Saturday, May 3, 2014

Staying Marketable No Matter What the Circumstances

                I am very lucky in that both my parents redefined themselves occupationally many times throughout their lives and had multiple successful careers.  Both of them had fulfilling employment well into their eighties. They were each off work for about a week with an illness before they died.  This is an excellent way to spend one's life, and if my own health permits, something I would like to emulate.  Each of them could have retired, and I think they both tried it in their sixties, and then realized they were free to pursue other interests and other careers. I am fortunate in that I saw at least this possibility modeled for me.

They say that employers don't look at resumes longer than about thirty seconds before deciding whether to cast one aside or perhaps interview that candidate.

               Even if you can afford to retire, and fewer and fewer of us can, there are some health benefits to continuing to work, at least part time.  Human beings stay healthiest when we have a modicum of a routine.  We sleep regularly, eat regularly, and are mentally challenged by work, even if just threading the needle by way of the commute !  Through work we maintain attachments with people and continue to have intellectual stimulation.  I am not suggesting that ninety year old Aunt Ida stock furniture using a forklift at the Wal-Mart warehouse.  I am suggesting that perhaps, if she wishes, she could work customer service somewhere, where her politeness, attention to detail and persnickety-ness will be truly appreciated by a company who profits from that type of attention for its customers.   An awful lot of people can't stand their phone calls answered by a machine. They won't buy things without some personal attention, and many of these people who know how things were done the old way, are very valuable in such a capacity. Perhaps by creating more flexible part time jobs, some of our older citizens who actually can converse with prospective customers, can join the workforce.

             When you think about it, I was asked what I thought I wanted to do for a living at about twelve.   In British school, in the 1970s,  the state tells you what they are going to be willing to train you for, based on the recommendations of your teachers. (Who is my case, had known me only six weeks at that time.)   At twelve, we can't possibly know enough about ourselves at that point, let alone enough about the potential professions which exist in the world.  I am still learning about interesting jobs and professions NOW.  My daughter has a job I didn't even know existed !    Interestingly, my teachers in British school certified me at 12 to become either a nurse or a teacher.  (This is no great miracle, as women even in the seventies, in the US and in the United Kingdom were still shuttled to these two female occupational roles.)
           After time in Harrow at my British school, I returned to the US and completed my education in the US.  They didn't inquire as to what I wanted to do for a living until high school.  The recommendations of my guidance counselor based on testing and the Ohio Vocational Interest Survey (which we all took, remember ?) was that I should be a writer or an editor.  So what did I do ?   I graduated from high school early and went to college as a Biology Major on a Pre-Med track with intent to become a physician.  I did well in biology but I had concerns that I didn't want to do a medical residency, which in those years was 70-90 hours a week. It seemed to me that being a physician would squash any wish I had to have a family in my twenties.   I made the switch to nursing not long after.    In deference to all the people in my youth who had a hand in my future occupation, they were all right.    Through college I worked as an activities therapist in a nursing home, the only female employee in an upscale men's suit shop (very useful as an eventual mother of four sons and a daughter), a recording artist,  a mathematics tutor,  and as a babysitter.   Most of my occupational life after college has been spent in one specialty or subspecialty of nursing.  I worked in occupational health nursing for an aerospace company. When we were transferred to another state, my job there ended.  Then I made a living for awhile doing short term private duty in psychiatric hospitals. Eventually, I settled in critical care nursing and remained in related positions for the longest periods in my career.  This was both adult critical care and pediatric. I also spent time in cardiac ICUs, medical ICUs, and surgical ICUs.  I started writing as an offshoot of one of my nursing jobs when I was asked to revise certain aspects of the hospital procedure manual.  Magazine articles and other writing tasks followed.

Yes, every hospital school of nursing, college or university which graduated nurses had a different cap, and we all wore one.  It seems like a long time ago now.

            I am relating all of this because I don't think I am that unusual.  I think most of us come to adulthood with a particular skillset, and that this skillset, whatever it is translates well from one career to another.  For example, I know nurses who are very detail oriented and observant. Some of them translated those skills and trained to become police officers.  One is now a detective.  She has joked with me that the two jobs aren't that different, but that she doesn't have to keep putting a venous access in the people she investigates, and so over all, she prefers being a detective to being a clinical nurse.  So perhaps rather than throwing everything we have behind one career, we should be developing broader skills that translate.   Another nurse friend of mine has always excelled with computers. When I was asked to help to rewrite parts of the hospital procedure manual, she was asked to consult with programmers to help to create software that would benefit the hospital for use by nurses on hospital units.  She works in computers now.

         What I am saying is that we should nurture all of our interests because we cannot be sure that they will not evolve into an occupation at some point.  I think we should always have an updated resume, and that we should not just advertise ourselves as an engineer, a teacher, etc.a nurse.  We have many potentials, and in a changing world may need to exploit more of our interests.

       Interestingly,  the Brits and the Americans were right.   The British would have trained me to be a nurse or a teacher.  The two careers I eventually chose to remain in the longest were as a critical care registered nurse and as an adjunct college instructor.   My American high school guidance counselor wasn't too off the mark because I have written hundred of published articles and two books.

        I think the best any of us can do is cultivate our interests with the thought that any of them could evolve into some type of career, as we cannot fully anticipate the ways in which the world is changing.  It's funny that I spent years in college, when I think that what I do more than anything else is drive a car.  Perhaps I should have spent less time in college and more time honing professional driving skills as I have driven a million plus miles thus far.     I also think that every person should update their resume as often as possible for immediate use.

       In any event, I wish to encourage you, whether you wish to be an employee, or an entrepreneur.  The world is changing and the internet brings far more possibilities for all of us than were appreciated when we first made career decisions.  Like my parents, many of us will enjoy (yes, I mean enjoy) the ups and downs of multiple careers.  You know, I really do enjoy rural real estate Maybe one of my next careers will be as a rural large acreage real estate agent !


Gorges Smythe said...

Quite an interesting story. The problem that we have in my area is that therre are so many unemployed college graduates that many places want a degree that don't even need one to do the work. They just figure the better the degree, the more trainable they are. Maybe they're right.

Practical Parsimony said...

My friend who had an MA in math from Georgia Tech, was a Major in the AF, flew 100 missions over Vietnam had one big regret. He said he rebelled against taking typing in high school and was forever at the mercy of someone else when he needed something typed. I asked him why he refused to take typing. "I was better than those guys who trained to be a drudge as I saw it." I am sure that the class having an abundance of girls in it made him not want to train to be like a girl.

However, he bought his wife the best Selectra money could buy and depended on her. Once she was gone, he had to pay people to write his college papers. Yes, she took the typewriter!

We will never know how much the suggestions of the British schools made you choose nursing. I am quite sure those words stuck with you. Dreiser, one of the worst writers when it came to technicalities was told to keep writing, that correcting papers was what editors were for. Thank goodness teachers can see who is a good writer.

Most jobs I had were not as a school teacher (have the certification), but having a MA in education was a requirement or put me ahead of the pack for some jobs I had.

JaneofVirginia said...

Yes, this is an issue in many places. I have a friend who lives in the Raleigh, NC area where there are the largest number of Phds compared to any other area of the US. This makes it very hard to get a job with only a bachelor's degree.
Speaking as a former college instructor, I don't think the higher the degree indicates more trainable. I don't even think it indicates more brains. I do think that getting degrees does entail a certain amount of frustration and annoyance. I think that when a company hires someone with a higher degree that they are not simply buying training or smarts. I think they believe they are hiring a person with a certain level of tolerance for annoyance and frustration, which is useful in most any job. In the forties such tolerance was simply called maturity !

JaneofVirginia said...

I was amused when I read about your friend. It reminded me of something my father used to tell us. In one of his jobs in corporate America, he had a secretary. My father had been a radio-electronics officer in WW2 and one of the skills he had is that he had to be able to type as fast as he could think as a radio telegraphist. In the seventies, when he needed a letter readied quickly, he used to send his secretary on an errand and complete the letter quickly himself, because he could type at 144 words per minute with excellent accuracy, and she could type as 45 words per minute with so-so accuracy.
My father had said that the "typing skill" which he acquired at about 16 took a long time for him to get, and at first it did not look as if he were going to be able to acquire the skill. Eventually, when he did, he excelled.
My mother felt the same about typing as your friend originally. She "had people" for that, and felt it took her off executive functions. She never did learn and had a secretary in her last job, until her secretary died, and then was not replaced.

kymber said...

Jane - being able to acquire new skills, even while in a particular job, is something that a lot of people don't think about. then when they are laid off, they continue looking for jobs in the same field thinking to themselves "well, i am a teacher" and therefore only look for teaching jobs. the same applies to some people who retire. jambaloney was a waiter/bartender while he was getting his BA in philosophy and then went on to become the executive assistant at a very prestigious IT corporation here in canada. while there, he taught himself everything he could about IT and all of it's technologies, eventually moving to a new company as an entry level IT analyst. as he kept teaching himself more and more - he has no certification in IT, he kept moving up in jobs and when we left the city he was a senior IT business systems analyst for the gov. of canada. but, as we knew for a few years before we left that we would be moving here, he taught himself how to work a chainsaw, learned about septic systems, gardening, etc. once we got here - well you know just how handy he is!!! his years of waitering/bartending have really paid off at our functions, he's done 3yrs of working on our friend's commercial blueberry farm and now he is back working in the IT field at LobstersRUs. i am just using him as an example of someone who never put it into his head "i have a philosophy degree" - i should be a teacher, or something along those lines.

another great post, Jane! your friend,

JaneofVirginia said...

Exactly ! You and Jam epitomize exactly what I mean. Of value in being successful not only in jobs, in entrepreneureal pursuits or in life, is the willingness to read about something, teach it to yourself and be willing to take additional training in something. Probably the best indicator of success is the willingness to be flexible. Of course, something approaching a healthy economy is also really helpful ! Thanks for your post.

lotta joy said...

That little paper of certification shows INTENT to an employer, but not ability. And lacking that paper keeps many people from rising through the ranks. You might rise to be working for someone who HAS the certification, but that's usually all you can do.

While on the fire department, I had great interest in everything involved in arson investigations. Eventually the Chief of Arson had me walking through the soot, taking photos, drawing the layout and pin-pointing the accelerating chemicals that were used.

My photos, paperwork, and deductions were submitted to court by the Chief as I stood in the peanut gallery. Anything I could have said in court would not have been considered laughable, but when presented by the Chief, he was lauded for his great abilities - when he had none, just the credentials,

When I look back, I was the dumb one after all. dumb dumb dumb

JaneofVirginia said...

Yes, a piece of paper may get one the interview, but whether one has the ability to do the job or not is what will keep the job, if you are able to get it. Most of us have done the grunt work behind someone who got the credit. Eventually in combination with "on the job training" and seeing which certifications and trainings an employer will pay for, we are able to move ahead.
You weren't dumb. It's the way most of us start and then we find other positions in other places where promotions and recognition are a bit more possible. Thanks for posting.

BBC said...

I never went to college, I learned trades and developed many skills and they served me well over the years, I also owned a few of my own businesses and did okay with them. Now I just live in my little cave and do volunteer work helping others on my own terms.

JaneofVirginia said...

Sounds like you kept and developed broad skills and have helped others with them also. I applaud that !