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The Discouraged Job Seeker and an Interesting History of the “Career Path”

March 4th, 2014

On Friday I posted The Job Seeker’s Secret Weapon: MENTALITY, which I think is a really important post for all to read.  I referenced “a guy” that sent me an email that kind of triggered that post.  I sent him a link to the post and he had a brilliant response.

No amount of massaged economic and unemployment reports can compete with the reality of what has happened to “careers.”  I think there is tremendous opportunity in the changes, but that doesn’t take away any pain that we, from baby boomers to Gen Z, have to live with.

With “the guy’s” permission, I’m posting the email in it’s entirety.  Please take a moment to read what I thought was a brilliant message to me – to brilliant to just stay tucked away in my own inbox:

Hi Jason,

Thanks again, it really does mean a lot.  It was a great blog.  You captured the essence of my feelings extremely effectively! Very cogent.

Somewhat related, as a point of reference or context:  I notice more and more, on LinkedIn, the number of GenX middle tier tech-managers like myself, seemingly out of work.  I think the phenomena is bigger than it appears on the surface. Of course, I am biased :-)

Note: the following is a stream of consciousness “rambling babbledeegook”. Please do not hesitate to ignore/delete it.

START RANT

The fact remains: During the entirety of the 1990′s, MANY techies (my age) were able to forgo classical higher education, because the demand was *so high* for network and systems engineers, program managers, and others across the broad scope of the “tech industry”.  We were so busy building the WWW, it did not occur to many, a college degree would one day (soon) become a bullet proof glass ceiling.

In an ironically fickle way, those of us (as described) with a strong sense of ownership and responsibility were hit much harder than those who weren’t as “professionally honorable” (they typically remained in lower Individual roles)…and here is why: Many of us climbed half way up the ladder into the mid-range of management; necessarily losing our tight grip on technical skills to broaden our scope. This is necessary to manage the synergistic boundary where strategic demands meet tactical implementation…

But, when the labor force took a huge hit after the turn of the century, suddenly, there were a LOT less jobs for those of us senior enough to have moved (half way) up the food chain….

Now fast forward a few years, to the end of the first decade of the 21st century: The juxtaposition of all those prior elements, in combination with human nature (middle age, building families)… resolves into a painful mid-life professional crisis that is….quite legitimate.

In hindsight, migrating above the day-to-day trench warfare of Individual Contributorship during the DotCom days, was not much more than a professionally brutal reminder of the Technology Caste system (at least here in Silicon Valley) we live within.

The lessons learned:

  • Get a degree… I don’t care what its for: just make sure it is from a reputable institution.  This can be a REAL limitation if you wait until it is too late (financially).  Note: I fall into this last camp
  • See a shrink:   Getting educated in “you” is a HUGE benefit:  You are a mess inside…Understanding *WHY*, will REALLY help keep your ego and emotions in check, when you are tested (like my cisco failure)…
  • Read up on psychology:  Understanding that everyone else is a mess inside as well, and that everyone else has the same physiological needs as yourself (wanting to be safe yet significant, and all the mechanisms we invent to attain this, for example)
  • Deal with boring:  Understand that you cannot see the adventure lying in wait, just over the horizon (out of view)…Watching that professional “pot” boil is certainly boring..but the steam eventually bubbling off can be harnessed to propel your career: IF YOU PLAN FOR IT.
  • The concept that every job is TEMPORARY is absolute GOSPEL.  PLAN FOR REPLACING YOURSELF OR BEING REPLACED….THE MOMENT YOU LAND A JOB is the MOMENT you need to update your CV and start looking for the next one.  There is not a single company that can legitimately “look out for the best interests of its employees” at all times:  You ARE disposable; get over it, accept it….and plan for it. prep to harness the steam.

END RANT

Positive Mentality is challenging when you are starting at the bridge…not to consider the precipice it spans, but instead to consider its ability to provide shelter for you and your family.  That said, one of my favorite all time quotes is from Winston Churchill, and for the most part, I am known for being a stalwart proponent of his advice: 

“Never, never, never give up.”

I had to read that email twice, but really appreciate the perspective and the learning points. This is something I would give to my kids!

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4 Responses to “The Discouraged Job Seeker and an Interesting History of the “Career Path””

  1. Matt says:

    Jason
    Your comments on the current state of the job market is correct. Even people with IT degrees are having problems getting employment. There is going to be a major shift in our economy coming in the next few years. When we shifted from a manufacturing based economy to a service sector base we have moved in the wrong direction. As of 2010 six out of ten of the country largest employers are retailers who provide sub-standard wages and benefits. In the past as soon as 2000 only Walmart was on this list. The industry your are in is changing the face of the employment world as never seen before in history. This is going to be a very bumpy ride moving forward.

  2. Linsey says:

    Jason,

    Thanks so much for sharing that articulate and very true story! I’m hoping it gets lots of reads to help others recognize the perspective, learnings, and recommendations. Good advice to pass on.
    Warm regards,
    Linsey

  3. Steve Levy says:

    Hey Big Ute…the letter writer received an incredible dose of reality along the lines the very first time you say something “grown up” to your kids or frankly anyone else, and turn around looking for your parents – because the very words you “despised” hearing from them came right out of your mouth.

    I have to add one more lesson to those above: See a shrink WITH YOUR PARENTS – because it is partially their doing that newer “Gens” are the way they are. We become what we’re taught and what has been taught – for example, that you can be a Rockstar CEO at 24; that Blue Ribbons are given out for no special reason other than participation; that venture funding is around every corner; that you don’t have to learn the politics of business – doesn’t ensure a happy professional career.

    Yesterday, I was advising an early careerist who graduated just a few years ago into one of the worst markets for new grads and had to remind him several times how bitter he sounds (he’s better today). We’re creating an honest and targeted resume, IN profile, and job search strategy with realistic goals and possible stretch assignments for down the road. He’ll be getting a copy of this post.

    JA, if the guy needs job search assistance, give him my number.

  4. Jason Alba says:

    @Matt – bumpy ride means taking more (total?) control over personal career management. While we can’t do it all, we can be in charge and “outsource” the rest, or find resources to complement what we can do. See why I’m so passionate about JibberJobber? :)

    @Linsey – to bad this couldn’t be required reading in university classes. There is a lot of wisdom (from experience) here.

    @Steve – interesting perspective, I hadn’t thought of that aspect. I’m guessing type-A people will not necessarily agree, they’ll probably take the burden of failure on themselves, but the idea of the mentality, expectations, etc. from where we are coming from has an impact on all this.

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