Stories of a jobseeker vol. 3: Learn something

There's not much positive you can take from a job search, especially one that goes on for an extended period of time. It's often an endless roller coaster ride of emotions and highs and lows. More often than not, the lows linger if you let them. Your time is most often spent searching for and applying to multiple jobs per day, following up on jobs you've previously applied to and working any and all connections to help you find a job.

Sometimes it's important for your mental health to close LinkedIn and Indeed and do something else productive: learn something. Take an hour or so a day to teach yourself new skills. Ideally, something related to the jobs you are applying to, but something that will stretch the boundaries of your knowledge, and possibly further your career. Here's a good article to read about the importance learning while searching for a job: Skills to learn while in between jobs.

There are plenty of resources on the web and in books to read and learn about theory and how things should be done. However, I prefer to use tutorials, sites and applications that actually allow me to practice the skills I need to expand my knowledge, and hopefully increase my chances of standing out from other candidates.

I've spent the last three years developing the idea and helping to launch and manage my startup When founding a startup one wears many hats and picks up a ton of valuable skills along the way. Before I had extensive off-line experience in account, project and team management, but the online world is a different world than traditional off-line business. I had to learn quickly by listening intently, Googling everything, and asking questions as a last resort.

In the last couple of months since I left my startup I've been teaching myself more of the abilities that employers are looking for when they're search for project, implementation or customer success managers. Although I'll probably never be proficient in back-end coding I've been working my way through Code Academy, learning the basics of app development in Xcode 4 and designing a Wordpress site for an app I'm working on, FōTacts. I've also found myself to be pretty handy at doing mockups in Balsamiq and designing user journeys on InVision.

Individually, my knowledge and skill level of these new skills probably won't land me a job, but together they combine to make a robust knowledge base that make me a stronger candidate and will greatly benefit my next employer. Of course, these set of skills will not benefit everyone. My main point is that when I first started to interview for jobs I would have to tell possible employers that even though I lived in the online world for the last three years, I was not very technical. That's becoming less true every day.

My advice is to identify your weakness and make them disappear. Learn something!

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Comment by Helen Burbank (Appleby) on June 28, 2012 at 8:14am

Great reminder of how you can turn down time into learning time. Not only when job seeking but I like to do learn new things in my downtime in order to boost my abilities within my current job.  Side note, I can also endorse Code Academy and Balsamiq as really useful tools! 

Comment by Randall Scasny on June 28, 2012 at 8:39am

While I will not dispute the gist of your post that one of the causes of a difficult, extended job search campaign is a lack of competitive job skills that make the job seeker uncompetitive in a field of viable candidates.

But, frankly, I've heard this one before, and it is like an old, used car. The skills-gap problem disintegrates when you work with someone who has gone back to school, got a certification, etc. and continues to have problems getting interviews and an offer.

The causes of an extended job search (over 1 year) are:

1. low job demand in the target market: industries are crumbling, restructuring and outsourcing themselves. This causes lower job demand. In this market demand, more qualified job seekers are placed on the market. Hence, low job demand always creates an artificial oversupply, that is, hyper competition. Gaining some new skills (without experience to support them) will not deem you as one of the top ten candidates in an application pile of 200, which is common these days.

2. High talent availability: this one is ties into #1 but by itself it is the biggest problem of an oversupplied or saturated job market, commonly called " an employer's market."  All this talent has not only the discrete skills but also the industry experience and the job task context for that experience such that learning a new skill from scratch will not necessarily be a deciding factor.

3. The Contract Job Phenomenon: when people talk about 'filling their skill gaps' they commonly learn new technical skills or some software, etc. If you work with these tech skill professions, you will find most of them are temp jobs. What normal human being would take a 6 week or 3 month temp job when they know they will have to look again and again and again.

4. Employer Misbehavior: no one wants to talk about this one. But their are subtle ways to avoid hiring a certain type of person. Ask a woman. Ask an African American with an MBA and an IS background and you will be duly schooled in this type of misbehavior. The newest type of employer misbehavior is not wanting to hire a veteran or someone who has been unemployed for a long time. Shame on them.

Long term job search campaigns are not pleasant. But a lot of positive can come from them. Soul searching. Falling in Love (I have when I was unemployed a decade ago). In our "Big Brothered" age we often don't get a chance to go on a journey to find the meaning of our lives, both physically and psychologically. A job search campaign is one the few bastions of the Life Journey left in this world. I always tell my customers that the reason your job search campaign is long is that you have not taken up the spirit of the sojourner. When a job seeker imbues him/herself with this spirit, they see new opportunities and not because they are "new" but because their eyes have been closed up until then.

Randall Scasny

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on June 28, 2012 at 9:24am
Marc, good article.

Randall, I'm afraid I have to disagree with your third point. The "normal" human being that would want to take a 6 week to 3 month job is the one that wants to take advantage of what is essentially a paid working interview, a chance to keep skills sharp/learn new ones, and develop or expand their professional network by spending 8+ hours a day with people in their field. Oh, and did I mention getting paid? Job seekers discount temp jobs at their peril.
Comment by Marc Mapes on June 28, 2012 at 9:40am

Thanks Helen. Learning a little about code and a lot about doing decent mockups and user journeys has been, if nothing else, quite fun. And let's face it, anyone who spends most of their days combing through job ads deserves to have a but of fun now and then. If it helps got you a job, awesome.

Randall, thanks for your very thoughtful response. Although I mostly agree with you about the common reasons for an extended job search, I don't fully understand what your solution would be. Yes, one can spend a lot of time reflecting and soul searching, but after a while there's only so much character building to be done.

Not to mention mounting family and financial stress. The one point you make that I disagree with is #3. Do you not think that most people who been out of work for an extended period of time would jump at a large majority of temp jobs? It's not a matter of being normal. Sometimes it's a matter of paying bills and staying afloat. Of course, I agree it's not ideal. However, it's more ideal than the alternative.

Thanks again Randall. Great discussion!

Comment by Marc Mapes on June 28, 2012 at 9:41am

Ha, thanks Amy. You beat me to my point about #3.

Comment by Randall Scasny on June 28, 2012 at 9:42am

Amy: I'll acknowledge the logic of your point. But, I think we have to agree to disagree. You describe the ideal world. In the real world, people get tracked to a life of temping. And, as they get older, they are one illness (themselves or a family member) away from economic disaster. That's the reality I deal with on a daily basis. I'd suggest you (actually, everyone on this site) take a few hours a month and volunteer at a social services agency in their career services area like I do. You will see first hand that while a temp job sounds great on face value, in reality the gaps in employment due to spending more time job seeking over of the course of their work lives reduces their economic bottomline among other things. But, this is the world we live in. And it doesn't appear that things will change in the near future.

Randall Scasny

Comment by Joe Redshaw on June 28, 2012 at 11:09am

There is also the fact that people are forgetting how to interview.  As a Corporate Recruiter, I cannot (will not/do not)  prep my candidates.  I want to see how they prepare for the interview.  I find so many come to interviews without a copy of their resume, no pen/notebook, no prepared questions and have only done very little research on the company and who they are meeting with.  Candidates still talk bad about previous employers and seem to have a hard time answering basic questions with detail and clarity.  Therefore, something I would like to add is that candidates PLEASE prepare 100% for the interview.

Comment by Joe Redshaw on June 28, 2012 at 11:18am

And to add something else.  I have in fact seen good interviewers get the job and turn out to be "not so good" employees and I believe that people have interviewed poorly and not gotten the job just because of that reason.  Where if those individuals would have interviewed better, they probably would have gotten the job.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on June 28, 2012 at 12:18pm

HI Randall, happy to agree to disagree ;) You do have a point but like so many things, it's entirely subjective based on everyone's personal situation / experience.


I worked for the Washington State Employment Security Department at a WorkSource office for 2 years. I split that time between the roughest, most economically depressed part of King County (in South Seattle) and finished my time with WorkSource (as an ESD job counselor) at Joint Base Lewis McChord providing job search counseling services to military veterans and their families. I get it. The job seekers I counseled who were willing to accept contract, temp, or temp to hire work got off welfare and other forms of public assistance much more quickly than their peers.


Furthermore, the idea that "temping" is in any way less secure than a typical full time job is indeed an ideal world. Anyone can get fired or laid off at any time. At least temping also offers the added benefit of teaching someone to be flexible and adaptable. Don't get me wrong - I prefer a full time, benefited gig over a 6 wk contract w/ a guaranteed end. Then again, I left ESD/WorkSource to take a 6 month recruiting contract with Zones. One month in I was offered a full time position and I am still here.


I watched 30 year ESD / government employees counseling job seekers who were completely dependent on public assistance (cash, food stamps, daycare, medical) to turn down strong contract opportunities purely because they weren't "full time". What a colossal waste of tax payer dollars from every angle.

Comment by Randall Scasny on June 28, 2012 at 12:53pm

Amy, what you describe is pretty bad. But here's one that tops it: the India Body Shop (corp to corp) model of contract staffing. Basically, they abuse the H1B worker visa system by swapping around "benched Hibs" in the hidden market. This keeps jobs off the rosters and amounts to a multi-billion dollar collusion scam.


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