Free Resume Evaluations? What’s the catch?

A professional writer offering a free resume evaluation? Yes, it’s true!

Seriously. Free. No joke. No catch.

Seriously. Free. No joke. No catch.

Throughout my blog, in articles dealing with the topic of writing a resume, you’ll find that I often offer to evaluate your resume and/or cover letter for free.  I then provide a link that takes you to my personal email address. Many of you take advantage of my offer, but at least half of your first ask:

“Is this really free? And, if so, what’s the catch?”

I’m no different than anyone else:  When I read or hear that something is free, I expect that there is a catch.  At the very least, I’ll have to sign up for a membership, or read an ad, or somehow allow for my email address to find its way to a junk list.  And I have issues with that.

It goes against the grain of my moral fiber to charge money to someone who does not have an income and who desperately needs to find a job.  I subscribe to the notion that a resource-based economy is better for humankind, and just as I would not throw away food simply because a starving child cannot afford to buy it, I would not withhold my knowledge from an unemployed adult who desperately seeks employment.

There Has to Be a Catch, Right?

Not exactly.  If anything, the “catch” is that I am overly sympathetic to the pitfalls of unemployment, particularly for “grown-ups” (those of us over the age of 30 or so).  College kids facing the job market for the first time have ample opportunities for free assistance via their college career centers.  But once you’ve been out of school for a few decades, and after you’ve worked for an employer long enough that the job market has made significant changes, you are at an immediate disadvantage upon re-entering the job market.

During my own job search (which I eventually abandoned, by the way), I spent A LOT of time learning how to find employment in today’s market.  I started sharing that information with LinkedIn friends who were in the same boat.  Eventually, I discovered that I’d developed an expertise on the subject.  And, as a writer, I knew that I could easily offer — for free — what I’d learned.  There is no “cost” to me other than time; there is no monetary expense to me, no sweat off my brow, no reason that I can think of to charge for the information — particularly for the unemployed!

So, YES, if you send me your resume, your cover letter, or your C.V., and if you ask nicely, I will happily provide you with an evaluation.  Your email address isn’t captured by a bot; you don’t have to click on an ad; you don’t have to subscribe to my blog.  No catch.  None. Nadda.

What Happens When I Open Your Email:

At a glance, I can nearly always determine whether you’ve spent any time reading the free advice I’ve provided on this blog under the “Work” category.  I don’t believe that I should spend more time on your resume than you spend on it (unless, of course, you pay me to do so.  And, the point is, I’m trying to help you for free.)  So, if you’ve neglected to follow even the most basic rules of writing a resume, I will send you a reply that says, “Please spend time reading the articles I’ve written, revise your resume, then send it back to me.” To make your job even easier (so you don’t have to search!), here is a list of some of the articles that you really should read before contacting me for a free evaluation:

You may now be thinking, “Ah-ha! That’s the catch! She wants more clicks on her blog!”  The fact is, though, that I do not make ANY money from this free WordPress blog.  Not a penny.  This is not my source of income or my primary life focus; it is simply a way for me to make a contribution.  In the future, I may decide to switch the blog to a revenue-generating format, but for now (and even then), I provide you with free assistance simply because I can.

Having said that, I do get many requests for evaluations and it can be time consuming depending on the complexity of the documents sent to me.  To make things easier for me (which is fair, isn’t it?) I’ve established some “rules”, or requirements, that I ask you to follow when asking me for a free critique.

When Requesting a Free Evaluation, Please . . .

1.  Prepare the best resume (and/or cover letter) that you can prepare before sending it to me.  I’ve given you a plethora of advice already, for free, under the “Work” category of this blog.  Use the “search” feature to narrow down the articles that are relevant to your specific needs, or simply click on the links provided in the above list.

2.  When you’ve written your best version of a resume that you want me to evaluate:

a.  Save the file as a Word document (any version), with a name that identifies you and the type of document.  Ex:  JaneSmith Resume 2014.   If you don’t save it this way, I will send it back to you. (I used to re-name the documents myself, but it’s too time consuming now.)

b.  Put your name and “Resume Eval” in the subject line of the email.  Ex: Jane Smith Resume Eval.  Please do this even if your email address is your name.

3.  Do not send a pdf file unless you want a VERY cursory evaluation.   I can’t work with pdf files.

4.  If your resume / cover letter are written specifically for a particular job notice, send me a copy of that job notice or the link to it.  My evaluation will be more helpful to you.

5.  If you have a specific deadline that is applicable — such as a closing date for a job notice — make sure to include that date in your email to me.  If I am unable to assist you by the deadline, I will let you know immediately.  Otherwise, I will make sure to provide you with assistance in time for you to meet the deadline.

6.  Please do your best to keep email exchanges between yourself and me to a minimum.  For example, I’ve received up to 20 emails in a day from one person who cranked out an email for each and every question that came to mind, as it came to mind.  Please do your best to save your questions for one email.

And that’s it!

Are You Sure There is Never a Charge?

Yes.  I’m sure.  I will never charge you for an evaluation.

Do You Ever Ask for a Fee?

No.  Not when you request a free evaluation.

If you want more than an evaluation — if you want your documents written for you — I will provide you with a fee quote, but only if it is requested by you.  I will not solicit your business.  Some people simply choose to have a resume prepared professionally, and I do provide this service when requested.

Most of you, however, need to prepare your own documents. There are times — but not often — that the documents I receive are so badly written (even after I’ve sent someone back to the website to do more prep work) that they need to be re-written completely.   Usually, between the information I’ve provided here on the site and the evaluation I provide through email, a person can prepare documents that are good enough for submission. But in those rare cases to the contrary, I will be honest and say, “I really think you should hire someone to write your documents for you.” If, thereafter, the person asks me for a quote, I am happy to provide it and/or refer you to another writer.  But I don’t actively pursue the work.

One reason that I do not actively pursue fee-based resume writing contracts is that the prices I charge are based on my knowledge that you are most likely unemployed.  I almost always end up making less than minimum wage when the fee is divided by the hours I put into the work. Unlike most of the professional resume writing services “out there,” I do not have an app or a template that automates the resume writing process.  I write them the way you write them, starting with a blank page in Word.  It is time consuming. In fact, I spend at least an hour just on the free evaluations.  The documents that need to be completely re-written can take me as long as 30 hours or more for a professional C.V., and that is time that I simply cannot provide for free.

In the rare event that I recommend a fee-based service for you after you request a free evaluation, I encourage you to return to this blog post to comment about it.  Not only will it help me keep track of how often I actually make that recommendation, it will validate for others the veracity of my free offer.

How To Contact Me:

Make sure you follow my list of requirements above, and then send your email with attached documents.  It’s that easy!

Happy with Your Evaluation?  thank you

Oddly enough, once I’ve put in the time and effort to help a person find employment, only about half of you say “Thank you.”  It’s a comment on our society today, not on the value of the evaluations I provide.  So, if you’re happy with the free work I provide for you, it sure would be nice to receive a “Thank you.”  Those are free, too!

~ Lynda C. Watts

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Posted in Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Overcoming the Frustration of Job Search Rejection

We don’t intentionally set out on a mission, whatever it might be, with the intent of being rejected.  Rejection doesn’t feel good. But for the unemployed, the sting of rejection is all too familiar.  And when that sting is added to the stress of trying to make ends meet, one more rejection letter can easily become the straw that tips the scales in the wrong direction.

You have the power to change those scales, to tip them in your favor.  Easier said than done?  Absolutely!  But, doable all the same.

Your Story

I receive a lot of interesting and touching emails from my readers, but recently a story shared by one particular reader really stuck with me.  As personal as it was to its author, it could’ve been written by any number of unemployed and frustrated job-seekers who share the same story.

I’ve edited the email only as needed to protect the identity of its author so that I can share it with you.  (The bold emphasis is mine, not the author’s):

Hello Lynda,

This is regarding your blog post on job rejection

I am currently in my final year of studying electrical engineering at university and all throughout this year I’ve been applying for graduate positions at so many different companies (local and overseas). I’ve had a few phone interviews and even a couple of face to face interviews but in the end every application I’ve submitted has ended in failure with all rejections. I got a rejection from an engineering consultancy today which said: “Thank you for the time you have taken to participate in our Graduate Recruitment program.  We were very impressed with the quality of information you supplied in the interview and your commitment towards your career. It has been a difficult decision-making process for us and we regret to advise that we will not be taking your application further. You are welcome to keep in contact with us as this may not necessarily be the only opportunity for you to work with us. We wish you all the best in securing a graduate position.”

This felt like a nail on the head. I really wanted the job. During the interview I might have got one or two technical questions wrong which the interviewers asked me and I also felt as if the whole interview was rushed…as if the interviewers just wanted to get it over with and send me out the door as quick as possible. Even then I was still optimistic that I would progress with the application. Guess not.

You talk about being realistic and not bringing emotion into it but I just can’t seem to do it anymore. I’m sick and tired of receiving these rejection emails and my inbox is full of them.

I’ve always wanted to do engineering since I was in high school and I thought it will be fairly simple to get a job with the degree. I’ve now realized how wrong I am.

What hurts even more is how mostly all of my fellow engineers who are in my class at university have jobs for next year sorted. I don’t know how they are the ones that get selected from thousands of applicants. They have gotten jobs in big companies. One of them even got rejected by a company and then a few days later got a call from them saying that they’ve been hired. I don’t think I’ll ever be that fortunate. I also don’t believe these guys are suited to those roles much better than I am. I’m usually honest with everyone but now when I tell the guys who have a job already that I’ve been rejected by a company I feel as if they get pleasure from hearing it. I just don’t like talking with them anymore as I feel left out.

Because I can’t get a job I keeping having thoughts about doing a Masters or PhD but even after that I don’t know if I’ll be able to get one. Right now I’ve got no motivation at all to keep applying because I just keep getting rejected regardless of how much effort I put into it.  Everyone I know at my age has jobs. I don’t know what’s wrong with me and don’t think I’ll ever get a job. My parents have always struggled financially and I don’t want to rely on them anymore. I feel as if I’ve let them down big time.

Sorry about the sombre/negative feeling of this email but I just felt I needed to write to someone who might be able to understand what I’m going through.

When Dreams Meet Reality

Yes, I do understand what this reader — and so many others like her — are feeling.  I’m well aware of the pressing nature of finding employment — and it is a battle being waged by far too many of us for far too long.

College graduates who, more than anything, are set to make their mark on the world are returning home to parents who are already financially taxed to their limit. The young and ambitious dreams of too many college graduates are replaced by cold reality.  Many of these graduates are our children.

Far too many young families in the infancy of living their American Dream suddenly discover that for them, too, the dream is dying.  These are families with houses which have yet to settle and children for whom they planned to give every advantage.  Unlike the generation before them, these Mom’s and Dad’s no longer worry about whether they are over-filling the calendar with after-school activities that help a child succeed later in life.  The fact is, they can barely squeeze school supplies out of the budget, much less piano lessons or the fees and supplies needed for gymanstics, soccer, football, or any other self-esteem building venture.

The middle-aged are no less effected.  Issues such as divorce, illness, and aging parents add to the stress and financial burden.  Savings and retirement plans are cashed in, credit ratings plummet, and for them, too, it’s a matter of survival.

As the bills and the rejection letters pile up, exactly how does one maintain a positive attitude and keep his or her spirits high and healthy when there is seemingly nothing about which to smile?

The Best of You

The first sentence of my favorite nonfiction book is, “Life is difficult.”  Truer words were never written.

Few things are more frustrating than finding oneself involuntarily anchored, seemingly unable to reach the sea of opportunity that is outstretched before us.  What we want in life is so vivid to us that we can taste it, as one tastes the salt in the sea’s breeze — yet we have no idea how to unchain ourselves from our current reality.

We cannot change the fact that life is difficult, but we can change how we perceive the difficulty of life.

Whether this period of economic instability and high unemployment is the catalyst for your first real battle in life, or whether you are a veteran, it is important to obtain and maintain an emotional balance.  Otherwise, the stress and struggle will get the best of you.

The “best of you” is what you need to present to a potential employer when you meet for an interview.  If you walk into the room with the attitude that you “can’t” get a job, that you’ll “never” succeed, well, you are right.  You won’t.

If you don’t believe you are the best, how can you convince an employer that you are the best candidate for the job? If you don’t believe that you can work your way through the reality that life is difficult, then you will forever stand at the shore getting pummeled by the rising tide and crashing waves that come your way.

Change Your Routine

We all reach a point of debilitating frustration.  Some of us are able to drive ourselves out of it quickly.  Others get stuck.

Like a car stuck in the mud, the only way to shake it free is to change your technique.  Simply pushing on the accelerator with nothing more than an absolute desire to move forward is a technique that only works for a lucky few.  Most of us have to do more than simply hope and push harder.

Sometimes you simply need to change gears.  Other times, you need the help of someone who has the tools you lack or who can help stear you into the clearing.

And when you’re really buried in deep, an entire team of people (affectionately referred to as a “network” in the business world) is the fix.

Regardless of your needs, you won’t get out of the rut until you make a change.

Yesterday I received a phone call from a young lady in distress.  Through tears she explained how she was spending the day in bed, again, as she’d done for the past 5 days.  She lives in a small town where jobs are scarce in the best of times.  She lost her last job after an illness prevented her from working — an expensive illness that added to her debt and lowered her credit rating.

Our conversation went something like this:

“I hate my life, lying in bed like this, day after day, doing nothing.”

“Then get out of bed.”

“For what? There’s no reason! I have nothing to do.”

“If you hate it, isn’t that reason enough to stop doing it?”

[silence]

I continued, “What are you doing to change your situation?”

“What can I do? I’ve applied for every job in town!”

“Well … if you could do anything you wanted to do to earn an income, what would it be?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s your real problem, then.  It’s time to change direction.  Make a decision about what you truly want out of life, decide what is needed to make it a reality — and then get busy making it happen.”

Like the reader who has not yet found an engineering job, my caller found herself stuck in an emotional black hole.  And the best and fastest way out of that hole is to make a change.

Make a Change

If what you are doing isn’t working, why keep doing it?  Make a change.

So, what does change look like for the unemployed?  What does it look like for the unemployed engineering student who, unlike the young lady hiding under her covers, already knows what direction she wants to head? What kind of change might work for the senior account executive facing foreclosure, or the young family who just signed up for food stamps?

Here are just a few possibilities:

Change Your Sales Strategy

I often talk about the importance of building rapport with the person in charge of hiring.  You have to be more than a résumé.  If you leave the interview without building rapport, you will not get the job.  Building rapport is easier for some than it is for others, and this often explains why someone else got the job for which you were perfectly qualified.  If you have a hard time building rapport with strangers in a way that feels natural and comfortable, a change in your approach is worth a try.

A job interview typically involves a candidate attempting to sell himself to the interviewer.  In essence we say, “Buy my skills and abilities because I’m worth it.”  But in truth, “you” (as a product) are not much different from the other 200 “products” from which the employer must choose.

Instead of trying to sell someone on your skills and abilities, face your next interview as a buyer, not a seller.  Ask pointed questions of your interviewer that answer the bigger questions: Is this the job for you?  Is this company good enough for you?  Will it meet your needs?

Going in as a buyer rather than as a seller changes the dynamics.  Instinctively but not consciously, the interviewer will feel as if she needs to win you over, not the other way around.  It’s human nature.  Your interviewer will instinctively feel the difference in the energy in the room, and she will be impressed by you without necessarily knowing why. You will be remembered.  And that’s a step in the right direction.

Stop Job Searching

I’ve written about this before.  We know that by the time job openings reach job boards, most of them are filled.  Often, by the time a cattle-call of interviewing is done for the bigger companies, they already know who they intend to hire.  So why do we keep wasting our time sending out  résumés in response to job board announcements? (I’m just as guilty of this, having wasted nearly a month doing the same thing after my recent layoff.)

It’s time to be proactive rather than reactive.  Applying for a job that is announced to the world is reactive: You react to the job notice.  But going after a job that may or may not even exist yet is proactive.   Here’s how:

Choose an employer for whom you would love to work.  Don’t worry about whether there is a vacancy for which you are qualified.  Learn everything you can learn about the company.  Network with employees, both online and in person.  Hang out at the coffee-house nearest to the employer. Have lunch frequently at the nearest sandwich shop.  Go to Happy Hour at the same bar that employees stop in after work.  Become a part of the picture (at arm’s length; not as a stalker!) that you hope to someday formally join.

Then — when you feel comfortable and sufficiently “in touch” with the environment of the company — make your move.  Set up an appointment with someone outside of HR but high enough in the food chain to have some bite.  If you’ve been lucky, this may be someone you met at the local sub shop, or someone who at the very least recognizes you when you meet.

All you need is 10 minutes of her time.

And when you get those 10 minutes, use them to interview her — not to overtly sell yourself.  Explain how passionate you are about becoming an engineer (or whatever your chosen profession might be).  Remember: It’s about rapport building! Tell your story — the story of “who you are” and why you are so passionate about the industry.  Explain that you are seeking to find “the best” company for which to work, that you don’t want to settle for “just a paycheck”, because once you commit to an employer, you are “all in” — and you don’t want a losing hand.

Don’t ask if they are hiring.  Don’t ask if they have a position for you.  Don’t leave your résumé unless you are asked for it.  But DO leave a business card.   (Employed or not, you should carry a contact card at all times!)

And DO ask for her email address:

“Thanks for all of your help, Jane. I really appreciate it.  May I have your email address in case I have any more questions?”

A few days later, send a personal email:

“It was such a pleasure to talk with you, Jane.  I’m even more impressed with ABC Co.  The company is fortunate to have a Director with the dedication and loyalty that you clearly have, and that is exactly the type of leadership I hope to find when I start working.  Again, thank you!”

Ten days or so later, send another note or make a phone call:

“Jane, I’m going to be in the area on Tuesday.  Do you have any plans for lunch?  I have about an hour to kill between appointments.”

And so on.  The idea is to build a connection — a real connection.

This approach takes much more time than it takes to attach a résumé to a canned cover letter and click “send”, but it is a worthwhile investment of your time.  Just think back to 3 months ago:  How is your situation any better now than it was then? 

How each of us handle stress is as varied as are we.  But it has to be handled — and it’s up to you to do whatever is necessary to handle it in a healthy, balanced manner.   Whether you can push your way out on your own, or whether you require the assistance of others, don’t overlook its importance.  After all, how you handle the stress of rejection and other life difficulties, and how well you use the resources available to you to turn lemons into lemonade, is not only critical to your personal happiness, it matters to a prospective employer.

Employers want to hire people who go above and beyond the norm, people who exude a certain energy that makes others feel comfortable in their company, and people who demonstrate (not just state) a level of proficiency or expertise from which the company will benefit.

When you face repeated rejection, turn the sting of it into the momentum you need to make a change.  If you bury yourself in doubt, if you question what makes someone else “better” than you, you do yourself no favors.  Objectivity must take the place of subjective self-doubt.

The person who got the job believed in himself.  He established a connection by building rapport.  He was memorable, in a positive light, in a sea of forgettable  résumés and interviews.  The manner in which he achieved these things could have been any number of ways — there isn’t a magical forumla — but you can bet that he did achieve them.

Treat yourself kindly and fairly.  Allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to wallow in self-pity, but then move on from it.  Get busy.  Make a change.

~Lynda C. Watts

You might also enjoy:

How to Deal with Job Search Rejection

Dealing with Employment Rejection: A New Approach

10 Tips for Staying Organized and Motivated During Unemployment

Importance of Attitude: Whiner or Winner?

Storms and Perspectives: The Value of Change in Hard Times

Want more? Click on the “Work” category in the sidebar for a full list of articles on the subject by Lynda C. Watts.  And don’t forget to explore the other categories, too!  Keeping it all in balance is the key to success, and Lynda knows exactly what it takes.

Have a question or a request?  Email Lynda for a personal reply, or to have your topic addressed in an upcoming article.

Posted in Emotional Health, Stress Mastery, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Layoffs, Injuries, Superheros and Autism: Facing Adversity

It’s All Good!

You FINALLY get an offer for what promises to be a great job — and you accept! All there’s left to do is pack up, move out, and get settled in a new city.   Penalties be damned, you cash in your last IRA to finance the move and a new (but small) wardrobe appropriate for your new job.  And on the day you receive that first paycheck, you pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate!

After so many months (or years!) of unemployment, you can finally breathe a deep, sincere sigh of relief.  Oh, happy days!

There wasn’t time to sell your house before you moved — so, now that you’re unpacked and everyone knows your new address, you put your beloved family home on the market.  Lord only knows when it will sell — and you’ll have to balance its mortgage with the rent on your new townhouse — but it’s fine; you’re employed! You live in a new city, you’re ready to make new friends, and you’re making a great salary!  In fact, you have room in your budget for a new car payment — and you desperately need that new car.  You realize you’re pushing the limit on that new salary, but after such a long struggle — after having to say “No” to any and every purchase beyond basic and essential requirements — it’s nice to say “Yes.”

Life is GOOD.

And then — 3 days before payday — you get “the word”, and you get it by text:  “We’re closing your division, effective immediately.  I’m sorry, but your next paycheck is the last.  Please notify your team ASAP.”

WHAT?!?!

When the Shoe Drops

Okay, so maybe this didn’t happen to YOU — but it did happen to ME.  Seriously.  And as much as I’d enjoy writing and publishing a scathing account that names names, I’ll take the high road and simply say, “Everything happens for a reason.”

Unemployed — Again

My immediate response to the layoff (and to my panic over how to pay the mortgage, the rent, the car payment, and so on) was to immediately hit the job boards.  I fell right back into my initial bad habits that included sending out an average of 5 resume’s a day, answering EVERY job notice for which I am qualified.  It lead to an early job offer, but from a company that I shouldn’t have applied to in the first place.  It was a mistake I knew I couldn’t repeat.

My anxiety continued to grow at a rate nearly as high as my debt-to-income ratio.

Raining, Pouring

In the mean time, I continued in my job as Mom.  Thankfully, my assistance program for disadvantaged young adults was now formally closed and I was no longer supporting half-a-dozen kids at a time.  But, I also could no longer afford the rent on the townhouse I’d leased for my son directly across the parking lot from my own townhouse.  He would have to move back in with me, “for just a few weeks, till I find another job,” I assured him.

As we prepared things to move him in with me, he had life-altering news of his own to share: 

“You’re going to be a grandma, Mom.  In November.”

And, so, my son AND his pregnant girlfriend (and a lizard, a snake, and some other freaky looking reptile that scares me senseless) all moved in with me.

Reality Bite-in-the-Arse

The timing for a new baby couldn’t have been worse, of course.  But, these things happen.  Still, I knew the reality of the situation — a reality far different from most realities of this sort.

My son is a high-functioning autistic.  This means that he appears “normal” to those who spend short bursts of time with him.  It means that he can read and write, albeit at a delayed level.  He can drive a car but can’t get from Point A to Point B until he first learns the route — a process that includes me driving my car as he follows behind in his car until he is comfortable and confident that he won’t get lost.  Autism for him means that he cannot understand most abstract concepts, but he is intelligent.  It means that he has behavioral issues that require super-human patience and understanding from those who are a part of his world, behavior issues that are beyond his control and therefore unavoidable.  (“Unconditional love” takes on an entirely new meaning for parents of special-needs kids.)

It means that my son sees the world differently than most of us.

My son is also physically disabled.  He has a rare, debilitating neuromuscular disease that requires him to wear leg braces in order to walk.  Eventually, (and, sadly, sooner than later), he will be wheelchair-bound.  And, it is a disease that causes a great deal of pain.

In spite of these and other challenges, my son is a charming character with many hobbies, goals, and dreams.  His many friends will tell you all about his unyielding loyalty, his exceptional sense of humor, and a wit as sharp as a ginsu blade.

And, apparently, the ladies find him irresistible.

From his perspective, his impending fatherhood marks another milestone in the expected and natural course of things, albeit earlier than planned.  From my perspective, it marks a dramatic detour that takes us so far off course, we’re not even in the same race anymore.  He and his young girlfriend are excited; I am scared, worried, and anxious.  And, I’m feeling my age — too old to be responsible for a newborn again, yet too young to be “Grandma.”  Still, it is what it is — and I will love the baby no less than my own children.

Overcoming obstacles has become our expertise.  There have been so many, and — as of yet — there’s no end in sight to them.

In spite of his challenges and the countless obstacles he’s had to overcome, my son is determined.  His determination is unparalleled.  He can’t fathom the concept of giving up.  He can’t swallow the idea of quitting.  He would never concede defeat.

Superhero

My son loves superheros.  It’s a love affair that began in his early childhood and has never waned.  He’s a walking encyclopedia when it comes to superhero trivia.  Yet, he has no idea (because he can’t understand the concept) that he is, himself, a real life superhero.

As I plugged away at the keyboard each day, sending out those damn resume’s, my son began (completely of his own accord) to “dumpster dive”.  In a span of just 3 days, he found — and sold — nearly $500 worth of “recycled merchandise”.  He then went through his drawers and closet, boxes and bookshelves, and found enough salvage to bring in another $650.

In short, he saved us that first month after my layoff.  My superhero.

As the weeks turned to months, as his girlfriend’s baby-bump turned into a full fledge buddha-belly, his determination expanded as well.  He set out to find a “real job.”  In spite of my doubt about his ability to succeed with the task, I helped him fill in applications for entry-level jobs that (honestly) I didn’t think he’d be able to get — but, I wasn’t going to stop him from trying.

A few days ago, the caller ID on my cell phone displayed a number that I didn’t recognize.  Bill collector, I suspected, so I ignored it at first.  But when the same number popped up on the screen just a few minutes later, I decided perhaps I better answer.

“Is Mr. Watts available?”

Mr. Watts?  I’ve been divorced nearly 8 years, I thought.  Why is someone calling for my ex-husband? And then it hit me:  My SON is Mr. Watts.

I handed him the phone.  Shamelessly, I listened intently in order to eavesdrop.  I watched and listened, nearly in awe, as my son spoke so eloquently, so maturely, without a hint of his typical slang …. And then I heard the caller say, “We’d like you to start work tomorrow, if you can.”

My son got a job.  A real job.  And not once did he visit an online job board, submit a resume’, or doubt that it would happen.

The New Job

I was enormously proud and happy, but I worried, of course.  My son would be on his feet for an 8-hour shift — a shift that didn’t begin until 3:00 p.m.  I couldn’t recall him ever spending even an hour on his feet, much less 8 hours straight!  But, without a complaint in the world, he strapped on his leg braces and faced his new job (and all of the “normal” people there) with the courage of a front line soldier.

At midnight, he came home, gimping and limping, clearly wracked with pain.  But the look of pride on his face melted my heart.  In spite of the pain and what was obviously extreme fatigue, he was eager to tell his girlfriend and me all about his first shift at work.

Keeping in mind that autistics seldom have a filter and almost always speak at a level of honesty most people can’t imagine, my son said, “It’s hard work but I’m doing what I have to do as a man to take care of this family. We’ll be okay now.”

It was his honest perspective.  He believed it, fully — as fully as one can believe anything.

Raining, Pouring … Flooding

The next day, my son was injured.  Seriously injured.

It was early in the day, and he hadn’t yet put on his leg braces.  His legs were weak and tired from the 8-hour shift the night before, causing him to lose his balance and trip over some cords on the floor.  He fell.  Hard.

The x-ray showed a fractured knee, and the ER physician suspected that a major ligament was also ruptured.  His knee was as swollen as a football by the time they placed it in a soft cast, gave us a prescription for morphine, and told us to follow-up with an orthopaedic surgeon on Monday.

That Unyielding Determination

As my son lie writhing in pain, unable to walk, facing months of recovery, and realizing that continued employment at his new job was now out of the question, he called his girlfriend and me in for a family meeting.

There was a lot to talk about.  What would we do now?  I still had no real prospects, and I certainly didn’t have the income we needed to make ends meet the coming month.  We’d learned that we’d be welcoming a baby girl to the family, but we’d yet to begin buying items for a nursery — or a residence into which those things would be used.  There were details to work out regarding how to best care for my son’s knee injury and his inability to walk.  My lease about to expire, jobs to be had, bills to pay, medical concerns to face, a pregnancy: Yes … there was much to discuss.

But, the meeting was short.  Very short.  There was much to say and discuss and worry over, yet my son managed to say it all with one simple sentence:

“Well, guys, I guess it’s time for Plan C. “

We all face hard times.  Adversity is unavoidable.  For some of us, the challenges and obstacles happen far too often.  Others are luckier in life, somehow, and seem to only rarely find themselves knocked off of their center.

In the current economic climate, many of you face challenges that are foreign to you.  Never before have you struggled as you now struggle.  Lacking much experience with adversity, it may be much harder for you, then, to handle.  It may be seemingly impossible for you to see beyond the crisis, to find your balance in the midst of the storm.

It is for this reason that I’ve shared this personal story with you, with the hope that at least some of my son’s strength can somehow pass along to you — as he so often passes it along to me.

Once again, my “disabled” son taught me yet another life-lesson — something he’s been doing since he was 2.

No matter how bad it gets …

No matter how many times Adversity knocks you on your arse …

There’s always “Plan C”

… or D,

… or E,

… or F . . . .

~Lynda C. Watts

You might also enjoy:

Overcoming the Frustration of Job Search Rejection

Dealing with Employment Rejection: A New Approach

Importance of Attitude: Whiner or Winner?

A Hiring Story

Is No Job Better than the Wrong Job?

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Is No Job Better than the Wrong Job?

How do you know whether that new job is the right job for you? What can you do to check out — or “vet” — a potential employer before committing yourself to a new position?

The importance of a thorough evaluation of a job offer is not limited to the offer itself; it includes a thorough evaluation of the employer.

Most articles on the subject of “evaluating a job offer” focus on the job itself — on the work that you will do if you say “Yes.”  You are asked to consider whether the job will be challenging enough to satisfy you, whether there is room for growth, and whether the rate of pay is sufficient.  But seldom are these the issues that lead to the exclamation, “I quit!”

If you’ve been out of work for any length of time, you very likely have uttered the phrase, “I’ll take the first job that is offered to me!” Particularly as the financial picture grows more bleak, it is difficult to see past the value of a paycheck without regard for its source.

Accepting a new position with a new company or organization is a big commitment. And just like the commitments the we do or do not make in personal relationships, the commitment to a new employer takes very serious consideration. As tempting as the security of a paycheck can be, you just might be headed for an expensive disaster if you jump in without much thought beyond the income.

While there is no such thing as the “perfect office environment” (Google may be an exception to that rule), an office bully, a supervisor who lacks integrity, or a CEO who has lost her passion for her job, can all spell big-time trouble and make those 40 hours a week too difficult to bear. 

But how do you spot the red flags before accepting the job offer?  And which problems are harmless enough to justify the paycheck? 

Paychecks vs. Problems

You are the answer to the question of whether a problem is harmless enough to justify accepting a less-than-ideal job.  Only you know your tolerance level. We all have a boiling point, but what it takes to reach that point varies from person to person. 

From the petty to the serious, a problem is a problem, and you need to anticipate your tolerance level.  Some of us can ignore the rude secretary who thinks she is the CEO, or the talkative office manager with a voice so shrill that it literally causes you to cringe — day in, and day out.  Others of us are so sensitive to these things that we dread going to work each day.

Think about your past employment situations.  What problems did you face, and how well did you handle them?  What types of problems would be deal-breakers for you, personally?  It is important that you are honest when you do this assessment and do your best to not let your financial difficulties sway you to make a decision you might regret.

Accepting a job that inevitably ends with your resignation due to an uncomfortable environment or other problems at work can be very expensive.  Depending on your individual situation, those expenses could include the purchase of a car, new wardrobes, salon visits, hiring a nanny or enrolling your toddler in daycare, and the h u g e expenses involved with relocating — all of which adds up quickly.   

Red Flags

The list of problems that might be encountered with a new employer is as long as there are industries and jobs.  In general, however, you want to be wary of the following:

  • Employers that struggle to meet payroll may have serious problems.  Be careful.
  • A history of suits against the company — especially Employment Law cases — should be a big red flag, not to be ignored.
  • A high turnover rate of employees is not a good sign. 
  • High or frequent turnover with the executive office and/or upper management personnel.  Has the CEO been with the company a long time?  Is the Board of Director’s filled with credentialed members, or is it made up of only family members — including the 93-year-old grandmother?
  • Public slamming of the company by customers and/or employees is another red flag.

Dig Deep

Once you recover from the initial euphoria of hearing, “You’re hired!”, take enough time to thoroughly investigate whether this is the right employer for you.  The economic damages that can result from a failure to properly vet the new employer may be more difficult to handle than the limitations imposed by unemployment.

When you begin your digging, search each of the following (where relevant), using the company name as well as the name of the CEO.  To be really thorough, search the names of the members of the Board of Director’s, as well:

  • Dig deep into Google, going well beyond the first 3 pages of search results. 
  • Look up the company’s registration with the Secretary of State
  • Search Case.net in the state where the company is registered.  Civil and criminal actions against the employer — past or present — are easily discovered.
  • Look into the Chamber of Commerce. Is the company a member? Past member?
  • Check LinkedIn and read the individual profiles of the employees who pop up on the company’s profile.
  • If your potential employer is noted on the Complaints Board website, you won’t want to miss it. It’s worth a quick search, and my test of the search feature indicates it is very likely to find your search term if it is in the database.
  • Check the Better Business Bureau to review the status of the company.
  • Go to sites like The Ripoff Report, and the Business Reporter.
  • Go to the Consumer Complaint section of the website for your state’s Attorney General‘s office.  Search for the company name.
  • Your state should have an Employment Commission. Google it.  Then, check the site.
  • The US Department of Labor, OSHA Division may be useful, depending on the employer.

Evaluate Communication Skills and Practices

Before you sign that employment contract or accept an employee-at-will position, analyze the effectiveness of the communication between the employer and employees. Have a one-on-one conversation with the person who will be your immediate supervisor and, during the conversation, take note of the following:

  • Does the conversation seem one-sided? Does your potential supervisor do all of the talking, or do s/he leave room for you?
  • When you talk, are you heard? Does the supervisor some how indicate that s/he is actually listening and absorbing your points?
  • When you ask a question, is it answered? Be careful for the “avoid and redirect” technique used by those who often fail to address the concerns of employees.
  • Does the supervisor follow through when s/he says, “I’ll get back to you.”  Does the person call or email by the time s/he promised, or does the ball get dropped?

Face-to-Face Inquiry

After you’ve been offered the job, but before you accept it, you need to ask some specific questions, face-to-face.  Tell the hiring manager that before you can give them an answer, you’d like to meet personally with the person who will be your direct supervisor.  If they are unwilling or reluctant to allow you that meeting, ask yourself “Why?” It’s a huge red flag if they say “No.”

Like the list of problems you can encounter with a new employer, the list of questions to be asked is endless — but you need to keep it relatively short or you’ll come across as tedious and insecure.  Tailor the suggested questions, below, to your industry, position, and situation.  And, don’t hesitate to add to the list.  The purpose of the face-to-face meeting is more than having your questions answered:  You also want another chance to evaluate how well your supervisor communicates.

You need to ask some very pointed questions that may never become relevant, but if they do become an issue, you want to know up front how they will be addressed. The exact wording of the questions will depend on the level of employment you are offered, but regardless of the wording, the answer to the question is telling:

  • “What is the social environment of the office? Do employees tend to socialize after work, or does everyone go their separate way?
  • “Do you host things like ‘Staff Day at the Ball Park,’ or ‘Family Picnic Day,” — those type of social events — for the employees? If so, how good is the turn-out for these events?
  • Are employee birthdays and/or employment anniversaries celebrated in the office?
  • What is the policy or practice for gift-giving during the Christmas season?
  • If there is a conflict between employees, what is the procedure for filing a complaint — and how is it typically handled?
  • If an immediate supervisor does not address the complaints, concerns, or questions which are asked of him/her, what is the policy?
  • Is there a general sense of camaraderie and teamwork in the office, or do employees tend to be unilateral in their approach?
  • Are there any lawsuits for employment-related issues pending against the company?
  • What is the one complaint most often received by HR from personnel?

Realize that you aren’t asking these questions to find out if you can distribute tins of cookies during the holidays.  You want an idea about the environment. The social environment — or culture — of the office is particularly important given the number of hours a day you are likely to spend with your co-workers. And if a conflict arises between yourself and another employee — especially someone who has been on the payroll longer than you — you must have a good idea of what to expect.

Dig Deeper

So what do you do if you start seeing red flags?  How do you know the difference between an unjustified disgruntled employee rant posted on Facebook vs. real problems?  You will be well served by digging deeper, particularly if the new job will require you to relocate.

The people who currently work for your potentially new employer are the best source of inside information.  You want to try to discover whether you can expect a comfortable office environment.  You want to know what complaints are most frequently brought to the attention of management, and what complaints are discussed privately around the cafeteria vending machines.  To dig into this kind of information, you need to network with those employees in a way that is appropriate yet also effective.

LinkedIn is a great source for making those valuable connections.  If possible, follow the comments of a few employees who are active in LinkedIn groups.  Very often, employees take to the internet to post damaging comments about their current employer, regardless of how stupid it is to do so.  Take advantage of that stupidity.  And if you can begin conversing online with one or two current employees on topics unrelated to the employer, you’ll set yourself up to be able to appropriately inquire about the working environment you’ll encounter if you take the job.

Your Decision

When it comes right down to it, the kids need to be fed.  There are some people who cannot afford — quite literally — to consider saying “No” to a job offer.   Only you know your situation.  And even a bad job, once obtained, puts you in a better position to find a good job, so long as you can tough it out in the meantime.

 ~Lynda C. Watts

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Want more?  Click on the “Work” category in the sidebar for a full list of articles on the subject by Lynda C. Watts.  And don’t forget to explore the other categories, too!  Keeping it all in balance is the key to success, and Lynda knows exactly what it takes. 

Have a question or a request?  Email Lynda for a personal reply, or to have your topic addressed in an upcoming article.

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Out with the old; In With the New

If you regularly read my blog, you know that my family consists of myself, 2 biological kids, and many young adults (and their children) who find their way to us, whether by court order or simply because they have chosen us. We have a crew that many might find too colorful, too challenging, or too dynamic, but for us, family is family, and our commitment to it and to one another makes up for the bloodline we lack.

We are a living example of unconditional love and acceptance, whether that means bighting one’s tongue through the periodic autistic tantrum, or the discretion required to support the illiterate amongst us who struggles to read a menu at a restaurant. Whatever the challenge, no matter how difficult, embarrassing, or heart-breaking, we get through it together as families are meant to do.
Our world is unique, but it is ours.

A year ago today, in preparation for the traditional New Year’s Eve family celebration, I pawned a few remaining trinkets in exchange for enough cash to buy 2 bottles of cheap champagne and a bag of chips. We dressed up in our best but old clothes and celebrated the changing year as if we were something special – because we are. And though there was much missing from our lives, we focused on the good. We focused on each other – our colorful, character-filled family.

We laughed and played, and teased one another. We took photos, told “Remember When” stories, and created more memories. When midnight arrived, we kissed our loved ones then banged pots and pans out in the chilly country night air.

And when the incessant buzz in our ears dissipated after we put away the pots and pans, we unknowingly walked straight into a new year that brough significant changes for us in our unique world. A new job for me meant the end of government assistance for everyone. And as frightening as change can be, we collectively held our breath and dove head first into our future.

We packed up and moved out of the toxic town that was a daily nightmare due to the rampant racism and corruption of local law enforcement. And though we are now living in 1/3 of the space, situated in two different townhomes near one another, the loss of residential luxury is barely noticed, so satisfied are we in a new city filled with hope and promise.

We’ve welcomed new family members into the brew, one of whom came to us sooner than expected by her early birth, and 3 more who arrived in a Budget Rental Truck. Other family members came and went but remain close — as close as possible with the use of cell phones and Facebook.

We’ve made new friends, and found new hang-outs. New routines are established. And though, to the chagrin of all my kids, I am still not dating, I am at least finally thinking about it.

Some of us are a bit thinner than we were 365 days ago, the result not of eating less but of eating better. Others in our family are a bit larger, also the result of eating better and escaping the plight of malnutrition brought on by poverty.

New clothes and shoes magically transform the posture of those in our family who’ve lived too long with slumped shoulders and hanging chins. And for the ladies amongst us, there’s a medicinal quality to the frivolity of a manicure, pedicure, and a touch of fresh hair color.

And, so, here we are – 365 days later – still the same, but oh-so-different.

As I write this, I hear the giggles of a vivacious 3-year-old who tries the patience of her mother as she attempts to braid row after row of thick, black hair on her beautiful little head. It’s a big job, but looking our best for New Year’s Eve is part of our tradition. Every once in awhile, as her mother finishes another row of braids, she runs up to my room to proudly announce, “Look, Granny! I’m pretty!”

As she bounces away, I watch out the window and see my biological son with his diseased-ridden legs, gimping from his townhouse to my car in search of CDs; the music for our New Year’s gala this evening is his responsibility – and he takes his responsibilities seriously. I hear the sound of a bouncing basketball. It’s another of my kids enjoying his Christmas gift on a day full of sunshine and comfortable temperatures. He tries to distract his white brother from his chores. He fails, and walks away looking for someone else in the family who might be willing to play. I have no doubt he’ll find someone. And then, he does.

There is a full size ham slowly roasting in the crock pot, filling the townhouse with a tantalizing aroma. It’s a real ham, the kind Grandma used to bake for Christmas – not the kind that is squeezed into a can and distributed by a food pantry.

The peacefulness of my last day of the year is interrupted only by the phone. At last count, by noon, I’ve answered 7 calls from kids who call me Mom – the last one being from my biological daughter. It was a sad call. “I miss my family…” she said, through tears. “I’ll come see you tomorrow,” I promised. “I’ll stay overnight. We’ll do whatever you want to do.” It eased her home-sickness, a home-sickness born not from a place but from the feeling of family.

Today, when I run to the store to buy our party supplies, I’ll pull out my debit card and slide it through the reader with little concern for the sales total. As evening arrives, the kids will filter in, dressed in something sparkly or handsome. On this last day of 2011, the last day to enjoy our Christmas lights that traditionally sparkle until midnight, the champagne will be plenty – and it won’t be the cheapest bottle on the shelf.

We’ll toast to ourselves and to our friends, but mostly we’ll toast to those of us who we consider family who can’t be with us tonight – my biological daughter, half a dozen “sons” stuck in the city of St. Louis, and many more from coast to coast and up into Canada.

We will play games, take photos, tease, and laugh. New memories will be made, new stories created. And as the New Year arrives, we’ll kiss our loved ones and — neighbors-be-damned –we’ll bang pots and pans out in the chilly night air — till the incessant buzz in our ears once again ushers us into our future.

Happy New Year.

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Thanks for Giving, Giving Thanks

Last year, the turkey and trimmings came from a food pantry. Still, we were thankful. This year, we donated to a food pantry, and for the ability to do so, we are grateful.

The economy has forced so many families to re-prioritize, to swallow their pride, and to make sacrifices that used to belong only to the poverty class — a class that has grown to include more than ever since the Great Depression. What we are thankful for now was, perhaps, something we took for granted in our past. Our lives are forever changed, and in spite of the difficulties and challenges resulting from our economic climate, some of those changes aren’t so bad for humanity.

This year, I am thankful to finally have a conventional job. I’m thankful for the large extended “family” of mine that will share the dinner table with me on Thanksgiving day. That extended “family” is made up of young adults who know more than anyone the definition of “challenge” and “hardship,” who are themselves thankful for the opportunity they now have to pursue an education without worrying about how to feed their babies, etc. And I’m grateful that I’m still able to offer them that chance, to mentor and teach them; it is as rewarding for me as the end result is for them!

To all of my readers, this Thanksgiving — whether your food is from the food pantry or not — my wish for you is a day to cherish what you have. I hope you can set aside, even temporarily, the thought that you’ve perhaps gone backwards economically, that you have less than you used to have, and that the light at the end of the tunnel seems so far away. For the day, I wish for you the ability to be deeply appreciative of the freedoms we have as citizens of the United States, and an awareness of the price for that freedom.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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A Hiring Story with Update on Lynda C. Watts

To my regular readers, THANK YOU for your patience while I’ve made the transition back into the world of formal employment.  That transition included a move from St. Louis, Mo. to Kansas City (Overland Park), KS — and all that comes with relocation.

Now, some 2 months or so later, I am just beginning to feel as if I’m settling into a routine.  My progress with my primary new job is significantly better than the progress in my new residence.  Moving from a 6000 sq. foot house to a 1100 sq. ft. townhouse is challenging, indeed.  Thus, I still dodge cardboard boxes which hold contents for which I have no space. 

It’s a welcomed problem in comparison to the challenges of unemployment, however. And I frequently think of those of you who have not yet found the right career move.  You are a big reason I started this blog, and in spite of my busy schedule, I intend to continue it (albeit at a slightly slower pace).

A Hiring Story

In addition to accepting the role of C.E.O. for Life Giving Force Foundation, a fantastic nonprofit dedicated to saving lives by providing clean water solutions in the neediest regions of the world, I am the new Senior Director of Development at Heartland Soccer Association.  HSA is also a nonprofit, but one with an entirely different focus.

Within the first few days of employment with HSA, the division manager quit his job.  It was his response to 1) my placement within the supervisory hierarchy, and 2) his erroneous belief that I was there to replace him.  Or, perhaps, it was a response to my request to him to provide me with a status report for the division.  Whatever the reason, I was left with a train wreck. 

As it turned out, the development division was bleeding profusely, costing the organization rather than supporting it.  The Executive Director knew that “something” wasn’t right (which lead to the creation of my new position), but because the only management that the division manager managed involved wool-pulling rather than actual marketing and sales, I faced a complete overhaul.

The good news: The overhaul and restructuring allowed me to hire an entirely new sales team, and to properly train the existing associates who’d managed to muddle through their jobs, without direction, but also without commission earnings.  Frankly, I don’t know why they stuck it out as long as they did!  

Because I needed a marketing and sales staff “yesterday,” the hiring process was drastically streamlined.  There was no time to post a single ad.  But, there was time to do some searching on my own using Linked-In, and to interview referrals.

LessonJob opportunities are not necessarily reflected on the job boards.

There are few better feelings in the business world, in my opinion, than that of offering a job to someone.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of “how to get a job.”  A few of the candidates interviewing with me clearly learned the Do’s and Don’ts of job search and interviewing tactics in today’s market.  Most, however, did not.

The Applicants Who Did Not Get Past Email

The people who wrote cover letters that were too lengthy, including the guy who sent a 6-page cover and a 1-page resume’.

The people who neglected to attach a resume’ to their email.  (SO MANY! Seriously?!)

The folks that sounded desperate, especially the lady who wrote, “I’ll do anything that allows me to feed the kids, pay the rent, and get my nails done when needed.”  (No joke.)

The Candidates Who Interviewed But Did Not Get Hired

The young woman who had a Master’s degree, intensely heavy black eyeliner, cleavage that was far too visible, and 7 inch heels.

The one-time marketing and sales manager with significant experience who provided 5 reference letters, all type-written (including the references’ signatures) in the same font, on the same paper, using the same sentences.

The charismatic woman who also had the basic KSA’s I sought, but who repeatedly interrupted me during the interview.

The man who won every sales award with his past employer but who failed to bring his resume’ to the interview.  “Don’t you have the copy I sent to you in email?” he asked in response to my question, “Do you have a resume’ for me?”

The Candidate Who I Wanted to Hire but Who Gave Me Reason to Choose Someone Else

The man who presented a great resume’, excellent KSA’s, interviewed really well, but who thereafter neglected to send a thank-you note.  When I weighed this particular candidate against a similarly qualified candidate, I went with the guy who sent the thank-you note.

The Candidates I Hired Included. . .

The newly graduated young man with no sales experience but with a fantastic personality, excellent communication skills, a professionally prepared resume’, and a willingness to learn.

The woman with the amazing vocabulary and ability to articulate in a way that is truly impressive, who admitted that this was not a life-long career goal but that she would fully commit herself to the job, and who shared a passion for humanitarian concerns.

The man with a minor amount of experience in sales who was currently employed on a landscaping crew in spite of his Master’s degree, to make ends meet while he sought employment in sports marketing, who was dressed for success and clearly did his homework regarding the company.

The Lesson

I’ve said it time and time again:  It comes down to the connection you make with your interviewer during the interview. It’s all about relationships.  Always.

So long as you get past the initial screening, making sure you do all that is required of you concerning your resume’, cover letter, and any other submission requirements, your KSA’s are ultimately only a minor part of the equation when the hiring authority makes his or her decision.

How I Got My New Job + 1

I intend to write a full article on this topic, but until I do — and because so many of you are asking — here is the short answer.

An old friend found me on Facebook.  From the age of 9 to 12, he was my sweetheart at church camp for a week every summer.  By the time I was 12, he picked a new girlfriend, Daphne, who clearly was more developed than I was at that age. 

Some 30+ years later, just as I was searching for a leadership position with a nonprofit, he was searching for a leader for two of his organizations.  After nearly 5 months of correspondence, phone calls, proposals, Board meetings, and emails, the job offers were finally made to me — and I accepted.

The Lesson:  Network!  Dig deep.  Scour your old yearbooks. Send a note to an old friend just to say “hello”, and accept the Friend Request you receive from the kid with whom you went to kindergarten.  Connect, connect, connect. 

Ya’ just never know.

~Lynda C. Watts

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