Over the last few days, I’ve watched a handful of news segments and read several stories all striving to make a common point – that businesses from local mom and pop restaurants to heavy industry are having difficulty filling vacant positions.
Some of these stories cite the “Amazon Effect,” that has entry level new hires streaming to fill openings in warehousing and distribution. Others lay the blame with too much free money passed out in the form of federal stimulus payments and increased unemployment.
It seems to me that the most straightforward way to resolve this particular imbalance between the demand for these workers and their limited supply is to increase wages to the point where there are enough people to fill vacancies.
Admittedly, I’m not a fancy big city economist, but raising wages feels like a fairly basic, tried and true way to attract people into a particular job or even into an entire segment of the workforce. Yes, it means in some cases the products and services being offered by those businesses will cost more, but if your business can’t generate the revenue necessary to hire people to do the work, you have more of a vanity project than a business anyway.
There are times in my career I’ve struggled mightily to extract myself from a less than desirable job. One of the perks of working for Uncle is that, like Visa, he’s “everywhere you want to be.” I’ve known for some time though that I don’t particularly want to depart the sunny shores of the northern reaches of the Chesapeake. That said, the day in and day out of life as a glorified wedding planner doesn’t feel like something I can see myself doing for the next 17 years, 6 months, and 13 days.
Unlike some previous occasions when getting on to something new was the only priority, this one has been more of a slow burn – sending out feelers here and there as opposed to an approach to sending out resumes that was more akin to carpet bombing. I didn’t so much want to just run away as also make sure what I was running towards was something of a right fit. Being in a position of not desperate to escape definitely helps set a tone where one can be a bit more selective.
That’s a long way around to saying I’m currently waiting to hear back on a final time for an interview later this week for a gig that sounds a lot like a better fit than this current situation. Maybe it’s frying pan/fire territory, but a change of scenery would probably do me a world of good. As my past experiences with hiring freezes and months spent sending out hundreds of resumes to anyone who vaguely sounded interesting has proven, there are hundreds of vagaries and problems with Uncle’s hiring process – not the least of which is actually convincing someone they should give you the job.
Still, I like to think once I’m in the room, I’m pretty good at selling myself… although it’s been a while so I guess we’re going to roll the dice one more time and see what happens.
When I started in the current gig way back in ye olde 2010, there were 8 people doing the job in my little corner of Uncle’s vast universe. I won’t tell you that we were always busy, but we had our moments of mayhem and chaos even when all hands were on deck. That number ebbed and flowed – up one, down one – over time, but was remarkably steady until about six months ago when people started racing for the exits. From there, it’s been a foot race to get out of Dodge.
By this time next week, the number of the counting will be reduced to three. By all outward appearances, we’re just going to reallocate the workload and drive on as usual. That strategy might be ok when you drop from 8 to 7, but by the time you go to three there simply isn’t enough time in the day to keep up. You reach a point where doing more with less isn’t just impossible, but it becomes detrimental to an office. It reminds me of an vintage Dilbert strip where Pointy Haired Boss tells Dilbert to pick up someone’s functions. Dilbert’s response? “I have infinite capacity to do more work as long as you don’t mind that my quality approaches zero.” I wish I could tell you that was farce, but it bears too much resemblance to reality. With every position left vacant, the quality of the work is diminished. Getting the job done just to that “good enough” standard is something that makes me just a little bit crazy.
I’ve worked in places that were more toxic, but the older I get the less tolerance I seem to have for the asshattery of it all. The only reason I’ve let it ride as long as I have is I happen to enjoy the particular piece of geography we occupy. I supposed even that’s not really enough to hold me if a change needs to come. As much as I don’t want to dive back into the land of the three hours commute, it’s time, past time, to put all the options on the table.
I had an interview this morning, a something a few of you might have guessed by the fact that I had bothered to put on a tie. Generally speaking a tie is only something I wear when it can’t otherwise be avoided. As a rule of thumb, that means when the number of stars in the room is equal to or greater than five – Five one star generals = wear a tie; A three star and a two star = wear a tie; Reanimated corpse of Douglas MacArthur = wear a tie. It’s a simple rule that I adopted years ago to prevent any confusion about what to wear and when to wear it.
Breaking with that longstanding custom today made me feel a little awkward. After all, two of the three people on the interview panel were people I’ve worked with for the last four years. Surely by now they’ve caught on to my basic reluctance to willingly put my neck in a noose each morning. With that, wearing one today felt like something of a cop out, a unilateral caving in to the throat constricting requirements of social convention. It made me feel a little dirty and a lot like a sellout.
Interviews are always a roll of the dice – especially since this is the first one of done live and in person since July of 2000 when I was hired as a first year teacher. All my other jobs over these last 14 years have been gotten as a result of phone interviews or directed moves into new positions. That being said I think I answered all their questions effectively and efficiently, while interjecting my own brand of folksy humor and sarcasm at appropriate points. How well that translates into the live interview process remains to be seen.
I work with at least half the people in the running for this gig. They’re good people with solid resumes and every bit as reasonable a claim on the job as I feel I have going for me. I’d like the chance to do something different without traipsing halfway across the country to find it. I’d definitely like the grade and corresponding income bump. Still, knowing who else is in the running I won’t shed bitter tears if I didn’t make the cut on this one… though that’s no promise I won’t be more sulky and irritable than usual for a while if the vote breaks against me.
And here is your regularly scheduled installment of What Annoys Jeff this Week…
The Federal Hiring Process. I just received an email notice that an agency I applied to work for back in April (yes, that’s 8 months ago), has finally decided that they’re not going to hire for that vacant position. Really? I took some jackwagon eight months to decide that hiring into the teeth of massive budget cuts wouldn’t be a great idea? Brilliant. Give that man a promotion. This has got to be one of the top two or three reasons that people don’t list the federal government as one of their “wishlist” places to work. The process itself makes you question whether you’d want to work there in the first place.
Automatic Faucets. We have faucets at the office that turn on automatically when you hold your hands under them. It’s a neat bit of tech. Unfortunately, now I find myself standing in front of “old fashioned” sinks shaking my hands furiously wondering why the water isn’t flowing. Even though I use automatic doors from time to time, I still seem to be able to let myself in and out of the old fashion kind without any real trouble. You’d think the same basic technology applied so something I use as often as a sink wouldn’t leave me standing around pondering what the problem is on a regular basis.
The National Transportation Safety Board. As a group, Americans can be pretty dense… and we’re at our collective dumbest when we get behind the wheel of a car. I applaud the NTSB for wanting to keep is all safe, but will need them to do a reality check. In 2009 about 6000 people were killed by “distracted” driving. Four times more people die in this country die every year from unintentionally falling down. Falling. Down. Seriously. In terms of the big scary ways to die that are out there, distracted driving doesn’t seem like one that I’ll be spending an inordinate amount of time worried about. Besides, even if I weren’t texting, it’s just as likely that I’d be distracted by changing the radio, scratching my butt, talking to a passenger, or scarfing down a Big Mac. Then again, those are probably the next things the fine deciders at the NTSB will want to ban.
1. Fall. It’s not fall specifically, but I do hate that by 2:30 this afternoon there wasn’t even a hint of sun shining in the courtyard at work. I am so not ready for it to be dark when I leave for work and dark when I get home. And fall only serves as reminder of this upcoming unpleasantness.
2. Apple. Again. This week you officially announced that next week you’ll be making an official announcement about the next iPhone. You guys are killing me. Just let me plunk down my money and order the damned thing already. And for the love of God, will you please bring back pre-ordering? I’ll get up hours before the ass crack of dawn to drive 60 miles to the Apple Store if I have to, but please don’t make me.
3. The Federal Hiring Process. I got an email this afternoon letting me know I’d be was in the running for a position I applied for in February. Seriously? It took you seven months to get around to putting the list together, FEMA?
4. Facebook. Your new changes have crushed the number of clicks I’m getting from Facebook to my blog. I hate you for that, but since I’m way too cheap to pay for ads, I’ll eventually figure out a way around you.
5. People who ask for a read receipt on every email. You know who you are and you suck. That is all.
Since I had them scheduled anyway, I decided to keep two interview appointments I had made for this afternoon. All I can say is that I hope I didn’t disturbe anyone with the strangled gurgle you heard coming from West Tennessee. That was surely my ferocious choking during a job interview with a federal department that rhymes with Domeland Obscurity. It. Was. Painful. I’m only blessed that I didn’t really have to listen to myself give the answers. Once I realized I’d completely lost the bubble, I stopped listening to myself and was focused on keeping my answers as short as possible in order to put the interview to rest with some semblance of dignity. Lord. It was just brutal.
The first question was ok. The second question is where the wheels came off. I don’t even remember what the topic was… and halfway through answering, I realized that even as I was giving an answer, I didn’t remember what the question was. The answer ended up being a series of vaguely interrelated partially developed thoughts as I mentally groped for the thread of the conversation. Needless to say, I never found the thread and never recovered my equilibrium after that. Running out the clock was really the only option I had left.
I knew I was in the deep grass when the panel leader closed up with “Thanks. I think you have some adequate answers there.” Adequate. Wow. Ouch. At least I didn’t drool on myself. Without a question, that was the most painful 25 minutes in recent memory. It was a shitshow tempered only by the fact that it was the second of back to back interviews and the first went remarkably well. It’s the carnage of that second one that’s going to stick with me, though.
If you would have told me back in August when I decided it was time to pull the plug on my Memphis experience, that I’d still be firing off resumes on the first day of spring in the following year, I simply would never have believed you. The irony of coming here in the first place was that I’d alwayherdsrd that getting back to the DC area was easy because no one from outside the area had any interest in going there. That may or may not be the case, but I’ve found that in most cases for jobs inside the beltway the typical number of resumes submitted for consideration is somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 with some running north of 500. I’ve got a healthy level of professional self confidence, but the odds get pretty long when you start talking about numbers like that.
There are still a couple of “maybies” out there that I haven’t written off yet, but it’s definitely slot slower going than I remember the last job search being. The department’s hiring freeze extending over the last two months, of course, hasn’t helped. The personnel office points only to the most recent memo that calls for the freeze to be reevaluated by April 1st to decide if it will be extended or to announce how hiring might be handled moving forward. It’s not reassuring that the hiring system will get back to something approaching situation normal any time soon, even if it starts up again in April. With a two month backlog and a notoriously slow process to begin with, things could be ugly for the forseeable future.
There doesn’t seem to be much to do now other than to continue piling my name onto as many heaps as possible and hope it turns up at the top of one of them. The federal government’s a big place and something will come along eventually, but this exercise in patience is wearing very thin. In hindsight, I’m sure this experience will be character building or something, but in the moment it’s enough to drive a man around the bend.
I’m getting my research and cheat sheets together for another interview. Like the last one, names and locations aren’t a subject for discussion at this early stage of the game. Suffice to say the position in question it’s somewhere in a north-easterly direction from Memphis. With the ridiculously bad luck I’ve had locking down new and interesting employment opportunities in the last six months, let’s just say that I’m not holding out great expectations for this coming together. Still, I’ll be glad of another opportunity to make my pitch.
As of this morning, the record stands at 187 resumes sent out, 107 not selected, 73 open pending review, 7 made the cut and are in the hands of a hiring official, and 2 interviews have been scheduled. Still waiting for that law of large numbers to kick in.
The federal hiring process is FUBAR, that’s a given. It takes months to hire a single position which basically ensures your first pick candidate will have had another offer by the time you’ve made a selection. This basically sets the stage for wading into the middling candidates to make a selection. I’m sitting on six interview pannels between 8 and 12 tomorrow… And not even for my own positions. If there was ever a case for being driven to drink your lunch, tomorrow would be it.