My name is Erich and I’m in career transition
I have been in career transition for 29 months. Don’t call me unemployed because I’ve worked far too hard in these 126 weeks-and-counting to be called anything other than ‘in transition.’ From intensive job searching and networking to freelance writing, researching, interviewing, social media navigation, and ceaseless searching for a better future for myself and my family, I’ve been hard at it from day one.
I have had to come to terms with the fact that the industry in which I made my living – media and broadcasting – is in increasingly dire circumstances and there are less and less jobs to be had. People are holding tightly to their positions while management is constantly cutting spending and searching for ways to cut more. In response to this, I have had to search deeply within myself for what I want to do for the rest of my working days, with the understanding that it likely doesn’t involve working in media. Essentially, I have had to re-invent myself.
I’ve wanted to write frankly and compassionately about my difficult situation for some time, but I’ve kept putting it off. I’ve wondered what might happen if I shared my story and many people read it. What will they think of me? Will they think that I’m not employable and that I must be doing something wrong in my job search? After all, it’s been over two years since I left the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in January 2013 as the result of a job redundancy. I left voluntarily. (I’ll share more about this shortly.)
I can’t control what people will think and say about me, but I hope they come to understand the truth: I get up every day and do my best, all the time. Anyone who meets and talks with me knows I’m genuine, conscientious and personable. I know that I’ve done everything I can think of to get back to full-time work, including heeding sage advice from experts. I’m very good at what I do and I’ve been a valuable asset for years. I’m adept at relating to a wide variety of people, via the written word and in person. At some point a lucky company will get to have me, and I will produce great results for them. That much I know. The part I don’t know is ‘when.’
I find it hard to dwell on my situation because many people I know have been through far worse ordeals, namely horrible battles with health. Since I left CBC, several people around me have had to deal with cancer. First, my mom underwent cancer surgery. She’s fine now, thank God. My aunt is terminally ill with cancer, and this is tragic. The 11-year-old daughter of one of my wife’s friends from work died last summer from cancer. And, I have two other acquaintances who have been battling the disease admirably. Meanwhile, my health has been fine. For this, I am eternally grateful.
My reality is that I don’t have income that I can reasonably count on. As time goes on, this has become a major financial and emotional burden that I just want to have go away. I simply want to get up at six o’clock in the morning tomorrow, like I did in the ‘olden’ days, and get on the GO Train that takes me to Toronto and my gainful employment.
As I said, I don’t want to dwell on my misfortune. I can recover from this because I’m still young, industrious, and a wise spender. I just need an opportunity. I’ll seize it when I get it.
Why I Am Writing This
I’m writing this on instinct. My instinct is now telling me, in stronger ways than before, to unburden myself in this manner, the best way that I know. It’s telling me to post it on my website and share it all over social media, so that I can feel better and move on, and share my experience with the masses.
I’m writing this also because I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge about being in transition and the great amount of work it can take to get yourself out of this situation. I have become well-versed and even highly accomplished at face-to-face networking, applying for jobs with a tight resume and superb cover letter, handling job interview questions with accuracy and diplomacy, researching workplace trends and developments plus “do’s and don’ts” of the workplace, establishing a strong online and social media presence, and much more. This is all too much to keep to myself. The journalist in me says it’s worthless unless it is broadcast and discussed openly. So I’m broadcasting it. Feel free to discuss it openly.
Where the Career Transition Began
The road to career transition began in my boss’s office at the CBC in December 2012. The corporation was already in the midst of troubling times, having suffered recent and significant staffing cuts as a result of government cutbacks and reduced revenue. Now the cuts were continuing and they had hit my department. My position was made redundant and the redundancy process was already progressing. I had less than eight years of seniority while people with twice that amount were in danger of losing their positions. There was no equitable solution for me so I took my severance and bid my CBC friends farewell. I harboured little resentment because I wasn’t the first to leave and I wouldn’t be anywhere near the last.
What I Have Been Doing
Years ago I thought of myself as an uncomfortable networker. I heard you were supposed to “work the room” and I thought that’s so disingenuous and I wouldn’t do it. I figured I’m not terribly extroverted. Yet somehow I’ve become good at networking, after realizing that when I’m at an event, I’m actually among peers who are all as uncomfortable as I am. Just like me, they are all are going out on a limb to meet new people.
My initial foray into networking this time around involved some frustration. I started attending a business networking group where there was hardly anyone in the fields of media, communications, advertising, marketing or even human resources. Then a speaker suggested that men should shave off all facial hair in the name of career success and making a solid first impression. That raised my ire.
I’ve been to about 30 networking events in the last two years. They run the gamut from speed networking and formal business networking, to networking lunches and free informal events at a local restaurant/night club. Those are my favourite and are typically the best attended. You get people from all walks of life: those in creative fields such as publishing and independent media production, tradespeople such as electricians and mechanics, small business owners, financial planners and accountants, chiropractors and personal trainers. Everyone is trying to drum up business, of course, and they are very nice and interesting people. I’ve learned a lot just by engaging in conversation with them.
Gaining Skills and Learning
Before I left CBC, I spoke to a former supervisor whose opinion I respect. I asked what I should be learning while searching for work. He pointed me to several established and emerging social media sites and I immediately aimed to become more familiar with them. I was already a Facebook regular. I was also already on LinkedIn and was building a presence there. It is by far the most important social media site for professionals and the business community. I soon got much better at Twitter. I also learned Pinterest, GooglePlus+ and Tumblr, and my daughter has been versing me on Instagram. I also started this WordPress-based professional website. I learned about the importance of maximizing social media productivity by re-purposing existing content, from your company’s website for example.
I have worked incessantly at my interviewing skills and am now more comfortable than ever at interviewing others and being interviewed. It can be a challenge pulling information from people who don’t like to talk or don’t form full sentences when they speak, but this is something you can work around, if you understand how to keep speaking to people politely and respectfully until they give you information you can use. You have to gain and keep their trust.
By networking with business leaders, small business owners and entrepreneurs, I’ve gained insight into their worlds and their needs, and how communications and content marketing helps them achieve their aims.
I’ve also become more mindful of the eternal value of learning each and every day, discovering and rediscovering, constantly re-evaluating your progress, keeping an open mind to new opportunities and viewpoints even if they fly in the face of long time and strongly held beliefs. I guess that’s the mindset of a journalist anyway.
Applying for Jobs
Naturally, I have been applying for jobs, many of them. I laugh every time someone asks me if I’ve been on this job site or that one, because I know them all. I also snicker when they ask if I’ve had someone look at my resume and cover letter. Yes, repeatedly. I’ve become adept at constructing and analyzing both documents, though I find resumes utterly dull. Well-written cover letters can sometimes be worth the read, and even riveting. Mine are both.
Applying endlessly for job can be mind-numbing work and there’s no way around it. A lot of people still land jobs because of the old-fashioned approach: apply for the job, get selected for the interview, make a good impression at the interview … get hired.
I keep hearing that the only way to land a position is through networking, yet I know of very few people who actually get work this way, except through internal promotions. That doesn’t help when you’re in transition.
Participating in job search programs
I have been through my share of job search programs, online and in person. I have learned a great deal about how to contact people by putting your best foot forward, highlighting your strengths, “burying” your weaknesses and making a strong first impression, whether it’s through a personalized note on LinkedIn, a phone call to a targeted contact or a well-crafted letter.
I followed each program to the point where it didn’t make sense any more to keep doing the work. I kept relying on my instinct to tell me when to keep going and when to try something different. I realized there is no such thing as a bad job search program and each has something unique to offer. There are plenty of experts out there from the fields of recruitment and human resources and many of them are sincere and helpful. They have been that way for me.
I went all out for one particular job search program. It involved targeting certain companies in your field (companies that you really want to work for), calling the hiring manager and sending a follow-up letter on high-quality paper placed inside a high-quality handwritten envelope. The idea was to wait for a response and when you don’t get one (which was typical) you follow up with a phone call and emails until you finally get a response. Using this method, I eventually landed in-person information-gathering interviews with about seven managers in the media field. Two were particularly influential executives. One was really impressed with my approach and directed me to several other contacts of hers. Another confided that her company typically only hires twenty-somethings because they’re cheaper. Despite all this initiative and drive on my part, nothing ever came of these interviews and I felt utterly deflated. It wasn’t until weeks afterward that I became fully aware of what dire straits media was in. No one was hiring except in the case of critical staffing shortages. The leader of this job search program assured me I had done my best and should feel proud of my efforts. He strongly encouraged me to find a new career direction, away from media.
Writing is solitary enough; freelancing writing is a truly introverted pursuit. I’m only introverted for a small part of each day so freelance writing is not made for me, except when it involves interviewing and meeting new people. I’m not comfortable spending hours and days alone in my house churning out content. I’m much more comfortable speaking with colleagues and clients face-to-face, with half of my daily work being extroverted in nature. So, I’ve been careful with the freelance projects I’ve selected, ensuring that interviewing is a key component of the work. Since I have turned my career focus toward content marketing, I’ve chosen projects that lean in that direction.
My favourite was a months-long assignment that I did for the Yellow Pages Group. It was called Neighbourhood Business Stories. I visited small business owners in various nearby neighbourhoods. I talked to them about the project, told them it was free, and tried to persuade them to participate. Many did and I enjoyed interviewing them. In return, they got a well-written story complete with pictures of themselves and their store, all posted online on the Yellow Pages website. It’s a cool marketing tool for them as they get to show off their business. Check out one of the stories.
Money, get away…
Get a good job with pay and you’re okay. (Thanks, Pink Floyd, for the reference)
No one that is in this situation wants to talk much about money, or the seemingly eternal lack of it. I don’t want to think too hard about the money trail of the past many months. I’ll tell you that there was money at the start, in the form of severance pay. Things looked good at that point, as long as I got a decent paying full-time job within sixth months. I hoped for a job much sooner because I wanted to spend some of that cash on a decent vacation and put the rest in savings.
Severance led to unemployment benefits, which led to borrowing endlessly from my pension plan. That’s nearly diminished, as I’ve stolen from my retirement savings to make ends meet. I’ve made money via freelancing but it’s never been enough.
I’ve thought a lot about money: why we need it and how we use it. I was never a big spender and was never greedy. Before all this mess began, I had already developed a healthy and happy habit of thrift shopping, and a flair for locating hidden bargains.
If I ever come to have an excess of money I would like to give much of it away, because others around me need it more than I do. I only want enough to maintain my current standard of living and to travel.
I want to keep developing good financial karma: spend money only on essentials and things of value, and on good, hard-working people who are in need. I have friends and neighbours who would each get a share of my surplus. And of course there are countless charities and causes to which I would contribute.
All that comeAll that comes once I’m back on my feet and stable. Meanwhile, my wife Kim has had to carry the financial burden and that’s been the toughest part for me to accept. At times, it burns a hole in the pit of my stomach.
What’s Gotten Me Through All This Mess?
It starts and ends with my wife and daughter, who are the essence of my world and everything that I value in it. They are my heroes and my constant source of inspiration. But they were all that even before I left CBC.
It extends to my family, who have been there to offer much support and encouragement. Various friends and former colleagues have helped by sending job postings and words of support. I get the feeling that they’re just as dumbfounded as I am that I’m still in this predicament. I thank them all for their kind words via email, Facebook, LinkedIn and occasionally in person. I just want to get back to hanging out with them, telling jokes, having a few drinks and talking about the good things in life, amid all the misery.
I have re-found my tremendous ability to imagine myself in a better place, time and frame of mind. This requires spending a lot of time alone and ‘zoning out’ from reality. This mode isn’t ideal in the long-term but it sure has helped me not to dwell on the obvious.
Other than that, I work out all the time, including running regularly. Yes, this six-foot-five, two-hundred-and-thirty-five pound body runs – at least, I chug along until my thick legs get me to where I want to be. When I run, fear and panic sometimes grips me briefly, and I think of how amazing it will be to once again train for a race with complete focus, without having to worry about my job, my career direction or my financial situation.
Getting back to work is not as simple as they say
Do you know how many times I’ve heard someone say “Have you tried…?” The answer is yes, yes, and a terabyte full of times, yes. I’ve read more than two hundred articles about how to get back to work and track down that next great opportunity. I’ve heeded the advice of a couple of dozen recruiters and so-called employment experts. I’ve been to the networking events and participated actively. I’ve done the job search programs. I’ve solicited the help of a recruiter. I’ve consulted business managers. I’ve had my resume and LinkedIn profile professionally remastered. I’m highly active on the social media front. As I’ve said, I’ve chased whatever opportunities made sense until they didn’t make sense any more. And, I’ve beat myself up repeatedly for not doing enough and not achieving the results that I demand of myself.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve learned is to actively engage in ‘meaningful daily activity.’ I heard this axiom from J.T. O’Donnell, the woman behind the Careerealism website and Career HMO. The idea is to do something meaningful each and every day that leads you toward your next big opportunity. (The big problem is deciding between what’s meaningful versus a waste of time.) J.T. is the person that also tuned me into this gem: career success is the intersection of passion and problem-solving. I think of my wife, who is an audiologist. She has combined her passion for helping people, her background in science and a pressing need in the marketplace for an expert in the science of hearing.
The problem many of us face is that we have a passion but it’s not worth much in the marketplace. We have to find a problem that our skill set solves, and we need to gain a reputation as a problem-solver. People will pay you to “put out fires,” and to either save them money or make them money. I think of a late friend of my parents, a retired steel worker who could fix anything. As the steel industry in Hamilton, Ontario became increasingly automated, there was still considerable demand for technicians who could repair the old equipment. The problem was that hardly anyone had the knowledge. This man did. He was in his eighties and getting emergency calls to ‘come and fix this machine today, please.’ He could practically name his price and it was accepted. He was indispensable.
You may be asking yourself, since you have say such great things about J.T. O’Donnell, why didn’t you use her program to get a job? Well, I did use her program. And it did help, a lot. Primarily it helped me uncover the areas that I needed to work on, including becoming more indispensable. During the multi-step process with her, I learned more about my professional strengths, my transferable skills, what I’m afraid of in my career, and, that I’m happy in all areas of my life except my career. All my interview preparation notes are from work I did with J.T.
So why were there no results? It really has nothing to do with her, her team or her program. At the time, I was chasing success in media. Unfortunately, as I’ve said, media is in an ongoing and terrible state of flux. Broadcasting corporations have been and are still making massive cutbacks. Sure, there are still jobs to be had in traditional media and success is always possible. I think this is especially true for a young person who is willing to start at an entry level. It’s just not the right place for me anymore.
Where is the right place for me? I’ve been trying to figure it out. Believe me, I’ve been trying, working and thinking! I’ve met a lot of people who are in transition as well and are also trying to figure it out. Some have succeeded, and have landed jobs that fit them well. Others simply took the first job that came along because they needed to work. Many of those people consider themselves fortunate to have found a job at all. They learned what it was like not to have a regular paycheck and how painful that can be.
An old friend called a while back and talked with me about his company and their need for better content marketing services. That got me to thinking: I’m a journalist and writer, and have many valuable and transferable skills. All that I’ve done so far in my career encompasses many aspects of content marketing. That’s the direction I’m pursuing now.
I don’t typically give advice. Rather, I encourage people to search for their own unique and personal solutions to their problems. That includes matters of employment and career transition.
The greatest suggestions I could give revolve around getting through each day and being able to sleep that night. Regarding that, I say: do whatever you have to do – that’s legal and moral – to get you through, stop beating yourself up, stop blaming yourself and feeling guilty (it solves nothing) and do something nice for yourself. For instance, I love iced coffee drinks so I regularly grab a few dollars and treat myself to one.
Also, understand that there are no definitive answers: there is no single guiding principle that will get you back to work. It’s never so simple as this: “Apply to five job every day and you’ll get the break you need” or “Find the right recruiter and you’ll be working in no time.”
I’d also say keep learning and re-evaluating. When something doesn’t produce results after three months (that’s my gauge) try something new. That may mean finding a new networking group, trying a different recruiter, revamping your resume, or developing a new cover letter template with a mind-blowing introductory sentence.
Start behaving today like the professional person that you want to become. Make sure all your online and personal interactions are in line with this objective.
Lastly, repeat this to yourself often: time heals all wounds. It’s a far-overused cliché but it works. If you keep working and plugging away and searching for your own answers – even if that eventually means re-training and a major career change, and a decrease in salary – you will regroup.
I will regroup.
I will heed my own advice.
Meanwhile, I’m still here. Despite all the adversity and upheaval of the last two-plus years, I’m still here fighting. I’m healthy, I’m active, I have love and support and when my head hits the pillow each night, I drift slowly into a peaceful sleep.