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Suspending My Job Search November 30, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
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In my last post I wrote about my frustrating year doing everything you’re supposed to do in order to find a job, and nevertheless failing to find a job. I think it’s time to try the one thing I haven’t tried so far. I’m going to stop looking for a job, and I’m going to stop applying for jobs.

I’ve turned off all those automated web crawlers that are supposed to find jobs to fit my profile. I’m not going to waste my time tweaking my resume or my LinkedIn profile any more. I’m not going to quit LinkedIn, but I’ve cut back on my contributions to the group discussions, some of which felt like shameless self-promotion. I’ll continue writing and networking, but I’m going to try not to think about whether it helps or hurts my job search.

I’m tired of the daily rejection. I’m tired of people telling me that I’m overqualified. I’m tired of other people telling me that I have a great background and that any company would be lucky to have me. I’m tired of worrying about age discrimination, or how long it’s been since I had a full-time job. I’m tired of hearing the same advice over and over again.

I’ve been waking up every day and actively looking for a job for over a year, so this isn’t going to be easy. I know I’m going to worry that the “ideal job” will be posted somewhere tomorrow, and they’re not going to find me because I didn’t find the job and apply for it. If there’s a job out there for me, the recruiter is going to have to find me on their own. Maybe playing “hard to get” is the better strategy right now.

I still want a job. Starting in January I’m going to be teaching classes in project management and supply chain management as an adjunct professor at two local universities, so I’ll be busy. I love teaching, and it’s always been my plan to transition into an adjunct role after retirement. However, I’m too young to retire, and I can’t afford to retire (or, I’m not ready to make the changes I would need to make in order to retire). I’m not ready (yet) to give up on the idea that there’s a team out there somewhere that can benefit from my experience, skills, and talents.

Just about everything good that’s ever happened to me has come unexpectedly. Maybe it’s time to relax and let things happen for a change. This isn’t my comfort zone. I prefer to make things happen. We’ll see how long I can keep this up.

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My Year in Job Search November 8, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
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I was laid off a little over a year ago, and I’ve spent part of every day since then looking for a job. In the last year I’ve had 1-on-1 meetings with over 150 people at coffee shops all over northern Colorado. Some of these folks I knew already, but most of them were people I found on LinkedIn or through referrals. Some people I’ve met just by walking up and saying hello. I’ve attended almost 100 networking events, including local chapter meetings of national professional organizations and job search workgroups. I’ve applied to at least five jobs every week. I’ve had 23 phone screenings, 6 on-site interviews, and zero job offers.

I think I’ve done everything that the job search experts say you’re supposed to do, although I’m always open to new suggestions. I’ve got a list of over 20 target companies in the area, and I’ve got good connections at all of them. I received outplacement services, and at this point I’m sure I could teach others how to look for a job. I’ve been posting regularly to my blog on WordPress, and I’ve been participating in on-line discussions on LinkedIn, and I opened a site on ScoopIt to highlight news items from my field of expertise, all intended to establish and maintain professional credibility. I started a personal web site to provide some details about my work accomplishments and methods. I’ve given talks at professional meetings, and I was a guest lecturer at the local university before becoming an adjunct professor, teaching project management, strategic planning, and supply chain management.

I joined a volunteer committee to help new job seekers get started with LinkedIn. I was asked to write five chapters for the ninth edition of a technical handbook that will be published next year. I’ve been a guest blogger for two other sites. I’m working with a former colleague to record podcast interviews with authors and industry leaders in reliability and quality. I spent a year studying Spanish, and now I’m working on Mandarin Chinese.

While my focus has been on finding a full-time job, I’ve let everyone know that I’m also open to temporary contract positions and consulting. I’m willing to commute long distances, and I would consider relocation. Despite my considerable experience and training, I’ve lowered my salary expectations. I’ve been told that I’m over-qualified. No one has told me that I’m too old, but I worry about age discrimination. I worry about the stigma that goes with long-term unemployment: the longer this goes on, the more likely hiring managers will assume that there’s something really wrong with me.

I’ve been told that my resume is the problem, and I tweak it regularly. I send cover letters and follow-up with my connections (almost 1500 people on LinkedIn). I’ve sent Pain Letters to help companies imagine how I could help them solve their problems. I’ve been told that the red background on my photo in LinkedIn is the problem. I’ve gotten a lot of conflicting advice from folks who mean well. I’ve just about run out of ideas, and I’m not sure if doing the same things over and over again will lead to a different result.

I keep plugging away, but I’m beginning to wonder whether corporate America has a place for me. I’m busy and optimistic most days, and I try not to let myself be defined by my unemployed status. We’ll see what happens next.

Sorry, But You’ve Only Worked at Large Companies June 25, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
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There’s an interview question that I’ve heard from time to time: “You’ve only worked at big companies, what makes you think you can succeed at a smaller company?” Sometimes this isn’t even a question, just a comment that implies that no reasonable person would disagree with the premise. The assumption is that “big companies” are significantly different in a way that somehow deeply changes the people who work there, requiring re-education before they can be useful in another work environment.

I’m not sure how widespread this attitude is, but I think it’s worth exploring. What are the assumptions about big companies and the people who work there? How hard is it really for people to move from a big company to a smaller company? Are there legitimate differences that require adjustments by a new employee?

First, what exactly defines a “big company?” Revenue? Number of employees? Reputation? Interesting questions, but not really helpful in defining the problem. I’ve worked at both Fortune 100 firms and smaller companies with greater than $100M in annual revenue. Hewlett-Packard used to be characterized by relatively small and independent business units that managed their own product lines with full P&L responsibility. Many large corporations follow a similar model.

The real question should be: What characteristics and behaviors are “small companies” afraid of, and trying to avoid? I can’t claim to have broad insight here, but I think the assumption is that larger companies have more processes, more overhead, more administrative staff, and generally more infrastructure that’s developed over time as they’ve grown. This infrastructure costs money to maintain, and smaller companies need to focus their resources on new product development and market growth. Smaller companies also value flexibility, adaptability, and nimbleness, and “excessive bureaucracy” is often blamed for the inertia that plagues some larger companies.

An employee with “big company” experience is accustomed to working within that infrastructure; enjoying its benefits, but also (possibly) learning how to overcome administrative obstacles and getting things done by organizing internal resources. If the infrastructure is smaller, will the employee forget how to do those things? I don’t think so. Frankly, I’d be more concerned about people trying to move from a small company to a big company, and in fact there are a lot of examples of folks who have failed to make that transition, particularly following an acquisition.

Everybody is expected to work within some kind of schedule and expense budget, whether big or small. Everybody has to work within an organizational structure, whether big and bureaucratic or small and nimble. It’s fair to ask how a person works within these constraints, but let’s not assume that people who’ve worked at a big company can’t succeed elsewhere.

 

manufacturing differences, lower volume, smaller sample size, less attention from vendors

I Need a New Plan, This One Isn’t Working (Or, Is It?) June 4, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Process engineering.
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At what point should you abandon your plan and make a new one? How do you know when the old plan isn’t going to work? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately during my current job search. Everyone tells me that I’m doing the right things, that’s it’s a “numbers game,” and if I just keep doing those things then eventually I’ll land a job. On the other hand I keep thinking of that quote attributed to Einstein, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

This seems like a general problem with any plan, including a change management process. When you implement the plan you have some confidence that the plan will yield the results or the improvement that you’re looking for. When those positive results don’t happen as expected, does that mean the plan was the wrong one? Is it the right plan, but you’ve overlooked some hidden influence that prevents the plan from working? Does the system have some kind of latency that delays the impact of the plan, and you just have to be a little patient? If you quit now and change the plan or revert to the old process, are you giving up just before the miracle happens? Conversely, if you do abandon the plan and things suddenly improve, does that prove the plan was the wrong one?

One way to determine if the plan is on-track would be to schedule intermediate checkpoints to measure effectiveness and progress. That works for situations where progress can be measured as a continuous variable. If you’re moving the needle in the right direction, you only have to decide if the magnitude of the improvement is acceptable. This doesn’t work if success/failure is strictly binary. Until I actually get a job, I can’t say whether my current plan (or any other) is working. A job search plan that leads to more job interviews could be said to be more effective in one sense because it improves my chances, but my ultimate goal isn’t just an interview.

So, how do you judge a plan if you can’t measure its progress? This is where the thinking that went into creating the plan or process improvement becomes important. Any plan assumes some kind of cause-and-effect relationship between inputs and outputs. If I do this, or stop doing this, or do this differently, then I will get the desired outcome. If I don’t get the desired outcome, then it may be time to revisit the assumed relationship between inputs and outputs. The plan may be based on a weak causal model that does not account for input variables with a stronger influence on the outcome. The desired outcome itself may be poorly defined: Am I looking for any job, or a specific kind of job? My plan may be the right one for an outcome that’s different than the one I really want.

Patience has never been my strong suit. It can be hard to stick with a plan that doesn’t seem to be delivering the right results. However, before abandoning a plan for something else that has no better chance of succeeding, it’s worth spending a little time examining the assumed model to check for flaws.

 

 

How Important Is Industry Familiarity? April 17, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Organizational dynamics, strategy.
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I’m once again “between jobs” and “in-transition,” and I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at job postings. Every position seems to emphasize the preference or requirement for applicants with industry experience. It’s easy to imagine that many applicants are immediately eliminated from consideration without it.

I understand why familiarity with an industry is valued in a candidate. Different industries are characterized by different combinations of suppliers, internal value delivery systems, channels, competitors, and customers. People who work in the industry understand the relationships between these elements, and that understanding is an important consideration when setting priorities and making decisions. It takes time to learn that in a new job, and people who already have the experience don’t need to go through a learning curve and theoretically can make a more-immediate impact.

Industry familiarity doesn’t seem to be something you can acquire through independent study and observation; you have to actually work in the industry. This means that your preferred candidates are likely going to be people who have worked at your competitors, or possibly your suppliers, channels, or customers, depending on how broadly you define your industry.

This leads to a question I’ve been puzzling over: what are the unique characteristics of an industry that are true differentiators? What really distinguishes one industry from another, and what is the significance of those differences when considering job applicants?

In my career I’ve worked at a defense contractor, several OEMs in the consumer electronics industry, a supplier to the semiconductor manufacturing industry, and most-recently a supplier to the power generation and utilities industries. Different customers, different sales channels, different production volumes, and different quality expectations and regulatory environments. Some of the suppliers were the same, but most were different. Some produced internally, and some outsourced. Some of these companies competed on cost, some on technology. My modest assessment is that I’ve been successful in all of these industries.

Industry experience provides familiarity, but is industry experience an accurate predictor of success in a new job? What skills are really needed to succeed, and how transferable are a person’s skills from one industry to another? Could a unique perspective derived from a diversity of experiences be more valuable than industry familiarity? These are the questions that should be considered when writing a job posting and evaluating applicants.

 

Focus on Projects, Not Jobs January 24, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Organizational dynamics, Project management.
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I’ve been doing a lot of professional networking these last few months, particularly since my most-recent transition from the corporate world. I’ve met a lot of new people, and re-connected with many former colleagues. Everyone wants to know how the job search is going, and what I’m looking for in my next job. The more I think about those questions, the more I wonder whether I’m really looking for a “job.”

Yes, I do want to be compensated for my work, and I prefer having some degree of stability and continuity in my work life, and (like most folks, I suspect) I have associated those things with a full-time position that doesn’t have a pre-determined end date. In other words, a job.

Lately, however, I’m starting to believe that there’s really no such thing as job security, at least in the traditional sense of staying with a single employer for an extended period of time. At-will employment seems to be the norm these days as companies emphasize staffing flexibility over long-term commitments. Those who have been laid off complain that there’s no loyalty any more, but I think that cuts both ways. More employees seem to be accepting this new reality, and getting laid off doesn’t have the same stigma that it did before.

If there’s little assurance of a long-term relationship with a single employer, any security is derived from the varying market demand for your skills and experiences. A career is a series of jobs, or maybe even just a series of projects. The company has a need, you’re hired because you’re the right fit for that need, you work until the company doesn’t have that need any more, and then you’re available for the next opportunity (which might be at the same company, but more likely, not). If your skills and experiences are in-demand, you won’t have to spend much time “in transition,” although you may have to be willing to relocate.

Look, everyone is different and has different needs. I enjoy learning new things, and I like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from solving problems that need solving. I just need to learn how to be better at the transitions.

The Skills (Most) Engineers Don’t Learn in College January 9, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Process engineering, Quality.
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My friend and former colleague Happy Holden recently sent me his list of 25 “soft skills” that engineers don’t learn in college, but that every engineering manager needs to acquire to succeed. Engineers may graduate with a deep understanding of their selected discipline, however their future career path will depend on whether they acquire other critical skills on-the-job. Those that don’t may continue to be useful engineers when they’re given specific assignments, but they will require closer management (which will add cost to their organization), their contribution to business goals will be narrow, and their value will be limited, whether or not they become a manager.

Happy has 25 skills in his list, but I’ve chosen the following 10 as my favorites, in no particular order:

  1. Statistics, specifically inferential statistics. I’ve always been surprised at how few engineers understand the concepts of sample size and significance testing. Too many are willing to accept a single test result as proof.
  2. Problem solving. I’m talking about a systematic approach to problem solving, one that evaluates the current situation and considers more than one possible root cause and solution. In the end, your first instinct may still be the right one, but you should at least evaluate other possibilities.
  3. Technical writing. This is a bit of a lost skill with today’s greater emphasis on verbal communication, texting, and PowerPoint. However, regardless of the medium, understanding and decision making requires clear expression of technical concepts, especially to people who don’t have the same technical background that you do.
  4. Design for manufacturing. Here I’m talking to design engineers who may have a limited understanding of the capabilities of their supply chain, which includes manufacturing processes, variability, and tolerance stack-ups. The best design isn’t very useful until it can be built in the real world.
  5. Managing management time. OK, this is a little subtle. Your manager is busy juggling multiple issues. Exercise good judgment about taking their time, and focus your questions and reports. Even better, learn more about their strategic priorities and working environment, and anticipate what will be important to them.
  6. Project/program management. Obviously this is a required skill for engineers who aspire to become project managers, but all engineers who understand stakeholders, schedule, dependencies, resources, and risks will be able to work more independently, and effectively.
  7. Benchmarking. I’ve always been a fan of benchmarking as a way of identifying new ideas and accelerating their adoption. The part that often gets lost is how the results were achieved, not just the results themselves. Engineers should learn to appreciate and analyze different ways to build a mousetrap.
  8. Engineering economics. The “best” ideas and designs may not be adopted due to financial considerations such as return-on-investment and break-even time. If you can contribute to an evaluation of economic trade-offs, you’re more valuable to the process of decision-making.
  9. Recruiting and interviewing. At some point the organization is going to do some hiring. Those who can participate effectively in the process will have a significant influence on the future of the organization.
  10. Predictive engineering. It’s possible that this is actually taught somewhere, but it tends to be very specific to a product or industry. Building prototypes can be time consuming and expensive. It’s good to be able to assess performance and reliability without having to wait.
My number 11 would be lean manufacturing / JIT / TOC, although that’s a personal favorite that may be less important as firms use more contract manufacturing.

Something New: A Personal Web Site January 6, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership, Process engineering, Project management, Quality, strategy, Supply chain.
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Over the last few weeks I’ve been busy working on a personal web site that I  launched on December 25. My intention is to provide more depth about my expertise and accomplishments than what can be inferred from a two-page resume or a LinkedIn profile. This has been on my to-do list since 2012, and we’ll see how it’s received during my current “in transition” phase.

It’s been an interesting exercise, reviewing my work history and classifying my methods and results in a series of PowerPoint slides. One nice thing about getting older is that you start to figure out what you’re good at, and how to focus on those strengths. I can see common threads running through the projects in my career; an emphasis on cross-functional collaboration, strategic business alignment, and performance measures. I’ve been repeatedly attracted by opportunities to identify improvements and lead change initiatives.

I’ve already written blog posts here about some of the topics, but now they’re illustrated in more detail on the web site thanks to PowerPoint. I’m sure I’ll tinker with it in the coming months, adding some new content and tweaking the slides.

Here’s the link: http://timwrodgers.wix.com/timwrodgers. Let me know what you think.

2013 Year in Review: Lessons Learned December 17, 2013

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
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Another year is coming to an end, and it’s a natural time to reflect on the events of the last twelve months. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned, or re-learned, in 2013.

  • I started the year “in transition,” but interviewed for several positions in January and February, ultimately landing a job as the director of quality for a mid-sized company in northern Colorado. The preparation and the interviews themselves provided a great opportunity to re-assess my skills and experiences and test whether those really have value in the marketplace. Ironically, despite all the time I put into local networking in southern California and building connections at my target companies, I got the job in Colorado after submitting an on-line application with no insider help. What I learned: staying patient during job search, and trusting that there really is a good fit out there somewhere.
  • The new job started in March and I commuted from my home in San Diego until relocating to Colorado in June. I re-read a couple of my previous blog posts for advice (See: 30-60-90 Day Plans and  Managing Remote Teams), and generally spent my time learning about the people, processes, and products at the company. My team was spread over multiple sites and I made several trips to introduce myself and align expectations. Managing the relocation was a significant distraction during that period, but I received very positive feedback about my ability to quickly establish credibility and make an immediate impact. What I learned: making strong first impressions and achieving early results are critical during the first weeks in a new job. That’s a topic for my next post in 2014. 
  • In June I moved to Colorado, returning after exactly 20 years. Work kept me extremely busy, but I made it a priority to personally re-connect with former colleagues who I’d kept up with over the years. I also started the process of establishing a local network by attending meetings of networking groups and professional chapters throughout the area. I didn’t know it at the time, but those connections gave me a head start when I re-joined the ranks of the unemployed later in the year. What I learned: it may be hard, but it’s important to maintain professional relationships and continue networking while employed.
  • From July through November I focused on the job, consolidating and building on the early successes, and expanding my influence in the organization. It was an exciting time for our growing business, with a game-changing new product coming to market and a significant international acquisition. That all came to a sudden and unexpected end after a corporate reorganization left me without a chair. What I learned: there’s no such thing as job security; the security comes from your network, your relationships, and your skills and talents.
  • For the last several weeks I’ve been reviewing my job search strategies and evaluating new ones. I’ve returned to blogging after a lull during the summer and fall. I’m working on a personal web site (scheduled to go live in January) to present some of my methodologies and accomplishments, and I’m considering other channels to help promote my personal brand. I’m once again looking for consulting and teaching opportunities to stay active. I’m meeting some great people and sharing my lessons about networking and social media. I’ve decided to focus on learning one language for a year instead of playing around with several languages at the same time. What I learned: keep learning, keep growing, stay active.

It’s been an emotional roller coaster, but never boring. I have no idea where this is going next, and I can’t wait to get there.

What Kind of Leadership Do You Want For This Job? January 11, 2013

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership, strategy.
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A few weeks ago I listened to an excellent podcast from Harvard Business Review’s HBR IdeaCast about leadership (http://blogs.hbr.org/ideacast/2012/11/the-indispensable-unlikely-lea.html), featuring Gautam Makunda, author of “Indispensible: When Leaders Really Matter.” Professor Makunda uses historical examples to illustrate the importance of context in determining how effective a leader will be. While Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill were certainly extraordinary leaders, the circumstances helped define their greatness. Different leaders may not have been nearly as effective in those times, but those same leaders might not be effective in different times.

Churchill is a particularly interesting example. Although he had been in government service in senior leadership positions for most of his adult life, and was respected as a brilliant and hard-working minister, he was never seriously considered a leading candidate to become Prime Minister before World War II. He was essentially a last resort after other highly-regarded, experienced, and well-qualified politicians resigned or refused the position.

As it turned out, Churchill’s charisma and iconic presence in the months after Dunkirk and during the Battle of Britain was exactly what was needed and certainly helped save the day. However, in the elections immediately following the war Churchill was defeated, and although he would return as PM in the early 1950s he was less effective managing domestic affairs during a period of imperial decline.

Professor Makunda suggests that there are lessons here for companies who are considering candidates for leadership positions. Some positions should be filled by a “safe choice,” a person with deep expertise who came up through the ranks, has accumulated all the “right” experiences, and has been thoroughly vetted in the selection process. The interesting thing about a position that can be filled by a safe choice is that it really doesn’t matter much who you choose from the pool of candidates because they’re all essentially equally qualified. That’s OK when the circumstances are not exceptional or demanding and there’s little downside to choosing the “wrong” person.

However, the safe choice with a conventional background is far less likely to have a significant impact on the organization (positive or negative), particularly during periods of transition, ambiguity, or turmoil. This is when companies might benefit from the perspective of an outsider with new or unconventional ideas, or what Professor Makunda would call an “extreme leader.” The risk is greater because the experience of an extreme leader may not be directly applicable to the open position, but the potential gain is also greater. The company must decide if they’re willing to take that chance.

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