Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Brave New Economy

What Color Is Your Parachute? What parachute? Remember when words like "career planning" used to be meaningful?

But here are a couple helpful tips.

Tip 1 -- Managing a Job Search

In the Brave New Economy, no one hires anybody as a regular, full-time employee. If you have a Ph.D. and want to teach, you may end up as an adjunct professor, which means that you're hired for a quarter or a semester at a time, and you're paid a pittance to teach an auditorium full of undergrads who will eventually graduate and join you in the scramble for very temporary jobs that pay a pittance.

In the IT world, the timeframes are even more truncated. A 2-week contract? Believe it. Yes, employers will now pay you to work for two weeks; no more, but possibly less. Slightly more common are the 4-week or 6-week contracts. What this means is that the day you start a new job, you have to actively and vigorously pursue your search for your next job. Here's a typical scenario: you receive a phone inquiry about your interest in another position on Day 1 of the new job. You feel uncomfortable talking to another employer in front of your new, albeit highly temporary, boss, so you decide to retreat to the bathroom and talk there. Except you haven't been around long enough to figure out where the bathroom is. So you awkwardly try to keep things vague on your end, as your boss listens in from 5 feet away, indicating your interest without revealing too much. And because you're an idiot, and don't really know how to talk in riddles, you end up totally befuddling what may have been your next employer, who concludes that you can't communicate.

Believe me, it happens.

If you have a particularly meddlesome boss (this is all hypothetical, of course) who seems irritated by the fact that you occasionally have to use the bathroom, he or she may get on your case for fielding non-work-related (little does he know) phone calls during work hours. You know what you do? You take the calls anyway. What is he going to do? Fire you? Oh well, there goes 9 days pay.

Tip 2 -- Making Your Way Through the Bureaucratic Tangle

If a potential employer contacts you about a possible job, you will need to fill out approximately 87 pages of paperwork in order to even be considered for the position. Filling out the paperwork in no way guarantees that you will secure an interview for the position. In fact, because you're competing against 2,000 other people for the same 2-week contract, you realistically have about a .05% chance of securing an interview. Nevertheless, if you do not fill out the paperwork, you have a .00% change of ever landing those lucrative 80 hours.

So, depending on how hot the job market is in your area (I have recently had to fill out paperwork for 2 possible jobs, amounting to 174 pages), you need to be disciplined and set aside several hours per day to manage the bureaucratic load. It's also useful to keep the following information handy, because you will need to refer to it during the application process:

-- Four references (names, titles, your relationship to, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, summary (no more than 5 pages per reference) of duties performed while relating to said reference, their education, their certificates attained, relevance of their current position to position for which you are applying, political affiliation (particularly relevant for government work), etc.)
-- Employers for the past ten years (name, address, phone number, name and title of manager, phone number and email address of manager, salary, start and end dates of employment, summary of duties performed). Face it, this is what kills you. If, like me, you have worked for 73 employers in the past ten years as an IT gun for hire and all-around communications guru, this could take a good, long while. Discipline yourself. You have to do it.
-- List of weaknesses -- Helpful suggestions: Sometimes I work too hard. Occasionally I have a difficult time not becoming prideful when my co-workers tell me what a wonderful co-worker I am.

If you can scale the bureaucratic wall, the rest is easy. The odds are 2,000 to 1 that you're done. But if the unthinkable actually happens, wear a suit, brush your teeth, go to the interviews, and, if need be, go pee in a cup. If all goes well, you're set for the next 80 hours.

This is all part of negotiating the Brave New Economy. Best of luck. You'll need it.

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