Friday

Friday is the hardest day of the week when you’re unemployed.

I would have thought that Monday would be the most difficult day, with everyone heading off for an exciting new week of work or school and you sitting at home.  But that has not turned out to be the case.  Everyone knows that Mondays are no damned good anyway, so there is a certain degree of Schadenfreude involved when you can turn over and go back to sleep, laughing at family and friends dragging their butts to work where what awaits them is generally more in the line of another week of stultifying boredom rather than anything that might remotely be considered excitement.

When Friday rolls around, however, one must face the inescapable fact that another week without gainful employment has passed you by, with the last few state unemployment benefit checks running out like the final grains of sand slipping stealthily through the hourglass.  As one who grew up with a Protestant work ethic and a Jewish drive to improve your circumstances and support your family, Friday starts with a big capital F:  Failure.

I am now deeply into my third spate of long-term unemployment/underemployment.  The first time was entirely of my own doing; after many years of successful employment, I decided to pick up and move across the country from Connecticut to California.  Never having been unemployed before, I had no concept of what awaited me.  With my brothers-in-law both ensconced in Silicon Valley’s high tech industry, I was assured by family that their influence and direction would help me land a job in no time.  That may have worked out had I been trained as an engineer.  Since I’m not, however, I ended up sleeping on one sister’s couch for four months before being tossed out and ending up with my other sister for another five months.  During those latter five months, I was employed on a half-time basis by a technology startup that paid me just over minimum wage, covering my food and gas and little else.  The combination of the Bay Area’s prohibitive cost of living and my slim employment prospects caused me to give up and move back to Connecticut.  There, I found that I was ineligible to receive unemployment benefits from Connecticut because I had been working in California and that I had not worked in California long enough to be entitled to unemployment checks from Sacramento.  In Hartford, I did data entry for six weeks at minimum wage before being laid off.  After eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and still not being hired anywhere, I moved back in with my sister, who by this time had relocated to Boston.  I ended up doing data entry for minimum wage again until I could no longer stay with my sister, at which point I recrossed the country to very unhappily leech off my parents in central California.  I began to appreciate the depths of my blunder in leaving my decent job in Connecticut more than a year earlier.  Back in California, another 4½ months of joblessness ensued until I was finally hired into a stable position with the phone company.

My second bout with unemployment was eight months in duration after the tiny company that had employed me for four years decided that my position was no longer needed.  I’ll just say that office politics may have been involved.  All of which brings me to the present.  I’ve now been out of work for five months following a layoff resulting from my employer running out of money.  I guess I should have seen it coming; I had to endure the layoff of half the staff that I managed before it was my own turn.

I recently turned to my wife and asked:  Is this how it’s always going to be?  Unemployment every three or four years?  I’m having a hard enough time getting employers to consider me at the age of 55.  How is this supposed to improve when I’m 60 and 65 and 70?  I could certainly follow in the footsteps of those who have just given up and retired.  Although that prospect does make me somewhat uneasy, I could certainly consider embarking upon the next phase of life if not for the little matter of how we would pay for our food, clothing and shelter.  Yesterday, we gave five dollars to a down and out guy holding a “homeless and hungry” sign, hunkered down with his dog at the exit from a fast food drive-through lane.  Will this be me five years from now?

I think about the phrase “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”  While I have always given this sentiment its due, it has heretofore taken on a decidedly theoretical cast.  Now it’s getting personal.

Rather than throw myself a pity party, it is imperative that I take action to avoid ending up like the man hoping some kind soul will buy him a hamburger to share with his dog, or like our own homeless guy, who comes to the door of the parsonage begging to use the rest room so that he does not have to risk violating his probation by peeing in public.

In the current economy, middle managers are a dime a dozen.  Should my wife and I pick up and move 500 or 1,000 or 2,000 miles away to another state, leaving our families behind so that I can take a job paying less than half of my previous earnings?  I am inclined to answer in the negative.  Then again, I may not see it that way six months from now.  At some point, anything becomes better than nothing.

I am already starting to see a subtle change in “what I feel I can live with.”  My wife and I had initially decided to do our best to stay in northern California to avoid placing long distances between us and family as we had to do previously.  Last time I played the unemployment game, I applied for jobs in 27 states before being hired right here in California, albeit an 11 hour drive away.  I’d been avoiding applying out of state this time around.  Until recently, that is.  I have now applied for positions in four other states and hope I can cap it at that.  But I know it’s unlikely.

Late Wednesday afternoon, I was delighted to receive an email from an employer to whom I had applied just a few days before.  The employer just wanted to say that my application had been received and that I would be notified if selected for an interview.  This may seem like a whole lot of nothing.  To me, however, it was wonderful!  Most of my job applications are submitted either online or by mail, depending on the employer’s requirements.  Upwards of 95% of the time, I hear not one word in reply.  Ever.  You have to wonder whether your application even arrived.  So it brought a smile to my face that an employer bothered to take the time to let me know that my application is being considered.  Perhaps my appreciation of this gesture indicates that I have lowered my standards.  At some point, however, you start appreciating the crumbs.

Today I received another email from the same employer that had written on Wednesday, this time informing me that there is actually no supervisor opening at this time (a position that had been advertised and that I applied for even though it would have been a demotion and would have entailed moving nine hours away) and would I perhaps be interested in being considered for one of their clerk vacancies?

I’m telling you, Friday is the hardest day when you’re unemployed.  Everyone else is excited about the upcoming weekend, paychecks in hand, ready to go enjoy the fruits of their labor.  Ready to pay some bills and maybe go to the mall to buy a little something for themselves or their families.  Ready to spend a little pocket money to go out to dinner, take the kids to a movie or maybe even take a little drive and stay overnight somewhere.

But not for you, mister.  You’re not working so you’re not entitled to this stuff.  You need to make those last few unemployment checks last as long as possible.  You check your savings account balance and wonder how long it’ll last until you’re flat broke.

Everyone is going out for the evening, gleeful for their couple of days off.  But for you, every day is a day off.  And you know that every day that you’re unemployed makes it that much less likely that you’ll ever find work in your field again.  And you wonder about what the future will look like for you.  And you pray.

And you hope that the weekend will pass quickly so that when Monday morning arrives, you can once again feel good for two seconds when the poor schlubs drag themselves out of bed to jobs that they hate.

But for now, it’s Friday.  You think about maybe pumping half a tank of gas and buying a large coffee for a dollar at McDonald’s.  And when you drive pass the homeless guy with the dog and the sign, you try not to look him in the eye.

 

Understanding Your Employment Ad

ads

As an unemployed job hunter, one of the skills I have had to acquire is how to read between the lines of employment advertisements.  While the want ads hardly qualify as great literature, having been a college English major has turned out to be an asset in interpreting what can often seem like a foreign language.  The wording of many ads contains much in the way of subtext and subtlety, simile and symbolism, all of which lends itself to the same style of explication de texte as is a work of poetry.

The following is a description of just a few of the elements that you may wish to consider in understanding your employment ad:

Salary

Most help wanted ads do not list a wage or salary.  The reason for this should be obvious:  This simply isn’t a very important factor in deciding whether to apply for a particular position.  Wouldn’t you agree?

A notable exception is in the public sector (such as federal and state jobs), where the salary for most positions is public information and may even be set by law.  In ads for public sector jobs, you can expect a salary range (either per month or per year), such as “$3650-$5025.”  However, don’t be misled into believing that the successful candidate may start at a salary anywhere within the stated range, depending on experience.  Generally, the low number constitutes the starting salary; public employees advance by steps, usually annually, until the high end of the range is reached.  After that, salary generally remains the same from year to year, sometimes with a cost-of-living allowance added.  Many applicants are led astray by salary ranges.  For example, an applicant who has many years of experience in this position and would like to earn about $5000 monthly may be in for quite a disappointment when $3650 is offered.

This is not to say that an applicant can’t make a counteroffer for any type of job.  If salary is not set by law or union contract, there is almost always an opportunity for the successful applicant to negotiate money.  The worst they can do is say no!  Remember, the very fact that the job has been offered to you means that the employer is very interested in bringing you on board and might be inclined to throw you a bit more money to snag your services.  Of course, there will always be employers who operate under a “take it or leave it” model and would be just as happy to move on to another candidate who is sufficiently desperate to accept their pathetic offer.  These are the employers who have a revolving door and have to continuously recruit and hire.  Why?  Because their employees will bolt at the first opportunity to earn a couple bucks an hour more (see Arrogant SOBs, below).

Travel (The 4 I’s)

Some management positions require travel, but many do not.  A well-written job announcement should specify not only whether travel is expected, but also how much — 20%, 40%, 60%, etc.  This should be obvious, as it is a waste of the time of both the employer and the applicant to prepare and examine applications for positions requiring travel from candidates who, for example, are unable to be away from home much for health reasons or due to child care or elder care responsibilities.

Unfortunately, many ads for managers (in)conveniently make no mention of how much travel is required.  Sometimes, however, the wording of the job announcement can give you a hint.  For example, if the ad states “passport or ability to obtain one required,” that’s a pretty good clue that international travel will be the order of the day, and probably not just once or twice a year either.  The successful candidate in this position is likely to fall victim to the four Is:  iPhone, I’m at the airport, I’m on a plane and I don’t recognize you, are we married or something?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not being a prima donna here.  I realize that some amount of sacrifice for the company is an integral component of a management position.  I don’t like planes and I like to sleep in my own bed every night, but I certainly will not object to flying to a decaying Rust Belt city two or three times a year to make presentations at conferences, even though it will likely involve changing planes in Phoenix and again in Dallas.  Nor will I balk at occasionally packing up and heading to Peoria or Missoula to hold the hand of a panicked client.  But I won’t do it every other week, nor will I do it if the same thing can be accomplished in our conference room over Skype.

Testimonials

Businesses, particular larger ones, frequently include employee or applicant testimonials on their jobs site for the purpose of serving up a heaping helping of palaver regarding how great it is to work at the company.  Having said that, please take a look at this applicant’s testimonial.

So, to summarize:  Mr. Carlozo worked as a freelancer (no steady paycheck and who knows if the company will accept and pay for your latest article or not?), then became a contracted editor, then was “let go.”  So what did he do?  He went back to freelancing for these people!  I mean, does this guy live in his mother’s basement or something?

As if that’s not enough, then he writes a testimonial gushing about how his sometime employer considered him for (gasp) a full-time position by flying him out to Virginia and then to New York for a series of interviews.  The company emphasized that this had to be done immediately so they could hire him before a hiring freeze went into effect (now there’s a red flag warning!).  The interviews went great, he felt important but they did not hire him!  So what happened then?  He went back to a temporary contracted position with the company.

And this is supposed to be a testimonial?  I sat here slack-jawed reading this piece.  There are no words.  I suppose I should say “fool me once, shame on you; fool me eight times, shame on me.”

The Russians

The old Communist Party in Russia was intolerant of any ideas that deviated in the slightest from the party line.

Some employers emulate the Russian Communists in their job announcements.  Rather than acknowledging the wide range of experiences and ideas that applicants could bring to the table to help improve their businesses, these employers tell you exactly what they want you to think.  This allows applicants who do not share the employer’s philosophies to decide whether they are willing to adjust their thinking to the company’s narrow mandates or whether they should just look elsewhere.  I vote for the latter, and many of these employers would agree.

For example, an employer with the Russian Communist mindset might start a job announcement with a statement something like this:  “If you think that <fill in the blank>, we’re not interested.  But if you think that <company’s party line>, we’re not only interested, we’ll roll out the red carpet for you.”

Another style of the Communist approach goes something like this:  “Those who are not technically oriented need not apply.”

When you see this, I recommend that you run for the hills.  And how exactly would you define “technically oriented,” Mr. Moskva?  Do you require many years of experience with C++ and Java programming, or just a passing acquaintance with HTML?  Are you rejecting out of hand the artists among us who appreciate beauty and speak and write well, but don’t know their way around coding?  How about those who can crunch your numbers like there’s no tomorrow and provide accurate forecasting?  What about the visionaries and ideas people?  Do you honestly believe that only techies have anything of value to offer your company?

If you apply for these types of jobs, be prepared for your square peg to be shoved into the company’s round hole.  These employers deserve what they get.

The Arrogant SOBs

After noticing an interesting job announcement, I did some reading online to give me a better idea of whether this is a company for which I would like to work.  (Believe me, it’s worth it to do a little research.)  The company had recently opened a call center nearby and a local newspaper interviewed a manager about the hiring drive they were conducting.  The manager explained that the company had selected our rural area in the hope that employees will be “more loyal” than they were at the previous call center in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It’s all about money, people.  Let’s take a moment to read between the lines and decode what these arrogant asses are really saying:

  1. We want to pay employees less, so we’re relocating over here where the cost of living is lower and jobs are more scarce.
  2. We were stuck in a vicious cycle of recruiting, hiring and training in the Bay Area because we couldn’t keep our employees.  Why?  We were underpaying them and they bolted the second they got a little experience under their belts and were able to earn better wages at one of our competitors down the street.

Funny how employers refuse to pay more when they can pay less, but chastise employees who refuse to accept less when they can get more.  Go figure.

 

Rockin’ the Interview

interview

I did it.

The big interview was this afternoon and I survived.

Okay, I did better than survive.  I rocked it!

Yes, I was nervous as hell.  I made sure to arrive early, with the result that I ended up sitting in the waiting room chewing on my fingers and tugging at my socks for 45 minutes.  The sock thing was necessary because my holey hose (of course I discovered a big hole in one of them while I was sitting there) simply would not stay up.  They kept falling down, revealing my distended cankles and making it clear to all the world that here is a candidate who definitely does not have his act together and isn’t worth the trouble to interview, never mind hire.

I owe a large part of today’s interview success to my wife, and even a little to my sister, who called yesterday to complain about my mother for an hour.  But Sis and I, both currently unemployed, did spend a few minutes commiserating about the incredibly stupid questions asked by interviewers and how on earth you’re supposed to come up with a response that sounds halfway professional when what you really want to do is tell the panel is what a bunch of dorks they are.

My sister particularly mentioned a question that comes up repeatedly in the course of her job interviews:  “Tell us about a time that your boss made a decision that you did not agree with and specifically how you implemented that decision with staff.”  This, she said, is not a question to which one can respond effectively on the fly.  It requires preparation.  It’s almost a trick question, because you’re not supposed to admit that you have differences of opinion with your boss.  My sister said she’s working on putting together something that sounds decent so that she’ll be all ready when they drop the bomb on her.

I empathized with my sister on this one, as I, too, have run into this question with prospective employers on more than one occasion.  I wish I could just tell the truth, that it doesn’t matter how I feel about decisions that come down from above — that, as a manager, it is my responsibility to present policies in a positive light and to implement them effectively without regard to my personal opinions.  But that’s not good enough; the interviewee is expected to cite specific examples.

Before my interview today, I solicited the advice of my wife.  She reminded me of a particular procedure change that I experienced a number of years ago, and how I implemented it by treading lightly on the onerous aspects and emphasizing the positive results that were likely to ensue.  My wife also reminded me that it is often difficult to see the big picture; that’s what the more experienced members of upper management get paid to do.  Thus, what looks like a turkey of a decision in the short run could well turn out to be brilliant in the long term.

Sure enough, the question came up in the interview today.  The panelists were nodding and smiling, so I tend to think that they were positively disposed to my answer.  I believe there is a lesson to be learned here:  Preparation really is the key.

I am accustomed to five to eight questions at panel interviews.  Although I didn’t count, there must have been at least a dozen at this one.  I had to be reminded (twice) that I was going over the allotted time, because once I get started, I tend to go on and on.

The three panelists were very pleasant and professional and most of the questions they asked appeared to be well thought out rather than stock questions from some HR handbook.  Somehow, I never needed a moment to think of a response, nor did I stumble over my answers at all.

In short, this was the most successful interview I have experienced in some time.  Not to jinx myself, but I will be rather surprised if I don’t get this one.

(to be continued)

 

The Healing Begins

resume

It’s one of my favorite times of day:  The middle of the night.  All is quiet but for the heat blasting warmth into the parsonage against the freezing cold night.  I have my cup of tea.  For the moment, I am alone with my thoughts.  And I am so privileged to share them with you, dear reader.

Too many things have been on my mind today.  It’s been that kind of Sunday.  So please accept my apologies if today’s (lengthy) post is a bit of a hodgepodge, veering from my usual practice of picking one topic and more or less sticking to it.

 

A Picture of a Person I Don’t Know

When I purchased my first new car, back in the mid-eighties, I was thrilled that it came standard with a cassette player.  I was a bit behind the times, still listening mostly to 33⅓ rpm vinyl records.  But I went right out and bought a few tapes to listen to on the way to work.  The first of these was the original cast recording of the musical A Chorus Line.  I had seen it performed on Broadway while I was in college, and it made a big impression on me.  So no surprise that this is not the first A Chorus Line reference I’ve made on this blog; knowing me, it probably will not be the last.

Being unemployed and applying for jobs online is a humbling experience.  It makes me feel like a beggar, hopeful for a crumb but not counting on it.  And yes, I am nervous as hell about an interview I have coming up next week.  So today I find myself channeling Paul, the dancer who sings at the end of “I Hope I Get It,” one of the musical numbers early in A Chorus Line (you can listen to one version here):

Who am I, anyway?
Am I my résumé?
That is a picture of a person I don’t know.
What does he want from me?
What should I try to be?
So many faces all around, and here we go.
I need this job, oh God, I need this show.

Here I was thinking that having the right résumé might make the difference between getting the job or not.  It should be limited to a single page, if possible.  It needs to stand out from the crowd, but still be sufficiently conservative to convey a proper business image.  Your name and contact information has to be big and at the top, but not too big.  You want to show everything you’ve done, but you don’t want to go back too far.  You want to include enough detail to allow the employer to determine whether you are a good fit with the organization but you don’t want to pad your résumé either.

And now I find that none of this matters anymore.  You see, while I was working all these years, the world changed.  The résumé has become obsolete.

I’m not kidding.  The last two jobs that I applied for were “résumé optional.”  It’s almost as if employers think that your résumé is nothing but a bunch of lies and half-truths anyway, so why bother?

At first, I wondered if employers were being serious about this, or whether this was just some sort of newfangled passive-aggressive thing.  So I figured there’s one way to find out.  I played along with this little game by sending in an application sans résumé.  And I was called for an interview.

I am witnessing a barrage of employer caveats along the lines of:  Do not write “See résumé.”  They want applicants to fill in all of their tiny spaces that are too small to type in.  Half the time I have to print some of the pages and write in the info in my smallest, most cramped handwriting.

The whole thing is pretty obvious to me:  It’s a control mechanism.  When the applicant sends a résumé, the applicant is control.  But when the employer requires the applicant to fill in little spaces describing his or her duties and accomplishments at every previous job, the employer is in control.  We don’t care that you’ve already spent time and money preparing the perfect résumé.  You’re in our territory now, and you’ll do it our way or get lost.

The employer knows that it has the upper hand, and seeks to take maximum advantage of the situation.

After all, there is a long line of Pauls at the door, toes on the chorus line, singing “I need this job, oh God, I need this show.”

 

Don’t Blink

The weather has been cool and crisp, hanging in the upper thirties during the day, freezing us out in the twenties at night.

Yesterday, it snowed.

I know.  In northern California?  Crazy.

Calling Al Gore — What was that about global warming again?

I didn’t actually see it snow, mind you.  But I have it on good authority that a few flakes did indeed fall out of the sky at our location.

I had been following the weather forecast and was duly warned that this might happen.

As a native New Yorker, I miss the snow.  So I kept an eye out.

At 3 a.m., I hauled myself out of bed, undid all the locks and stepped out the front door in my jammies to check.  No snow.

It gets light about 7 a.m. this time of year, so I opened one eye and drew back the blinds to see what was going on.  No snow.

A couple hours later, I dragged myself out of bed and headed to the bathroom.  Just as I was about to set foot in the shower, my wife pounded on the door:  “IT’S SNOWING!”

By the time I got out of the shower, headed back to the bedroom and looked out of the window, the show was long over.  Any flakes that had fallen must have melted immediately.

So I missed it.

But all is not lost.  My niece and her baby were out shopping and shot video of snowflakes falling on the mall parking lot.  My wife showed it to me on her Facebook feed.

The evidence is clear.  You snooze, you lose.

 

bread

The Joy of Bread

I love good bread.

A crusty sourdough, rye or baguette that is soft and chewy in the middle.  Forget the knife.  Just rip off a chunk.  You’re going to need your teeth for this one.

The best bread I’ve yet to find in this area is at Whole Foods Market.  The nearest location is about thirty miles from here, and it had been about six weeks since we’d been down there.

But today my wife and I enjoyed a lovely Sunday afternoon, driving over to the Roseville Galleria for lunch and some shopping.  The stores were packed with Christmas shoppers.  Whole Foods wasn’t too bad when we entered the store, but by the time we had walked around and picked out our purchases, the place had started to seriously fill up.  And forget about Trader Joe’s.  The place was wall-to-wall people.

But we picked up my favorite bread, along with some treats from Whole Foods’ olive bar, the best pickles in the world (Bubbie’s — pickled in brine, no vinegar), a sleeve of firm tofu (much better for broiling than the kind in water) and my 85% cocoa butter vegan dark chocolate from TJ’s.

Now I know for sure that my wife loves me.

 

Take a Number, Bucko

When we first moved in here, I wrote a post about the challenges of three people plus a steady stream of visitors sharing a single bathroom.

Let me assure you, nothing has changed.

I am reminded of my childhood days, when my little sister, wanting to be sure that her whereabouts were known should anyone be searching for her, would regularly announce:  “I’m going to the bathroom!”

“Put an ad in the paper!” my father would call down the hall.

And we had three bathrooms in our house.  Even when we vacationed out in the country in an old house that didn’t have electricity, our outhouse was a two-holer.  Know what I mean?

These days, I really do need to put out an advertisement before heading to the loo.  Hmm, maybe we can start our own daily for this purpose.  I think I’ll call it The Toilet Paper.

Within the last two days, I heard this:

“Are you coming out soon?  I gotta gooooo!!”

…and this…

“Aron’s going to take a shower.  Does anyone need in the bathroom first?”

…and this…

(bangs on bathroom door)  “You’re gonna have to take a break and go back later.  I gotta get in there.”

…and this…

“You’re going in there?  Wait!  I gotta go first!”  (from the other room) “Me, too!”

Take a number.

“Now serving… uh, number two!”

 

Healing

I woke up this morning to a sound to which I am growing quite accustomed.  People talking and laughing in the living room.

We had guests.

They blow in and out of here with some regularity.

Yesterday afternoon, my niece (and her baby) came by with friend (one of the Ms).  We put the baby down for a nap.  Later, my niece returned to retrieve the little one, this time with two friends (the sisters who we call M&M) and one of their boyfriends.  In the evening, my nephew showed up with his girlfriend and her parents.

So this morning it was no surprise when a crowd materialized before we had even rolled out of bed.  Pastor Mom was sitting in her recliner, visiting with my sister-in-law, my niece and her baby, and a nephew whom I had not seen in years.  He is one of the sons of my sister-in-law’s second husband, who she divorced a few years back.

My nephew is all grown up now.  He’s already served a tour in the service and now works as an engineer in Las Vegas.  He is thinking about going back in the Army.  I raised my eyebrows to learn that he actually wants to be deployed to Afghanistan.  Well, I’m sure glad someone wants to do it.

My wife and I have a lot of nieces and nephews.  While my sister-in-law still had her own three kids at home, she married a man who had custody of his eight children, from a toddler to several teenagers.

After the divorce, they scattered.  We tried to keep in touch for a while over Facebook and by text message.  But family issues arose.  Apparently we weren’t supposed to demonstrate any loyalty to the ex, nor (by extension) to his children.  I wrote about this sad state of affairs back in March.

I pointed out in that post that there is no such thing as an ex-niece or an ex-nephew.  You can’t expect people to turn love on and off like a light switch.

I am pleased to say that things are starting to change.  A couple of the nieces have returned to this area and brought their spouses and children to my sister-in-law’s table for Thanksgiving dinner.  And now one of the nephews dropped in to see all of us.

My wife and I are deeply moved by the way we are once again becoming the family that we’ve always known we could be.  Today, she copied a portion of my March post onto her Facebook page.  One of the nephews commented about his fond memories of us and how we will always be his auntie and uncle.  My wife and I both let the tears flow.

And then my sister-in-law added her own comment, stating that the healing has begun.

Amen, sister.

 

Making Memories

boxes

So I’ve finally been called for a job interview.  This is only the second employer to have called me in.  The first one, back in September, was an utter disaster from start to finish.  (You can read about it here.)

From the get-go, I have the advantage of being a local this time around.  The last interview I attended was a 12 hour drive away.  That’s right:  We drove 24 hours round-trip for nothing.  This time, the prospective employer is 22 miles away.  Still a bit of a commute during rush hour, I’m told, but at least the job would not require me to move from one end of the state to the other.  Also, the other job was in a tiny town up in the mountains, while this one is in a semi-urban area just a mile or two from one of the largest shopping areas around.

Neither the position nor the salary is perfect, but two months of unemployment has a way of making you a bit less selective.

What surprises me is that the interview has been scheduled a month out.  That’s right:  It won’t occur until just before Christmas.  I figure this might be due to a lot of people having time off during the holiday season.  Either that or they’re not in any rush to hire anyone.  But it works out well for me.  As an inveterate worrier, it gives my vivid imagination nearly four weeks to dream up every disastrous scenario ever covered in a B-movie.

Well, an upcoming interview means I need to have an appropriate outfit for the big day.  I’ve had the pleasure of slouching about in pullovers and T-shirts for a while now.  But the occasion calls for pulling out a white dress shirt, jacket and tie.  This means crawling through all the boxes and Rubbermaid containers that have been sitting out in the storage room since our move.

The timing was auspicious, as we also needed to scare up some Christmas decorations.  So my wife and I spent part of this Saturday afternoon digging through the accumulated detritus of our lives.  I am amazed at how much we still have, considering that we sold or gave away about three-quarters of our possessions to avoid having to move them.

Most of the packing boxes had previously been used by my sister-in-law.  One side of a box would be prominently marked TOYS, while the adjacent side would be labelled Kitchen Utensils.  This proved to be a lot less confusing than one might think, as my wife’s fine handwriting is easily discernible from her sister’s thick outlined letters, with some of the characters filled in with stripes, spots and little stars.

The boxes were stacked high against every wall.  As we reached each box, my wife examined one item at a time, and we passed judgment as to whether we needed it enough to bring it into the house or whether it should remain in its cardboard purgatory until our next move.  Do we really need the pair of tongs?  No.  The potato peeler?  No.  The egg slicer?  No.  The ice pick?  No.

Eventually, we discovered a box marked Dress Shirts on one side (Games/Books on the other), which turned out to contain both the shirt and the tie I would need.  We have plenty of time to get them de-wrinkled.

The afternoon was highly successful.  Aside from the dress clothes, we snagged the kitchen towels and chip clips we’ve been missing, along with my winter jacket and my Scrabble set.  I plan to bring the latter to Thanksgiving at my parents’ house just a few days from now, as I’ve been put on notice that my teenaged nephew (flying in from Texas with his parents) wants to play board games.  I hear that he is bringing his Monopoly set on the plane.  I love board games and I’m excited to have a playing partner!

Later in the day, another nephew stopped by to visit, exhausted after his 12-hour shift loading trucks in a warehouse.  The poor guy was griping about his rental house and his unemployed roommate.  He’s learning to cook, and prepared antelope chili this week with the spoils of one of his friends’ hunting expeditions.  Of course he had to call his grandma first to ask whether the meat has to be cooked before adding it to the chili pot.

The problem with his house, he says, is that the washing machine is broken and you can’t run the microwave when the heater is going without blowing the power out.

Here’s a summary of what he had to say about his deadbeat roommate:  “I told him ‘you can’t light the incense anymore.  I’m sick of cleaning up the ashes and I’m sick of not being able to breathe.’  Nobody knows how to clean.  For a long time, he would take everything from the living room, I mean wrappers, cups, and shove it into his bedroom.  I couldn’t find my flat hat, it was in the fish tank in his room covered in dust because he took it out of the living room.  He cleans stuff with a rag and then leaves the rag on the counter with all the crap on it.  Dude, you don’t understand, we don’t have a working washer and dryer.  I ask him every time I go to my mom’s ‘you wanna go do some laundry?’ He always says no.  Then I see him wearing the same clothes again.  I don’t even know if he takes a shower every day.”

Ah, the joys of roommates.  How well I remember from my wild and wooly days.

In the evening, we headed over to my sister-in-law’s house for a wonderful taco dinner.  My niece, who has been in the holiday spirit since before Halloween, had the Christmas music on while she attempted to select spring semester classes, only to learn that many of the ones she wanted either had a waiting list or were closed entirely.  My little grandniece was still wearing her adorable holiday dress in which she had been photographed with Santa earlier in the day.  She has quit crawling altogether in the last couple of weeks, but she still walks tentatively, falling on her bottom often as she makes her rounds from one adult to another.

Willie Nelson sang “Blue Christmas” and Donald Duck duetted with Goofy on “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and as I sang along to our little princess, I was reminded of how important it is to soak in every precious moment today as we make the memories of tomorrow.

 

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Job Hunting Goes to the Dogs

beggar

Job hunting has never been one of my favorite activities.

Not just because the whole process is one giant pain in the patoot (which it most assuredly is).  No, I don’t like job hunting because of how it makes me feel.

I know, I’m being too dramatic.  Applying for a job is supposed to be a neutral transaction, not one fraught with emotion.  Kind of like going to the supermarket to buy a jar of peanut butter.

The problem, however, is that employers have all the power and I have none.  I am seriously at their mercy.  This does not make me happy.

Every time I fill out one of these dumb, dumb applications, I feel like one of my nephew’s dogs when I’m trying to eat my dinner.  The fact that they’ve already been fed is irrelevant.  As is what I happen to be eating.  It can be tofu and broccoli, for crying out loud, but all they see is that I have food and they want some of it.  In other words, they are beggars.

And that’s what job hunting has turned me into:  A beggar.  In perfect canine style, they have something that I want and it’s up to me to figure out a way to get it.

Taking a cue from Mia, Chris and Flower, it looks as if I have several tactics from which to choose:

  • Sit at the human’s feet and stare him down.  This is the dog’s way of saying “I’m entitled to some of that, buster, and I’m not going anywhere until I get some.”  I once cadged a job in Connecticut this way.  I phoned the manager once a week for a month, received every kind of excuse, refused to go away, and finally was granted an interview just so I’d quit calling and leave her alone.  I worked for that company for two years.
  • Lie down at the foot of the table and wait patiently.  This is the dog’s way of saying “See what a good pet I am?  Surely I deserve to share in your bounty.”  So I show off what I’ve learned in obedience school to demonstrate what a good dog, er, applicant I really am.  I fill out all the little boxes completely.  When there’s not enough room to type, I write in the info by hand.  When there’s still not enough room, I attach additional pages.  I make sure that I include the equal opportunity statement, a list of references and two writing samples.  I make sure that my name and phone number is at the top of each essay and that the pages are numbered.  See how shiny my halo is.  Now may I please have some of your tofu and broccoli?
  • Whine.  This is the dog’s way of saying “Hey, mister, I’ve been waiting here patiently for ten whole minutes and you have not been paying attention to me.  What the heck is wrong with you?”  Whining is definitely the tactic to use when two weeks, then three weeks, then a month have gone by and all I’ve heard back from the employer is a stony silence.  That’s when I call HR and politely ask about the status of my application.  This will be embarrassing for the poor secretary who answers the phone, who will likely stammer, make up some excuse about excessive workload or extending the application deadline or the boss being on vacation, after which I will be offered a sugar-coated version of “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”  I am supposed to gratefully accept this as if it were a dog treat.
  • Jump up on the table, grab the food and tear out the door with it.  When applying for jobs, this tactic is only to be used as a last resort.  Try it if you don’t believe me.  Employers have a nasty habit of kicking you out the door and calling the cops.  What’s a poor dog to do?
  • Call the SPCA and report your owner as abusive.  Instead of the animal shelter, job applicants have the EEOC, the state human rights commission and the Department of Labor.  Perhaps if I complain loudly enough about how mistreated I am, the dog catcher will take me away, lock me in a cage and euthanize me after 28 days.

I’m telling you, it’s a dog’s life, this job hunting stuff.

But that’s okay.  If I get sick and tired of it all, I’ll just lift my leg and leave them all a present.

Woof!

NaBloPoMo November 2013

My Pants Fall Down and a Job Interview Goes Pffffttt

It all started when my pants fell down.

I think it was bending over that did it.  I heard a sickening rrrippp and my belt was in two pieces.  At least I was in my office at work this time.  The last time this happened to me, I was entering a courthouse.  This was many years ago, when I lived in New England.  After I emptied my pockets, the security guard insisted it was my belt that was setting off the metal detector.  Removing my belt as instructed, I found myself standing in the courthouse lobby in my skivvies.

This time, however, I simply picked up the phone, told my lead worker I was running home for a bit, and headed out the door, holding up my pants with one hand.  I would simply switch belts and head back to work.  Arriving at home, however, I found no sign of my other belt.  I had forgotten that it had already been packed up and moved.  We are in the process of moving from southern California to northern California, and the box in question had already been moved 600 miles up the I-5.

My wife and I drove over to K-Mart to get me a new belt.  I stayed in the car rather than walking the aisles holding my pants up with one hand.  I put on the new belt as best I could in the parking lot, hoping no children or cops walked by.

Within two days, it became apparent that the new belt was a piece of junk.  About half of it had shredded, pieces coming off in my hand when I put it on or took it off.  Back we went to K-Mart that evening in pursuit of yet another belt.

It was late in the evening, almost closing time, and we noticed an apparently homeless dog walking back and forth in front of the store entrance.  It was a beautiful pit bull mix, and we were appalled that someone had abandoned it.  We keep plenty of bottled water in the car, so we planned to give the poor cur a drink.  In our 100+ degree heat, it must have been parched.  Just then, we saw a man approach the dog with a fast food hamburger.  We handed him the bottle of water.  We were truly heartened to witness the act of a good samaritan.  We noticed he had a bit of trouble getting to the dog, as it had begun wandering about the parking lot, following anyone exiting or entering the store.  It was as if the dog were begging someone to take it home.  This tugged at our heartstrings. There are so many abandoned dogs and cats in our community.  We just hoped this one wouldn’t end up being run over by a car, abused by miscreants or suffer from exposure to the searing heat.

But I digress. My newest belt had issues of its own. As the waist has been taken in on all my pants, the belt loops have been altered.  Thus, the only way I can get this wide belt on is to drag it through the loops before I step into the pants.  Otherwise, it is nearly impossible to squeeze the belt through the loops in the back while I twist myself into a pretzel.

I thought I had learned to deal with this state of affairs fairly well, that is until the day of the big interview.  Arriving 15 minutes early, I emptied my pockets and stepped through the metal detector.  Beep!  “Remove your belt,” the guard ordered. I groaned.  Deja-vu!

I pulled off the belt and raised my pant cuffs to show that I didn’t have a pistol stuck in my sock.  Here I go hobbling down the hallway in search of a rest room, holding my belt and padfolio in one hand while holding up my pants with the other.  Ensconced in a bathroom stall, I removed my shoes, removed my pants, forced my belt through the loops, put my pants back on, put my shoes back on. By now, of course, I was late for my appointment.

My morning consisted of traipsing about the building, meeting with supervisors and staff in each department.  The first supervisor came to fetch me from the HR Department.  “Our one and only elevator just broke down a few days ago,” she informed me.  The building has three floors.  Her department was on the top floor.  I have bad knees, one bad hip and a bad back.  I begged her patience as I struggled up two flights of stairs, one painful step at a time.

“What do you do for ADA compliance?” I asked. “Like for customers in wheelchairs?”

“That’s an issue right now,” she replied.

After pulling myself up and down to the various departments, I was told to come back in three hours.  I had drawn the last interview of the day.  Donna and I went to lunch, drove around a bit to check out the town, killed some time buying presents for our little grandniece and took a little nap in the car.

Finally, it was time to go back in for my interview.  I go through the metal detector again.  Beep!  “Remove your belt,” I am ordered.

“But we already went through this earlier” I protested. “Do I really have to do it again? ” I whined.

“Once you exit the building, you have to do it again,” I am informed brusquely.  Off with the belt again.  This time, I had Donna with me.  Holding up my pants with one hand, I walk down the hall to just outside the HR Department, where Donna is kind enough to force the belt through the loops as I turn around and around.

It was a fairly standard panel interview.  My four inquisitors went down their list of questions, then I had a turn to ask a few.  My allergies were just killing me, so I punctuated my answers with coughing, taking sips of water and using my handkerchief to wipe at the snot running down my face.

At the end of the interview, I was asked to wait in the HR Department with the other candidates while it was decided who would be asked to stay for a second round of interviews.

In the HR lounge, one of the orher candidates recognized me.  I was her supervisor years ago, when I worked the graveyard shift and she was an undergrad trying to pay her way through college.  Small world indeed.

Less than ten minutes had gone by when the CEO came out to inform the waiting candidates that there would be no second interviews after all.  It appears there had been a change of circumstances. They had just learned that there wouldn’t be any funding available to pay for the position.  Perhaps funding would become available closer to the end of the year.  He would keep us informed.  Wah-wah-wahhh…

So, in summary, the time and money spent on this 1,200 mile trip was all for naught.  A big ol’ waste for a big heap of nothing.

The moral of the story is this:  I should have done the right thing to begin with by turning down the interview to spend Rosh Hashannah with my parents.

Lesson learned.

 

The Happy Interview Dance

happy dance

Today I am… Doing the happy interview dance!

My wonderful wife brought my lunch to work today, along with a letter that arrived in the mail this morning.  I immediately saw that it was from one of the many employers I had applied to, and my heart sank.  Of all the applications I have completed over the past month or so, this one took me the longest to complete and cost me the most money to send out.  My email has been full of dispiriting rejection letters lately, so it was with disgust that I folded up the envelope and stuck it in my pocket.

Let me tell you something about applying for management positions:  They want to see how well you write.  Or maybe they just want to see whether you can sling the bull.  Or perhaps it’s all just a big perseverance contest, which makes me feel like a trained dog.  Let’s see how many hoops we can get him to jump through!

Five, seven or even ten essay questions is not unusual for a management position application posted online.  I am expected to describe what I have accomplished in the past, what I am doing now and what I plan to do in the future.  I am expected to discuss how I will save the company money, how I will treat the employees and how I will improve public relations.  And somewhere around the fourth or fifth essay question, I will need to describe my management philosophy, my ideas for bringing peace to the Middle East, the last book I’ve read, my favorite teacher from elementary school and whether I’m a fan of Right Twix or Left Twix and why (in 600 words or less).

Take it from me:  Grappling with these weighty questions night after night and looking for just the right words to impress a prospective employer is enough to drive you bonkers.  My only saving grace is that I still have a job to go to in the morning.  For the next few weeks, anyway.  After that, I will have the unique pleasure of pursuing this sadistic hobby of mine all day, every day.

After a while, you start to dream about job applications.  While this may seem to indicate an unhealthy obsession, in your dreams you can sometimes come up with creative ideas for answering your next set of essay questions.

Rejection is a part of life, but trying to keep yourself employed by applying and applying may lead to a pile of rejection letters high enough to spur a less than sterling self-image.  It’s just plain depressing.

So as I unwrapped my fast food burrito at my desk, I pulled the envelope out of my pocket, unfolded it and tore it open with the intent of feeding the contents to the shredder.  After all, I knew what was coming.  Good news only comes via telephone.  What shows up in your mailbox usually contains the phrases “we had many qualified candidates” and “best of luck in your future endeavors.”

I nearly choked on my burrito when I read that I have been selected for an interview and that the human resources department looks forward to meeting me.  Someone loves me after all!  Sure, I am probably one of a dozen applicants selected for this honor, but at least they think enough of me to consider the possibility that I could be worthy of joining the team.

Once I have my interview, they may like me or they may not.  They may think I’m a good fit for the company, or perhaps not so much.  But at least they’re giving me a chance, a chance to put my best foot forward and maybe, just maybe, get that foot in the door.