Playing what if…

Note: This started as a response to an old friend who poked me with a pointy stick in response to last night’s post. Because I often can’t resist poking back, you get what we have here, which is a far longer response than is strictly necessary, but one that I think was worth the effort to write down all in one place.

Two years ago I decided a change was in order. To make the change a reality, I papered the countryside from southern New Jersey to the Carolinas with just shy of 600 resumes. So when someone tells me that I don’t know what the job market is like out there, I’m not quite sure how to respond. Out of that pool of 600 jobs, I got maybe 12 interviews, six follow-up interviews, and one firm offer of employment. It took the better part of a year, but I was still able to get from Point A to Point B. Trust me, I know the job market ain’t what it used to be.

Given the impending draconian cuts in defense spending that will be enacted in January if Congress fails (once again) to do its job, there’s the outside chance that my gig will be on the chopping block just like everyone else’s. Yep, that sucks, but it’s reality. Uncle Sam promised the opportunity to work. He didn’t make any promises of a job for life. If the budget ax falls and I’m on the wrong side of it, well, that means I’ll be looking for work (again, just like everyone else). I like to think that my unique set of knowledge, skills, abilities, education, and training make me marketable across a respectably wide swath of potential employers… but I don’t think any combination of those things is a guarantee that I’ll be able to land exactly the job I want, when I want it, with the pay that I’d like to earn. That, of course leads to the inevitable question, “What happens if you don’t get anything close to the job you want or are qualified for?”

The best answer is I’d do whatever I needed to do to make ends meet. First the non-essential spending goes away – cable TV, booze, eating out, movies, horse racing, the things that are fun, but don’t do anything other than take money away from the bottom line. In a pinch, I sell the truck in favor of something more fuel efficient, take on a roommate to help balance the cost of rent and utilities. None of these are things I want to do, but they’re the things that need done when funds have to be prioritized.

I spent five years flipping burgers at a time when minimum wage was a hellofa lot less than it is now. I did it before and I’m not too proud to do it again if needs be. When the chips are really down common sense tells me that having some money coming in is better than no money coming in at all. When I wasn’t asking if someone wanted fries with that I worked sporadically as a valet. That job paid tips and a hot meal at the end of the night. In the summer I baled hay on a local farm and shoveled shit when it needed shoveling. Lord knows that wasn’t glamorous or high paying. For a while I was even directed traffic and took admission tickets at the county fairgrounds. I spent days most summers cutting grass for anyone who would throw a $20 my way. More often than not, I was working one or more of those jobs on the same day. And if all of those things weren’t a sufficient lesson in thrift and humility, I taught civics to high school freshmen. Anyone who does that job deserves some kind of medal.

I’m not here to tell anyone they suck or that they’re not working hard enough and I rarely espouse any political belief other than my own. Lord knows there’s no major (or minor) party that’s perfectly aligned with my way of thinking. I make observations based on my own experience and adjust my thoughts accordingly. I see plenty of problems with the world and how it’s operating, but I still don’t see a system that’s hopelessly broken. No one promises that life is going to be fair. The Declaration itself calls for the pursuit of happiness, not the guarantee of happiness. Life isn’t fair and sometimes that just sucks. I’d love to have the body of a young Brad Pitt and the voice of a Pavarotti, but those weren’t the gifts I got… yet I still go to the movies and enjoy listening to a tenor sing. Somehow I don’t see any benefit of shuttering the theaters and concert halls just because I can’t have what they have.

Come at me with concrete, realistic ideas about what can be better and how to achieve it and I’m all ears, but don’t expect me to join a crusade just to burn down what we have now. For all its warts, I dare say our system is still a far better operation than what our friends in Syria, Iran, Egypt, and dozens of other countries enjoy at the moment. I’m not willing to throw it over because hey maybe the next thing we try will be better.

91 days…

The post I was set to bring you tonight will not be appearing because the subject matter went and changed on me between the time I started writing and the time it was supposed to post. Instead of another rant about the Army personnel system, I bring you tidings of great joy. The 30-day civilian hiring freeze is over – ending its 91-day reign of terror. Don’t believe, me? Check out the Civilian Personnel website for yourself.

Aside from the system not being at a complete standstill, I’m not exactly sure what the great thaw really means yet. I know that it means that personnel offices now have a 90 day backlog of hiring actions to clear and that’s never a quick process even under the most optimal conditions. I don’t have much faith at this point in any of the possibilities that looked promising back in February. Expecting magical reanimation of things just as they were at the moment they were frozen back in March seems about as likely as breathing new life into Walt Disney’s frozen head. Sure, it’s sounds possible… maybe… but not very likely.

What this probably means is that at least now there’s a fighting chance at working through the nomination-interview-hiring process to the point where a job offer is at least a possibility. So now it’s a mad race to spool up and flood my resume back into the Army system. Nothing like being back at square one.

Stats…

Even though the hiring freeze is still alive and well, I’m resolved to overlook such troubles for the time being and have continued my blitzkrieg approach to job hunting. As of this afternoon here are the stats:

Total Resumes Sent: 162
Total Rejected Outright: 87
Total Referred to Selecting Official – Rejected: 5
Total Referred to Selecting Official – Open: 7
Total Status Pending: 63

Even a blind dog finds a bone now and then, ya’know?

Mr. Freeze…

It snowed in West Tennessee today, but that’s not exactly the freeze that is troubling me at the moment. It seems that news of my imminent departure for Pennsylvania was broken prematurely. Though not quite ready to retract the story, I’m moving it from the “cautiously optimistic” column to the “possible” category. It seems that in the interests of driving down operating expenses, Uncle has imposed a 30-day hiring freeze for civilian positions with the Department of the Army. Tacking that 30 days onto the 20 I had already waited to get the official offer and I can’t in good conscience rely on seeing a positive outcome. I suspect the human resources policy geniuses deep in the bowels of the Pentagon are using this 30-day hiring holiday to devise even more diabolical procedures that will make hiring and transfers even more complicated, cumbersome, and time consuming than they already are. None of this bodes well for a speedy exodus from the current unpleasantness. My expectations of enjoying springtime in Pennsylvania are fading rapidly.

This is why I’m generally happier when I’m in full pessimist mode – disappointments there don’t come as a surprise. They’re just the normal state of affairs and when things did go right, it’s an occasional pleasant surprise. I don’t know that I could ever be a real optimist. I couldn’t tolerate being so regularly disappointed when things go to hell in a handcart. At this point I’m driving on purely because I trust absolutely in my own abilities and the simple fact another six months of uncertainty is better than the absolute certainty of being stuck where I am. Just call me Mr. Freeze.

Terms…

It’s possible that I’m starting to come to terms with living in a state of perpetual uncertainty. Maybe there’s a two week maximum on anxiety of this sort. After taking counsel in a dear friend last night, I’m reminded that getting things done the Army way can take much, much longer than should be reasonably expected. It’s not so much that I don’t care as it is that I’ve seemed to move beyond the point where fretting about it is worth the effort. It’s really an occasion where all there is to be done is lie back and think of England. The alternative is to pick up the phone and start ranting like a lunatic at the guy I’m hoping to work for at some point in the near future. That would probably be the operative definition of a situation other than good at this point. So, until further notice, I wait… and wait… and wait. At some point even the bureaucracy has to grind its way into an actual decision, right?

Interview with a Logistician…

To date, I’ve cast 119 resumes into the great wind that is the Army’s civilian personnel system. When you’re dealing with that kind of volume, it’s impossible to tailor each one to a specific job opening. Your best hope is that if you through enough of them against the wall, maybe, somehow, some of them will start to stick. It seems that I’m at least starting to fall into that category now – where at least a few of those resumes have found their way in front of people who are actually doing the hiring.

Yesterday was the first job I’ve interviewed for since 2002. In the interest of not jinxing myself too badly, I’m won’t get into specifics about what or where, other than to say that I’m cautiously optimistic and seem to have passed through the first round enroute to a follow-on discussion with the potential uberboss. In theory, that should take place sometime before the end of this week. After that, it takes however long it takes for the selection and notification process to work its way through to the end. It’s not generally something that happens with great rapidity.

Assuming for a moment that I actually get an offer, a whole series of questions then immediately come into play – Am I willing to sacrifice grade for more favorable geography and will doing so irreparably damage my career? Can I sustain financing a condo in Maryland, a house in Tennessee, and another place to call home all at the same time? Maybe more troubling is the nagging fear that if I jump at the first offer, I’m closing the door on a more lucrative offer at some point in the future or the even more nagging fear that the next offer could be another six months in coming. It’s the kind of decision that’s easy in theory, but in practice, well, becomes fraught with any number of potential issues.

There’s no call to worry about any of those just yet, though. For now, I’ll be happy that I at least got one opportunity to make my case. What happens next is, mostly, out of my hands – but you can bet I’ll be looking to send out resume number 120 first thing tomorrow morning.

48 Cents…

As a taxpayer, I’m absolutely appalled at the seemingly out of control spending we’ve seen from this government over the last 18 months. It’s beyond irresponsible and boarders on criminal. On the other hand, as one cog in the two million strong federal civilian workforce, all I can really say about the minuscule savings (yes, $5B is minuscule in terms of the federal budget) realized by freezing federal raises for two years is, WTF? That’s like using a bandaid to treat a sucking chest wound. It’s a structural problem and not one brought about by my picking up an extra 1.4% next year.

Want to fix the real problem you have with payroll being too high? Build an HR system that works. There are some real all-stars on the roster in every agency, but the reality is 80% of the work is being done by 20% of the workforce. Cull the dead wood. Decimate the workforce. Literally. Take the bottom 10% of performers and show them the door and then you’ll be off to a good start on payroll savings. Do it again the next year and you’ll be starting to talk about real money. Take the programs and projects that aren’t showing a return, those that just aren’t working and put them on the chopping block. You could eliminate whole damned departments and agencies that way.

If you want big savings, you’ve got to go big. Taking $1000 out of my pocket isn’t going to do it for ya, so stop pretending that you’ve done anything with this “freeze.” Your spin-masters are telling me that I should feel sorry for wanting my raise this year, but let me tell you for the record, I don’t. I know what kind of jacked up things I fix on a daily basis. I know that it’s my skill and talent, and that of a handful of others that makes incompetents look good. We’re practically miracle workers. And I know what that’s worth – A hell of a lot more than an extra $.48 an hour.

So, until the Congress and the administration are ready to get serious about putting things somewhere close to back on track, I’m tired of being the whipping boy for everything a generation of politicians has done wrong. I want my raise. I know I’ve earned it.

For those who think federal workers are over paid, feel free to visit http://www.usajobs.com and build your resume. Uncle Sam is still hiring. I think you’ll find the view from the inside a little different.