On the Train 19 – Redlands

Redlands, CA
2/24/2011

Olive Street

I wake up to an empty home. I clean up and get a call from Barney sometime before lunch. He’s coming to pick me up; he doesn’t want me or anyone to be around when Gigi’s mom comes back to the house. I ask him why, and he tells me about this time when she walked in on him having a threesome with Gigi in her bedroom. It’s been awkward ever since.

He takes me on a random drive around town. While on the road, he asks me how wild he thought things would get while I’m out here. I didn’t really know what he was getting at. Before we parked the truck on an open strip of road somewhere, Barney tells me that Al Gore bought up a bunch of property in this area.

full post…

On the Train 18 – San Bernardino

San Bernardino, CA
2/23/2011

The Mountains of Redlands

Before I knew it, I was at the train station in San Bernardino, and Barnhart, my host out there, was ten minutes away with his girlfriend, Gigi. “Don’t go exploring, you’re in gang territory,” says Gigi over Barnhart. “Gang territory?” (It kind of felt like a shady place to stick around.) “Yeah, you know, the Bloods and the Crypts do business out there. Don’t wear anything red.” I look down at my red plaid shirt, and I start to panic. “I’m wearing red. Come find me, now.” Gigi takes the phone and says, “Get yourself inside somewhere. We’re on our way,” and before the line cuts off, I hear her say “shit” under her breath.

I waited at the Doughnut King nearby. The nice Asian shop owner gave me some extra doughnuts with my egg, ham, and cheese sandwich order. It was terrible. I picked at it enough to get my fill just as Barnhart and Gigi arrived. I was so glad to be leaving that area; some kids were loitering outside the shop, giving me funny looks. Barnhart was driving a big white truck, holding a 64-ounce cup of diet coke from Circle K. We had a quick hug and shake, and I threw my bags in the backseat. Barnhart had a ruffled look about him, as if hadn’t slept much lately.

Barnhart used to work in real estate back east, but was originally from California. After a two-month solo adventure in Cambodia that almost got him arrested and killed, he returned home to begin more lucrative ventures. He started a delivery business that covers most of the area, and that has been his most recent passion project. For as long as I’ve known him, he has always worn Berkenstock sandals, in every occasion. Even in the midst of winter, he’d wear those sandals.

The drive was comical. Barnhart kept the 64-ounce cup of diet coke in his lap, and while driving with his left hand, he played the drums with a bound bundle of chopsticks in his right. The radio was not on, but still he kept a beat while asking me how things were going. The conversation was nice enough. On occasion he would drift into a separate conversation with Gigi, who sat in the back. The highway drive was dangerous like this, but I didn’t mind. My eyes were too busy looking out at the mountains ahead.

Don’t Panic #7 – Be Prepared to Network

Job hunting requires a modest amount of preparation. First things first, you need to get organized. Acknowledge your feelings about the transition from one job to the next. Assess your skills, interests, and goals. Establish a search strategy and develop measurable goals that will help you focus and stay motivated. Then get out there and meet people. It’s a process, but it’s manageable.

Don’t Panic – A Working-Class Guide to Employment

#7 – Be Prepared to Network

Preparation begins with research. Look at employment trends, like where the “hot jobs” are. Seek out companies that match those trends and exist in your area. Most of that information is easily accessible online, in reports from major news sources. Target specific companies/industries that interest you. Don’t just look at big companies; consider the small, local business equivalents as well.

Job searching is competitive, but easy when you know how to go about it. The four main methods to effective searching are Networking, Recruiters, Advertisements, and Direct Company Contact. Networking is by far the best method to find a job, and you should focus more of your time on this strategy. The other methods have a lower success rate because everyone else uses the same channels. Be prepared to network and connect with people to find a good job.

Networking is by far the best method to find a job…

Employers like to hire someone they know personally, or through an employee reference, especially when a position is not publicly announced yet. Many jobs exist in what’s called a “hidden job market,” and many never get publicly announced. Don’t panic, you can access these jobs through networking. The strategy for you is to connect with people, ask questions, and gather information from them. Networking does not mean asking for a job. It’s a professional “give-and-take” process that leads to a mutually-beneficial relationship. The key is to grow your network until you expose available positions in the “hidden job market.” Keep them aware of your presence, and make an effort to network in person, rather than over email and phone. Eventually, you’ll meet someone who can put you right in the hands of a hiring manager.

Networking can be laid out in six steps: create a contact list, a target company/industry list, set up networking meetings, prepare, conduct, and follow-up those meetings. Aim for a couple dozen contacts initially. Look for people within your professional, social, and familial networks. Don’t filter anyone, and follow-up with everyone. Target the companies/industries you’re interested in, and use your networks to make a connection. Consider the people you already know, and consider any companies they work for (or with) that could use your talents. There may be people within those companies you want to meet. Do your research; check out annual reports, news articles, and websites. Use that information to develop a rapport with your business contacts.

Don’t filter anyone, and follow-up with everyone.

Setting up a networking meeting is easy. Half the time you won’t have to set them up – they exist already, and can be found through social media networks. Join them – it’s a great way to practice. You’ll first need to create a “Networking Profile” for your contacts (upon request) that will offer a concise outline of your qualifications. Title it as such, as not to be confused with a resume. Resumes are usually received as applications, and that can work against you when it comes to networking. A profile, although similar to a resume, doesn’t include details of your career history. It should clearly define your goals, as well as the companies you’re researching. It should include an overview (3-4 sentences), core competencies, accomplishments, target positions, and target companies. For more information about resumes, check out my earlier post, “Don’t Panic #6 – Sharpen Your Resume.”

With a prepared Networking Profile, you can show your contacts how they can help you. Start over the phone, confidently, and work towards an in-person meeting. Be persistent. Make your calls early in the day. Plan ahead with notes, and seek outcomes, like interviews, referrals, and answers to questions. If certain contacts are unavailable, try them back. Some have receptionists, and you must work with them to get through to your contact. Avoid leaving voicemails, and avoid leaving your number. Try to get the names of contacts with hiring authority, or the contacts in fields you’re interested in. Keep your target company list on hand, and refer to it during meetings. Contacts may know people at companies on your list. Draft a script so you know what to say. Ask questions, and create a rapport. Consider exploratory questions that create some dialogue. What do you want to accomplish?

Be persistent. Make your calls early in the day.

Ultimately, your referrals will either become a personal contact, a professional within your target company/industry, or a decision maker within your target company/industry. Keep your contacts updated on your progress, and send thank you letters shortly after meeting them. An effective networking strategy goes a long way in not only discovering and getting a job, but in developing relationships with professionals you’ll want to grow with.

Don’t Panic #6 – Sharpen Your Resume

Resumes are a tricky subject, but nonetheless essential in your job search. For anyone unfamiliar with what they are, you have some work to do. Essentially, it’s a summary of your career history. It’s the professional outline of your value in the workforce, and it has to be perfect. Don’t panic. With a little help, you can sharpen your resume enough to cut through the hundreds and thousands of other competing applicants. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Don’t Panic – A Working-Class Guide to Employment

#6 – Sharpen your Resume

Your resume should contain a Background Summary, your Education, your Employment History, Accomplishment Statements, and Core Skills that are relevant to the job(s) you’re applying for. Some optional sections may include an Objective Statement, Honors received, Professional Associations you belong to, and any Publications you’ve contributed to. Each section should aptly support your resume. If it’s not relevant to your job search, don’t include it.

Before you create your resume, you really should assess yours skills. If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to check out my earlier post, “Don’t Panic #3 – Assess Your Skills,” to learn more about doing a self-assessment. This will help you identify the skills, needs, and values you want to focus on the most. It will also help you better address what employers are looking for.

Before you create your resume, you really should assess your skills.

Resumes come in three formats: chronological, functional, and hybrid. Each reflects your traits and skills in a particular way, so figure out what works best for you. Chronological resumes are good in most cases, since employers usually want to see what your most recent job was. It also helps when you’re last job relates to the positions you’re applying for. Functional resumes highlight your skills and areas of expertise; it lists your achievements by category at the top and summarizes your employment history at the bottom. It’s particularly good for those trying to change career paths. A hybrid, in essence, is a combination of the two.

Background summaries set the tone for your resume. It’s a statement about you, your professional areas of expertise, as well as your knowledge, strengths, and attributes. Whatever follows in your resume will simply enhance what you put in the summary. An example would start by saying something like “Project coordinator with seven years experience in fast-paced environments…” What follows should highlight your marketable skills. Sell yourself, enough to get the attention of readers.

Background summaries set the tone for your resume.

Your education and employment history are straight forward statements. Education statements should include your highest degree earned, your major, the school, and location. Employment histories should include your title, the employer, the location, and the dates of employment. Keep it clean and simple. Capitalize the company names and educational institutions to add visual appeal.

Accomplishment statements are critical components of your resume. They indicate your abilities, and give employers an idea of what you can do for them. Describe instances when you made a difference for previous employers. Don’t panic – start by brainstorming. What did you do in your previous jobs? How did you add value? What challenges did you overcome? Address a problem, explain your action, and highlight the result – that’s an accomplishment statement. When possible, quantify your results.

Address a problem, explain your action, and highlight the result – that’s an accomplishment statement.

Core skills, in my opinion, belong just after your Background Summary. While statements work, I found that listing your skills with bullets is easier on the eyes.

Sample skills may include:

  • MS Office Suite
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Data Processing
  • HTML/CSS/JS
  • Customer Service
  • Content Development
  • Search Engine Optimization

Be as specific as possible, and be honest with yourself. Limit your skills to between six and eight to save space. Whatever you end up adding, ensure they belong in your “core” set of competencies. Employers look at these, and may ask you to demonstrate or explain them.

Outstanding resumes are visually appealing. They’re also concise, unless there’s a need to expand on optional sections. Follow up on each job description with a couple accomplishments, and begin them with action verbs. Avoid flare, embrace white space, and keep things in the third person. Also, when it comes to saving it, Word Documents and PDF files are the preferred file formats. When applying to jobs online, you may have to copy/paste your resume into a textbox, so I recommend reviewing it in a textbox before submitting it. What you see, they’ll see.

Review it in a textbox before submitting it. What you see, they’ll see.

On the Train 17 – Los Angeles

San Bernardino, CA
2/23/2011

Morning Arrival

I feel a cold coming on. The lack of sleep, water, and nutrition is catching up with me. The last couple weeks have kept my body in a state of fast-moving culture shock, and at last, I’m starting to crack under the pressure. Maybe it’s the air. I was told by a couple people on the train that LA’s pollution can make people sick. It didn’t take long for the microbial bacteria to find another sucker to infect. I felt it give me a sore throat. I tried drinking lots of water while I was on the Metrolink to San Bernardino, but I was distracted by the need to capture the sights I saw. It was not always pleasant to see the transformation.

View from the Metrolink

Mountainous valleys are surrounded by wispy clouds. Lots are full of disassembled cars, parts, steel girders and rusting industrial leftovers. There are graveyards full of junk. Neighborhoods without end are full of track homes and swimming pools. Some of them are crystal clean, and others are murky, green, or bone dry. A lot of good and bad graffiti decorate the walls surrounding these track home neighborhoods. A small playground sandlot is in the middle of a dangerous area. A storage lot the size of several football fields holds a closet full of someone’s life. So monotonous.

A patio table and umbrella rest between two cars in a warehouse parking lot… A Zen rock garden rests next to basketball courts, next to an outdoor hockey rink, next to tennis courts, next to an open field, next to a parking lot, next to a gas station, next to a gentlemen’s club… A man stands around a barrel bonfire, under a tree, surrounded by children’s toys. A junkyard has a special hanger meant solely for car bumpers. A few first-generation trees remain in an empty plot of land. A dead bird cooks on the ceramic tiles of a Spanish shingle roof. I can stare at the sun because the clouds cover it just enough to look like a full moon in a clear night sky.