Fine. Fine is the word I use to describe myself whenever someone asks. I don’t use it in the culturally significant “Damn, she’s fine” way, nor the iconic passive-aggressive use of the term for a wife to tell her husband he has done something stupid.
I use it, dear reader, because in this very moment, at 11:17 a.m. on the first Wednesday in October, I’m just fine, thank you. I am not actually bleeding, wanted by the FBI or out on the street with nowhere to go. And yes, there is a point to this post, which I will get to at the end of the next page. But first, a few tangential stories.
Last December, my company had a series of lay-offs that occurred in short succession like college track try-outs. Unfortunately for me, I only made it through the first two rounds and found myself, for the first time since I was 14, unemployed. I, like the other 9% of Americans, ran out to get another job. Now, dear reader, I can imagine one of two looks on your face. You either have a look of concern, which means you have a job, or a sarcastic smirk which means you don’t. In either case, I appreciate your reaction.
Needless to say, one year of project management experience, even with a fair amount of marketing mixed in, did not go far in the 2009 market. I added an internship, and then another, and finally went back to hunting full time this August. Well, job-hunting full time when I am not slaving away in retail, hurriedly following the barking orders of a Boston University mother desperate to get her freshman outfitted for school. (The belts always look inviting- either to beat the customer or to hang yourself in the shoe closet.)
Moving right along, life hasn’t been, shall I say, merry and bright. I lost ten pounds to stress and without make-up, my aunt says it actually hurts to look at me. I spend my days on Monster and LinkedIn searching for an opportunity that isn’t old, a scam, or a staffing company. I live with my phone attached to my hip in the hope that it will ring. They say interviewing is extremely stressful, trying, and hard on self-esteem. I have been averaging two interviews a week for 10 months and can confirm that diagnosis.
After some quick math, I am sure you have to come to the conclusion I am the world’s worst interviewee. I can assure you that is not the case. I always hear things back like “Brindey had a strong PR and Communications background and was outgoing and energetic,” and “You have an infectious personality, filled with enthusiasm that I absolutely love!” Then, I hear things like “chose a candidate with more extensive print experience,” “I was in CA when they chose the candidate to fill the position,” or no response at all.
I get these latter responses because there are so many of us looking for positions. People with 10 years of experience are applying for entry-level jobs. To compound the backup, companies have learned to get the work done with a smaller workforce and are slow to hire even in the growing economy. Those people that are hiring have more work on their desks than ever before, and so the hiring process is drawn out and ends in something my boyfriend calls analysis paralysis. On top of that, a few companies taking advantage of a young workforce desperate for experience which happened at my last internship: they let go of the paid employees and brought the unpaid interns in for a meeting on how they were going to pick up the slack. Yes, reader, I’m serious.
But enough about me. This post is not about me. This post is about you and where you fit in this current market. Because here is the awful truth. Even though the past year has been the hardest year of my life; a Sisyphus-inspired journey of applying and interviewing and hoping and finally hearing the subsequent variation of the word “no,” I know I am not alone. I am not even close to alone. Those other 9% of Americans probably wake up crying like I do twice a week and have resorted to pathetic manifestations of self-worth such as cooking (I, a 15-year vegetarian, currently have a pot roast in the oven) or cleaning (I meticulously ironed and de-pilled all my sweaters last week.) I am not alone at the stove, the helm of a vacuum, or curled in a weeping ball under the covers. I am not alone standing in the checkout line at Staples because I have used up yet another ream of white linen paper for resumes. I am not the only one without returned telephone calls from interviewers. This worries me.
I find it difficult to imagine that HR departments and hiring managers all over America can be so callous with the individuals making time to come in to meet them. I find it disheartening that those individuals with jobs have so little tact when dealing with those who do not. Beyond the interviewer/interviewee relationship, I find the friends surrounding us 9% to just not get it. This is why, patient reader, I have sat down on this partly-rainy Wednesday to share with you a few requests and to give you a glimpse, if you haven’t had one yet, into the emotional state of an unemployed person.
I ask you, if you are someone interviewing people, to treat us how you would want to be treated. I understand you do not owe us anything, but a call back is appreciated. Don’t clog up career-finding sites with old or bogus jobs. And pyramid scam people are evil. That is the easy part. The harder part of this post is explaining what I wish and hope from the friends of job searchers.
First, I haven’t ever turned the television on. I don’t enjoy being at home all day, nor do I find it restful. I don’t want to hear the phrase “look on the bright side” from someone whose life is currently lit up like Las Vegas. Also, as banal as this sounds, the phrase “at least,” sucks. “At least your car wasn’t towed for street cleaning” is a mute point if the reason your car was still parked on the wrong side of the street at 12:03 on the third Wednesday of last month was that you worked the overnight shift and arrived home at 7 a.m. and with only 5 hours of sleep you, still dressed in your see-through camisole and boxers, got to beg the tow truck drivers with a big smile and hugs to put your car down so you could move it around the block…and subsequently walk home still nearly naked, ticket in hand to pay with an income derived from folding clothes.
Listening is what I hope for. Networking, encouragement and the forwarding of appropriate job posts is what I hope for. Compassion is what I hope for. Job searching in this market has made me- and again I am not alone-fragile, bitter, and hungry. Fragile in the sense that every comment, suggestion and email feels like a personal attack. Bitter in the sense that there have been no lights at the end of my tunnel and looking up takes more and more energy each day. I have to be happy during my two interviews each week and that is about as much happy as I can muster. Hungry in the sense that I (or we) have been aggressively looking for that light, and if we are clumsy or over-anxious or boorish, it may not reflect our true virtues and personalities.
I never want to be the Debbie Downer. I don’t over-share, complain, or have a misplaced sense of entitlement. But I do want to reach out to you to give you both a view in (if indeed you have patiently stuck with me this whole time) and to hopefully influence how you look at and treat my fellow job searchers.
Lastly, to those job searchers reading this post, I toast my last-cup-of-the-pot mug of coffee to you. I have pot roast and brownies if you would like to come over and commiserate. Or we can start splashing the Merlot and plot our revenge.