Elizabeth L. – Career Paths: the Short Road Less Traveled

At 52 years old and after 29 years into my full time working career I look back and wonder how l ended up where I am today.

My goal when I first began my career was to work about 30 years or so with the same company until I was able to retire. My Dad’s work history in Sylvania inspired me to think that this would be a possibility for me, too. Now I look at that goal and see the humor, especially because my initial path was within the music business which, of course, we now know has had its decimation in recent decades.  I lasted about 9 years in that industry. I began in retail management, moved to a small music company behind the scenes—a receptionist/exec assistant and ended in a larger independent music distributor as executive assistant.

By 2000 I gave up on the idea of staying in the music business for what I thought would be a more solid career, and took a job with Doubleday Direct. This was a direct mail company that housed various book clubs that the public could join and, as you probably, remember members buy several books for a small amount of money with an obligation over the next two years to buy a certain amount more. Then the goal was to retain the customers after they met their obligation. I started out as a Media Buying Coordinator but soon moved over to Traffic Coordinator or, as they first called it, Promotion Administration which was a team who ran schedules for the production of mailings going to both current and new members of book clubs. It was multitasking, meeting deadlines, solving problems and working with many people. The first 7 years were great. We bought our competitor, the Book of the Month Club, and merged with it to be known as Bookspan. The company seemed profitable and there were lots of company camaraderie and perks!  Any former Bookspan people today will remember their days working there fondly and wish they could find a company as comparable. I loved working with all the various departments, working in a team setting to help each other out and meeting deadlines even when there were some stressful times.

By 2007 it seems the company wasn’t doing as well as we thought. We fell behind in the industry when the company decided not to get involved in the new “electronic” book market. Our corporate company Bertelsmann merged us with other direct mail companies, BMG and Columbia House. Since they had merged a few years prior and turned a profit, they were hoping combining with Bookspan might work, too. Unfortunately it didn’t. In December of 2012 my department was eliminated and we were laid off with a maximum package of 8 weeks.

The massive unemployment rate resulting from the banking fiasco of 2008 was still pretty prominent. The government agreed to give unemployment extensions past the typical 26 weeks. I was advised to go to my local career center and take advantage of any free courses they gave to benefit my future employment. Needless to say, as a result of the mass unemployment, they were very busy. When you met with intake counselors they automatically asked you if you are willing to take any job right away. My answer was no, I was going to hold out for another job in my field. They set me up with a career counselor named Gloria who reviewed my resume, gave me suggestions to tweak it and set me up with a local job seekers marketing group that met in Farmingdale once a month. Even though my position wasn’t marketing it was still extremely helpful to have this group to network with and it did warrant a couple of interviews. Although they didn’t lead to an offer it was still good practice.

During this time I took classes in Photoshop, Indesign and PowerPoint to keep me familiar with programs that I’d be either working with or programs any creative team would work with.  I networked and uploaded to job sites learning the challenging craft of updating my resume to match keywords that a job listing might have and keeping an ongoing list so if the Department of Labor wanted proof that I was looking, I could show them.

After 5 months I was offered a job with Estee Lauder as Traffic Coordinator for their flagship brand website. I sought and accepted the job because it was a Traffic Coordinator position which was similar to what I’ve done, and Estee was a big solid company that’s been around for awhile. This was a newly created position for their team and I now surmise that they weren’t sure who I should work under, since my first boss was Director of UX design. I really didn’t have connection to her but I did work with the Project Manager of ecommerce and the International ecommerce Manager who also worked under her. In addition, I also worked with both retail and email marketers as well. All projects were domestic and international campaigns that had to be created, reviewed and launched onto the Estee Lauder sites. The creative team that worked on these campaigns were located on 59th Street. I worked in the 23rd Street office.  My daily routine became going uptown every morning for a half hour meeting with the creative team to discuss active projects and prioritize their work. Between multiple layers of approval and decision makers in endless meetings this proved to be a challenge. One year into the job the Director of UX was laid off due to the completion of the new site and I was now working under the Creative Director. After 20 months in the job the Creative Director and his boss VP of sites explained that they were changing the role. My skill set no longer matched. I was given a package and, once again, by February of 2016 I was out of a job. I now can see where they were hoping that I would have enough initiative to work with all teams to keep projects on schedule. I also had to learn the subtle art of working for a large corporate company and the nuances of who to connect with and who not to. I didn’t show my true potential of what I knew I could do. They probably needed a different type of personality for that role and, yes, different skill sets.

My first instinct proved successful. I reached out to my network right away, letting people know that I was once again looking for a job. One of my former co-workers from Bookspan reached back and said there was a similar position to what I did at Bookspan. This was a small ad agency that was about 21 years old and their major client was a well-known life insurance company. They produced monthly mailings that were sent out to both current and new clients. The job was temporary with a possibility of becoming permanent. I came in for an interview and was offered the job that next day. I was back working in less than a month since losing my previous job. I picked up the process very quickly and established good working relationships with all departments as well as the external client and printer. I was respected right away for my adaption to the company processes. By the fall of that year I was offered a permanent job but, unfortunately, due to the company having a very small budget, I could not afford to live on the salary they were able to pay so I had to decline. By February I was back looking for another job.

I once again reached out to my network to let them know. I also kept in touch with the career counselor I worked with at my local career center. She had since retired from that job but was offering night classes in job searching as well as free advice via email. She told me to reach back out to the job seekers marketing group I was previously working with and advised me to connect with another network group via LinkedIn called LI Seng, a job search networking group. I also took a refresher course at the local career center.

About two months into the search I found a job on LinkedIn for a Traffic Coordinator at J.P. Morgan. Again, I thought, a good solid company that’s been around for awhile and a similar position I’ve done. Some of the job description fit me and some I would have to learn on the job. One was metrics, the other was SharePoint. I mentioned this at the interview. The team interviewing me, I guess, didn’t seem to mind because I was offered the job and by May of 2016 I was working full time once again.

Although J.P. Morgan offers an array of various online classes to help improve your skill set, these two new tasks for me were not that easy. The metrics, as I was shown by one of the designers covering it, was simply refreshing the document for new data to populate through. I did not have to actually run pivot tables each time as the pivot tables, charts and graphs never changed. When the system changed, it was a struggle which led to lots of mistakes and learning curves to understand the relation of the charts and numbers. This did not go over well with my manager, who by August was commenting point blank, “My expectation of you is very low.” As I tried to take various online courses to improve my skills and continued to make mistakes, my manager continued to make negative comments including, “I don’t trust you.”

In addition to the reporting challenges, I did get the hang of the SharePoint content management system. However, communication was not so clear with my manager about next steps for the yearly update. When I met with her in December to discuss next steps she berated me for being late with next steps. The updated site launched in February, which by the way, is when it launched the previous year as well.

At this point my feeling was I could find a cure for cancer and my manager would find something wrong with it. I’m pretty sure she was done with me. After two improvement write ups, and many phone calls with Employee Relations, I was terminated in September 2017.

So back to pounding the keys on my laptop, networking and trying to get into the career center again to once again brush up on some programs. My lesson to take away would be I’m not necessarily  good at my own initiative. I do need some guidance in the beginning and some initial helpful feedback to know I’m on the right track. As much as my intention was good to “learn on the job” I really shouldn’t commit to that if I don’t know I can. The two previous jobs for Estee and J.P. were essentially solo Traffic roles. The successes I’ve had were working with teams and processes in place. So with interviews and phone calls I now know what questions to ask.

My sister suggested I reach out to a temp agency. It would get me some gigs and money and you never know if that can lead to something. I signed up with Long Island Temps. They got me on one temp job as a marketing surveyor. It was interesting temp work and I kept in touch if they ever had anything else.

It’s February 2018 and I’m at the career center waiting to take a class, and my phone rings. It’s my rep from Long Island Temps. One of the versions of my resume I submitted to them was for Customer Service Rep since I had done that for 13 years with a part-time weekend job I recently had.  Sure enough they were calling about a Customer Service Rep gig at a food manufacturer 10 minutes away from my house. It was a temp to perm job and the pay was decent for Long Island. The role is similar to Traffic as it’s a lot of meeting deadlines quickly, multi-tasking, problem-solving and working with many people. I am part of a team and they train you on the job. I’ve been a month into it, and as I tell people “so far, so good.”  I’ve picked the process up very quickly, the people are nice and appreciate my work. Ironically it’s a combination of two major food manufacturers that service distributors to restaurants and retail who have both been around for many decades. Due to the merger we are outgrowing our warehouse, so they are moving into an additional warehouse and they are hiring more people, including recently an HR director.

OK, so things seemed to be working out. “So far, so good” is my attitude. With a growing company, however, comes growing pains. The girl who is my counterpart and I can cover each other’s work when needed. She was over-tasked and ready to quit until they hired me to help take some work off her plate. She liked how quickly I picked up the job and decided to stay. However with new people and training on the fly, the set processes that worked in the past didn’t run so smooth. This was frustrating to her and stressful when mistakes on customer orders were being made and process was not followed. In addition I was learning that I have to be more careful with numbers so some of the billing I was doing was taken away from me to concentrate and getting pricing correct when processing orders.  By August she gave notice and will probably be gone by the end of October. To make matters worse, with the end of summer comes the season of bees, specifically yellow jackets! We manufacture sweet syrups which were improperly disposed of outside and which attracted these insects, who made their way into the building and specifically my office!  The first day I left early. The second day a few of us confined ourselves to a room that wasn’t affected.  By the next week the other girls braved it in the affected room by killing as needed (every day) and I stayed confined. I provided a doctor’s note that I was allergic to bee sting when requested and I’ve been confined to a back room since. This year has been especially warm. Now into October, they are still there and the daily killing continues. Two people were stung, but luckily had no bad reaction. My overall view of this company has soured tremendously so, needless to say, I will keep my resume active and keep looking. Even after the bees are gone there will always be next summer and next bee season.

What are my next steps? Do I work back in New York City or does the Island provide a decent paying job in a medium size company that won’t fold?

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