I've started a series where I interview the every day job seeker and have them share what's worked in their job search. Thought you'd find it interesting.
Thank you again for taking the time to share with us what you've done to land your job.
Can you give a brief over view of your background and the circumstances that led to your unemployment?
My background is electrical engineering, my degree is from RWTH Aachen University in Germany. I specialize in analog circuit design, something that some of our professors told us would be a dying art. Of course they were wrong and I knew it but many others believed them. Then I started my career at Squibb Medical Systems, designing parts of medical ultrasound machines.
I was not unemployed. What happened was that my first employer closed their whole R&D facility in Europe. They offered us jobs in the US but the deal wasn't all that attractive. So I became self-employed. Loved it. Back then I was able to turn a profit for my first year although I was only self-employed only the last six months of that year. This really baffled the tax folks (they called, asking if that was really true).
Thanks for the background and clarification. What was the first thing you did when you started looking for a more permanent or full time opportunity?
For my first job I compiled a binder with brief outlines, photos and schematics of all the hobby projects I had completed. Plus summer job projects as far as I was permitted to disclose them. Other students and even faculty at the university said this would be silly and I'd be ridiculed. Not so. At my first interview a hiring manager was poring over this binder, became really interested. I nailed it. Later when this manager's car was in the shop and I gave him a ride home he said "Hey, can we swing by your house? I want to see that monster amplifier you had in your binder when you interviewed last year!"
Interesting approach. Why did you chose to do that?
It shows potential employers that you can organize your work all by yourself, get the design done and tested, plus furnish proper documentation. So they saw that they didn't have to teach me to do that, they could just toss me into the pool and I'd be able to swim.
What was the most valuable or successful thing you did to land the job?
This binder, for the first job. Later when self-employed I wrote proposals. Whenever I saw something in whatever branch of the electronics industry where I thought "Hey, this could be done much better" I found out who the upper managers were at a particular company, or the CEO. This was not so easy in the 90's but now with Internet it is very easy. All you have to find is the typical email prefix convention, the correct spelling of the person's name, and bingo. Usually. It doesn't work 100% of the time but then there is always the mail.
A proposal can take up to a week which is unpaid time. I try to condense mine into a maximum of 6 pages, or three double-sides sheets. No fluff, cut straight to the chase. This has landed me numerous consulting assignments and the best job I ever had (upper management).
What advice, based on what you've gone through, would you give someone who is looking?
Don't shy away from he more unusual methods of contacting upper managers. Don't listen to others when they say it's a stupid idea. Try to get to talk to some managers at trade shows, not at job fairs where they usually won't be present anyhow. But only do that when you have some ideas for their business, else they'll politely end the conversation with some small talk.
I would not use platitudes in resumes, things like "team-oriented person". I find it more important to outline achievements and personal goals, and where exactly you believe you could contribute.
Hint for engineering students: Get cracking with that solder iron. Build stuff. Just learning theory and simulations isn't going to cut it. Try to land a technical summer job, not serving guests at some restaurant. Yeah, the tips may bring you more money but future employers will be much more impressed if you can say "I designed a so-and-so gizmo at SuperDuper Corporation" or "I worked on an oil rig" (I did both).
Think about whether self-employment is for you. It's not for everyone but it is a very viable path for engineering and similar professions. Be frugal. I bought almost everything second hand. Desks, equipment, gear, and so on. Curb convenience expenses. No, you don't really need cable TV, the daily stop at the coffee shop, and a pricey gym membership can often be replaced by chopping your own firewood, hiking and so on. Heck, I even have a prepaid cell phone for business. Costs me about five Dollars a month. We have no cable TV or satellite, my car is well past 10 years and in perfect shape, I use CostCo phone cards for business long distance calls. Not that I have to, but by choice. Resist the temptation to live from check to check, because one day an expected check might not show up. And don't forget health insurance which can be the big show stopper for self-employment. If you have known risk factors or had too much illness in the past most likely you'd be unable to get any.
Last but not least give back to the community. Volunteer. Be active. My wife and I mostly do this through our church and it is very rewarding. Money is not the most important factor in life.
Joerg - thank you again for your thoughts and insights. Your approach has obviously worked for you and could do the same for others. If anyone would like to reach out to Joerg, feel free to contat him through his site http://www.analogconsultants.com/