Have you seen the amazing Pixar movie Ratatouille? If no, I highly recommend it. The level of irony playing out on screen is amazing enough, but as any Pixar fan already knows, the story is original and clever, with plenty of beautiful visuals and laughs to go with it. One simple line from the movie that has popped into my head a number of times lately is, “But the only thing predictable about life is its unpredictability.”
How true that is right now. Last June I married my best friend, Alisa, and at this time last year, we were just about to head to Germany for nearly a year. This also meant that we had to say goodbye to our dogs as our friends took them in while we were gone. Another thing I was nervous about was leaving my job. Was it really a difficult decision? Not really. After all, I was standing beside my wife, supporting her as she conducted research halfway around the world. Not a lot of people are blessed with such a great opportunity, but Alisa’s brilliance made it possible, and I feel so blessed to be a part of that experience with her.
But of course there were always those concerns that come with making such a big move in life. If I could have ever predicted that I would be searching for a full-time job for months before and after we got back to the U.S., then maybe I would have tried to do something different. I mean, I was offered a job by three companies when I completed graduate studies at my university, and that was after I had interviewed with only three companies. That means I was three for three! Now I’m shooting air balls left and right. It’s a weird feeling, and honestly, it’s quite scary. Even before we left for Germany, we regularly heard about unemployment in America. But when you experience it for yourself, it means something else entirely.
Going from making a decent living to looking for work is something no one can fully be prepared for. I had a regular plan of paying off my student loans at a furious pace, but now I’m on the verge of struggling to make a payment. Perhaps I should have prepared for something like this rather than trying to tackle my debt head on? It depends on who you talk to, but if I could have a conversation with myself from a year or two ago, I might have advised myself to think of the what ifs. After all, the only predictable thing about life is its unpredictability!
I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunities I’ve had, and I also am incredibly thankful for the opportunities coming my way. I just wish that I could see those opportunities coming so I could feel some relief. Searching for work is stressful, and according to an article from the New York Times, it also is bad for your health. And it’s true that unemployment affects family life. I’ve felt responsible for the stress we’ve endured during the last couple months. It doesn’t help that I quit my job voluntarily, and obtaining unemployment benefits based on relocation is “a real longshot.”
But do I want what some call a “handout?” No, not at all. What I do want is the chance to play an important role in a company in which I can practice my technical and design skills. I do want to continue learning what I love to do. I am so ready for a company to invest in me so I can help them achieve their goals.
One of the unfortunate trends we’ve seen in recent years is the high expectations companies have for potential employees. From experience, I can say that I’ve seen my share of job descriptions that are scary. It could be the requirements section saying, “Minimum five years experience coding for the web, with an emphasis on editing videos with children being surprise attacked by cats.” It could be that the list of skills required is so specific that no one other than the person who left that position actually has that particular set of skills. What’s most frustrating, though, is that companies are often failing to invest in their new employees. They expect their employees to come into the job with all the tools and know-how to jump right in and produce.
Peter Capelli writes, “In other words, to get a job, you have to have that job already.” He explains that companies often find themselves unable to fill a job vacancy because they can’t find that perfect candidate—the one that most likely does not exist for what they offer in return. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not interested in making a large paycheck. Rather, I want to work for someone who believes in my abilities and is interested in my learning more—something that will, in turn, result in greater efficiency, profit, and progression in the market. I’ve actually left a higher paying job in the past to work a job I believed in and was passionate about. My supervisor showed great interest in my improvement because she saw that potential and authenticity that comes with passion for what you do. Therefore, I fully believe that if a company invests more in their employees, they basically are encouraging and coaching them, things we learn at an early age are strong motivators of performance. The more interest shown in one’s future, the more likely that individual will create authentic and efficient results. And a happy employee is one that is more likely to stick with the company and be passionate about its success.
A job description should be a list of desired qualifications, with a degree of variance to accommodate various candidates. Beyond that, employers should more often than not expect their employees to continue training into the job. Currently about 20% of the workforce actually experiences continued training within their jobs. During the tech boom in the 90s, very few of the professionals in the field actually had IT-related degrees. Now, less than two decades later, companies have tightened their belts and crossed their arms. Our greatest progress in information technology took place during a time when so few of those in the field were formally educated in that field. So what gives?
I cannot entirely blame employers for tightening their belts. For one, there are great companies willing to invest in their employees. I was hired by National Instruments (NI), a great engineering company, straight out of college. Immediately after being hired, they provided a great amount of training for my position. After moving on from NI, I worked for a church as a graphic designer and webmaster, which was a new direction for me. While they did not have the budget to send me to conferences, they did hire me based on the assumption that I had great passion for what I wanted to do in my career. And while I am still struggling to find a job right now, there are companies who still post saying that they want someone who will continue to learn. Do I believe that they are all sincere? More often than not, yes.
Another reason I cannot completely blame employers for tightening their belts is that employees do come and go at a greater rate than years ago. This comes at a cost to employers, because the hiring process costs them a lot of money. I’ve even heard people say that companies will hold onto an employee who simply does an okay job (not great) simply because it costs too much to fire them and hire someone new. Also, a lot of employees may want to leave for a job with better benefits and higher pay. Well, I cannot blame someone for wanting to make that particular change!
I just recently reread an article by Jena McGregor, titled, “Why you can’t get a job.” One thing that jumped out at me was this: “Meanwhile, employers faced with both a deluge of applicants and staffing cuts in their H.R. departments have become more and more dependent on software programs that shut out perfectly qualified candidates.” My experience recently was that I received an email from a company less than two miles from where I live regarding a recent application I submitted. The email reads as follows:
Thank you for applying to the Content Author position. We appreciate your interest in the role, however, this position does not have relocation available or remote work options, and we are only considering candidates already located in the area.
We encourage you to set up job alerts, check the website often, and apply for other positions of interest to you.
Do you suppose the company—a large, international brand—used software to filter candidates? In my cover letter and in the application process, I clearly wrote out my current address, which is less than two miles from their corporate offices (where they were looking to fill the position), yet I do remember writing about my experiences in Germany this last year. I wonder if the software incorrectly identified me as a non-local candidate.
In my search for a job, I’ve seen all types of wages listed, as well as the ever-so-popular blank, mystery wage. Many candidates simply feel they cannot accept low wages for what they have to offer. I too have wrestled with that thought. After all, I live in Austin, Texas, which has seen a steady rise in living costs over the last, well, forever. Rent alone is something to look at and cry over. Add to that the cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle, student loans, and basic living expenses, and $30,000 a year doesn’t sound like much. The truth is, it’s not much for this area of the country. But have I considered it? Absolutely. I’ve considered less simply because I need something. I still cannot blame the people who turn down an offer for employment because they feel they will be underpaid and overworked. It can be scary to someone not knowing how much of their life they will hand over when they receive only enough in return to maintain payments. We all want to live outside and enjoy life rather than work through it. I do believe that we can work hard and enjoy life at the same time, but that formula has become more difficult to obtain.
Even though there’s a lot of unpredictability in my life that is scary, there’s also unpredictability that I am looking forward to. I look forward to my wife’s completion of her dissertation and her future career. I am so proud of what she’s done, and that makes me all the more confident in what she will do. I have no doubt she will find something she is fully capable in and enjoys.
I’m also unsure of where Alisa and I will be living in five years. I am excited for it, though, and welcome it. We’ve also talked about children, which is a big mystery in many ways itself, but we are regularly talking about it, and I believe we will make the right decisions when the time comes.
While I know we cannot control everything that will affect our lives, I believe we can make the best of it. Sometimes it takes faith from others, and sometimes it takes our own faith. And unpredictability can bring stress. I’m stressed out and scared about making ends meet. Still, I have stability in the people who love me and believe in me. I have that to be thankful for. I don’t want to ask for help, but I am so blessed that I have people in my life who are so in love with who I am that they are willing to reach out and provide assistance in any way. I can always predict that they will be there to listen to me or to lift me up. I don’t know where I’m going, but I have a great wife, great friends, and an amazing family.