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Why It's Totally OK to Take a "Job"

"Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs. Many people today resent the suggestion that they’re in charge of the way they feel. But trust me, those people are mistaken. That was a big lesson from when I worked on a show called “Dirty Jobs,” and I learned it several hundred times before it stuck. What you do, who you’re with, and how you feel about the world around you, is completely up to you.”

~ Mike Rowe (from the show Dirty Jobs), as interviewed in The Big Lesson Mike Rowe Learned Several Hundred Times

This article totally reminded me of a pivotal time in my own career that really made a difference where this kind of attitude helped me a TON. Once upon a time there was a woman named Aimee...

New City, New Life, New Career?

I moved back to my hometown of Portland in 2005. With a successful HR career in Santa Barbara, I'd never had a problem getting interviews. But recently divorced and no longer able to cover the $2500 rent on the house in an area where average prices topped $1M, I decided it was time to return to my hometown I'd left in 1994 and start a new chapter. Get a job, buy a home , and explore the wildly evolved version of Portland that was now much, much different from where I grew up.

So before moving, of course I thought I’d land a job, THEN move. I applied, and applied, and applied for HR jobs at nearly all levels. And as many folks looking to move to a new city discover, employers often have plenty of local candidates and are highly distrustful of out-of-town candidates, and tend to only talk to them if they’ve run out of nearby people. It was the infamous “black hole of recruiting”. I learned that in Portland, HR professionals were a dime a dozen. (FYI, when I left Portland, I was still in retail).

Not to be defeated by the chirp of crickets, I contacted the agency recruiter who had placed me in my current job, who introduced me to their Portland recruiter, who in turn offered to help. Now, temp work was never something that scared me. I knew it could lead to good things, as my first HR job started out as a temp-to-hire position in the Advertising department! With this and my 7 years of lateral moves within Nordstrom, I knew just getting your foot in the door and proving yourself could open all kinds of new doors.

I was definitely still scared, of course. Leave my comfortable, secure HR job in the most perfect climate to return to my hometown where I had no guarantee of work and no financial backup? I’d never done something so risky in my life! Y’all, I’m a planner to the core. So how would I do this? I certainly couldn’t fill out apartment applications, since I had no job, and hell, to make it more complex, I had my beloved Rottweiler, which wasn’t going to make it easy since they are a breed usually banned. So I reached out to my uncle in Portland, someone I barely knew to be honest, to see if he might be willing to let me crash til I landed a job. He loved dogs so said yes, so sight unseen I made the plan to go live in his attic.

I left Santa Barbara's blue sky, driving north along the ocean to my left, wearing a tank top and shorts the day before Thanksgiving, arm out the window, dog in the back, on the road. Arriving after 11 years away, it was more like a place I'd seen on TV than my hometown. My attic room was up a tiny, narrow staircase that did not fit the box spring, so we crammed the mattress up there and a few boxes of clothes, and everything else went to a tiny storage unit. Oh yeah, did I mention he was on dial-up? But I figured hey, within a month or so I’d have a job and be putting money down on a house, right? Hahahaha...

My first week in town, the recruiter offered me a part time recruiting temp job which I snapped up even though "just" doing recruiting at the time seemed silly. My desire to stay busy drove me to also research and signed up for short term temp gigs with 4 agencies, asking for $10/hr minimum, availability to work anywhere in the city, and open to every time of admin job. I’m so glad I did this! During this first month, along with sourcing for the agency recruiters, I temped in so many roles, including...

  • Receptionist at a PR firm

  • Holiday front desk backup at a real estate agency

  • Stuffing envelopes for a marketing mailer at a wine distributor

  • Shared front desk for a radio station

Because I was open to everything, I met a LOT of people I *never* would have met otherwise, and more importantly, I was able to continue to pay my student loan and credit card bills. It kept me…ALIVE. And because I worked my arse off and responded quickly, agency recruiters kept me at the top of the lists for when new temp jobs opened up.

Eventually my part time gig at the staffing firm paid off, leading to a 3 month HR contract with the City where again they had me focus on…recruiting. Hmm. What was it about recruiting? I'd done it before of course as an HR manager, but didn't think I was a specialist. But...I was really really good at it, and started to realize the stress of “the rest of HR” – comp, performance, employee relations, etc. – had evaporated. I'd arrived in, as I called it, The Happy Side of HR.

Six months into Attic Life, the staffing agency offered me a full time position. First they offered me an abominably low rate, and when you know what you’re worth and what the market pays, you’re not going to take a job far, far below it. It’s one of the biggest things I learned from staffing agency work, that most of the people they hire have no recruiting background and often come from customer service they don't pay squat. Having already recruited for a long time as part of my HR work, I wasn’t going to be lowballed. I let them know I’d be happy to stay temping, but again reminded them of my minimum base salary requirement. Two more below-market offers over the next couple of months, while I was simultaneously crushing my numbers with zero benefits and zero commission. I told my boss, I want to buy a house and that’s the base I need to get a very basic small home in the city, and I wouldn’t negotiate down from that number that also was right in line with the market for that type of work. Offer number four and they gave me my minimum. I accepted on the spot, my AM literally bowled me over with a hug and a month later, I bought my house. Not exactly the path I'd predicted, but worth it!

I moved in to my new home in Summer 2006 a single, happily employed woman, having transitioned from HR to Recruiting. I learned a lot about what I was capable of, living minimally, taking risks and being open to possibilities. After trying a new focus, I learned I had a real ability to excel as a senior recruiter, using my customer service skills from my Nordstrom days to my inherited-from-dad “tell it like it is” mentality to using my 7 years of HR now as a strong foundation (and street cred) to make the process easier, more fun, and efficient for both sides. With commission I ended up making more money than I ever had in HR, and made great friends along the way. While agency life ultimately wasn’t the best fit for me, I knew when I went onto my next job a little more about who I was and what I was capable of.

And not only that, I learned that sometimes “just a job” could lead me to a whole new career...15 years later, who'dathunk!

Amen to that.

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