When Thomas Bello spent seven months out of work, he says he felt frustrated, angry and ultimately, defeated. Most of all, though, Bello says he felt unlucky. “I just felt like something always screwed things up at the last minute. Maybe I was late because of traffic on my way to an interview or I’d see a post for the perfect job the day after the deadline,” he says. “It just seemed like every time I got close to a job, something happened to mess it up.”
Bello isn’t the only one who feels that way. There are plenty of job seekers who blame their lack of employment on the proverbial black cat, that unseen force that can bring on misfortune, even if it can't be rationalized or explained.
“That's a line of defense for a lot of unemployed people. They don't find a job within the first few weeks and then they get frustrated and fall into a trap of blaming the unknown,” says Yvette Brown, a Chicago-based career consultant who specializes in marketing positions for start-ups. “You hear people say it all the time about other aspects of their life. Sometimes they just need to take a step back and realize that bad luck isn't really a thing, and finding ways to blame your problems on bad luck can only create more problems.”
That isn't to say Brown believes that everyone is in complete and total control of their own destiny when it comes to finding a job. “Things happen sometimes. You may be the perfect candidate for a job and then someone else gets moved to the top of the pile because they have better connections,” she says. “Sometimes it's odd little circumstances like your resume getting accidentally deleted or your interview being conducted by a person who doesn't really appreciate that the skills you have are actually the skills needed for the job.”
But guess what? That's life. “Things don't work in a paint-by-numbers fashion. Job searches are messy. You do everything you're supposed to do and the next thing you know, you find a job because you were buying diapers at Jewel at 1 in the morning,” Brown says.
And she should know. The Jewel anecdote is legitimate. “I graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in marketing and nothing was panning out for full-time employment,” she says.
One night, Brown ran to a 24-hour Jewel in Chicago’s Albany Park to buy diapers for her sister’s infant twins. “Her husband used to travel a lot for work so I used to stay with her when he was gone,” Brown says. “One night, I realized that they were down to one diaper, so at about 1 in the morning, I went to Jewel to buy some more.”
As Brown was checking out, the woman behind her struck up a conversation that basically resulted in Brown becoming a nanny for the woman's three children. After a couple of months as a nanny, Brown's boss suggested that she apply for a job at her company, which was looking to hire an entry-level marketing specialist. Brown interviewed for the job and was hired a few weeks later.
“Is that the opposite of bad luck? Is that good luck? Maybe. But the lesson I've always taken from it is that you aren't going to have any sort of luck if you sit in front of your computer and think that your job search begins and ends with what you see on your screen,” Brown says. “You have to get out there. Not every job will present itself in a traditional fashion. Sometimes you need to put yourself in situations that can lead to other situations.”
Bello agrees. He says his “bad luck” ended when he decided to volunteer in his daughter’s school for lunch duty. “I was sitting at home looking for a job and feeling sorry for myself and they were looking for volunteers,” he says. “It ended up being the missing link in my job search.”
One of Bello’s fellow lunchroom volunteers was Lauren Portis, who was pregnant with her third child and about to go on maternity leave. Bello, who was looking for a job in his familiar field of software sales at the time, struck up a friendship with his fellow parent and soon learned that she was actually in charge of finding her own replacement. Although she wasn't in sales necessarily, her job was focused on bridging the gap between tech departments and sales reps when companies needed new software.
“They were looking for someone to go in and put the tech requirements into layman's terms so the sales reps could fulfill their needs. I spend a lot of time tinkering with computers at home, messing with software, building websites, taking things apart and putting them back together, so really it, it was right up my alley,” Bello says.
The transition began almost immediately. “I volunteered in the lunchroom on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I went to work with Lauren, and she showed me the ropes of her job. When she had her baby a month later, I stepped right in.”
Portis says it was a godsend for her as well. “I wasn’t planning on coming back after my baby was born. My boss was the only person who knew and she asked if I could scout out a permanent replacement,” she says. “Thomas was the perfect person. He knew exactly what was needed.”
When Bello explains how he was hired for his current position, he says people tell him how lucky he was to find himself in the lunchroom at the right time. “But I didn’t ‘find myself’ anywhere. I got off my butt and went out to do something and found an opportunity,” he says. “That’s how things work. You don’t wait for luck to come to you. You have to go out and make some of it on your own.”
By Marco Buscaglia, Tribune Content Agency
Published in the Chicago Tribune on March 13, 2022