Over the past few months I've been swimming around in those murky waters called ‘The Place Between Point A and Point B’. We've all had that unsettled, uneasy feeling for different reasons, including things like when will the house sell, why hasn't the doctor called or what if I don't get the job offer? It's the weight of that big question mark that drags on us and makes the waters hard to navigate.
Having an art studio in a guest bedroom has been an unsatisfying arrangement to say the least, not to mention the resulting isolation that comes with it. I wanted more to share about my day than ‘we have a new mailman!’ So I decided that there might be a job out there that would use my professional skills and not suffocate my artist spirit. The giant question mark then became what was this job and how do I find it?
And the more I thought about jumping into the job market the more I realized I was way out of the loop. I mean, really, what's the latest with LinkedIn? Do people still use the phone? What do you mean that computers scan resumes first? And do I dare mention ‘artist’ or does that imply insanity?
I clearly needed guidance on the modern-day approach to all this, and met with April McHugh through the Job Search Support Group offered by Adult Career & Special Student Services, part of the Division of Continuing Studies at UW-Madison. April is a Career & Educational Counselor, and in her words, ‘helps people with ideas, choices and direction to lead the life they imagine.’
Well, that about sums it all up, right? So, as you can imagine, April and her colleagues offer amazing advice, resources, feedback and support, all free through the university. I could describe some of these programs here but I'd rather focus on one conversation and the powerful nugget of wisdom I came away with: FUN.
Wait, you say, fun? As in enjoyment? Positive energy and feeling happy with your day? In the context of a job search? Yes. And here's what I learned.
Sometimes the fastest way to point B or the job situation you really want, is by taking on what's called a “bridge job”. This kind of employment doesn't have to be in your desired field, it could literally be anything that keeps you engaged and brings in some income while you continue your search. However, April has three criteria she shares on how to choose a good bridge job. Number one: use skills you already have to stay fresh and keep improving. Number two: take on new skills with an eye towards what appeals to you. Number three: look for work that feels fun to you. Think about what you enjoy and go in that direction. So what could this approach look like? A part-time position in a specialty foods shop or wine store could be a great bridge job for someone with a background in marketing and a love for cooking. OK, I'm starting to get the picture and it doesn't seem as daunting.
April also shared the importance of knowing who you are and sharing your unique qualities so that you can stand out from the competition. The old mindset of job searching focused on literal details as your point of strength. Titles, skills, techniques and measurements were key. While these things are still important, she emphasizes that this modern-day job market is about wrapping all that good stuff in your own unique, interesting, and in my case, artistic package. And when you tap into your own version of ‘fun’, you will get more clues about what this ‘who you are package’ looks like and how you can make it appealing to a prospective employer.
So, just as I was feeling greatly relieved at the idea of having fun and being myself, a wonderful studio space found me and pulled me out of the murky in-between waters and over to my point B. I put the resumes away and recalibrated my focus. However, I will use everything I learned during my time with April and her group, especially the refreshing advice to stand out instead of blending in. I will admit, though, LinkedIn still has me confused...
April chose this fabulous chameleon as the GEM (Good Energy Maker) she wanted to share. If you remember, chameleons are lizards that can change colors depending on their environment. April notes that folks in the midst of a job search can have a tendency to change how they present themselves to the world in the hopes of landing a job. This little guy reminds her that helping people find their own true color and work from that perspective is the point of being a good career counselor. That's pretty much the best thing you can say to any of us, especially an artist.