Job News

I’m happy to share that next week I will be starting my new position with the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort as a Digital Marketing Strategist. I’m excited to take on this new adventure, and grateful for the opportunity.

Looking back at my first job out of college: HomeTown Online

My first job after graduating from Central Michigan University was with an Internet Service Provider called HomeTown Online. The ISP was a subsidiary of the company which owned two local newspapers, HomeTown Newspapers. Our offices were located in the same building as the newsroom for the Livingston County Press, in Howell Michigan.

As a fresh college graduate with a journalism degree, I was totally thrilled to be working just a few doors down from an actual newsroom. It’s true that my job had very little to do with news reporting, but that didn’t dissuade me. I thought I would be there for a long time.

I feel as though I contributed some great new ideas to the company. When I began meeting with clients to discuss their website needs, I developed a standardized form which was designed to streamline the process of gathering information and developing a plan for their online presence. I restructured the design of the Livingston County Press and Brighton Argus website so that it looked a little more like an online publication. I also improved HomeTown Online’s marketing by designing newspaper display ads and produced a booklet which we handed out during a home show in Howell.

One of the biggest ways that I wanted to contribute was by helping the news staff think of innovative ways of packaging their news stories. At the time, the newspaper content I was publishing on the newspaper’s website was nearly identical to the articles which appeared in the print edition. I felt as though there could be ways to leverage the advantages of web publishing and provide online readers with more photos, bar charts, or maybe links to videos. Of course, back then the news content was most likely viewed as a loss leader which attracted potential subscribers, so I am not sure how much effort HomeTown Newspapers would have wanted to put into developing extra material. But, had I been given the chance I think I would have been able to help guide the company into the Internet age, either as a web producer or a digital content strategist.

As a business, I know that the operation had its problems. But, I feel like we were always able to offer the best user support possible, and we were slowly preparing HomeTown Newspapers for the digital age. If it had been given the chance, the staff could have continued to innovate and accomplish some great things.

I gained a lot of experience in the business world during my short time with HomeTown Online. I deepened my knowledge of web development, graphic design, and user support. I was also able to take on roles such as news liaison, and client representative, even before anybody recognized that these were needed. I was also proud of the design work that I contributed. I still have a HTOnline mug with the logo on the front of it.

Certain Set of Skills

After I learned that I was being laid off last September 2019, I tried to relate my situation to the scenario that Liam Neilson’s character found himself in “Taken.” Sure, his daughter had been kidnapped during a vacation in Europe, but luckily his character had “a certain set of skills” and a lot of dedication. I, too, had been through job losses before so I thought I would be able to draw from those experiences and find employment again quickly. I hoped I could find a new job quickly enough to make my job loss feel almost temporary, as though it was only a speed bump in my life.

I had until the end of October to wrap up my role. I spent the remainder of my time doing new work, and summarizing the information that others would need to have once I was gone. I was also signing up for multiple job boards, updating my resume, and increasing my presence on LinkedIn. Everything I thought I should be doing as I kickstarted my job hunt.

From my very first day of my job search, there have always been new job opportunities out there. In fact, they are so plentiful that it is easy for someone to overestimate their chances of getting a new position. Around Christmas, I was already noticing that I was sending out a ton of job applications and queries, but receiving a proportionately small amount of responses, even if you included the “I’m sorry, we’ve decided to pass on your as a candidate” type emails. I relaxed a bit during the holiday season because I knew that companies just weren’t going to be as focused on hiring around then. By then, I had had a few phone interviews and at least one near-miss, but it was already beginning to feel discouraging. As I had hoped, things seemed to heat up again in January and the responses–both good and bad–started to roll in. By February, I had a couple of job interviews for positions that I sincerely thought I was a good candidate for. Things seemed to be looking up.

Then, of course, our state closed down in March, and the rules for job hunting changed. Fortunately, unemployment benefits were increased and extended for those who needed them. But, by April I found myself competing with a much bigger pool of job seekers.

Now that it is August and almost a year since I was laid off, I feel as though I am Katniss from “The Hunger Games.” I’ve always felt as though this was a fight for survival–both professionally and personally–but I’ve never felt as anxious about my situation as I do right now. I know that there are others who are searching for a job, so maybe my situation isn’t so unique, especially right now. But, there isn’t much that I can do to help until I’ve gotten a job.

And, I am sure that I’ve made a lot of mistakes that have kept me in this situation. Maybe my cover letters weren’t snappy enough, or the format of my resume was wrong. I hate job hunting mostly because I feel as though everything I do as a job candidate, from the resume to the interview, is under close scrutiny. I know the point is to demonstrate that I can be a valuable contributor, but I can do a lot more than pump out a resume or answer questions about myself. I am a strong believer that actions speak louder than words, and in some cases I am just better at doing something than talking about it.

This is why I am hoping to devote a little more time towards my blog at http://www.jonmorgan.net, where I can cover aspects of my career that can’t really be addressed in a resume. I’ll also be continuing a couple of my other side projects, so I’m not just devoting all of my time towards the hunt for jobs.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

As I have talked to people and researched the best strategy for marketing myself during my job search, I’ve reached the conclusion that I should try to sell myself in the same way that labels sell the products that sit on retail store shelves. For example, the information on the front of a box of laundry detergent might claim that it “rids clothes of more stains.” Taking this analogy further, if the benefits I offered companies had to be condensed down and made eye-catching on store shelves, what would the labeling on my box be?

In many ways, this isn’t that far from reality. When I send in my cover letter and resume, I am in fact competing with thousands of other professionals who might also be just as qualified for the job I’m applying for. When I fill out an application and attach my resume, my hope is that it promotes me in the same way that packaging attracts customers in the stores.

I’ve filled so many different roles in my twenty-two years as a professional that it is hard to boil down what I can do into a couple of simple lines. Many of my jobs evolved over time, and in other cases I evolved to fit the responsibilities that I was given.

About twenty years ago, the finance director for the organization I worked for at the time asked me what I did. I don’t remember exactly how I replied, but I remember being flabbergasted and a little insulted that she was asking me that. First of all, my title seemed self explanatory: I was the Website Coordinator, and worked for the Communications department. I managed the organization’s website and other electronic marketing. In retrospect, however, it was 1999 and the Internet wasn’t as critical to businesses back then as it would be now. And, my role was a relatively new one. We were also gathered inside one of the conference rooms, and were in the process of filling out postcards which would be sent to members asking them to renew their membership.

My response was most likely unsatisfactory, because a few months later my role was outsourced and I was downsized by the organization. I’ve often thought about this brief encounter with regret, wondering how much this had to do with the decision to make this change, and if there could have been anything else I could have said to change things. But, if it’s conceivable that the wrong words can cost me an existing job, then they become so much more important when trying to obtain one.

If I had to pick out one role I’ve filled consistently throughout my professional career, it would be “facilitator.” That’s because I’ve always found myself in a position where my key contribution was to ensure that things kept moving smoothly, or that projects were completed on time and efficiently.

When I worked for my first job at HomeTown Online, I fulfilled my main duties which consisted of answering user support phone calls and building websites for clients. But, I also took on the responsibility of meeting with clients and helping them to plan out their websites. I also worked on marketing material which promoted our company’s services. I also volunteered my expertise to the news staff who worked in the front of the building and sat in on their meetings, with the goal of providing them with insight on how to present news stories on the web.

At the Michigan State Medical Society, I applied my skills I learned at HomeTown Online towards my communication with co-workers and managers from different departments. My work may have been steeped in a lot of web development terminology, but at the core I needed to listen and understand departments’ needs and produce finished products on the website which met them. I also participated in a number of committee-run projects which related back to my work for the organization.

The work at Special Olympics Michigan was somewhat similar to what I did at MSMS, however as the Website Developer AND Public Relations Assistant, I gained some experience serving as facilitator in the real world. I planned banquets, invited keynote speakers, and coordinated with celebrity guests during the state games.

Dow Chemical is where I picked up additional skills as a user support specialist, but when I connected video conference and audio calls I was basically a virtual facilitator. We would routinely connect a call early and check in with meeting leaders in case they had any questions about the room’s equipment. Later, I served as a real world facilitator setting up rooms for any meetings that were scheduled to take place there, and overseeing the equipment.

The definition of facilitator fits with my role at EduGuide, too, but I think that it came about as a part of my evolution. When I started there, I had gone through several job losses, and one major move north. My experiences had taught me to be far more careful. I focused most of all on better understanding my managers and seeking out ways to contribute. It was my chance for redemption for the mistakes I had made in the past, but I think it was also a sign that I had opened my mind to new perspectives.

My biggest moment of clarity came about after most of the organization’s middle management had left. For a while, I was always working underneath a manager. During those times, I helped them by keeping track of details and following up on tasks that they didn’t want or have time to worry about. For example, early on I took on the task of managing our development backlog, communicating change requests to the development team, and answering developers’ questions. Later on, our project manager introduced the idea that I should begin running quality assurance testing, so I did that too.

But, as my managers left the organization, my responsibilities grew to fill the void they left and I realized that I would no longer have a middle manager to bring my concerns to–I had to go all of the way to the top. So, from that point forward I was helping to coordinate the web operations for the entire organization.

I continued to operate with a service mentality. I identified opportunities or risks, and asked a lot of questions about our projects. I also followed the virtue of “managing from below.” I felt a strong sense of ownership over my responsibilities related to quality assurance, user support, project coordination, and user documentation. There were several occasions when my proactiveness saved the organization time or money.

I currently serve as the public relations chairman for the Shepherd Maple Syrup Festival. Although this role involves maintaining a website and social media assets, I often find myself serving in the role of facilitator. During the last three years that I’ve held this position with the committee I have been guiding the organization towards a stronger public relations strategy. I’ve also worked with student volunteers during the last couple of years, putting me into a more managerial role as I’ve directed their work.

If I had to boil all of this down to the type of promotional labeling you find on a package, I would say that I am the type of employee who will help to improve your company, either through a positive growth-centered attitude, or my contribution to the company’s mission. Whether you are the World’s Greatest Manager, or someone who is looking to improve as a manager, I can help you with that. I am conscientious, experienced, and knowledgeable in the ways of technology and business. I am open to new ideas, and eager to learn.

My resume tells a broader story about my skills, but I do believe that if you are looking for someone who can understand project requirements, manage resources, and deliver results in a timely manner, I’m the right person for the job. And, I’d be happy to get connected.