Friday, June 19, 2015

What Ants (Yes, Ants!) Reminded Me about Job Searching
June 14, 2105

Author:  Mike Cleckner
Software Engineering | Project Management | Software Development | Quality Assurance

After another week of pursuing opportunities, which really means another week of being caught in the black hole known as "the hiring process," I sat on my deck with my morning cup of coffee. The weather was perfect, but my attitude was not. You see, I'm out of work, not by my choice. I'm frustrated. I'm burnt out from submitting job applications, networking with people, and following job leads to dead ends. But if you are reading this, then chances are you're in the same boat too. Misery loves company. Welcome.

There I sat, brooding, when I noticed these little ants scurrying around on the table. There were dozens of them. Randomly running this way and that way. A few got too close to my coffee mug, so I squished them.

(I know negative karma points for me.)

But then other ants happened to come upon their fallen compatriots and you know what they did? They picked them up and carried them away. Now you could have a sinister view of why the ants took their fallen comrades away (the ants are of course out looking for food), but I started to imagine that perhaps they were "helping" them. "Hey, buddy! Man you're having a hard go of it. Let's go get some aphid juice. What have you been up to?"

Lesson 1:  Don't stop being connected with your former colleagues. They are a source of support. They know what kind of person you are, how well you did your job, and really wish you were still working with them.

Now, your former colleagues aren't going to necessarily get you a job. They don't really want to listen to you drone on and on and on about how miserable you are (that's what your dog or cat or goldfish are for), but they keep you connected to what's going on in your industry. And who knows, they might have a job lead at some point. They know your qualities, your skills, and what kind of coworker you are. If you are staying in touch, then they might think of you first.
Then I started looking around more. There were a lot of these little ants everywhere on the deck!

(Someone should really do something about it, instead of sitting around drinking coffee.)

Many were randomly scurrying around. Here and there I noticed that some were actually walking with a purpose. They were following something. Sure enough, where the ants marched with purpose, there was food at the end of the trail. There were a lot ants gathered around the food, picking off pieces, and others stacked up behind trying to get to the front of the queue. A frenzy of activity. Looking around I saw other lone ants or smaller groups of ants working on other food sources. These weren't large pieces of food, but food nonetheless.

Lesson 2:  Search with focus. Have your targets, but don't forget to look at other possibilities.

You're not the only one trying to get that job. Following the crowd you might get a shot at the popular opportunity, but your chances are lower and you'll probably wait longer. Look around for opportunities you might not have thought about before; your odds are better with less competition. Opportunities at a Fortune 500 company that you really want to work at will attract a lot of other job seekers. Look around for positions at smaller growing companies. Most likely there will be fewer job seekers applying for the position. There might be some compromises with pay or other benefits because it is not a huge company, but you might be surprised and find a great job with great people.

Feeling a bit mischievous and bored, I decided to torment the ants that were marching in a fairly solid line to and from a larger piece of food. I took a small stone and placed it right on their little ant highway.

(I waited for a break in traffic, because I didn't need any more negative karma points.)

There was confusion and chaos for a bit. Ants, who first came upon the obstacle, started to dart back and forth. Panic! Other ants did the same until one or two happened to bump into ants returning from the food, who were also in a panic. They had a little ant conversation, as far as I could tell, and then both would continue on their way going where the other had just come from. After a few more of these meetings, a new path around the stone was established. The ant highway was restored!

Lesson 3: Be persistent. When something gets in your way, find a way around it. Remember your goal.

You're going to hit obstacles during your job search. You'll get that face-to-face interview, spends hours preparing, and hours at the interview, only to get the "Thank you for your interest in the position, but ..." email. It is depressing. It can demoralize you. You'll scramble around asking why. You'll find yourself brooding over a cup of coffee on your deck one morning. Pick yourself up. Look for something positive to take away from the experience. Move on. There is another opportunity out there.

So that's what those ants reminded me about my job search. Maybe my story will give you some renewed motivation as you pursue that new position.

Oh. How does the story end for those ants?

Well, I know that I was outside in their world, but it is MY deck, and there is a huge yard that they can do whatever they want in. I have to protect my territory; my market share! I really don't enjoy ants getting into my food or crawling on me, even if they gave me some inspiration.

I got the hose out and washed them and all their little treasures all away.


(Hey, at least I didn't squish them all.)

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