It’s time for jobless to reassess skills

by Britt Aamodt
Special to the Star News
Eighteen months. That’s how long Alan Hill was out of work. He worked in computer support services. It was a great gig, until Hill and his colleagues received notice their jobs were shipping to India.

The announcement played like a scene from the NBC sitcom “Outsourced,” only the distressed faces walking from the meeting didn’t warrant a punch line. This wasn’t Hollywood. This was real-life America.

“I labored under the misconception I’d be hired in a week,” Hill told a packed room Jan. 18 at Rockwoods in Otsego. Two dozen men and women filled the restaurant’s conference room to listen to Hill’s talk, “Riding the Emotional Roller Coaster and Sitting in the First Car!”, the first talk in the free Out Of Work series coordinated by ISD 728 Community Education.

Hill now works as a job counselor, but he didn’t latch on to his new career path the second he walked from his last. He was a computer geek, after all, and computer geeks stick to computer jobs.

He had to suffer through 18 grueling months of online job applications, unanswered e-mails and dashed hopes to come to a conclusion. The conclusion was that from here on out he wasn’t a job seeker; he was a fix-it man.

“What happens when you walk in a company and you tell the receptionist you’re interested in a job?” he asked the Otsego audience.

“Goodbye,” someone said.

“Right. ‘Check our Web site, e-mail your résume and goodbye,’” Hill said to laughter.

He was preaching to the choir. He’d conducted a poll earlier. One participant said she’d been out of work a month. Four admitted to less than six months of unemployment. The remainder had been out of work six months or more.

Tim Quinlan has been unemployed since January 2009. He’d come to Hill’s seminar to learn about the emotional journey of joblessness — the main topic of the evening.

“It gets pretty depressing applying online and never hearing back,” Quinlan said. He recently sold his house and moved in with family in Otsego to make ends meet. “It’s a challenge to keep your mood up.”

Hill walked audience members like Quinlan through the grief cycle associated with job loss: anger, denial, bargaining and acceptance. When he spent months sending out résumes and getting no results, Hill said, he was stuck in denial.

“What’s the definition of failure?” he asked. “Doing the same thing over and expecting different results. You can’t be a job seeker. These days, you have to walk into a company and be able to provide value.”

One day, Hill walked into a company and told the receptionist he wanted to offer a brown bag seminar. Did she show him the door?

“She gave me the number for the head of human resources,” said Hill. “I didn’t even have a seminar prepared. But I was a public speaker. I liked to teach.”

That brown bagger led Hill to re-vision himself not as a computer geek but as a guy with skills. His skills led him to his work in job counseling.

“Our emotions, how we feel, we can control that,” said Hill. “Once you can accept that you’re no longer a computer programmer or whatever you were, you can say, ‘OK, what are my skills then? What can I offer?’”

He urged his class to list their skills, and then bet they’d only come up with 10.

“That’s what clients usually write down, about 10.” Hill, always one to end a counseling session on a high note, added, “But research shows we have 500–600 transferable skills. We just don’t recognize them.”

Assessing Your Skills:
•Sit down and list skills you have.
•Go online and search key words like “transferable job skills” for a list.
•Use that list to add to yours. Hill says you’ll be surprised at the number of skills you add.
•Think about those skills and how they might transfer to another field or industry.
•Keep those skills in mind when writing a résume or interviewing.

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