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Verner column: Job search tips from Mary Easley

Poor Mary Easley. The former governor’s wife has been gnawed to death by the attack dogs of the media, publicly humiliated and, in the ultimate outrage, deprived of her ability to earn a livelihood. Right now, she’s about as popular as a deer tick at the Westminster dog show. And for what good reason? While a few minor irregularities have surfaced in her hiring at N.C. State University, on the whole, she followed the rules and did everything right.
You don’t think so? Consider how the job-hunting experience of Mrs. Easley perfectly conforms with the advice today’s college graduates are being given as they march across the stage into an unusually bleak economy. It’s tough to differentiate yourself from the herd of other hungry job-seekers, but Mrs. Easley managed to succeed by showing astute awareness of some basic realities.
– The best jobs aren’t advertised: Mrs. Easley’s critics have made a big deal out of the fact N.C. State offered her a job that had not previously been advertised ó or even previously existed. But what is the constant refrain coming from placement offices and employment firms? Don’t wait for an opening to show up in the classifieds or on an Internet jobs site. Then, you’re just one of the masses, blindly sending out applications and resumes hoping to get a response. Clearly, Mrs. Easley is among that rare breed who not only dare to dream big but know how to turn dreams into reality. As a child, she must have spent countless happy hours fantasizing about someday overseeing a speaker series and running a safety center at a major university. (This dream is second only to that other cherished fantasy of pre-pubescent females: Marrying a governor with a flair for coastal real-estate deals.)
She didn’t just dream, however; she acted. Rather than waste her time rereading “What Color Is Your Parachute?” or cruising the “help wanted” lists at Monster.com, Mary Easley took control of her own destiny, and that takes gumption. OK, technically it took Gerlach. That would be Dan Gerlach, Gov. Mike Easley’s senior advisor, who contacted the head of the political science department at N.C. State on her behalf ó “feeling him out,” in Gerlach’s inspiring phrase ó but the take-away lesson remains: Don’t wait for your dream job to magically appear. Send out feelers. If possible, send them out through a highly placed state official to employers who rely on gobs of government funding.
This brings us to another key lesson from Mary Easley’s highly efficient job search.
– Network, network, network: How often do you hear it these days? When it comes to landing a plum job, it’s not a case of what you know but who you know. Like many job seekers, Mary Easley probably discounted her circle of acquaintances initially, thinking that none of them could possibly help her. Sitting there in the governor’s mansion, trolling for old law-school classmates on Facebook, she probably wondered: Who could I possibly know that might help me get a new job?
A less resourceful individual might have become mired in negative thinking. But, as the experts tell us, treat everyone you meet as the potential mentor who might help connect you with an employer. You never know what casual remark might lead to life-changing opportunities.
Imagine how differently this might have turned out if Mary Easley hadn’t suddenly realized the importance of including friends and family members in her job search. What if she hadn’t looked across the breakfast table one morning and said, “Mike, honey, I’m thinking of changing jobs to get a major pay bump and a shorter commute. Let me know if you hear of anything.”
– Just get your foot in the door: Even after taking these proactive steps, Mary Easley didn’t simply wake up one morning and find herself holding a $170,000 per year job with a five-year contract. No, she woke up one morning and found herself holding a job that paid a mere $90,000 per year, with the high-stress uncertainty of only a three-year contract. No doubt, she was tempted to walk away from such bleak prospects. But she knew the same values that had gotten her the job would also help her expand its possibilities and rewards. The obvious lesson for other job seekers: Don’t be afraid to take a ground-level position, even if it doesn’t offer the salary or security you had hoped, or include a loaner Honda from Rick Hendrick.
Unfortunately, no matter how diligent one’s efforts, some events are beyond our control. Despite following these proven job-search strategies, Mrs. Easley was terminated last week ó not because she had done anything wrong, N.C. State officials emphasized, but because of the recession. This is an especially cruel blow considering that she and her husband also recently lost their public housing. Sometimes, life just isn’t fair ó even for those who play by the rules and try to work within the system.
– – –
Chris Verner is editorial page editor of the Salisbury Post.

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