Waiting for the Phone to Ring?

Don’t wait for job opportunities to fall in your lap

by Russell T. Westcott

Whether you're employed or unemployed, if you are waiting for the phone to ring or for an email to arrive inviting you to explore a new job opportunity, you are awaiting a miracle. And we all know how often a miracle occurs.

I’m often completely surprised—and actually, a bit appalled—when I talk with an acquaintance who makes statements such as:

  • The boss knows how valuable I am. He or she will let me know when an opportunity comes up.
  • I worked for the organization for 25 years. The layoff is temporary. I’ll be called back soon.
  • My boss gives me good appraisal ratings. I should be able to work here until retirement.
  • I told my boss I was interested in moving to a better-paying job. He said he’d look into it.
  • The product we produce will never become obsolete. I’m good for years to come.
  • I’ve done my job for 22 years. Why should I worry about my skills?
  • I put in for the latest job posting in my field. They’ll call me when they want to talk.
  • I don’t believe the current changes in technology will affect me now or ever.
  • The government will come up with a job solution that will get me my old job back.
  • I don’t understand all this high-tech stuff and don’t see why I should learn about it.
  • Traditional jobs and skills will last forever, or at least my lifetime.

Some of my acquaintances go to their job each day, do the same thing and go home again. As far as I can tell, they do absolutely nothing to improve themselves or make an effort to develop new skills and knowledge. These folks are moving quickly toward personal obsolescence. They have no future goal other than to last until retirement.

The employment picture

The economy appears to be improving, and employers have begun to hire. But the surge in employment is dwarfed by those who are still unemployed. And a large percentage of the unemployed are not employable—that is, they lack the skills and knowledge now required in the industries that are hiring. They are awaiting a phone call that may never come.

If you expect your employer to put a ‘job guaranteed’ stamp on your personnel folder, forget about it. If you’re waiting for an organization in a declining industry to call you out of unemployment, or if you expect the government to introduce a magic pill for unemployment, forget about it.

We have undergone a massive change in the last few years. Because the economic crunch has forced organizations to reexamine how they produce and deliver a product or service, these organizations have learned how to make do with fewer employees.

Other organizations have switched to more viable products and services to fit the changing needs of customers, requiring employees with new skills and knowledge. And some organizations have disappeared entirely. Thriving employment is now found in high-tech organizations, healthcare, some educational environments and survival-needs organizations (such as those offering food, water, energy and security).

Recent college graduates and other young professionals have found that establishing their own business is a smart way to go, aided by their innovative mindsets and new technologies.

I advise you to look in the mirror and ask yourself:

  • Do you have a goal or goals for an improved lifestyle five years out?
  • Do you have near-term objectives to build toward achieving those goals?
  • Do you have shorter-term action items leading toward meeting those objectives?

If not, why not? If you don’t have a vision and direction, measurable objectives and action plans, what do you have that will transform your daily drudgery to something more productive and satisfying?

Case of complacency

I am reminded of a man that knocked on my office door a few years ago. He opened it and said: "I heard that you do cover letters."

"Yes, my career coaching activities include guiding people in how to create cover letters," I replied. "But I don’t write cover letters for others."

I invited the man to come in and discuss his situation. He revealed:

  • He had been out of work for almost a year.
  • An outplacement firm hired by his former employer composed and sent out 150 letters for him to its list of potential employers. This is a common practice, but the unfocused content of the letters combined with the questionable quality of the mailing list often means the applicant develops false hope for what is a futile effort. These letters might generate only one or two interviews.
  • He had been on two interviews in the first month of layoff.

At his former employer:

  • He was hired as an inventory clerk to keep track of a nuclear substance.
  • In recent years, he was promoted to a supervisor of the same work unit.
  • He had been working for the organization for 35 years.
  • He had never attended any of the in-house education courses the organization offered.

Overall, the man demonstrated a lack of interest in bettering himself or exposing himself to new opportunities:

  • He and his wife had no children, so they were not involved in any activities that having children often entails.
  • He read the headlines and sports page of a daily newspaper.
  • He couldn’t recall ever reading a book since graduating high school.
  • He and his wife did not travel.
  • He did watch TV—mostly news and sports.
  • He was waiting for the phone to ring about reinstatement to work—work that was no longer available.

Compare this man with another client of mine, John, a former manager of an auto dealer’s parts and service work unit, who was laid off as a result of massive downsizing in the auto industry. With mounting family expenses, he realized there was little point in seeking work in the automotive field. Moving swiftly, he researched fields that were still viable.

He learned that by taking a short-term educational course and passing a license exam, he could qualify to enter the healthcare field. Within six months, he transformed himself into a healthcare applicant and quickly landed a position with a premier healthcare facility three miles from home.

He’s not making as much money as with the auto dealer, but he is collecting a decent weekly paycheck. His multiple talents have been recognized by his employer, and he is most certainly headed for a promotion. To keep his hand in the auto industry, he performs auto repairs after hours.

In short, the 54-year-old unemployed man who knocked on my office door had almost nothing to sell to a future employer, other than faithful attendance. He had no goals other than getting paid again and no inclination of the futility of his lack of efforts to improve himself. I told him I would be stealing his money if I worked with him and wished him luck.

If you’re waiting for the phone to ring—don’t. It won’t.

Russell T. Westcott, based in Old Saybrook, CT, consults on strategic planning, project management, quality management systems, work-life planning and career coaching. He is an ASQ fellow and ASQ-certified manager of quality/organizational excellence and quality auditor. Westcott is editor of the CMQ/OE Handbook, third edition, co-editor of the Quality Improvement Handbook and author of many articles. He also serves on the Quality Management Division Advisory Committee and ASQ’s Thames Valley Section executive board.

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