Make sure you:
1. Talk at great, dutiful length about your career, starting in college, working your way through the 1980s, 1990s, early 2000s—or was that actually the late 1990s? hmm, let me think ...—taking us all the way to the present moment. As if you are Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
2. Talk a lot about your failures. How frustrating work can be, how stupid clients are, how so many people just don't "get it." You may have won a World Series, but you don't want to talk about that. Instead, you want our sympathy for all those injury-plagued 100-loss seasons.
3. When you talk about your company or your industry or your country, talk about how much it has changed over the last 15 years, and how much better everything was in 1997. Share your vision for "restoring" everything to the greatness you once knew. (We'll have to take your word for it.)
If you do these things the first time we meet, I can assure you: There is no chance we'll ever forget, no matter how much information you later provide to the contrary, what a loser you are.
The problem is, semiliteracy in blog-comment spammers.
I mean, what am I supposed to do with this critique that I received the other day?
"The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one particular. I mean, I know it was my option to read, but I truly believed youd have something fascinating to say. All I hear can be a bunch of whining about some thing that you simply could fix should you werent too busy trying to find attention."
They say foreigners are doing jobs that Americans don't want to do. Fine with me. I don't want my daughter growing up to be a blog spammer.
And for a poor foreigner hungry to get ahead in the world, blog spamming is probably better for the brain than boxing and better for the soul than participating in child prostitution rings.
But if you're going to spam, do it right. Spam in English, motherfuckers.
This one goes out to Chris Mykrantz. Because, as the wise old horn-blower said, "You don't play the blues to make yourself feel better. You play the blues to make other people feel worse."
"I think it's fair to say that last year was a bad year for blight in Brookhaven."
By Chris Mykrantz
Lest anyone think I’m not willing to shoulder part of the blame for this experience, there’s been more than enough self-doubt thrown around to disprove that notion. It tugs at me every day. Did I not call enough people? Enough of the “right” people? Did I skip applying for the one job that should have been mine? Do I not have enough keywords in my résumé for it to get past the software gatekeepers? Did I not turn over the right rock? Did I make a mistake by deciding I couldn’t afford New York or California? Did I somehow screw up the one interview that could have landed me a job? I second-guess myself all the time. The disconcerting thing is that I never used to do that. Being rejected more than 400 times takes its toll.
Some folks have told me I should throw in the towel … find another career. That seems like a daunting task to me. There’s a scene in the movie Up In The Air where George Clooney tells one of the guys he’s laying off that he should have been a chef. Middle-aged and he’s been in the wrong career all his life. So he urges him to follow his dream and go find his next career as a chef. Easy for him to say. He’s not the one being forced to reinvent himself at age 50. If I can’t get a job in a career I’ve invested more than 25 years in, what would make someone think I’d land an entry level job in a new profession … at more than 50 years old.
After all, we’re talking about a career here, not a job. I could probably get a job tomorrow … in a convenience store or a fast-food restaurant. A job means maybe paying some of the bills and not much more. It wouldn’t yield any of the things that go with a career—benefits, advancement potential, challenging work … esteem. I used to take those things just a bit for granted. I’d see men my age working the counter at Speedway or Circle K, selling gasoline, burned coffee and lottery tickets, and wonder what mid-career disaster landed them there. Now I’m just a job application away from being one of them.
Much as it might seem the easy way out, I’m not sure I can move on just yet. It feels too much like turning my back on the person I’ve been for nearly 30 years, and maybe worse, conceding to myself that the last 30 months were a wasted exercise. It’s a pretty big cliff to step off of without knowing what’s at the bottom. So I keep looking. Keep applying. Keep networking. Keep waiting.
Maybe next week, who knows?
I'm happy to get e-mails—writing boots at gmail dot com—from anybody who happens to be interested in talking to Chris about a job. Circle K and Speeedway need not apply. —DM
By Chris Mykrantz
Oh, I’ve had a few close calls. Early on in my search I was sure I’d landed something very attractive. I’d interviewed at one of the world’s largest discount brokerage companies in Omaha. The company had narrowed their list of candidates down to two or three, so it seemed they were close to making a decision. After a really positive round of interviews, I had some extra time before I needed to head to the airport. The internal recruiter called me a cab, and instructed the driver to drive me around Omaha, especially through some of the city’s nicer neighborhoods and scout out homes for sale, so I could get a sense of where we might want to relocate.
That was a first for me—a prospective employer having me shown around town for some initial house hunting—and I took it as a very positive sign. When I returned home, I did some research on the real estate market, thinking I might have an offer in the works. My wife and I even had a list of properties we’d be interested in seeing right away. Then nothing happened for a week … two weeks … three weeks … a month. I’d had the interviews the Monday before Thanksgiving, and it was now mid-December and neither I nor the headhunter had heard anything.
Then I had a call from the headhunter. The client had fired them. I was too stunned to ask why. She probably wouldn’t have told me, anyway. But she assured me I was still a legitimate candidate for the job, even though I’d been surfaced by the headhunter. That charade only lasted a few weeks, though. Right after Christmas, the internal recruiter called me. They’d made an offer to a candidate they found on their own. Well, of course they did. That excused them from paying 40 percent of my starting salary to a search firm they’d fired.
Another of the stranger scenes from this surreal experience I’ve been living came after I’d interviewed for a job at big consumer goods company in Michigan. Again, great interviews all day long. The only glitch in the day was that the department VP was called away on an emergency, so I didn’t get to talk with her. But when I left, I was assured they’d reschedule that interview for a date within the next week.
They didn’t. I’d interviewed in early February. When I hadn’t heard anything by the end of the month, I started blowing up the headhunter’s phone to find out what was going on. He said they’d told him that I was their best candidate. In fact, out of the all of the candidates they’d seen, they’d tossed out everyone but me. But they wanted to see more candidates. Be patient, he said. Once they see they can’t find anyone with a better background than you, they’ll make you an offer.
Now this job had been on every job board I’d reviewed for months and many of the contingent headhunters in the market for communication jobs had jumped on board to forward candidates, as well. So, I had no idea what made them think they were going to find someone who hadn’t already applied for this role in the last four months. At least I was still in the hunt, I assured myself.
Another month went by. Nothing. Then the headhunter called me. They hadn’t seen any more candidates, he said. Couldn’t find any more who were really qualified for the role. So I’m the last one standing, I assumed. Wrong. They were cutting me loose, too, he told me. Why? “We’ll they decided you’re just not the right fit for the team.” Huh? That dreaded all-purpose explanation again. It took them seven weeks to figure that out?
Oh … by the way … this all transpired in early 2010. Sixteen months later, this same job is once again all over the internet boards. If at first you don’t succeed …
I recently interviewed at a company I thought I’d really enjoy working for. Spent the requisite day meeting everyone, including the Chairman and CEO … all good interviews I thought. What made this company interesting is that the Chairman was the founder of the company, and had based his entire corporate culture on a book I’d read 15 years ago, Hal Rosenbluth’s “The Customer Comes Second.” And there was no mistaking, it was his culture.
I’d used elements of Rosenbluth’s approach at Conrail years ago … very successfully. And now here was an opportunity to put the entire approach into practice at an organization I was sure already understood the value.
I didn’t get that job either. The day after I’d returned from the interviews, I got a call from the headhunter, who told me they were moving two other candidates to the final round. I was out. I asked why. He told me that they thought I was too calm. (Note to self: next time you interview, act nervous and get up and run around the room in the middle of the interview.) I told him that’s just how I am. I’ve presented to way too many large groups and individual clients, and been through too many crisis situations that required a clear head to get rattled in a job interview.
The headhunter then told me that he talked with the hiring manager for 45 minutes about how she had never seen anyone with a background as extensive as mine, or who knew as much about employee communications and change management as I did. He said never in his entire career had he spoken for 45 minutes with a client about a candidate they were NOT hiring. I wondered if I should at least be glad I’d provided him with a new career milestone.
I had one recruiter from an international consulting firm tell me I was too experienced for a regional practice lead job that her hiring manager—the national practice lead—had open, and the only job the national lead would consider hiring me for was hers. Obviously, that job was already filled, and I resisted the urge to ask the recruiter if she knew when her hiring manager intended to move on, so I could get my résumé in early.
And then there was the opportunity I tried to create opening up an office in the Midwest or East Coast for a large West Coast boutique firm. I’d approached the owner with the idea, and she seemed quite fired up about it. But a few weeks after our second or third conversation, she told me that she wanted to open an office in London first and she was scrapping plans for the Eastern U.S. That seemed a bit odd to me, especially considering I’d come to her with a well-developed set of client contacts and no non-compete agreement in play. She decided on Europe first, she said, because she wanted her kids to grow up in London.
I wish I was making this stuff up. But I’m not.
Tomorrow Chris wraps up his piece by contemplating his possible future, "working the counter at Speedway or Circle K." —DM
Chris Mykrantz was one of the first people I met in the communication business. I was a rookie editor at Ragan Communications, 24 and he was about 30—to me, of course, a dinosaur. Late one night in a hotel bar, I told him I what I thought of speechwriters: I said they were a bunch of sad, cynical, self-pitying babies. He chuckled and said it was a good thing he only spent half his time writing corporate speeches—he edited the employee magazine the rest of the time—because otherwise, he'd have to take offense at my remark.
Such became the basis for our frank friendship, but though Chris and I argued a lot over the years, we never again argued about the business. Because I came to think of Chris not as an employee communication guy, but as the employee communication guy.
He combined a journalist's devotion to listening to employees and telling them the truth with a subtle understanding of the corporate strategy and how employee communication could contribute to it. His clear thinking and energy produced a manual on face-to-face communication for Ragan and I published many of his articles in the Journal of Employee Communication Management. He spoke at communication conferences, he served on boards of communication associations.
I followed his career for two decades, at any juncture of which, he was a guy I could call and check my theoretical and anecdotal understanding of the business against reality.
So when I heard he'd lost his job a couple years ago, I didn't think much of it. A guy this solid and well connected would have no trouble finding work, even in a shit economy. And then to learn after two years that he still hadn't found work—that was unsettling.
Chris recently wrote an essay about his experiences, and I offered to publish it here in hopes it might start a conversation that could be good for all of us.
As he explains, he is bewildered, and looking for answers—even if they're not the ones he wants to hear. Take it from me: Chris doesn't mind candor. Here's part one of three. —DM
By Chris Mykrantz
I have an impressive résumé. Everyone who sees it tells me so. My problem is that it hasn’t helped me land a job in two and a half years.
That’s a long time to be out of work. When my previous company and I parted ways, I had no idea I was in for something like this. One of my old bosses, the global communication practice director at one of the largest HR consulting firms in the world, was very encouraging back then. “You’ve got a great résumé,” she said. “You’ll land something very soon, I’m sure.” That was more than two years and 400-plus job applications ago.
One of the strangest things that I’ve noticed during this search is that when my résumé lands in the hands of a real person right away—a corporate recruiter or a headhunter—I get interviews. In fact, the overwhelming majority of interviews—all but three or four—I’ve had have come that way. When my résumé has been submitted through an online application—meaning it lands in a data pool being managed by a software gatekeeper—I’ve had very little success in landing even an initial screening interview. That tells me that some preset factor is screening my résumé out of the pool. The only one I can assume would apply is age.
Take a look at the job descriptions in the market these days. I don’t recall seeing a single one that asked for more than 15 years of experience, even for jobs with a senior VP title. And since salary is largely tied to years of experience, my hunch is that companies are keeping salary demands low by limiting the amount of experience they’ll consider in their candidates. Tell your software to kick out any résumés that include more than 20 years, and you have a barrier anyone over the age of 45 is unlikely to clear, unless you take all of the dates and about half of your job experience off your résumé.
Of course, no one tells you you’re too old. That would be illegal. What you hear is “Well, you’re just not the right fit. “ What does that even mean? I have my suspicions, especially when I’m a 51-year old male interviewing with mostly women in their early to mid-30s. What are the other acceptable phrases? Overqualified? Too experienced? Grey-haired? You name it, I’ve heard it.
But hey, the younger crowd has some really helpful advice on how the Geritol set can find a job more quickly. I ran across a web site recently that purported to provide some of that advice. The writer suggested that us grey hairs should buy a computer, set up an internet account and take lessons on how to use it. He or she also suggested getting a cell phone. Wow, thanks. Hadn’t thought of that. Maybe I should get one with really big buttons. You know my eyes aren’t what they used to be. But that’s not all. The writer also suggested that us seniors focus on jobs at companies that serve older folks. Hmmmm. Maybe I can land a job with a company that makes power scooters.
It’s hard not to take this personally. Five years ago I was good enough to be managing a 12-person consulting practice … landing new clients, helping open up new markets, managing a growing revenue base. Two years and another job change later, I was out of a job and facing the beginning of an unsettling journey. And now? A friend of mine said he thought I was bewildered. Actually he added an expletive to it that I won’t use here, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Bewildered. Completely and totally bewildered.
When my wife confided to an acquaintance that I was out of work and looking, he recommended she be as supportive as possible because men have so much of their identity tied up in their career. How true. Try telling someone what you do for a living when you’ve been looking for more than two years. It’s not easy. And I wonder whether telling someone I’m in corporate communications or communication consulting exposes me as a fraud. I haven’t done either in nearly three years. Chances are I might never again. So what does that make me?
I was instrumental in guiding a $3.5 billion railroad through massive cultural change. I built the internal communication function at one of the fastest growing regional banks of the ‘90s. I co-wrote a manual on face-to-face communication. But that all seems a world away now.
I can’t escape the nagging feeling that something was taken away from me. I had a career I enjoyed. And I put my best into it. The professional writing and presenting I volunteered for. The time I spent with the Council of Communication Management (CCM). All of that was because I loved what I did for a living. I busted my ass for the profession. When I took over as president of CCM, the organization was in dire straits from a year or two of poorly attended conferences and stagnant membership growth. After 18 months, a hard-working board of directors and I had it back on solid financial ground, attracting new members with relevant content and building productive alliances with other professional organizations. And I had fun doing it.
I don’t have that any more. I still check out group sites I used to frequent on LinkedIn and other forums. But I feel excluded from that world. I don’t have to get up every morning and worry about getting thousands of employees to connect with an employer’s vision. But there I am, with my nose pressed up against the window. What scares me is that I may never get any closer than that again.
Tomorrow Chris will talk about his long, strange job search.
In my dental convalescence this weekend, I watched YouTube a lot—pro football games from the 1960s and 1970s, mostly.
Found Super Bowl III, in its entirety—pregame show, commercials, ridiculously long and patriotic halftime show with high school and college marching bands—the whole nine yards (and three and a half hours).
It was wonderful. And eye-opening:
• The commercials were incredibly stupid, and also sexist. A Goodyear tire commercial—there were many, many tire commercials in those days—showed a woman panicking behind the wheel as she tried to negotiate city traffic, which appeared just too much for her. At the end of the commercial, she finally reaches her man at the airport, and slides over so he can drive. The tagline was, "When a woman's at the wheel, Polyglas means more than mileage." Wait, here it is!
I know, right?! That must be some great tire, to ameliorate the dangerous effects of a dingbat woman driver!
• The astounding thing about the game itself was the matter-of-fact way the players went about their work. The New York Jets steadily pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history—and it was being called so by play-by-play announcer Curt Gowdy—and try as I might, I couldn't detect their giddiness, even as they led 16-0 late in the fourth quarter. Only in the very last moments, did they smiled and shook hands with each other. And then ran off the field.
I don't usually harp on modern players' excessive mid-game celebrations. I save my curmudgeonliness for issues that matter. But watching these Jets win, and the astonished Colts lose, with such quiet dignity made me slap my head and say: "Goddamn it, that's right. Fans cheer and boo. Players play, and the joy of doing it should be joy enough."
And in 1968, it was.
Along with a number of others, I was included in a new Facebook "Buddies" group started by Nick Morgan; I was pleased, because Nick's a smart and well-connected speechwriter/speaking coach dude, and if he raises a tent, I want to be inside.
But I was stoned on Vicodin all weekend, so I didn't think much of it.
Other invitees seemed like they were on better drugs.
"Delighted to be deemed a buddy, Nick!"
"Thanks Boss! Very honored."
"Wow! I'm a FON! Yay!"
"Honored to be among your buddies!"
"Wow! Honored is a huge understatement."
And hon and hon like that, until one first-degree buzz-murderer asked quietly: "What is 'Buddies' purpose?"