I first heard the thunder in the distance last June, when the company's new human resource director called a meeting of our education team members. “I just want to let you know that I am in charge of customer education now, and that I will not be spending any more money on outside training,” she said with a chilly air of confidence. “When the summer conferences are over, we will reevaluate the department.”
No one else seemed to hear the distant rumble — steady, threatening, but still far away. Was it just me?
September 7, 2004 8:15am
“We need to have a difficult conversation. Please come into my office.”
I'm not sure how I knew, but I did. This was the moment my life would change. At the word “difficult,” my stomach lurched.
This woman didn't know or care about how I had built up the meetings department at this company. In the past few years, I had expanded my role to the point where I was always included when we developed new external educational meeting plans. The look, procedures, and hotel locations were my jurisdiction. I had complete control over the registration process and. In 2003, we were recognized as the first in our industry to offer such extensive product and business-building training, and we were even the subject of an article in an industry magazine.
None of that mattered once the HR director had made her first big executive decision at her new company — to get rid of me. My successes, my passion, my job — gone in a flash.
September 8, 2004
I thought that with my emotions in turmoil and what felt like the endless retelling of my story, I'd sleep well — at least as an escape. But I was up by 5:30 a.m., as I had been the previous week running events in Chicago. Had I really traveled seven out of the last 10 weeks?
The morning light on my face highlighted the toll that yesterday had taken. Note to self: Keep up with moisturizer and makeup each day!
Armed with my favorite cup of java, I took my first step: I created a new e-mail account. My Internet service provider allows for multiple accounts at no extra charge. I wanted to come up with a name that reflected the meetings industry. I had never had the time before to think about something like that — now I did.
The name that makes me unique, I thought, is my last name: Ruby. I love that name, and I enjoy the fact that it's a favorite gem. My new approach, should I decide to be an independent planner, would be to provide gem-like service. Hmm. Ruby Meetings. Sparkle, shine, hardness factor. Maybe I could even do gem-levels of service, like the “Sapphire Plan” or the “Ruby Plan.” (I could think that part through later.)
Within several hours of using my new online identity, I knew I had made the right choice — someone replied to a note I sent asking me if I was an independent meeting planner. That idea had always been in the back of my mind, but now I could research the possibilities more seriously. Another note to self: Start researching independent meeting planners and networking with them.
I needed to hit the Internet and the newspaper, and let all my MIMlist buddies know that I was looking for work. I remembered the job search e-mail that the MIMlist gets weekly from M.S. Browning. This listing of resume resources, books to read, job Web sites, and keyword searches is wonderfully comprehensive, and its suggestions for meeting-related word searches revealed opportunities I hadn't thought of (see box below). I considered some of her examples: education program coordinator, conference services,events. Wow — I could do this!
My next step was to sign up on job search sites Monster and CareerBuilder, with focused searches. I chose them first because they're so easy to use.
I spent about half the day on the Internet and the rest receiving calls from astonished former co-workers. The other thing I did was clean my house. With all this turmoil, I needed to get my personal life in order. I guess the house is a space where I can assert my authority. And if I get tired enough, I thought, I won't have to face the grief.
September 15, 2004
In the past week, I have fallen into a forced rhythm of getting myself out of bed, eating a proper breakfast, and taking the dog for a long walk before sitting down to search the Web. My poor dog, Pumpkin, doesn't understand the paces I have put her through as I try to run away from feeling unwanted. Also, she's used to sleeping all morning while we are at work, something I never knew until now. Oh well, it will be good for both of us.
This morning I arranged my inbox in Outlook with a folder just for e-mail related to my search. My family — my husband, Bob; daughter, Heather, a nursing school student; sons Eric, a high-school senior, and Brian, a sixth-grader — will appreciate not having to sort through my job-hunting messages as they read their e-mail.
It was thrilling to get the first response to my resume, but I knew right away that it wasn't the job for me because I don't want to commute an hour each way. (Our home in Willow Grove, Pa., is about 14 miles from downtown Philadelphia.) Nevertheless, I decided to interview for it.
I realize I did that because I need to feel wanted, and to make sure I hadn't lost the “energy” for the meetings world after a week out of work. It has been nearly four years since I last interviewed, and I need to get back in practice. What worked before — and what is my new strategy? That's what I need to find out, whether it takes two interviews or 200.
I also realize that I was so used to running with my “hair on fire” that coming to a dead stop after traveling seven of the past 10 weeks has been difficult. Can I muster the energy needed to market myself?
September 21, 2004
My husband just concluded a successful job search, so I decided to figure out what I could I learn from him. Far from an avid reader, he had picked up a great little book called Sixty Seconds & You're Hired, by Robin Ryan (Penguin Books, 2000). It includes a section about an event planner looking for a job. I had read it casually this past summer, not taking it seriously. It took about two weeks for me to remember we had it and about two days to really read it.
This book was instrumental in helping my husband to prepare for his interviews by memorizing a condensed promotion — what the author calls “the 60-second sell” — along with preparing an agenda and answering standard but sometimes unnerving questions in advance.
My husband got the job he was looking for within three months. Maybe if that old dog could learn a few tricks, I could, too.
September 29, 2004
My first interview went well enough, but I had not considered a new trend in interviewing — having the whole gang present. I wasn't prepared to meet with six people. I'll know better next time.
The interview was for a management position that I was almost qualified for. I am used to reaching for very high goals, so I tried for it. But I didn't have all the experience they needed. Then again, in my last job, I didn't start out thinking I was going to end up being the company's event coordinator — I started out as a part-time administrative assistant.
The questions they asked were typical, but will help me in my next interview. I know I'm not going to get this one.
October 1, 2004
As I order my days, I find myself with the teenage phone syndrome. Remember when you would sit by the phone, willing it to ring? When not willing the phone to ring, I have been tasking the “send/receive” icon on the computer a little too hard.
October 5, 2004
One of the benefits of my new situation is that the aforementioned dog has been getting a little more fit, as have I. Sunshine and exercise are great mood lifters.
It's not that employers are calling in droves, but that I have finally accepted my lot. And I have finally allowed myself to believe that I will find a great job.
As a result of my posting on the MIMlist, I received a call from a local travel agency handling corporate incentives. Would I be interested in a short-term contract job? I can certainly use the money, but do I want to take the time away from the job search and potential interview appointments? Should I focus only on the future possibilities while an actual opportunity is courting me? Could this be a trial period that might turn into a “real” job? Possibly.
October 10, 2004
I interviewed and was hired for the job. The contract begins in mid-October and will last seven days.
As I continue to poke around the Internet, I find myself constantly challenged to lower my expectations, both about dollars and job type. I have been seeing ads for administrative assistants who plan meetings, coordinators who plan meetings, and executive assistants who plan meetings. These positions might not seem in line with my skills, but could I take a job and redefine it? Of course! That's what I did in my last job!
I worked in a training environment, so I will redefine my Web search with words used in that context.
October 14, 2004
I received another phone call, this time from an employer who was looking for a meeting planner “lite,” someone to set up a four-hour meeting at a local hotel for 10 people. From the phone interview, I was passed on to the next “hire” — higher up. After a few very pointed questions, I was told that I was overqualified for the posted position, but was asked if I would I be interested in hearing about another position. So now I have another interview set up. Good work!
My contract job, which started the other day, includes basic office rituals and tasks for the upcoming incentive meeting. When I got back after the first day, I was exhausted. I wondered how I could possibly get through an entire week at work. That thought struck such fear in me. What if I cannot get back to the pace I kept before?
On a visit to my husband's new job the other day, I met all of his higher-ups. “I hear you're looking for a job. Have any luck?” one of them asked. That question is still embarrassing to me — even now.
“No, not yet,” I said. “I'm waiting for the right opportunity.”
“What type of job are you looking for?”
My answer started slowly, almost shyly. Then the excitement welled up within me once again as I described my perfect meeting planning position. In my mind, I vowed to renew my search with more vigor. And I realized that my story is just beginning …
Kimberly Ruby (firstname.lastname@example.org) is based in Willow Grove, Pa. As this issue went to press, she was still searching for a job.
Surfing the Net
In addition to searching the well-known, high-traffic job sites such as Monster and CareerBuilder, meeting professionals can search for positions at sites specializing in this industry. A good first step is a visit to the two meetings-specific search companies: The Meeting Connection (www.themeetingconnection.com) and The Meeting Candidate Network (www.meetingjobs.com). Meeting Professionals International has a job bank, available to members and nonmembers (www.mpiweb.org/resources/jobs/results.asp), as well as links to other hospitality industry job sites. On & Incentives' Web site, meetingsnet.com, our “Find a Job” section has dozens of listings from mediabistro.com. The best source for temporary positions is www.meetingtempjobs.com.
Here are a few common keywords to get you started: conference coordinator, director, manager, planner; convention manager; corporate meeting; event coordinator, manager, planner, planning; exhibits; meeting manager, planning, planner, specialist; program coordinator, specialist, manager; special events; tradeshow.
Kim Sells Herself
Kim shares five of her “pre-answers” to typical interview questions, based on advice from the book Sixty-Seconds & You're Hired by Robin Ryan (Penguin Books, 2000):
- Describe your ideal supervisor.
“The management style that suits me best is one that allows me to be the most productive. I love to be a team player, but I also enjoy autonomy, and taking the ball and running with it. I flourish with this approach, and enjoy meeting and exceeding the management's expectations. The ideal supervisor would be willing to give feedback so that I could grow in the position.”
- Describe a difficult co-worker.
“We all have had difficult co-workers. One in particular was having difficulty with my rise in the company, and we had to share an office. I decided that as long as we had to work together, each day I would take five minutes (during my own break time), no longer, to listen to her woes. This accomplished two things: She felt valued, and knew I would listen intently to her problems. Within three days, the acrimony was gone, and she became productive and more focused. “
- What about your last job bothered you the most?
“I have found that every job has some pluses or minuses. In my case, since I was somewhat isolated on the second floor, some in the company didn't have a clue about what I did. I took an opportunity to write a piece for the internal newsletter — not tooting my own horn, but just letting everyone know what it was that I encountered, and what I did for a living.”
- How would your last manager describe you?
“He would describe me as Hercules. This may sound funny, but he called me that often, due to the amount of work I was able to accomplish in my multiple roles as meeting planner, registration personnel, and more! When we were setting up for our conference, I would push around huge crates. I am very short, so he thought this was a Herculean effort — it sort of looked funny, too!”
- What was one of the most difficult situations you faced professionally?
“Finding out at 2 p.m. while in baggage claim that the hotel at which I had arranged a meeting had decided to move my entire sleeping room block for that night and the next four nights to another hotel. The company president was an hour behind me at the airport, so I had no way to contact him (no cell phone on the plane!). I was able to contact everyone eventually — there was no immediate way to move everyone back to the hotel — and make them aware of the situation. My next step was to call a meeting of the hotel management and let them know how I would expect them to step up and execute the remainder of the meeting. I also had them write letters of apology to each attendee and provide an in-room amenity. I was eventually able to have the original hotel pay for all of the sleeping rooms at the new hotel for the entire length of the conference.”
5 questions that might take meeting planner candidates by surprise:
Give me an example of a time when you had a last minute request without the time or resources to get the job done — but didn't have the choice to say no.
To see how they handle stress and last-minute requests
When you open the paper on Sunday, what section do you go to first, and why?
To learn about the interests of the candidates, both personal and professional
What can you do for us that other candidates can't?
To find out what skills the candidate feels set him or her apart from others
Can you discuss a meeting or event for which you stepped out of your specific area of expertise?
To find out how resourceful a candidate is at getting information beyond his scope of experience
Describe a perfect day at your current or last job. When were you most satisfied with this job?
To see if the candidate's criteria or job satisfaction fall within what the new job entails
Source: Dawn Penfold, CMP, President, The Meeting Candidate Network Inc.