The Glamorous Geek's Guide to Surviving the Real World
Winning Money, Success, and Love on a Planet Full of Jocks and Charmers

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Some truthy things to say to nerds.

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Aug 27, 2015   [permalink]


Those aren't gaps in my resume, they're wormholes!

One problem with the technology sector is that it's subject to gigantic boom and bust cycles, frequent assault from disruptive newcomers, routine bankruptcy for once-mighty players, and of course steady leakage of jobs and knowhow to third world countries where your competition doesn't expect shoes, much less free health care. This is not exactly a stable foundation for your greatness to build on. As a result, you're quite likely to experience one or more periods of unemployment between the end of college and the start of your voluntary retirement.

This is a problem, not only because it interrupts your income, depletes your savings, gets you behind on your mortgage and trashes your credit rating, but also (more seriously) because every day that you spend unemployed decreases your perceived desirability as an employee. The effect is exponential for the first twelve months or so, and then levels out into a classic S-curve.

Lookin' good

The longer you're unemployed, the less hireable you are. Don't let this happen.

At the time of this writing, 46% of the unemployed people in the United States are "long-term unemployed", meaning they've been without work of any kind for six months or more. Tough sledding ahead, I'm afraid; many of these people will be forced to accept pay cuts and demotions, retire early, or go back to school and train for new industries. Tech is an industry that eats its young; for every ten graduates that enter, maybe two will make it to retirement in the same basic sector where they started.

This means (a) you've got to stay nimble, (b) you've got to keep abreast of emerging trends and make sure your skills are up to date (hint: nobody needs FORTRAN programmers anymore, and in a few years they won't need JAVA either), and (c) if at all possible you've got to jump ship before they lay you off, not after. But that's a problem, too, because frequent job hopping will look almost as bad on your résumé as unemployment, so you've got to strike a careful balance here—something that doesn't come naturally but is highly necessary.

One possible solution is to always have a backup job waiting in the wings. I.e., a friend at a different company who actually has both the ability and the desire to hire you if you come on the market. Standing offers like this are not common, but they're also not particularly rare—especially if you're the worldly, formidable-yet-friendly sort of person I'm trying to get you to be. It never hurts to ask your friends this question, although if you do and they say no, or of they say yes but later reneg on the deal, you have no right to get upset. Working with friends is problematic, and you could be dragging their careers down in an effort to save your own.

The other possibility, if your employers can tolerate it, is to have a little side business always cooking. If you're a freelance writer or musician or actor, you may be between gigs but you're never really "unemployed", and if you're adept at picking up piecework on short notice then you can fill in the gaps on your résumé pretty easily. Employers may not be delighted to see "Beer Wench, Sheboygan Renaissance Festival, June-August 2013", with a month of spare time on either side, but it beats the shit out of a five-month blank space, and "I'd go crazy if I weren't doing something" is always an acceptable excuse.

Other good side businesses are things like day trading, or setting up a virtual retail business on Ebay or Amazon. Some people can make a lot of money this way—you might not need that day job after all!—but even if you make fuck-all, the attempt is great cover for a period of unemployment. You say: "I left company X and started a bookstore, but the hours are terrible and I can't quite afford to hire anyone. So I'm looking for something more stable." See? You were never unemployed, and you never will be!

Double-standard time again: if you're a woman with kids, you can always say "I took two years off to raise my family", and nobody can say boo about it, legally or morally or otherwise. We all have mothers, and nobody really likes being raised by minimum wage day care workers, or leaving their children with same. Heck, even if you don't have kids, you can say you just wanted to be a housewife for a while, and this may not put you on the corporate fast track, but it will at least get you past HR.

Tough luck if you're a single woman or cohabitating girlfriend, though; there's no such word as "housegirlfriend", or if there is it sounds more than a little pornographic. You'll have to settle for one of the other strategies, or else just be unemployed. Of course, as a single woman you're the sort of person everyone wants to hire anyway—especially if you're the worldly, formidable-yet-friendly person I'm trying to get you to be. See? It always comes back to that.

More anon.

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