it compared with my terrifying experience 6 years earlier. The recent job search was humbling. But, because we had decided to stay out of debt, the wolves mostly passed us by. While I was frustrated at not getting interviews, I didn’t dread the mail arriving with a stack of bills everyday. I realized I’d learned from my earlier mistakes. I wasn’t thrilled to get a chance to put those lessons in practice so soon, but I was glad I had them.
Most importantly, I didn’t have to take a job that required me to commute out of state, and I got to stay in my every-kid-has-their-own-room house surrounded by my wonderful neighbors in Pleasant Grove.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.