The Benefit

Henry sat across from the career counselor, patiently waiting for her to review his resume. He had worked diligently on his resume over the past few weeks and would wait as long a bit longer to get feedback on his creation.

It wasn’t that Henry was looking for a job. Consider it ‘pre-looking’. He had begun to grow restless at his current position, and since it had been a while since he was in the job market, he wanted the help of the professionals in assessing his prospects. He sought out a professional career counselor for advice on where to start a quiet job search.

The career counselor, Allison, thoughtfully reviewed his work, put the document down, and began her assessment. “Your resume is impressive, Henry. You’ve had solid experience in your jobs, along with progressive responsibilities given to you. You’re well qualified for your field. There really is only one thing that may be held against you, and that’s the time spent in your positions.”

Allison saw the look of confusion on Henry’s face. It was a look she had seen many times before in clients of Henry’s experience level. With practiced patience, she explained her reasoning.

“Henry, what did your parents tell you when you were entering the job market?” Henry thought a little bit and responded. “Well, find a good job, stay there for 30 or 40 years, and retire.” It was a story Allison had heard dozens of times.

She followed up. “Why did they say this?” Henry paused a bit longer on this one, with Allison letting the silence stretch. Finally, she broke in. “Was it because during that time the company would take care of you, keep you in a job, and at the end, retire you with a pension and possibly some other benefits?” The flash of recognition that appeared on Henry’s face was all the confirmation she needed. His almost awestruck, “yes” only strengthened that confirmation.

Continuing, the Allison said, “My brother-in-law works for the state. He not only hates his job, he hates his job. Every time I see him he says, ‘Only 9 years to go’ or something like that. He is already in countdown mode.”

“Being in the field I am, I naturally asked him why doesn’t he just find a new job? My brother-in-law replied, ‘as I said, I have 9 years to go’. When I asked him what that meant, he said he has 9 years until he can retire and get his pension and benefits.” She watched for Henry’s reaction, and wasn’t disappointed. “Right? Pension! Nobody gets a pension anymore, but he in his civil service job does. He even gets to continue some benefits after he retires.”

“I’m not here to discuss the benefit or drawbacks of a civil service career. I used that example of why your parents, and many of our parents, gave you the advice they did. My brother will suffer through nine more years of his job because of the benefit at the end. He is working towards that benefit. Your parents were in companies that took care of them throughout their career and then took care of them after they retired. Can you say that about your present company?”

Henry snorted at that one. What Allison had said was true. There was no pension. The company had set up a 401(k) and matched his contributions partially, when the company revenues allowed for it. When he left the job, he was lucky someone would hold the door open for him as he exited the front door. If the money in the 401(k) ran out, he was out of money.

She continued. “Those entering the workforce in the past 15 years or so were raised by parents who faced layoffs, reduced benefits, and companies which went from being benevolent parents to being concerned only about profits and more profits. They entered companies that worked them to death, fired employees without remorse whenever costs needed to be cut, and offered them very little to stick around. Promotions were fewer, raises delayed or didn’t happen, bonuses slashed or eliminated, though there always seemed to be enough for the top executives. In short, they gave them no incentive to stick around for five years, not to mention 40.”

“What’s the benefit for sticking around, Henry?”, Allison asked him. Henry paused for a bit, trying to find a reasonable answer. “Well, I do get extra vacation if I stay around.”, he replied. Allison smiled. “A recent study showed that most employees don’t use all their vacation time because of work demands. Are you able to use all your vacation time?” Henry had to admit Allison was correct. He hadn’t been able to use all his vacation time in years because of the demands of his job.

Getting back to the conversation, Allison continued. “The point I am trying to make is that the more recent generations in the workplace have had to look for different benefits for working at a particular company. If longevity is no longer rewarded, then why stick around? The conventional wisdom now is to work for a company as long as there are benefits to you. They may be a good manager, good benefits, close to home, flexible work schedule, or that you are learning valuable new skills.” A flash of recognition went across Henry’s face. He had heard those conversations in the company lunch room. His conversations with his younger co-workers who were leaving mentioned just those things. He thought they were being selfish. He now saw their logic was more self-preservation.

“This led to a rethinking of the time spent in a job by many employers, especially when the newer generations filtered into the HR and managerial functions. A long time spent in one job began to indicate an unwillingness to grow. To some, it indicated laziness. It was considered a bad thing to stay too long in one job.”, Allison continued. She paused, seeing the combination of realization and concern on Henry’s face. She gave him time to soak this in.

“So what do I do?”, Henry asked. He knew his age was going to be an issue and now what he considered an advantage, his tenure, had suddenly turned into a liability. Allison replied, “We turn some negatives into positives. Tell me Henry, what have you learned, how have you grown, how have you made a difference in your job? Let’s focus on that. Let’s review your social presence, improving or creating it. Let’s bring you in line with the new expectations.”

With that, and with the help of Allison, Henry began working for his own benefit.

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Making the Effort

This blog will be a change of pace from the usual tenor of my posts.  Usually, I am speaking to the managers to change a way of behavior or an action taken in order to gain engagement from their employees.  However, a recent conversation with a job hunter sparked some thoughts that I wanted to share.

This gentleman, two years out of getting his undergraduate degree, was despondent because he had not found a job yet.  While this story is not unusual in this economic climate, that really doesn’t matter to the person trying anything to get a job to begin their career as part of the workforce.  So, using what skills I had, I began asking him some questions to see if there was something he might be doing wrong, in his inexperience, that might be lessening his chances for gaining a position.  The answers shouted to me that there was not one thing, but multiple things, he could be doing better.

I asked him where he has looked.  He said he had sent his resume everywhere, and there had been no response to him from many employers.  I asked if he followed up with these employers.  No, he told me, he would expect them to contact him.  I explained that following up is necessary to see if the resume got to the right place, and it shows you are very interested in the job, which might tip the scales.   No, he told me, he couldn’t do that.  If the were interested, they could contact him.

Strike One.

I asked him if he had contacted temp agencies.  It might give him an in to a company and, if nothing else, it brought in some money.  He had contacted one temp agency…once.  He never followed up with them because they never called him.  I explained that temp agencies get flooded with resumes all the time, and flooded with jobs.  Call them,  show your interest.  It might get you put on the top of the pile.  Nah, he wasn’t going to do that.

Strike Two.

I asked him what he wore to the interview.  He was impressed with himself.  He said he wore a sport coat, slacks and a dress shirt.  Holding back my critique, I asked him if he wore a tie.  No, he said, he didn’t know how to tie one.  He had tried to do so and couldn’t.  I asked him if he went on YouTube to see videos of how to tie a tie.  He expressed surprise that they might be there.  I sent him the search link.  The excuse then changed to, “I don’t really like the tie thing.”  I explained to him that a tie is essential, as he had to dress the part of a candidate.  He didn’t want to hear this.  He didn’t ‘do’ the tie thing.

When I approached him about getting a suit, he balked.  He had no money!  How could he afford a suit?!  I told him there were discount places, and places like Goodwill that would have suits at lower prices, and that I am sure someone would spot him the money.  The excuse then shifted to, “My body doesn’t fit an average size suit”.  I asked him his height and general proportions.  A suit would fit him…there was nothing special about his physique from what I could tell.

Strike Three.

His story is not unique, and it isn’t even unique to his generation.  I can recall some of the same attitudes in my early years.  And, I am sure the advice I gave him was given to me and I ignored it.  However, I do recall that in his situation, after two years of looking. I changed my attitude.  I tried new things.  I didn’t reject everything anyone told me.  And, I didn’t start in the midst of the greatest economic downturn since The Great Depression.

One of the greatest failings I find with the college system is that it truly does not prepare you for the real world.  Add to that the current generation looking for work has, as demonstrated by many studies, as having been sheltered and had their whims catered to.  It becomes a toxic brew for when you have to enter the real world and find out nobody really gives a crap about how wonderful you think you are.  Nobody comes to you.  There is no concept of ‘that’s not fair’ out there.  It is, for all intents and purposes, a tough world.  It is one of the rudest awakenings anyone can ever get, and it happens thousands of times each day.

If one looks at job hunting as a great campaign, then it seems logical that you have to throw everything you have into that campaign.  Buy the suit.  Tie the tie.  Follow up the leads.  Get creative in your job hunting.  Find the places others may not be looking.  Do everything you can to get that job.  Finally, do the one thing that is toughest of all…

Change your attitude.