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It's full-time work when you're looking for work

Not being much of a romantic, my column in today's Valentines-day Mercury is about everyone's favourite topic in this economy: the job hunt. Without further comment, here it is.

As 2008 drew to a close, so too did the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people across North America.

After almost nine years of professional Linux and web work, my U.S.-based contracts dried up and, being self-employed, I was not eligible for employment insurance -- or a government bailout.

My wife, a doctoral student at the University of Guelph, is not in a position to make up the missing income, so I have been seeking Linux system administration or web-related work, and have some observations about the whole process of "finding a job."

Until now, I have never once found either a job or a contract through the conventional CV/interview process. In fact, no employer has even asked to see my curriculum vitae, with one notable exception: the employer at a summer job in high school asked for my CV -- after signing my contract.

With my major American clients gone, I prepared a detailed CV and fired it off to some 20 employers who had posted notices seeking my skills in Guelph and Waterloo Region. Along with each application, I included a detailed, personal cover letter.

Over the following several weeks, as I continued sending applications, I received only one response. In spite of these numerous applications, mostly to positions I am well qualified for, I had received no other replies.

Then, in late January, I attended the TechVibes job fair in Waterloo where, aside from running into people I know from Guelph who I would never have imagined were unemployed, I found a small number of tech companies looking for employees.

This time I distributed 10 copies of my CV, two of which went to recruiters. When I got home, I sent followup letters, along with a soft copy of my CV.

Within a week of the job fair, I received three responses, two of them to schedule interviews. The third was from a recruiter wanting to pass on a soft copy of my CV to a client. The lesson was clear: personal contact is very important.

One of the interviews I attended was with a company that had received my original application to that company's posting more than six weeks earlier, but giving them a CV at the job fair is what caught their attention.

When I attended my first job fair-related interview, I was surprised to learn that the interviewer, who said he knew me by reputation and was clearly interested in my file, had received only the CV I had given them at the job fair and had not seen the followup letter I had sent directly to the company's posted recruitment address the following day.

Perplexed, I began to wonder if email addresses like 'jobs@company' and 'careers@company' were just aliases for the nearest trash bin.

I have come to realize that the major task is not so much to find work as it is to learn how to find work -- to learn how the system actually works and not to rely on how it is supposed to work.

While I am fortunate to be in a field where demand is great and to have some savings to fall back on, my search has inspired a lot more questions than answers about the job-hunting process.

If a company needs an employee to do a specific task, why is it so difficult for a relevant application to get noticed? What needs to be done to ensure that an employer reads an application? (I have been told that the scented ones go straight to the trash, so there goes that idea!) How are people with less specialized skills than I have coping with the lack of response from employers?

In Canada in January, 0.6 per cent of our total workforce lost their jobs. That is a huge number of people joining me in the job line. I am not starving, but for those who have kids, a lot of debt, or simply no reserves, what are the options?

How can they afford a costly learning process that may only serve to help them understand how to get interviewed? Is there a secondary process that still stands in the way of actually being hired once the interview process is complete?

The first lesson people in my position seem to have to learn is that finding a job is a job in its own right, and that there is no logical training procedure to follow. Like any other job, success comes through experience, determination, and the courage to think outside the box.

Posted at 16:30 on February 14, 2009

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Cam Guthrie (www.camguthrie.ca) writes at Sun Feb 15 13:46:35 EST 2009...

Bang on David. You are out there looking and thinking outside the box and not taking "no" for answer. Watch for my editorial in the Mercury on Tuesday. It somewhat echoes what you are doing.

Good luck man!

Cam


Graham writes at Fri Feb 27 11:27:21 EST 2009...

Geez David,

I can really relate to what you are sying, as I'm sure alot of people can. I work in the US fashion Industry and have been w/o work for over six months now. Also a big railfan, wife in Gradschool, pretty confused and discusted w/ the way the whole "Finding work" has become such a faceless nameless task. I just want to speak to a human being, not a damn ghost email acount jobs@nowhere.com.

As Cam said above, Good Luck Man.

We all Need it, Be Well!!

-Graham

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