The importance of a biographical job list

H. Kent Craig on the importance of keeping a chapter-and-verse biographical job list

I have to admit to you — my loyal readers — and everyone else that I've been unemployed for some months now, and if anything, things are getting tougher and grimmer by the week. The most horrific of business cycles is still a cycle. And yes, things will eventually turn around. However, even if I'm often a seer at times, I'm not that good to be able to see that far over the horizon to be able to even remotely predict when things will actually turn around.

One consequence of this near-shutdown of new work in the pipeline, which we as senior estimators and project managers ultimately depend, has been that while a tiny handful of companies with a bit of cash on hand are still looking for the truly select opportunity to "cherry pick" top talent, what jobs there are for us and our brethren are so scarce that upfront requirements to even begin a discussion about possible employment have become tougher and tougher. One thing I admit I didn't see coming because of present circumstances is the now almost-universal demand for a "job list" in addition to your resume, references, etc.

In the past when recruiters would call me, the first thing out of their mouths would be a demand for a job list. At that point, I would politely cut the conversation short and not give them the time of day. After all, our community is so small that with a couple of phone calls we can find out pretty much the reputation, track record, etc. of almost anyone within our professional peer group. Add to that the fact that if you were a senior estimator during the past good times, you were bidding anywhere from three, four or sometimes many times more jobs than that per week. How and why would you possibly keep up with all that traffic on and off your desk?

And if you were a senior project manager (yeah, we all remember the "trophy elephants," the projects we still brag about, along with the "galleries of horrors," the jobs we wish we could forget) why would it occur to you that one day you might need to be able to show documentation on not just the kinds of jobs you were handling, but the actual names, dates, places, numbers, money, etc. of each and every project?

It certainly never occurred to me that this would be necessary, and I do regret not having seen it coming!

Let me tell you right now that in the past 90 days I've lost opportunities to get past the initial phone interviews for four different positions I was perfectly suited for, three sent to me from headhunters and one I stumbled across from a principal company, all because I didn't have a chapter-and-verse biographical job list.

But think about it … having grown up in the business and having been a part of it all of my adult life and career as both senior estimator and project manager, how many hundreds bumping into thousands of jobs have I actually estimated in one form or the other, and how many tens bumping into hundreds of those jobs put on the books by my numbers in the pre-construction phase did I manage post-bid-award construction?

Admitting I have a terrible memory so much so that at times you can drive the proverbial Mack truck through it, except for those aforementioned trophy elephants and galleries of horrors, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a ballpark number that more than likely wouldn't be either way low or way high. Let alone remembering at this point who the architects and engineers were on any given job that I previously worked on, the selling price of the job, the net profit from the job, the GC's project manager, the owner of the said job, etc. The specifics to remember could go on and on.

My point is that no matter where you are in your career, if you haven't been keeping what amounts to a near-autobiographical list of all the jobs your companies were awarded and a more detailed list of third-party verifiable breakout numbers and information about jobs you project managed afterwards, you need to start dragging old files out from the garage and racking your brain to start composing some sort of post-mortem job list. Chances are you'll need it when the economy turns around and companies begin hiring again.

And if you're early in your career, it will behoove you to begin keeping such a list in earnest now, because even when the economy recovers, potential employers will still have more supply of "us" than there will be initially a demand for. You'll have to be able to handle any challenge to possible employment thrown at you, including this old but new again in-spades paradigm of not just having a track record, but having it available in more or less traceable hardcopy so it can be scrutinized.

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via e-mail at [email protected].