Friday, April 28, 2017

A Case of Opening Interview Jitters

The day finally arrives

If you’re a current reader of this blog, then you know that I’ve stated in the past that there aren’t really many long-term opportunities for people in my field (technical writing and graphic design) local to my area. This usually means that when I do have an interview, it is most likely remote (either by phone or via Skype). Imagine my surprise when a company within a reasonable driving distance scheduled me for an on-site interview!

Now, I need to note that this has only been my second face-to-face interview in almost five years. I was excited! I spent days researching the company, planning my questions, and preparing my portfolio. As per usual, despite this preparation, things did not go exactly in my favor. Despite putting together what I felt was a reasonable example of my output over the last seven years (six years of which was directly related to what I was applying for), I hit a few snags.

Confessions of a serial self-defamer

This might surprise a lot of you, but I'm not the most confident person in the world. Okay, not even nearly the most confident person in the world. Still, when it comes to the mechanics of the software I use I do know my stuff, and I'm usually pretty good about creating the effects that I want. The people who are interviewing me don't really know that, of course, and my lack of confidence always seems to seep through.

A funny thing didn't happen on the way to the interview (thank goodness!)

Still, I put on my pressed and tailored suit, tied my darkest red power tie, shined up my shoes and made the journey to the potential employer’s place of business. It should be noted, that despite every other day up to this point being a cool 50-60° Fahrenheit (10-15° Celsius) this day decided to be extra sunny and hot, so “sweaty suit for the win!” It wasn’t that long of a drive, and fortunately my car’s air conditioning works, so that was a plus.

I parked my car and made the walk to the building’s entrance. They were cutting grass, but fortunately, not in the vicinity of my only tailored suit; unfortunately, I am allergic to pollen (and the smell of freshly cut grass to me is a trigger), and that’s when I noticed that I had forgotten my handkerchief. I would spend the next hour and a half stifling back a sneeze, and trying not to let my nose close during the conversation.

I arrived early (but not egregiously so), and was sent to a room to wait. I spent my time mulling over what I wanted to ask and how I wanted to present myself, and used a sheet of paper to jot down my thoughts during the interview.

When the interviewer showed up, my immediate thought went to how sweaty and clammy my hands must have been. I won’t give away too many details about the actual interview, but I presented my portfolio to him (and made multiple apologies to him for the lack of color). He was very relaxed and cordial, and I was my usual nervous shy awkward self. I’m not used to meeting new people, and I’m even less used to trying to impress them.
Not long into the interview he called in another party to ask questions. I spent much of the time trying to explain to them why there were significant gaps in the years on my resume (in truth, though I have mostly worked steadily, it is not often very long for the same employers). I didn’t really like this part of the process for one main reason: When I begin weaving the tale of how I got to where I am today, it often sounds like I’m playing the victim. I don’t really see myself as a victim, but I have little doubt that it can sound that way (“I left work the week of 9/11 and lost my savings when the stock market crashed,” “I went to school, had to drop out in the final semesters because of financial reasons,” “I worked in the mortgage recording industry just before the housing bubble burst,” – which is all true, by the way). I try to chalk it up to learning experiences, but really there’s not a lot of positivity in my resume. The same could be said of my experience with my last employer, which I consider a mostly positive experience, but I still have no idea why they let me go (and they seem to be far more bitter about the separation than I am). Still, questions about this sort of activity are the reason one goes to interviews, and I answered them as honestly as I could. I had to stifle the more excessive bits of my personality, which was not helped by my scratchy throat and bits of sneeze that came out as snorts when I laughed.

Finishing up, I tried to ask questions during the interview that would have the duality of giving me some more insight into the company, and to show them that I have a genuine interest in what they do. They said that they needed to conduct a second round of interviews and that if they were interested they would get back to me within 3 weeks.

Did it work? I will let you know in three weeks.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Four Portfolio Mistakes You Should Avoid

Don't let this happen to you:

I had to attempt to put together a presentable portfolio in about a week. This was challenging, as I’ve not had need of a physical portfolio before, and I needed to pull it off without a hitch. I failed at it miserably, and here’s some reasons why:

1.) Have money for color

The first was the fact that my portfolio would have cost me between $45-90.00 to print out in full color. While I have little compunctions about doing so, I simply did not have the resources to do it (at the time I had just over $15 in the bank, and much less now). What’s even more strange, though, is that I found that I really don’t know anyone locally with a full color printer. At my previous job, if I needed anything in color I would ask the boss if I could use his printer (a rather beefy CMYK laser printer) and never for a moment thought about alternatives to that. Instead, I had to print out black and white laser versions of my work which really doesn’t capture the essence of the product. I made the wise decision to spend $8.60 of my $15 on bright white extra heavy paper, though, so it was less concerning to see the facing page text through the paper.

2.) Invest in business cards

The second snag was that I apparently don’t have any up-to-date business cards. These are crucial little pieces of self-marketing that essential for making those in-roads, and all of mine are either old, embarrassing, or emblazoned with the logo and contact info of my former employer. I put an extra copy of my complete resume in the packet, but I didn’t have the time (or money for that matter) to have more business cards printed.

3.) Have finished samples from previous employment

Snag number three was that I don’t have any of the printed work I created for my former employer. There were no catalogs, pamphlets, or manuals in finished form. I mean, I have the files, but as far as being printed on photo paper in full color, no such luck. This is only somewhat irritating as I have the files, except for the fact that I can’t afford to have them printed in color (and even if I did, it wouldn’t be a large run).

4.) Have video? Make sure that you have DVD software

The fourth (and probably least important) snag was that I could not include a DVD of my videos. These weren’t a requirement for the job, and probably wouldn’t have “wowed” them, but it is a skill listed on my resume and would have been nice to include. I put a link to the videos in my portfolio, but having the DVD would have been better. Now you may be asking yourself, “Surely, he has at least one blank DVD lying around, why wouldn’t he include it?” You would be right in that assumption; I have a few dozen blank discs staring me in the face as I write this. Before any other theories arise, the DVD+-R drives on both my desktop and laptop computers are in perfect working order, so that doesn’t factor in, either. The real reason is one of simple erroneous assumptions made by me about the software I have. When I have made videos in the past, it has always been for upload on YouTube. My videos and projects are made this way from the start. The workflow usually consists of: Filming, importing into Adobe Lightroom (which takes forever, but allows me to organize and meta tag my clips), enhancing in Adobe After Effects, tweaking audio in Adobe Audition, editing in Adobe Premiere, and finally exporting and converting in Adobe Media Encoder. Here’s the kicker: NONE of those programs allow you to create a DVD suitable for a player. I have another program that came with my analog signal capture device, but here’s the other kicker: None of the formats from Adobe Media Encoder are apparently compatible with this software (it won’t recognize H.264, MPEG2, and any MOV or AVI wrapper I could find). I found another, now out-of-date program from Adobe called Encore which will apparently do the job, but I downloaded this literally minutes before I had to leave for my interview and had no time to create a DVD menu or burn it. I am now playing with the program to have it ready for future portfolios (although I doubt that I will have the funds to have those printed professionally, either).

In Conclusion

What I did was burn all the materials that I included to a DVD so that they could view them in full color as needed. I put the description of the DVD inside the folder’s business card spot to help mask the fact that there wasn’t anything there, and then apologized profoundly and multiple times to the interviewer for not being able to afford color. It was not impressive.

So that was much of my week and my entire weekend. I'm already working on the next one.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Chasing The Elusive "Ideal Job"

Before I begin

I’d like to apologize for what you, the reader, might mistakenly categorize as a “woe is me” style rant. This couldn’t be further from the truth, I am simply trying to take an honest evaluation of where I am right now so that I may find another way.

The Premise

I've been unemployed now for almost three months. This isn't surprising given the lack of jobs (let alone quality jobs) in my hometown in general, but it is still beginning to wear on me. It's time to evaluate my skills and weigh my opportunities.

A List of Skills

Foremost among my skills is my writing ability. While I used to be able to compose paragraphs that were almost poetic for research papers and for my own amusement, I find that my time writing marketing copy for the lowest common denominator has made me more staid and inflexible in my style. This could probably be overcome with a more creative outlet, but my creativity is effectively tethered to my happiness and my well-being, and it’s hard to not consider such things when you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from. It doesn't help that my research sensibility has been so drenched in meaningless SEO and fireplace accessories that I fear I may never recover.

Second to my writing is my art. This is a rather distant second, I’m afraid; despite three years of college-level training my skill with a brush or pen is woefully underdeveloped. While I am considerably more effective on the digital front, I find that when given complete creative freedom I tend to choke. When I have a project that I need to get done for a client I am focused and working. Alas, when I am between clients I seem to be incapable of getting even the most basic tasks done for my sole beneficiary (me). Perhaps it is because I can’t pay myself…

Then there’s video. Ah, video: Cheap to do, easy to make, and incredibly time-consuming. I love making videos – I truly do. And now you’re asking yourself, “If he likes videos so much, why doesn’t he make more of them?” The sad simple answer is one of support: I can either be the camera man or I can be on camera, but not both. This makes any videos I create static and not especially fun to do. Furthermore, it’s hard to do both video and sound checks when you’re in front of the camera. Moreover, scripted video requires a lot of planning that is daunting for a single person to do alone. Now it can be done, but it requires time. It requires quiet time. And when you live with other people, quiet time is something that is in a vastly short supply. I challenge you to edit ten minutes of video with someone asking you questions as machine gun fire blares on the television in the other room, while the dog howls for no immediately apparent reason.

I could fall back on my computer repair and support skills, except for two things:
  1. I don’t have any official training in that capacity, just twenty years of experience.
  2. I don’t have an A+ certificate in that capacity, either. And those cost money.

Honestly, this isn’t really something I’d want to do full-time anyway. Most computers can be fixed by swapping out a part, but there’s always a chance you’ll get a computer with a slightly warped motherboard or one single ruptured capacitor that will take hours upon hours of digging to figure out. While figuring it out can be challenging and fun, working under a deadline for very little compensation isn’t. The CompTIA A+ certification is standard for these things, and I don’t have one; it’s the bitter irony of my life that I can either have the time to study for it, or the money to get it, but never both at the same time.

Location, Location, Location

As far as opportunities go, there’s not much to be had in Warren, Pennsylvania. There are jobs, mind you, but those jobs don’t exactly intersect with my skills, tend to not pay very well, and the few that do are in industries that I have no experience with. It’s hard with someone my age and experience level to land one of these jobs anyway, because employers don’t want to spend the time or the money training you if you’re just going to leave at the first opportunity (and rightfully so).

This means that I must look for opportunities outside of Warren, which on the face sounds great, but in practice is incredibly difficult. There are factors preventing me from looking outside of the area for work, and mostly they all boil down to money.

You see, my previous employer didn’t pay very well. Oh sure, they paid better than a retail job or fast food, but for the work involved they just didn’t pay as well as others in the field. It was partially this lack of pay that kept me there for so long, as I rarely had the funds to look for work outside of town. In fact, I was in the process of finding a part time job to supplement my income when I was let go. Now that I am no longer working, my unemployment compensation is drastically less than the pittance I was making before. This leaves me with barely enough money to put gas in my car once every two weeks, let alone travel to a new city for a job interview.

Now there are locations outside of town I can consider. For example, Erie, Pennsylvania is a long commute but should be perfectly serviceable until I can start drawing a paycheck once more. The same goes for Bradford, but they’re about as jobless as Warren at this point. I have friends in Pittsburgh who might be willing to tolerate my presence for a time until I can find proper lodging. And that’s about it, really; I don’t know anyone else.

Running out of alternatives

I’m too old for military service (and far too fat and nearsighted for that, anyway), and I’ve already tried going back to school. The latter didn’t turn out too well, as now I have almost all the debt and no degree to show for it. I would love to further my education, but the funds just aren’t there (which is the reason I had to drop out in the first place). Running a personal business requires an investment that I can’t make financially right now, so that’s out of the question too.

Trying to use career guidance services hasn't been working out either, because they all give me the same options, and even given my experience no one in those suggested industries even seems keen to interview me.

In conclusion

So here I am, caught between a rock and a very hard place. Now, I’m not panicking and I’m not saying that I can’t do any of the things described in the previous text. I’m merely stating that if I don’t find a way to overcome some of these factors that I don’t see much of a future ahead. All I can do (for now) is get to work for myself.