Thursday, August 31, 2017

Vox Popoli: Unemployment is a state of mind

Crew commented, correctly, on the fact that many managers and executives are unwilling to hire people who are unemployed. Their reasoning is pretty straightforward: if you were any good, then surely in this time of near-universal incompetence, you would have a job.

And, let's face it, more often than not, they are correct on the average, even if that is not true in the case of the special, highly skilled snowflake that all of the unemployed readers of this blog indubitably are.

This is nothing new. It has been this way for at least 25 years. So, one can either cry and complain about the situation, or one can accept it and figure out a way to utilize it to one's advantage. Utilize it? Yes, precisely. Allow me to explain.

20-something years ago, one of my best friends was fired from the small, but elite law firm where he worked, because he had too tender a conscience to simply invent billable hours out of nothing, as they required of their associates. He spent over a year fruitlessly applying to various law firms around the city and got absolutely nowhere, as he ran into the same "if you don't already have a job, we don't want you" problem that presently plagues so many unemployed individuals today.

I advised him to get a job, any job at all, even if it was sweeping floors at a fast-food restaurant. When he asked, puzzled, how that would help him find a job as a lawyer, I told him that as a small business owner, if I see a lawyer who is willing to get his hands dirty and do whatever he needs to do in order to get by, that's exactly the guy I want working for me.

So, still somewhat dubious, he took my advice. He got a job at CompUSA selling computers, mostly because he wanted to be able to talk computers on par with the rest of our social circle. Within six months, he was the store's best expert on computers, and had become the go-to guy for all the other salespeople. He continued interviewing, to little avail, until a year after taking the CompUSA job, he interviewed with a growing technology consulting company. His legal background was unexceptional compared to all the other candidates, but they were blown away by his in-depth knowledge of computers, particularly when he was able to point out some strategic mistakes they were risking on the basis of their failure to understand where the consumer market was headed.

They were also impressed when they asked him about his strange resume, and he had a ready answer for them. He explained that after being let go, he had plenty of free time on his hands and figured that it was a good idea to get paid to learn something new.

He got the job. Then, when their company was bought by a much larger competitor, the acquiring company was so impressed with his performance in the negotiations and the contract-writing that they not only hired him, but named him the successor to their outgoing lead attorney. Following a second acquisition by an even bigger competitor, he was made a director and the head of the legal department of a $1.5 billion corporation.

Don't quit. Don't cry. Don't complain. Do something, anything. Volunteer for an Open Source project. Become the volunteer IT guy at a local organization. Get a job doing anything. All of these things not only create the possibility of new opportunities, but send a very strong message that you are a professionally ruthless doer who isn't afraid to work and is reliably going to get the job done.