Sunday, November 2, 2014

If (social) networking is key…

… Why don’t any of the doors unlock?

I’m a constant job seeker – always looking for “the one” job where I would fit in (and ultimately like). I’ve spent time temping in one place, working full time in another; getting a sense of what’s out there.

Throughout my college years, we were told to always network with people, no matter where you are or who you’re with. Be the social butterfly of a political figure – shake hands, kiss a few babies, but don’t run for local office. Sure; I can do that. I ended up getting a degree in communications and worked (primarily) in radio – so I shook hands with the figureheads of my town and made smiley faces with their entourage. However, with the analogue equipment going digital, it’s hard to stay “in tune” with the new formats, let alone do avid meet and greets. 

The older generation got pushed out by the MP3 kids, yet, I came along right in the middle of it. I learned on the antiquated soundboards, ran carts and used software that is no longer preferred. Ask me how to use the latest and greatest, and I can only explain it after I make the attempt at it… at that moment. The proof that the field is going computerized is when you get the “name” stations – Mike FM, Bob FM, all male leads that will play you a song and not tell you where to buy your groceries. These stations may have a person pushing a button on the computer, but you don’t hear anyone actually talking. These name - FM stations can be compared to being the poor man’s satellite radio - as the same theory exists with the running dog and the internet streaming applications. Turn the dial on a new car and you’ve got your choice of CD, AM/FM or a roving dish network. You also have the ability to hook up to your smart phone where your magical streaming app syncs your favorite groove station. Where’d the jocks go on these mediums? Swept under the rug with the spit stained Shure microphone I trained on. There’s no longer a morning show, no PM drive; there’s just the random “Bob likes cheese. But he loves the next song. – Enter song -“. Even that is a generic voice over. You want to know that your commute will take another 30 minutes because construction on 95 is backed up? Turn the dial to the AM side and past the sports talk channels. Weather on the 8s and traffic on the 3s, something else in between… radio has become a dying art.

Whether or not that’s true for most areas of the country, it’s reared its ugly head in most major cities. Small town markets still have the need for someone to tell listeners the crops will freeze tonight or it’s a good day to hit the fishing hole. However, those positions are far and few between as most people who stay in the building, remain in the building until they retire. Or, if there is room for someone new, it’s (extremely) part time work – four to eight hours a week, little chance of moving up any corporate ladder. Wait a few years at this pace and maybe you’ll get 20 hours a week… if you’re lucky. But that doesn’t mean you’re automatically running the ship – you’re doing the grunt work like an intern, possibly paid for peanuts. Did I mention this job is only for locals? Just because you want to get your foot in the door somewhere, doesn’t mean any old place will hire you.

Like a lot of businesses, radio is no exception. You want that “awesome” 10 hour a week job that you’re “perfect for” then  you have to live within commuting distance. If not, don’t bother. The exception to that rule is the actual intern title. Jobs will “hire” you – but it’s for college credit and you don’t work for peanuts, as you work for free. You can’t lie about interning either, as paperwork has to be processed at the school you attend. Trust me; I’ve looked in to being an intern at a few places, and the hiring managers want current / up to date proof that you are enrolled in some higher education campus. There’s a difference between interning and volunteering, and 9 out of 10 businesses will gladly accept the student. It makes them look good.

This brings me to one of the major drawbacks of job searching - besides networking (which I keep mentioning and have yet to really get to, I know). You work various shifts in places for a few years and build up a repertoire of skills. Using those new found labor ready experiences, you apply for a vacancy that you feel you’re just as qualified for as the next person. Well, it’s out of state, as you have yet to find that position locally. You wait patiently for a callback and weeks later, some hiring manager rings you up wanting to chat. Can you come in for an interview? Sure you can! Only problem is the little fact you’ve got to fly there. Oh, that’s not good. Is there any chance… sometime in the future… you’re going to relocate? Maybe, but the hope was to move for this position… it is full time and it is a good opportunity. Well, because you’re currently not local, the deal is off. Had you been in the area, even for a vacation, the chances would be exponentially great for a sit down. Call the company when you finally move into the state. Question becomes, “what’s the point” in calling the company when you eventually get to the area… six years down the road? The positions are full, and guess what – there’s a slight chance the company went belly up too. One of the places I used to work at, no longer exists. It was bought out a few years ago and the format changed from talk to foreign language and in the process, the tenured people I knew got kicked to the curb. It was Goodbye Charlie before the cleaning crew turned the building lights off.

The flip side is that one company downsizes its roster, cuts the cord on the older staff, perhaps letting some babies in, can the newly unemployed become employed again? People I’ve met all over the country say the same thing – “I wish I could help ya kid, but I don’t know anyone anymore”. The mid level career folk don’t remember their days pounding pavement that fed their pipe dream. They’d rather turn you away than turn you into the next big thing. They’re either looking for work themselves (thus suffering the same fate of being turned away from their contemporaries) or outright refuse to make a phone call.

It’s at this point as well, for the ones sent out of the company, where you have to ask how is that fair for them? They are the “old men” of the business - young enough to be able to work, but old enough that they’re better suited for retirement. Some are too stubborn to just hang up their hats, as most of them can’t afford to, either. In turn, it begs the question – can they network? The next query is how can they network? They are their network!

I ran in to a guy the other day that has a quarter of a century in his field. He’s not that much older than I am… maybe has me beat by a decade. He was forced out of his job due to a bad accident. As much as he wishes he were still running around doing what he did best, both life and technology got the best of him, thus ending his career. So what is he doing now? The adapted adage “those who can, do; those who can do more, teach” fits him in the sense that he now teaches his art to college students. And what a joy it brings him.  He gets bummed out that he can no longer travel and haul a 15 pound piece of equipment, but the light in his eyes shine when he talks about his classroom.

I know what you’re thinking – network with him and get a job. Maybe he still has friends. If it were that easy, I’d not be sitting here writing this. He and I had a discussion about the line of work we share, and he said that I’m “much more happy doing this, than what” he was doing. As amazingly fun and great as his work was, he was put in positions where he’s lucky to be alive right now. Between close to disease, extreme weather and everything in between, his accident saved his life. He misses being “out there” in the world, but being in the classroom is what he likes best now. Sure, he barely makes ends meet – his “foot long sub from the local sub shop and parking” equals 10 dollars less than what he should be paid. Factor in gas money for running in circles around the city (due to two different schools), he’s just about breaking even. He’s not negative about anything he has done. He talks about the hurricane that sent a tin roof shingle through his lips, in the same happy breath he uses to describe the fact that he forgot not everyone uses Apple products - his classroom is all Mac computing.

Where do I fit in with all of this, and why did I get turned around? Life throws you curveballs when you least expect it. It’s a five round boxing match when all you’re doing is hitting the same brick wall. You’re knuckles are shot to hell, your eyes are watering, and all you want is the bell to go off so you can go back to your corner.

There is no dinging for some people - nothing to signify the end of the round. New business requirements want social media experience – all those sites the teeny bopper and college students use. Not only must you be an avid user, you must know the quirks of the program – how to mark some of your information as public for the world to see, and how to mark some as private for your friends to see. Even then, there’s the super stealth mode so only certain friends see your status. After all, you don’t want everyone knowing you got completely shattered last night and can’t seem to find your phone (so no one call you until it appears) and your wallet is a few dollars short of that fiver you put in.

That actually happened a few years ago to various students. Made headlines multiple times over, as it was mere coincidence that this happened at two very different Ivy League schools. The children got shattered, posted their romps on their home page, three days later their big name intern job was over. Their dreams squashed because the evidence of them in various stage of wear was posted for the world to see. They are lucky if anyone would be willing to network with them now, as names would be dragged so far into the mud, that the reputation of all parties involved would be on the line. This time it’s goodbye Charlie to the upper level management as well as the student trying to get in the building. Even daddy’s name and worth can’t help the fact you just royally messed this one up.

No one is immune to bad things happening, but it just means that people have to be so careful about things going on websites now, as nothing is sacred anymore. Gone are the days when you had to knock on a few doors to make a friend in a business and they’d recommend you to someone else higher. Now management literally wants your password for your social network site. Some employers monitor their workers’ internet usage so much, that they often require you to sign over your site credentials to them, just so they can monitor your (personal) work habits. I really don’t think that’s legal, but in this day and age, you new know.

            Wag a finger, give a high five, and make a friend. Be a schmoozer but don’t be that annoying numbskull that you secretly wish would fall off a cliff. Be open for suggestions and critiques but don’t run away and cry at the drop of a negative review. People may like you, people may despise you. It’s a world when the reliance on strangers is as much as a give and take as it is a crapshoot. You never know who’s going to be your best pal and lead you down the right path for success and who’s going to lurk in the corner and drag you down a rabbit hole of deeper job despair. One door may open, but it can shut just as quickly when you least expect it. The moral of the story? Like the Choose Your Own Adventure series, you have the choice – the option – to define your destiny. You can be a wallflower and occasionally meet with people whom you can trust, or you can get out there and talk to everyone about everything. Cast a wide net and make a wish. You just never know what will happen. 



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