References Required

Position requires seven to ten years of progressively responsible community development experience that includes a minimum of four years of supervisory experience. A Bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning, Public Administration or a related field is required (a Master’s Degree is preferred). Salary Range $107,232 – $150,125. Submit cover letter, resume and five professional references to Ms. [Human Resource Coordinator] (hr@[name of community].org), Human Resources Coordinator, City of [name], [address], [suburb in Illinois], IL [Zip Code]. Position open until filled. EOE

The above is the last paragraph of an advertisement for a job that I am going to apply for.

I have detailed my recent work-related anxiety, due to being transferred to a different department this month and being reassigned to a new, inexperienced boss fourteen years my junior after having been hired twelve years ago by a very respected, experienced and wise boss who is now in his early sixties.

As the days have passed, I have actually been feeling a little bit better about my new work assignment, department colleagues and office.  Not to the point that I am glad for this transfer, but the feeling is palpable.  I do not dread going into work every day like I did a few weeks ago.

Image result for perseverance symbol

I am a very resilient person in general and believe strongly in perseverance, to the point that I have printed out the symbol and word and put it up on my office wall.

This isn’t like I am surviving twenty years in a maximum security prison, going to battle in Syria or working multiple minimum wage jobs in a struggle to make ends meet.

I am a middle class guy and the sole author, CEO and peon of the Middle Class Guy blog.  I have a middle aged, middle class problem of having a stagnant career where my boss should be my underling.  But that is sour grapes.

I am a big believer of making goals and setting New Years Resolutions, and although it is only late July, I have already spent a few minutes here and there contemplating what my 2018 Resolutions should be.

One of them was going to be to seriously pursue at least two new jobs in my field should they become available  Of course, positions in my field of economic development only rarely come available as people in comparable positions in nearby communities retire, move out of state or are let go. Sometimes entire years go by without any comparable positions to mine coming available within a twenty-mile radius of my home.

I did spend three miserable years commuting thirty-five miles each way to a community, boss, Board and job that I loathed and despised, but that was before my current job and I do not intend to ever be put in that position again if I can help it.

My general plan, for any new readers, is to stick out eight-and-a-half more years in my current position or another comparable local municipal economic development position that contributes to IMRF, the retirement plan that I have contributed to for twenty-four years, in an effort to discontinue working for a municipal government.

Sometimes I use the word “retire” in quotes, but it is not really retiring if you seek another full-time position or strike out as a consultant at the age of fifty-five after toiling for thirty-three years in local government in one of the most difficult states to work, live and do business – Illinois.

So here I am, applying for a job that I do not think I will get.  Don’t be fooled by the salary range, which starts at about a thousand less than what I currently make and goes as high as I would ever hope to make at a paid position.  I would like to write that I would not take a new job for under $120 K, but I actually would.  My magic number is mid-way between the $108 that I make now and $120, so $114 it is.

But that is not where the problem lies.  Dreaming about a new job with more pay is the easy part.

Coming up with the names and contact information for five people who would not sell me down the river as references is the challenge.

Don’t get me wrong.  I could provide you with twenty great references. People who would gush about working with me, how helpful and friendly I was and remain in working with their business, and Commissioners that I have worked with for a dozen years.

But I do not necessarily want those twenty references knowing that I am contemplating leaving my position.  Some of them could and would use that against me somehow.

Sound a little paranoid to you?

Consider this.  I listed an industrial real estate broker whom I had worked with for about ten real estate deals in my community’s industrial park as a reference for a job that I really wanted to get but did not about six years ago.

In a recruitment that I have still not gotten over, a good friend of mine who is also a professional economic developer, and who I had listed as one of my five references for that position, ended up getting it.  It actually boiled down to the two of us and, although I like this guy a lot and he is fairly sharp, he is just a tad less sharp than I am.

Anyway, six years later he makes about thirty thousand more than I do and has had many more successes in his community than I have had in mine, mostly due to the nature of the community.  If you are the economic development person for Beverly Hills, you are going to have more success than the economic development person for Compton, no matter how hard he or she tries.

What the industrial real estate broker later did that rankles me is that he tried to squeeze a current property and business owner, one that had given me plenty of grief on her own over the years, to list her property with him instead of with another broker.

The property owner called me and told me that this broker claimed that he had “an in” with our Village government, was “personal friends” with me and that I would “send him more leads” than other brokers and would “ease things” for a new purchaser in terms of Zoning.

Well, the “personal friends” part I was kind of honored by, because this person is the owner of a very prominent and successful industrial real estate brokerage in the northwest suburbs.  Although someone who vouched for me as a reference does not really qualify to be put in the “personal friends” category when the two of us have never spoken outside of the transactions pertaining to industrial real estate in the community where I am employed.

After all, I do not work for Chicago and am absolutely incorruptible when it comes to my work. Even if I wanted to, I cannot look the other way when it comes to Zoning.  It could cost me my job if I let something slip in without proper Zoning, or I could at least end up in court years from now testifying as to how the business slipped in without proper vetting.

So What About Now?

As my mother would say, What does all this have to do with the price of tea in China?

Well, nothing to do with tea prices.  But what it has to do with is who a middle aged Middle Class Guy like me who has spent a dozen years working with the same people in the same community in the same position, whose name has become synonymous with economic development in the community, would list as a reference without half the town finding out about it.  Let alone my new boss.

So after mulling it over for the bulk of this week, and of course without naming any names, here are the five people who I have deemed would provide great references for me and would do minimal damage to my reputation and hopefully not hold it against me for applying to another community.  One of them is the person who I would have hidden my job search from the most for the past dozen years.

My former boss.  I still see him at some point nearly every day and respect him above all others who I have ever worked with.  I started off grateful to him for hiring me when I was in a nearly untenable position at another community nearly thirty-five miles away from home, working nearly fifty hours per week for much lower pay than he offered me, and working for a tyrant of a boss and mostly assholes on the Village Board.

As I have expressed my mounting displeasure for working for this community, where my former boss has now been employed for twenty-five years (after fourteen years elsewhere), he has even suggested that I might consider going for employment in another community.

He would provide a stellar reference for me; probably the best of the five. However, he is also the most likely to spill the beans at our place of work that I am going for employment in a neighboring community.  Oh well.  I am not a shrinking violet, and perhaps it could even help my case if the bosses know that I would consider leaving.

A Long-Time Commissioner.  I have staffed our community’s Economic Development Commission for twelve years now and have had dozens of commissioners whom I have worked with.  Two have stood out as particularly adept and thoughtful, and always contributed thoughts and ideas that would help our community and support our Staff.

One of those two commissioners is someone that I absolutely cannot use as a reference because it would alarm him and many others who I would prefer to not know that I am looking.  It could even cost me my job.

The other best commissioner that I have worked with is no longer on our town’s EDC due to moving out of the community.  However, she still remains one of the prominent bankers in town and is on the Chamber of Commerce board.  I often tell her that she was the best commissioner who I have worked with, which is true, and I know that she can and will keep it confidential if another community calls her about me and that she would provide another stellar reference, like my former boss would.

A Coffee Guy.  Our community controls a small vendor space in our Metra train station.  Thus, I have become the de facto landlord for a series of three vendors over the past ten years.

The third coffee, newspaper and baked goods vendor just completed a four year run yesterday and has now retired.  One of my major tasks for next week is to bring in a new vendor as soon as possible.

The vendor, a fellow middle class Jewish guy is perhaps the most chatty man that I have ever encountered.  I have stopped into his place of business to say Hi and grab a quick coffee, only to have to excuse myself twenty minutes later by claiming to have an important meeting while he tells me a long story.

He is one of the favorite people whom I have met and had the pleasure of working with in seventeen years of doing economic development and would provide a great reference for me, both as a favor and as a fellow Jew.

No, I do not have any contacts where we secretly transfer money around or control the media.  The extent of my Jewish guy brotherhood is my friend who ultimately got the job that I wanted, my childhood best friend who has become a millionaire working for a satellite company out of the Boston area, and the former coffee vendor who would provide me a very long-winded, albeit great, reference.

An Old Broker.  My office typically closes at 4:30 p.m.  I have become good friends with an older retail and commercial broker who has done deals in our community for going on thirty years, since I was a punk teenager in high school.

I mention 4:30 because I generally refuse to accept a call from him if it is 4:00 p.m. or later.  I have never had a conversation with this guy for less than thirty minutes, with the bulk of our conversations dealing with personal issues.  We know more about each others lives than any economic development guy and commercial broker have any business knowing.

I call him old because he has hit the Big Seven-Oh last year.   As he put it when he told me it was his birthday, “I am celebrating my twenty-first anniversary of turning forty-nine.”

He is a great guy.  I like him so much that I told him some very specific details about the biggest deal that I am working on, which is trying to fill a large vacant grocery store space in our community.  The reason being that it greatly effects the likelihood of one of his property’s key tenants in re-upping on their lease next year.  Probably not the type of news that the tenant would appreciate me sharing, but I did.  If the biggest tenant in a commercial building is going to leave in a year, I think that the owner, manager and broker for the building have a right to be aware of it.

Like my coffee buddy, I know that the old broker will give me a stellar reference but I also realize that he may talk about deals that he has done and talked about with me for a solid half hour.  If the HR person for this other town calls him, I would advise her to tell him that she has other calls to make at the fifteen minute mark.

The Other Broker.  Speaking of my community’s vacant grocery store space, I have become close with the broker who has been marketing that space for going on four years.  The broker is a she, and she is fairly prominent in the Chicago market.  She, too, can talk for quite a while, but she would give me a good reference although not as good as the above four persons.

Out of the four, she would be the least likely to talk about it with anyone else in town because she works with the most towns of any of my five references and it would be no skin off her nose if I went to the next town over.  She would probably just call me there on my first month to inquire about available space for tenant clients of hers.

I have not spoken with her for a while and hopefully it would not be too great of a shock to her if I would call her and alert her that I would like to list her as a reference.

What Phone?  I have made it a point to avoid using my personal phone to call developers, brokers and business owners.  Of course, I would tell my former boss in person that I have applied for a position and have listed him as a reference, but I would need to give a courtesy call to the other four references to give them a heads up.

I very much do not want the chatty broker to have my personal cell phone, so I am going to have to find some quiet office time, perhaps when others are gone for the day, to call him from my office phone.  The last thing that I want is for this guy to start calling me on my cell phone outside of work hours.

I would not mind so much the former commissioner having my cell phone because I do not anticipate her ever calling me unless she absolutely had to.  The coffee guy would call me more often, but he is done being the coffee vendor and I like him a lot.  If he called me at an inopportune time on my personal cell phone, I would just tell him that I would call him back.  For some reason, I would not mind him calling as much as the others.

I would also want to call the other, more prominent, broker on my work phone because I would not really want to speak with her on my personal time and dime.

It is a little bit of a trick bag, but at least I regularly call the two brokers from my work phone, so the calls to them would not appear out of the ordinary although the subject matter certainly would be.

Who Are Your Five?

Perhaps you are in sales and can easily list five customers as references.  If you have worked for another business for years and have made a good impression and have gained favor with customers, this might be a non-issue.

For middle aged guys like me who have been well-ensconced in a position for a significant amount of years, it may come as a shock to customers or colleagues to learn that you are searching for another job.

Most of the elected and appointed officials in our town would automatically react with thoughts and words to the effect of “What, isn’t [this town] good enough for you?,” “Don’t you like [name] as your new boss?” or “Why would you want to go to that town?”

I do not think that the one commissioner who I intend to use as a reference would say that, especially considering that she just moved out of town earlier this year.

My question to you then, is this.  Who are your five?  Are there five work-related references whom you would trust to both provide a great reference for you while also not effecting your current job?  Would they understand your desire or perhaps need for something better and/or higher paying? Would they think of you as unhappy with your job every time that they interacted with you for the next six years if you did not get the new job? Would they try to use having provided a reference for you to their advantage, like the industrial broker tried with me?

Just questions to ponder.  The Required References are not so easy for Yours Truly Middle Class Guy.



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