I absolutely loved this CNN article my husband shared with me recently with Mike Rowe, the guy who hosts the show Dirty Jobs. Here’s an excerpt that was particularly spot-on from The Big Lesson Mike Rowe Learned Several Hundred Times:
“Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today.
But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.
Many people today resent the suggestion that they’re in charge of the way they feel.
But trust me, those people are mistaken. That was a big lesson from when I worked on a show called “Dirty Jobs,” and I learned it several hundred times before it stuck.
What you do, who you’re with, and how you feel about the world around you, is completely up to you.”
This article totally reminded me of a pivotal time in my own career that really made a difference where this kind of attitude helped me a TON.
New City, New Life, New Career?
The first time was when I moved back to Portland in November 2005. I’d been successful in my HR career and, where I was living in Santa Barbara, never had a problem getting interviews for just about every HR job I applied for. My network was also strong, and the last job I’d had there I was plucked out of my prior employer for. But being recently divorced and no longer able to cover the rent on the house that was now just mine in that obscenely expensive town (nor could I obviously meet my ultimate goal of buying a home in an area where the average prices started at $1M), I decided it was time to return to the Northwest and start a new chapter. Get a job, buy a home on my own in a more affordable area of the country, and explore the wildly evolved version of Portland that was now much, much different from where I grew up.
So before moving, of course I thought I’d land a job, THEN get up there. I applied, and applied, and applied for HR jobs at nearly all levels. And as many folks looking to move to a new city discover, employers often have plenty of local candidates and are highly distrustful of out-of-town candidates, and tend to only talk to them if they’ve run out of nearby people. It was the infamous “black hole of recruiting”. I learned that in Portland, HR professionals – even ones PHR-certified and HR-degreed along with their experience, like me – were turning out to be a dime a dozen. (You see, I’d left Portland in 1994 when I was still working in retail. I didn’t start my HR career until several years later when I got a job in Seattle as an administrative assistant to the Human Resources Director at the local newspaper).
Not to be defeated by the metaphorical sound of crickets, the next step I took was to contact the recruiter who had placed me in my current HR job in Santa Barbara, and asked him if he had any contacts. Sure enough, he introduced me to his company’s Portland branch senior recruiter, who said to call him when I arrived in town and he’d try to hook me up with some contract work at the very least.
Contract work was never something that scared me. I knew that it could lead to good things, as my newspaper job I referred to earlier was actually started out as a temp-to-hire position as an assistant in the Advertising division. After having moved sideways through different departments at Nordstrom for the 7 years prior, I had learned quickly that just getting your foot in the door and proving yourself could open all kinds of new doors.
I was definitely still scared, of course. Leave my comfortable, secure HR job to return to my hometown where I had no guarantee of work? I’d never done something so risky in my life! Y’all, I’m a planner to the core. Even in my marriage we joke that “Aimee handles logistics” and the biggest turn-on is when my husband plans a whole activity for us and I don’t have to lift a finger. So how would I do this? I certainly couldn’t fill out apartment leasing applications, since I had no job to put on the paperwork, and hell, to make it even more complex, I had my beloved Rottweiler in tow, which wasn’t going to make it easy since they are a breed usually banned. Sigh…
As luck would have it, my dad (who didn’t live in the area) suggested that I contact my uncle (his brother) in Portland and see if he might be willing to let me stay at his house in North Portland for a short time til I landed a job. Steve loved dogs which was my biggest selling point, and for me, the fact that he was chill like my dad was something I could deal with. There weren’t any other family options to consider, so I said yes, sight unseen, to living in his attic. Fortunately I was able to have a small amount in savings, as I cashed out my vacation time at my company when I left and got the deposit back on the house rental in SB. Whew!
I left Santa Barbara the day before Thanksgiving and still remember the first part of the drive clear as a bell. The sky was blue, the ocean was to my left, it was in the low 70’s, I was wearing a tank top and shorts, and had my arm out the window, dog in the back happy to be on the road. My ex, also being from Portland, volunteered to drive the moving truck separately, so we made the 14 hour drive, landing at my uncle’s late, late that night. It was so, so cold compared to the utopian weather I’d lived in for the prior 3 years, and after 11 years away, it was like a foreign country yet with vaguely familiar surroundings.
My uncle’s attic room was up a small, narrow staircase and did not fit the box spring, so we crammed the mattress up there and a few boxes of clothes, and then put my furniture along with everything else I owned in a small storage unit. And he still was on dial-up internet (whaaaa….!). But I figured hey, within a month or so I’d have a job and be putting money down on a house, no biggie to live on my mattress on the floor and out of a few boxes til everything magically came together, right?
That first week, I met up with the recruiter who said he had some part time recruiting support needs in the tech branch of his staffing agency. I snapped it up, even though I had no desire whatsoever to “just do recruiting” nor work for a staffing agency. With that, in my desire to stay constantly busy, I also researched and signed up for short term temp work with four other staffing agencies, with a $10/hour minimum, availability to work anywhere in the city (at the time, I still had a car if I couldn’t access via bus), and open to every time of administrative job.
I’m so glad I did this! During this first month, along with sourcing for the agency recruiters, I temped at front desks, helped with administrative projects, even stuffed envelopes at a lot of companies in a lot of industries, from a radio station to a real estate firm to a wine distributor and more. I met a lot of people I *never* would have met otherwise, and just as importantly, I was able to continue to pay my student loan and credit card bills because of this. It was nowhere near enough to buy a home quite yet, but it kept me…ALIVE. And because I worked my ass off and showed up and responded quickly, the agency recruiters kept me at the top of their lists for when jobs opened up.
Eventually my part time help with the staffing firm paid off, and led to a 3 month HR contract with the City where again they had me focus on…recruiting. Okay, so I’d done that as part of my HR work for most of the prior 7 years, but what was this about recruiting that kept dropping in front of me? Oy! I admitted to myself that I was good at it though, and realized the stress of “the rest of HR” – compensation, performance management, employee relations, etc. – was hugely decreased with this one focus area of finding and hiring staff. I was, as I called it, The Happy Side of Human Resources. 🙂
This went well, and the staffing agency offered me a full time job as a recruiter on their team. First they offered me an abominable rate – let’s just say when you know what you’re worth and what the market pays, you’re not going to commit to a full time regular position that is far, far below that number. It’s one of the biggest things I learned from staffing agency work, that most of the people they hire have no recruiting background and often come from customer service roles. They hire for potential rather than for experience, and having already recruited for a long time as part of my HR work, I wasn’t going to be lowballed. I let them know I’d be happy to stay temping, but again reminded them of my minimum base salary requirement.
Two more offers from them over the next couple of months, and still not at the amount I stated. They were getting closer, but no cigar. And all the while I was crushing my numbers with zero benefits and zero commission – so they knew I was good and that I wasn’t motivated by money. As I told my boss, I want to buy a house and that’s the base I need to get a very basic small home in the city, and I wouldn’t negotiate down from that number that also was right in line with the market for that type of work.
Offer number four and they got it right and I accepted on the spot. My account manager who I partnered with (she was the sales end who got the jobs for me to recruit on, which worked great for me as I don’t believe recruiters should be doing any direct selling) literally bowled me over with a hug and a month later, I had found my house. No easy feat with the bubble of a market we were in back in 2006, competing for house after house and constantly getting outbid, but I had found a wonderful real estate agent who I still am in touch with to this day, and as important a solid broker who refused to get me anything but a conventional loan. (Amen to that as we all know how many people were fucked over by predatory lenders during that time!).
So I moved in to my new home a single woman, had transitioned to becoming a full time recruiter, and finished living in my uncle’s attic on a mattress with my dog for not one but SEVEN months. I learned a lot about what I was capable of, living minimally, taking risks and being open to possibilities. Hell, I learned I didn’t want to do HR generalist work anymore and that I had a real ability to kick ass as a recruiter, using my customer service skills from my Nordstrom days to my inherited-from-dad “tell it like it is” mentality to using my 7 years of HR now as a strong foundation (and street cred) to make the process easier, more fun, and efficient for both sides. With commission I ended up making more money than I had in HR, and made some great friends along the way at that company. While agency life wasn’t the best fit for me, I knew when I went onto my next job a little more about who I was and what I was capable of.
And not only that, I knew that sometimes “just a job” could lead me to a whole new career. Amen to that.