Finding what's right for you
by Kathie Meyer '92 | © Washington State University
OK, so you're looking for work, and you're getting good, bad, and ugly job offers. How do you determine which one to choose?
It's no secret. The economy is drooping like a vase-full of two-week-old flowers. Here in the Pacific Northwest, The Seattle Times and Seattle-Post-Intelligencer recently reported a 56-percent decline in overall employment advertising, while ads for high-tech workers are down as much as 80 percent. Boeing is whittling away 30,000 jobs, while other manufacturing sectors are also downsizing. Economists predict things won't swing upwards until well into this year.
If you find yourself dialing the unemployment claim line every week—or if you're thinking of ditching an unsatisfying career for something more inspiring—one of the best resources for Washington state job hunting is Linda Carlson's ('73 Communications) 498-page book, How to Find a Good Job in Seattle. The title is somewhat misleading because, in addition to thousands of job contacts, Carlson also addresses things that apply to anyone looking for work anywhere: resumes, cover letters, common job-hunting errors, networking, career transitions, and how to evaluate job offers. Her expertise is genuine. After Carlson left Washington State University, she earned a Harvard M.B.A. and eventually founded Barrett Street Productions, publishing several books on marketing and job-search topics.
Carlson had a lot to say about job searches when I met with her one sunny day in her Seattle home last October. I was on my way home from a short vacation, during which the company I was working for had announced upcoming layoffs. But I didn't know that at the time, so I thought our conversation about patchwork careers, volunteering, pro bono work, and networking was about other people.
Frankly, once I got the news I was no longer employed, I wasn't very worried. I took the Buddhist approach, trying not to make a judgment on my situation. It helped that I'd lived through times of uncertainty before, finding out later it was the beginning of tremendous personal growth. So I sat still for a bit, explored my options, but avoided taking something out of sheer desperation if it wasn't in line with my "vision."
Since the unemployment office expected me to not be especially picky about job offers, my biggest concern was that I might be presented with something I didn't particularly want. And that led me right back to Linda Carlson.
Let's assume any of us who's fallen into the unemployment chasm will end up with good, bad, and ugly job offers. After all, in Washington, the average duration for unemployment insurance is 15.4 weeks. How then to determine which job offer is the one to choose?
In her book, Carlson advises us to evaluate three things: growth opportunities, job security, and organizational culture.
Where growth and security are concerned, look around at the company—the bigger and older the business, the better off you'll likely be. Keep in mind high retention rates are great for managers, not so good for an employee looking to advance.
"Get on the Internet. Type in the company name. See what comes up," advises Carlson. "I would use the Internet for everything—whatever the company has posted, what the media says, what investors have to say. You can see what brokerage houses say about a publicly-owned company."
Organizational culture, on the other hand, is entirely nebulous. But according to Carlson, "Culture is the single most common reason that well-qualified employees don't like their jobs."
It's critical to find out everything you can about daily office life before it becomes your life too. So use your network connections—discretely, of course. Ask questions during the interview. Try to find out the company work ethic to see if it matches yours. How do they handle problems? Is everyone accountable to the same degree? Delegation—can anybody "higher" than you dump work on your desk? What does the company value—sales, customer service, or. . . ? Does it care about ergonomics and morale? Any apparent gender, diversity, or ethical disparities? Is flex time okay? Do employees socialize together after work or go their own separate ways? Beware the company selling the "we're a family" myth.
Finally, Carlson recommends factoring in relocation, cost of living, child care, transportation, parking, clothing, and other costs associated with working. Sometimes we forget that we pay out money to simply walk in the door and hang up our coat. It's easy enough to factor raw numbers figuring out the abovementioned job costs. A calculator at www.homefair.com compares estimated cost of living from one place to another.
As for me, it turned out I didn't have to use the above considerations to vet employers after all. As I was writing this column, along came e-mail from my former boss asking if I was interested in coming back part-time. The interesting blessing about that is, prior to hearing about the layoffs at work, I'd thought to myself, "Gee, I really like my job. But I wonder if they'd ever let me go part-time so I could devote more time to artful pursuits—the thing I moved from Pullman to Port Townsend to do."
So I'd like to add my own suggestion to Linda Carlson's practical advice: If you're one of the newly unemployed, don't be afraid to put "out there" in the spiritual subconscious the exact kind of job, hours, and money you really want. You may get exactly what you wish for.
Kathie Meyer '92 welcomes e-mail from WSU friends and classmates at email@example.com.
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