How to Turn Job Seeking into the “Mother of Discovery”

If “necessity is the mother of invention,” I think it’s fair to call job hunting the “mother of discovery.”

By Laura Mauney

A Very Busy Butterfly - by Laura Mauney

Photo by Laura Mauney

Wonderful stories of folks becoming successful entrepreneurs in the wake of recession-related job losses are published and shared every day.

Bravo to the triumphant!

However, there is another, softer value to be gained during an unwanted unemployment period; namely, the reward of catching and riding that exhilarating wave called “the learning curve.”

In my case, while job seeking after a 2012 layoff, I found myself wading through, day after day, hundreds of ridiculously explicit postings. The descriptions often included long lists of required experience in branded software applications, specific functions within commonly used software, and a thorough understanding of terminology that was more likely than not coined by some random blogger at some point back in the day.

Eventually, I realized that the high level of specificity in the descriptions was a post-recession tactic developed to quickly and easily weed job applicants out of the interview pool.

At first I felt both aggravated and intimidated, but not for long. Rather than write an angry letter to the Labor Department about the unfairness of it all, I decided – at the very least – to read up on whatever never-heard-of skill or software product cited in whatever job I was applying for on any given day.

As a result, I learned in-depth about all sorts of really cool stuff, like machine code, Scrum, Kanban, and PHP. I learned that project management has as much to do with building airplanes that don’t fall out of the sky as developing software and piecing together websites. I learned the meaning of a host of mysterious acronyms, like CRM (Customer Relationship Management), CMS (Content Management System), and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) – (oh yeah, that stuff!).

More importantly, and more relevant to my talents, skills, and interests as a content creator and manager, I made a discovery that has – in the end – facilitated my ability to succeed independently of HR hiring filters, and to develop an even higher level of polish and expertise in my work.

Cloud-Based Software Subscriptions are Like Layaway for Job Seekers

Clouds at Mashes Sands by Laura Mauney

Photo by Laura Mauney

Cloud-based subscriptions for productivity software are not necessarily cheaper than outright purchases of the machine hosted versions. However, for penny-pinching job seekers, the $10 to $50 per month charges make some of the best and most expensive state-of-the-art applications relatively affordable.

Here are a few of the advantages:

  • Cloud software is hosted on remote servers and can be accessed from anywhere, via smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers, including those at public libraries.
  • Cloud software is auto-updated so that users are always working with the latest features.
  • Cloud software is both bang-for-the-buck and eco-friendly. No more foraging through the garage for ten-year-old, dusty CD Roms for a software reinstall on an OS that might not accept it; no more losing an expensive download when an old PC finally decides to explode; no more landfill throwaways.
  • Cloud software is password protected.
  • Cloud subscription costs may qualify as business deductions on income tax returns. Verify the deductions with a CPA to make sure.

In my case, I inadvertently discovered the following cloud services while seeking information on specific job requirements. Though these services are probably old news to the most tech-savvy among us, for me, they served as a kind of awakening to the vast possibilities offered to us all by low-cost web-technology.

Microsoft Office 365

I discovered Microsoft Office 365 after answering this phone interview question: “Do you have experience with pivot tables?” My answer was, “No, but I can learn.”

Though I have an abundance of experience with Excel, I’ve never, ever had cause to make a pivot table, so that was the end of that job opportunity. Regardless, I went a-searching for a tutorial, just in case honesty turned out to be the best policy after all.

I immediately came upon Microsoft’s free and nifty online learning center and was able to master the art of making Excel pivot tables in about five minutes.

The tutorial page includes a promo for Microsoft Office 365, the cloud-based version of MS Office Pro. The subscription service offers 24/7 access to the latest versions of Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, as well as cloud storage. Though Microsoft’s low monthly fee is not as cheap as Google Docs (which is free), Word, Excel and PowerPoint remain the highest industry standard for office productivity and file sharing, in my opinion, and include complex features and user-friendliness that competitive software does not.

Adobe Creative Cloud

To prepare for another job posting, I went searching for Adobe’s marketing platform. As a result, I discovered Adobe Creative Cloud, a subscription-based service that gives creators full access to an array of Adobe design and production applications, including Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Premiere Pro.

Because I was exclusively self-taught in Photoshop and Dreamweaver and knew little about the other apps, I was reluctant to jump into the subscription. Before committing, I enrolled in adult education courses for Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. Lo and behold, the teacher requested that we subscribe to Creative Cloud on our home systems, so we could practice. The expense over the years since has been well worth it, if for no other reason than to have the applications at my fingertips when I need them for a project.

As for the many Adobe products that I have no cause to use as of yet, maybe I will finally get a chance to cut a film online, or develop that interactive children’s software I spec-ed out over a decade ago.

Grammarly

Similar to my discovery of Office 365 and Creative Cloud, I stumbled across Grammarly while pursuing information for a different purpose.

I’d just finished writing a for-hire blog post about a difficult and complex subject. My research included conducting multiple interviews with scientists, swallowing entire chapters of college textbooks and reading a multitude of online articles and Ph.D. dissertations.

A project that started as one story evolved into three. When the first article was ready to post, I went online to find a plagiarism checker, to make sure that I had not accidently failed to cite a statement or phrasing from another author.

Grammarly popped up early in Google search. For the simple reason that I like Grammarly’s Facebook memes, I clicked into the website and thus discovered the company’s cloud-based proofreading service. I felt truly blessed.

In addition to offering plagiarism checks across hundreds of thousands of web-based documents, Grammarly software can be used to auto-check one’s masterpieces for spelling, punctuation, and style. The grammar checker is more sophisticated than that embedded in Word, in that it calls writers out on poor sentence constructions and word misuse.

Better yet, Grammarly extensions will integrate – app style – with most word processing software, including Word, WordPress, email, and even the textboxes on social media sites. The software can be set to call out errors instantly, as one types, or turned on and off as needed.

This latter is my personal best practice for pro writing because I’ve been trained to develop materials in layered steps, with proofreading as the final step.

As an editor, I find Grammarly even more helpful. The plagiarism checker alone is invaluable for editors who are required to process material submitted by others. The proofing tools save hours of eye-straining time.

Did you just Read a Sales Pitch? Not at All!

Bird Birth by Laura Mauney

Photo by Laura Mauney

Office 365, Creative Cloud, and Grammarly are all key resources in my line of work, so I am happy to pay the monthly fees.

Other cloud resources are free and have proven to be equally useful to me. One of my favorites is W3 Schools, which I use routinely as a coding resource while setting up web pages in WordPress and Drupal.

What is your line of work? How can you expand your horizons during a job search? Are there free or easily affordable cloud-based subscriptions that can make your professional life easier?

To answer those questions, try researching any unknown terminology you find as you mire through job descriptions. You may learn much more than you thought possible, and find those overwritten and ridiculously explicit requirements easier to decipher, and more confidence-building than not.

You may even find yourself evolving into entrepreneurship. Bravo!

About Laura Mauney

Laura Mauney is a writer who thinks she is a photographer. Professionally, she specializes in online marketing, and creating, organizing and managing creative assets and user-friendly information for websites. She is also a mother. Her photo blogs include Flowers in Urbia and Trees in Urbia.

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