Starting Over, from the Bottom

I divorced in 1989 and found myself unemployed with two very young boys to care for. I had no desire to stay here alone without family support. I also had an issue with the divorce decree: I must reside within 250 miles of my current town in South Carolina.  So while that rule went immediately under appeal, a three-year process, I began my job search.

Having an engineering degree and a professional engineering license would prove to be assets, but first I had to job search, something I’d not done in ten years. Required to maintain a certain radius just compounded my search.

My good friend, Debbie, and I went to the public library one day to look at the atlases to plot my options. I pulled out a compass, drew a 250-mile radius from the town’s center. Fifty miles out into the Atlantic Ocean had its attraction. Way out from anyone, cruise in occasionally for visitation, what’s not to like? OK, so that went into the pipe dream category.

Huntsville, Alabama, fell just inside the circle. I remembered it to be somewhat of a Mecca of engineering and technology. Companies from Huntsville didn’t recruit at the University of Oklahoma, but news of this town burgeoning with space and military industries made the engineering rounds. At the time I didn’t pay any attention to it because there was so much attention from other area companies begging for my talents.

I never forgot about Huntsville and as I pondered my future and the need to garner employment and get closer to Oklahoma, Huntsville jumped out as a candidate. I knew with the abnormal concentration of engineering and confident that I could get a job there, I made plans to move my family.

My Honda sedan was filled to the brim with all of that stuff the movers refuse to put on their van: cooking oils, furniture and kitchen cleansers, those kinds of things. I also had room for my two boys and two dogs. Thankfully the total weight of the dogs was less than thirty pounds. I felt like I needed my mother in a rocking chair attached to the roof of the car to make the move complete.

An earlier house hunting expedition to Huntsville garnered a rental home in a nice neighborhood, so we spent minimal time in a hotel upon arrival. Soon our new household was set up, strangers became neighbors and then I was ready to search for a job.

My parents drove in from Oklahoma to help me set up the house and watch the kids while I looked to start up my career. I had a handful of resumes and beat the pavement only to find out I could barely get inside the door or past the receptionist. I read the newspaper and mailed resumes to various companies advertising for employment opportunities. Nothing worked.

I stopped by the big companies in the area, including Boeing, and filled out applications attaching my resume and thinking I’ll never get on there; everyone tried to get on with a Boeing. The benefits were huge. My parents grew impatient, but they just didn’t understand the new dynamic to getting a job in engineering. It takes time and while I had money to keep us afloat, I too was growing restless.

I started saving my energy and calling companies from home, asking for the chief engineer. That didn’t fare much better until I hit upon a consulting firm in Huntsville. I spoke with a really nice man who suggested I call a firm in neighboring Decatur, about a thirty-mile drive from Huntsville.

A call and an interview later, I had an offer. The job didn’t pay much compared to other engineering jobs and the benefits were minimal, but it was a start until something better came along. It was in familiar chemical plant territory, too

So you might think my great personality and persuasion skills finally landed me on the plus side of employment. Actually that Professional Engineering license I had earned five years earlier turned out to be the commodity this consulting firm was looking for. I never thought that my PE license would ever help me out, but it became my salvation when I needed it most.

You just never know where the winds will take you, but you have to stick your neck out to catch the wind in the first place. Being armed with a resume full of the right stuff, the engineering degree and the PE license, didn’t hurt either. Finish that degree or certification, even if it doesn’t fit with your current career aspirations. Those plans can turn on a dime. It happened to me.

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About stemzandroses

I'm an engineer and writer with a built-in need to share my nearly 40 years of experience working in a male-dominated field with the rest of the world.
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