Saturday, November 19, 2011

What I Learned in My, Albeit Short, Foray Into the Job Market

On October 24, the company where I have been employed for half-a-decade announced that it would be closing at the end of the year. (Ironically, that day was my 5 year anniversary with the company.) The owner's readiness to retire coupled with upper management's belief that the death of the book in education is imminent spelled doom for a textbook wholesale company. After the announcement was made, I walked back to my cubicle dazed and confused, just like all of my coworkers. In the intervening weeks, the story has changed a bit. We were for sale with several very good potential buyers, and we would only close if we weren't sold. Uncertainty reigned.

On November 17, three and half weeks later, I accepted a position at another textbook wholesaler. Starting in December, I will be the Director of Business Development for them, doing a lot of the same things I've been doing for the past 3 years. But I'll be working from home with a team that is much more bullish on the future of textbooks in education. When I informed my boss, I knew what would happen next ... I was escorted out of the building, a necessity since I had signed on with a competitor. Just a few goodbyes to my teammates who were still in the office. No opportunity to say "thank you" to the people who believed in me and gave me the chance to succeed. More than a day later, I'm still feeling sad about that.

In the three and half weeks of work limbo, I learned (and re-learned) some important things about God, life, and work. Here are some thoughts about it:

You Can't Manage Results, But You Can Manage Activity
I read this line in EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey. He was talking about how to manage people, but I applied this lesson to myself as I was suddenly thrust into a job hunt. The results were clear: I needed interviews that would lead to job offers. But there was very little I could do to make that happen. I suppose I could have occupied some office and demanded a job, but the results I was after were the decisions of other people. I can't manage those. But I could manage my activity that could contribute to those results.

So, each day, I made a to do list of activities I could manage. In the first few days it said things like: rework resume, update cover letter, confirm references, write reference letters for team. As the days dragged on the same activity-oriented items appeared on my to do list: think through network, visit online job sites, send thank you email for interview, troll LinkedIn.

The atmosphere in the office was one of mutual support; we were all rooting for each other to get a job. We would joke around with the person who showed up for work obviously wearing interviewing clothes. But I was amazed at the people who did nothing. I would ask them how their job search was going, and they would say they hadn't really started. "I need to update my resume. I need to get to it." I would always walk away from these conversations wondering where they would be come December 23 ... our collective D-Day. As much as I wanted the best for them and myself, the only thing I could really do was manage my own activity. And so that was my daily focus.

The Power of Network
I could only imagine my resume coming across the desk of an HR person: seminary degree, Bible college, pastoring. When we first moved to Arkansas, it was worse, but I still wondered if I would be taken seriously by anyone looking to make a hire. When I sent my resume off, virtually anonymously through or one of the other sites, I did so with a lot of realism. I didn't think I was going to get a call back from any of those HR managers. And I didn't.

But ... if a friend who knew me, knew what I brought to the table, knew how my skills and experience translated to different business needs recommended me to a hiring manager, that would be a whole different ball game. And it was. Within hours of the announcement, I was reaching out to friends, asking for their help. I was amazed and humbled at what it produced - sincere offers to help from both people I knew and strangers, meetings with significant business people in Northwest Arkansas, interviews, second interviews. Results.

A week or so ago, I heard Dave Ramsey on the radio reference the book The Power of Who and say that just about everybody in this job market was getting hired through the power of networking not by responding to ads on the job sites. I knew I was on the right track.

The Roller Coater Sucks
I love roller coasters at amusement parks. I hate them in other parts of life. During our company limbo, the roller coaster went up and down: We have prospective buyers. Things fell through. Another company is coming in next week. Customers are abandoning ship. Tell customers that we are optimistic about our ability to continue serving them. Up and down, up and down.

More than once, a coworker sat in my cubicle, red-faced and insistent that we shouldn't give up. I agreed, but I also didn't believe that we could do much to influence the company being sold. And if it did sell, we couldn't bank on our jobs still being there. I just wasn't going to get on that roller coaster. It wasn't that I was being negative. I was trying to be realistic. And I wanted my team to be realistic. And honest with our customers.

The wisdom of Proverbs says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. I struggle enough with anxiety-ridden pain around my heart. I didn't want to add to it by riding the roller coaster of unfounded hope.

Positive Support
In the past three and half weeks, I've had days when I felt utterly hopeless about my prospects of getting a job. I imagined myself standing in line at the unemployment office in January, humiliated and hopeless. That's the situation of 1 in 10 people in our country; why would I be any different?

I consistently had the positive support of Vanessa, friends, and the community of Vintage. All of them were encouraging, not offering cheap cliches, but putting their arms around me and saying that they loved me and were behind me. They participated in my personal ups and downs. They rooted for me when I had interviews. And they shook their heads encouragingly when I got those "thanks but no thanks" emails. This time would have been a lot darker for me without them.

Is it cheesy to believe that God in his grace actually provided the job I accepted? Here's the thing. Back in August, Vanessa and I were expressing to the Vintage Oversight Team what we were hoping for related to my employment: a bit more money, a bit more freedom, a bit more influence over my own success. The job I accepted gives me all of that. I don't know why I was blessed with this opportunity while so many others struggle to find work in this bad economy. I certainly don't feel like I've earned this. And that leaves me with only one explanation - grace.



Mother B said...

Awesome Robb...awesome!!

Sara said...

You have been very blessed by His grace! I was so glad to take your job quest off my prayer board! d with.

Matt said...

Robb, thanks for sharing your journey, albeit short ;) Praise the Lord, He is leading you on!