So on Monday I left my most recent day job.
Basically, the company (under wraps for confidentiality but they do retail distribution; I processed and reported retail orders) is under new leadership as of last month. The new leadership all but made clear their plan is to either assimilate with their current properties or to liquidate, despite official “business as usual” claims (and others at work had corroborated these suspicions). Actions speaks louder than words.
With the writing having been on the wall for the last month, my mounting workload and day to day complications there were no longer worth the stress, trouble, or what I was being paid. It was negatively affecting my personal life outside of work, even when I was working from home.
So I said enough, and turned my equipment in for good Monday morning. Even though this was a job that to some degree I liked, walking away felt like being paroled from prison. It had gotten that bad, and rather quickly.
Even with the specter of needing to secure another job and its income, I have felt a substantial positive difference. I’m a lot less on edge. Yes, being able to take afternoon naps and not having to commute right now certainly helps.
Of course, now I’m applying for other jobs, and while updating my resume and completing applications hasn’t been that big a challenge… I’ve once again entered that job hunter’s internal conversation of adding value and being an employer’s best choice for a suitable role, balanced against finding a position that meets my salary and lifestyle needs.
I don’t worry. I’ve done this before. Like apartment hunting, doing personal business, my own health, and many other personal matters, I’ve learned how to handle the process of job hunting better than most.
First of all, your job hunt should always be a two way conversation. They’re not just vetting and interviewing you. You also should be vetting and interviewing them.
Both sides have to sacrifice, work hard, and compromise something for the employer-employee relationship to work, but bad employer relationships tend to be one sided in favor of the employer, whether they wanted it to be that way or not. Employees don’t stand up for themselves before or during employment, and instead just grumble when they let the relationship slide out of their favor.
Workers often have a complete lack of what we in the arts community call “Agency”, and I don’t mean a company that represents you: Agency is about taking active responsibility for and standing up for your needs, rights, and free-will driven best interests.
However, your vetting and screening shouldn’t just be about salary, benefits and working conditions. Do set, and stand by, salary and benefit requirements, sure. But when in an interview they ask you for your questions to them, don’t just ask about pay and amenities.
Go digging for clues about the work culture and day to day working life, the expectations, but avoid doing so selfishly. For example, don’t ask about when you get your breaks. Ask when and how people in office generally come in, step out for breaks, and leave for the day… and other culture related questions, which on their surface are really just about what’s key to fitting in at work. The answers will give you an idea about break-time expectations and consistency. What everyone else does or is expected to do is certainly what you’ll be expected to follow at least in the foreseeable future.
Another example, ask if there’s a transition or sharing of day to day duties, or if they live with certain keyholders (meaning you need to know those keyholders’ schedules and workload). This will show you how much group work vs solo work takes place, and how much of what you need to get done runs through the required actions of other people. Realize this can differ between positions, and try to get more info about whether and how it differs for your role.
But the big thing you want to tell prospective employers, the big thing you want to find out from them, is:
- What do you bring to the table that nobody else does?
- What exactly are you looking for out of someone beyond the listed parameters?
These are the big questions you want to ask yourself before job hunting, and the kind of questions you want to answer in a cover letter, an interview, in your research of a company.
You’re often up against many other applicants who bring similar, possibly even better, skills and experience to the table. Every employer is almost always going to pick only one person out of every applicant. How do you stand out when most people fit the job description?
You need to know what concrete, actionable, repeatable facets of your skillset, experience, and character positively set you apart from others. I know personally I bring a wide variety of experience and skills to the table, plus the empathy that comes from that varied experience.
For example, say I apply for an accounting job. I know I don’t have the credentials and experience of other applicants. However:
- I have managed financial purchasing, procurement, reporting, reconciliation, etc in multiple industries (advertising, higher education, industrial temp staffing) over several years. I don’t have a CPA or MBA but I have done most of the recurring work they would do and can fill in the blanks of a new role very quickly.
- I have used so many different CRM interfaces that learning a new one is no big deal. They all work similarly*.
- I have a ton of administrative support and management experience they don’t. I understand how everything fits together, and can better progress projects/tasks by utilizing that empathic knowledge of what the other side sees and wants/needs.
- I have advanced Excel skills useful for data analysis and reporting, e.g. pivot tables, VLOOKUP and index matching, macro usage. I can automate a lot of data calculation using a fine-tuned and regularly maintained Excel workbook.
- Most accountants are admittedly shut-ins who work in closed offices. In most of my experience I have openly interfaced with visitors, customers, and others, often as a receptionist or in some sort of customer service role. I have people skills a lot of finance and accounting people don’t. This helps grease the groove when contacting and dealing with banks, vendors, and customers. I’m not just parroting boilerplate at people and then being puzzled when payments and invoicing aren’t coming in. I know to troubleshoot and dig a little deeper, talk to them and learn more about what’s complicating matters to solve problems.
- I have also handled all stages of hiring subordinate employees (job postings, resume screening, interviews, making the hiring decision), supervising said employees (obviously), and even terminating employees face to face, often on my own. Even if not in a formal supervisory role, those are very useful cruicial-conversational skills that many entry/associate level employees don’t have, or don’t have the stomach to execute.
So I make a point to discuss at least some if not all of these items in my cover letter, and of course I do what I can to make sure my resume calls these qualities out. I show how I cover any experience or skill gaps, and also point out where and how I add value over your typical experienced accounting applicant applying for a position like this.
And this is just one example of one kind of role I could apply for. If I applied for a finance management role, an office manager role, a data analysis role… there may be gaps within those position demands between what I’ve done and what they’re looking for, but I can provide a laundry list of skills/experience that show I not only can close the gap but that I provide substantial extra value that many applying probably cannot.
It largely comes down to whether an employer filling a position is willing to hire and suitably compensate someone with that ability and skillset… or if they’re just looking for a competent, reliable, inexpensive seat-warmer. And yes, many companies just want the latter. Nothing particularly wrong with that, as long as their expectations are merely that. In many cases, companies have modest resources and the latter is all they can reasonably ask for. And yes, I’ve taken positions where I was seen as a suitable, affordable seat-warmer. There can be mutually beneficial reasons for it.
However, if you’re looking for a rewarding, upside-type role, and an employer is looking for a valuable, versatile employee willing to add value and grow… the two cruicial questions are worth answering for yourself, and then having a prospect employer answer for you.
Figure out, beyond how you meet the fundamental needs of the position, what marginal value you bring to the table over a typical applicant and how that can actionably add to an employer’s day to day, month to month, year to year operations.
Then figure out what an employer brings to your table over other employers out there (beyond perhaps a superior salary, benefits, and upside), and how that not only best suits your needs but how working for them actionably adds value to your life over some other job.
If you can answer those questions clearly and compellingly in a cover letter and an interview, I like your chances of getting a job you want and/or find rewarding.
*Side note: It’s often amusing when a job post asks for, say, 3+ years of Quickbooks experience. I’ve used Quickbooks on project assignments long ago. Neither Quickbooks nor any type of accounting software is brain surgery or grad school. It’s one thing if you’ve never used accounting software in your life… in which case you probably have no accounting experience. But if you’re learned other CRM or finance software and you had never touched Quickbooks at all, you can learn Quickbooks in a couple weeks with little trouble, especially nowadays with all the tutorial material on the internet. The only thing that changes between applications/portals is where and how you plug in the same numbers you have to crunch everywhere else. These “X years of experience” requirements are usually just arbitrary barriers to entry, or a sign they want to plug and play an internal transfer or an applicant who was recently discarded by a competitor, and in many cases it’s a good red flag to steer clear of employers demanding it.
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