Monday, May 24, 2010

Job Hunting In America, Part One

Oh the Hell, the aggravation, the damnation and yea, verily, the humiliation of the dreaded job search. For so many years, I was denied the positions and promotions I wanted in favor of those who had what I did not – a personal relationship with upper management, dirt on management, or a college degree. Finally, at an age when most people are sending their children to the halls of higher learning, I went. And I worked, and studied and went off the social radar entirely until I proudly walked that walk in my robe and mortarboard. Walked prouder, I am sure, than anyone else who walked on that lovely May afternoon.

And the search began. Yes, I learned that they want young. Not necessarily intelligent, creative or dependable – but young. I also learned that an entry level position in any aspect of journalism is nearly impossible because they are filled with interns. Interns work for free (class credit) or a stipend, (slave labor.) Once they’ve proven some measure of skill (dressing with a minimum of material and say ‘awesome’several times a minute without missing a gum-smacking beat) they are often hired.

Feeling confidant in my PR skills, I began offering to do pro bono work for folks to develop my portfolio, and be able to offer a curriculum vitae to prospective employers rather than a resume with my shining degree as the header trailed by jobs I hated that had nothing whatsoever to do with journalism.

I have already established the high annoyance factor of the temp agencies in the previous chapter. Those nasally air-brained twits – difficult to understand on a phone message, deceitful about pay, deceitful about the job with their weasel wording, I spend hours a day scouring the newspapers, job search websites, every day and applying for all manner of jobs.

First and foremost, I look for jobs in any area of public relations, editing, etc. Can’t get in without interning (working for free) or having about five years of experience and a massive portfolio.

Then I go for, well, everything else. From administrative assistant to kennel attendant. Looks like I’m finally overeducated for something. Can’t even get a job scooping dog doo!

And when I finally get an interview they ask me stupid questions like “How do we know you’ll stay here? With a degree you might leave for a PR job.” Think about it, if I could do that do you honestly think I would be here abasing myself now?”

Or the ridiculous, yet still popular with small brained interviewers, “Where do you see yourself five years from now?” Five years from now? Toots, in five minutes from now I’d like to see myself about as far away from your ugly mug as I can get!” Or better yet, “Honey I see myself in my lovely villa in Andalucia getting my daily massage, while Armand Assante walks my dogs and Juan Soler makes cocktails for me and George Clooney.


The Weight-Loss Clinic

As I went into the post office to mail a fresh stack of resumes, I noticed the ‘Now Hiring’ sign in the window of the weight loss place next door. I paused but then figured they wouldn’t hire me. The sign was still there a week later so I went in and offered my resume to the receptionist. She took it with a near polite “Thanks,” and then went back to her magazine. I left.

Three weeks later I have a voice mail message from “Sammie,’ an area manager, asking me to call about my resume. I do and we set an interview for Thursday. It’s raining so I leave early to get there on time. Sammie is not there but another area honcho, Lucille, will interview me.

The very neat, very skinny, and very white Lucille is clad in a beige polyester pantsuit and short blond polyester wig. The wig and make-up alone must constitute 40% of her total weight. Speaking in a syrupy southern drawl she speaks about the rain with terms like “puddle-ducking” and others I’ve never heard.

As we walk toward the office where she will interview me we pass a few desks on the left where three women, about 35 years old, are seated. I am introduced to these women and told they are weight loss counselors. They give the distinct vibe of being abused prisoners. Indeed, with no makeup, and unkempt, nappy hair that had long ago lost its ambition, they looked more like homeless people who were yanked off the street and put behind the desks to make it appear to a passerby, or job applicant, that this was a thriving and culturally diverse business.

This place has been here for a few years, but as I’m walking through it looks more like an unfinished basement or junk closet. Lucille motions for me to take a seat in a closet sized office with one desk, three chairs, bare walls, a small flip chart on the desk, and a cluster of half a dozen weight-loss vitamins and bars.

As Lucille tells me about the company, and her personal struggle with weight loss, (weight loss my foot, Skeletor Lucille is a rag, a bone and a hank o’wig) I sit quietly and poised in my pants suit and crisp white blouse. I want to seem well mannered and easy to work with for their clientele. I need money! I smile and politely agree with everything she says and then she hits me with the big one.

Now I am a native southerner and one thing that shoots up a warning flare for me is to hear an old southern woman, drawling slow as molasses, making references to the Lord and leaning in toward me with that conspiratorial tilt of the head and squint of one eye saying “I’m going to be honest with you, Jennifer.”

Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson!

“I see you as a real go-getter. Am I right? You know I am. You’re the kind of person who really likes to go for the prize, a real people person, with a lot of energy to get what you want. I’m right, aren’t I?”

Actually, no. I’m a low energy misanthrope whose retirement goal is to live alone with my husband and our thundering herd of dogs in a charming cottage in Cornwall, write my books and send them off to a publisher who deposits large amounts of money in my very deserving bank account, so I don’t have to see no damn body I don’t want to see.

“Well? Am I right?”

"Huh, oh, yes. Wow you nailed me! How did you know?"

“Oh, I can tell,” she said with an evil twinkle in her eyes. “I see you in one of our management positions. And we have several opening up.”

Suffice it to say that the next 25 minutes are spent trying to convince me of what a lucrative business this is without telling me how much it pays. I don’t care how many radio celebrities come here, I do care what goes in my bank account.

Bottom line – 9 – 6 weekdays (but you usually won’t get out until 7 or 8,) 9 – 1 on Saturdays, (but you won’t get out until 2 or 3,) $150 a week base plus a commission that was not defined, and no days off for one year.

“Now do you have anything planned, Jennifer?” in her most saccharine voice, “because if we give you this marvelous opportunity and in a month you need to be off on a Saturday for a wedding or something, we’re going to have a r-e-e-a-l problem.”

No wonder that sign has been in the window for two years.

So long, Lucille. You can keep your crappy $150 base plus whatever and working late and no days off for a year or we’ll have a problem with it. And honey, with all that money you say you make there – why don’t you get yourself a good wig?


The Small Town Newspaper

Another faux jewel of promise from the job websites! A general assignment reporter position for a small-town newspaper. I sent the requisite letter, resume, samples of my writing in a nice folder and envelope. Two weeks later I get a nice call from the editor and made an appointment to be interviewed.

The weather was severely bad due to hurricanes nearby and my clutch was about to go out in my car. So determined was I to be prompt despite the flooded roads and such that I got up very early, drove my husband to his job so I could drive his car to the newspaper office. They admitted being surprised that I was on time on such a day. I thought this must be my first good point.

After a nice chat I was put in a room where some other reporters worked to take the usual writing tests. At first there were the people peeping in and whispering, wondering if this was a “new girl.”

The first reporter I saw was a cute, petite blonde dressed very casually. Barely post-pubescent she came in and sat at her desk and set about her work. A few minutes later short older woman with dark, curly hair came in and went to baby’s desk. They were to the right and behind me. While looking at the test I was taking I heard the old one talking in a syrupy drawl to blondie.

“Here, hun, I got a little something for yew.” Hmm. Definitely a native to the area.

“Oh, thank you,” the young reporter replied, although she really sounded, oh, as though she were trying to be polite and hide her contempt.

“And here’s that little Christian book I told you I’d bring you,” added with a lower, more purposeful tone. A tone full of subtext that did not go unnoticed by either me or the blonde.

A Georgian from birth, I know a little about the nature of my state. There are many beautiful places in Georgia – from the coast to the mountains. There are also some very dangerous and deadly creatures. Among the most poisonous are: the flesh eating brown recluse spider, the venomous rattlesnake, and the righteous holier-than-thou-wilst-ever-be church lady. My antennae are out and my shields are up, I’ll be aware of this one should I get the job.

A third reporter came in, also cute and blonde, dressed to go on a picnic. This was a very casual office. Crone says something to Blonde #2 who gives her a well disguised brush-off before being called into the editor’s office.

Still, no one has spoken to me. Probably because I’m taking a test.

Both blondes leave the building and crone starts talking to the editor. They’re not in the same office but close enough to hear each other.

“David! Did those people call back Friday about the fire?”

“Ah, no”

“Did Jessica call them?”

Jessica being Blonde #1 – recipient of gift and Christian book.

“Ah no, I don’t think so.”

"Then why did she get the by-line on my story?”

“Huh?”

“I said...”

“Uh, oh wait, I think they called late on Saturday and she talked to them.”

“Before the deadline, huh?”

Old lady – she no happy.

“Uh, yep, that’s right.”

Well, that dynamic played out in just minutes. I wish my test were longer now.

I give my test to David, the editor, who examines them and said I did an excellent job. Then he brings in the publisher, William, on the remainder of the interview.

There was, I noticed, a tendency on both their parts to exhibit male pattern astigmatism. That is, their gaze settled below my eyes, way below – all the way to my cleavage. Well, I’m no kid and it’s not my first time at the rodeo so I just get through it as though I don’t notice it. I need a job. They give me another assignment to do on my own and bring in at my second interview.

Two days later, I’m back in there with the boys, feeling like the interview is not going too badly. When one would ask me a question, as I answered him I would try to also glance toward the other to make it more conversational, you know, to not appear to exclude anyone.

Lo and behold, wouldn’t you know the ‘astigmatism’ or ‘focus problem’ or whatever had gotten worse, much worse. When answering one and then turning to the other it was always the same. Always. The non-questioner was staring into my chest as though hypnotized. And when I spoke to them they never looked back up. It was as though they had a system, or made a pact. Okay, I’ll ask a question while you look, then you ask a question and I’ll look.

That must be one of the strange things about being a man – every time they see a pair of breasts it’s like it’s the first time. Like they’ve never seen such an amazing and wondrous sight before. You know how a dog eats like every time could be the last?

The thought occurred to me to subtly undo another button, put my shoulders a little further back, lick my lips and ask – “Do you think I have what it takes for this job, boys?” Or forget subtlety and just grab a hand from each of them and, placing each hand on a breast, say, “Say fellas, can we pick out my desk now and talk about salary?”

I wrote them each a nice thank you letter afterward. Note to self - If they call me back, definitely wear a skirt, high heel shoes and a low-neck sweater. Get back home, Loretta!


The Auto Repair Business

I answered the ad in the paper for a receptionist. Went in to find a roomful of 12 year olds waiting to interview. A woman in cropped jeans with the hair of a poorly groomed standard poodle rushes toward me like I came in to steal office supplies.

What do you need?” she demands irritatingly.

I smiled, gave her my name, extending my hand, “I have an appointment to interview at 2:30.”

She doesn’t shake my hand but exhales deeply and instructs me to sit and wait my turn. As she runs away I take the only available seat – the receptionist chair. She returns, sends one of the barely post-pubescent group in for an interview and turns sharply toward me and speaks sternly.

“You just sit tight,” with a pointed finger like I was an unruly child. I do just that waiting my turn. The office is ugly. It should be razed, burned down, bulldozed, dynamited. The furniture/furnishings appear to be early 70’s and in ill condition. Q’uelle depressing! The other girls go in for their interview, 7 to 8 minutes each and they were out.

A flamboyantly dressed woman with standard issue beauty pageant hair sprayed into place invites me in. Arms waving to get a dramatic effect from her chiffon poncho as it waves over her ‘leathery from too many years of suntanning’ skin. Miss Melanoma 2005 waves me toward the only chair to sit in while she plops into her chair. It is one of those relics of the early 70s, made of some semblance of bent wood into a bucket seat, usually seen in movies or television in the pot party scene, hanging by a chain from the ceiling and containing a bored Jean Shrimpton look-alike. This one, however, is not hanging but sitting on the floor on its round swiveling base. I perch myself in as best as I can but my seat is about 10 inches from the floor, meaning that my knees are about 3 inches from my chin. I may not be tall but my legs are long which means I have nowhere to put them either comfortably or logistically.

Ms. Chiffon tells me first that she’s received a ream of resumes by fax and is very busy because it’s payday and her boys get grumpy if they have to wait on their checks. She flips the glamour hair over her shoulder and says to me, “I have got to eat so tell me about yourself while I eat. How old are you?” Now that is an illegal question and I’m thinking she should know this but she insists she is older, so I give in and tell her. She is older. I pretend with a look of shock that she must be lying.

“No, I’m 57 and dating a man 42 years old. How bout that?”

What do I care? If she’s happy and he’s happy I guess it pays to volunteer to read to the blind.
now how we met?” She is giving off a very high energy vibe, the kind that comes from an actor in the middle of performing a dramatic part on Broadway, or - someone who’s bi-polar.

Do I know? Do I care? Of course I don’t know, I just met you. But she’s so-o-o-o hot on the subject I can only say…

“Well, don’t make me guess. Tell me!”

“On a bike ride, in upstate New York. Oooooh, he’s so cute! He’s an Adonis. Oh, I’ve dated Adonises , but you know they’re usually so busy thinking of themselves,” she takes her left hand and placing it on her right shoulder begins stroking downwards on her right arm. “You know what I’m doing?” she asks while her gleaming eyes bore into me.

Yeah, being an effing looney tune.

“Oh, I think so,” I say as I nod and give a faux knowing smile.

“They can’t tell where their arm ends and you begin. They wanted me for decoration.”

“Hmmmm,” I add, “but honey, can you blame them?”

Doesn’t she get tired of holding her eyelids that wide open?

“Except I dumped one Adonis when he said he couldn’t date me because my breasts were too small. You know what I told him? I had to dump him anyway because I needed someone with a bigger dick! Ha ha ha!”

She answers the phone and gives another applicant directions. I look around the room from my low roost, an elephant figurine painted in stars and stripes, photos of her on motorcycles, a few angel figures, religious pictures and a cross, a plaster grey wolf head, several figures and pictures of lighthouses. Oh yeah, I can feel the mood here. Hanging up the phone she turns back to me and stares hard. “Because you know I’m clear.”

Huh?

"Completely clear. Because I’ve been celibate for 3 years. That’s how I got rid of the residuals.” Nodding like an old crone secure in the brilliance of her wisdom she appears to be waiting for a reply.

"Ah,” I say, “That’s the secret, huh?” Well I had to say something. Something besides “Say whu?” or “Are you out of your rabid-ass mind?”

“Um-hm, oh yeah. Do you know every time someone comes near you they leave a residual. Whether it’s sex or even if they just get near your face you have a residual for about four months.”

“I’ll be darned.”

“Oh yeah, but God told me if I’d give celibacy a try he’d send me someone beyond my wildest dreams, honey, and that’s exactly what he did.” She answers the phone, then whirls back around.

"So what do you know about our business here? Have you looked at our website?” A man walks in before I can answer. He hands her an envelope and she smiles smugly at him. “My husband and I started this business 25 years ago. When I got my divorce I sold him back my half. But I’ll always work here. Where else could I go and be so cradled in love and security? Tell me.”

“No where I can think of,” I truthfully reply.

“Wanna see my hunk?” She’s opening the envelope that was delivered. “These are from my gorgeous man from our biking trip in Ontario last week.” She looks dreamily at them. “Wanna see the best looking man you’ve ever seen?”

“Now how could I turn that down?” My tongue never out of my cheek, as usual. I take the photos and make all the appropriate ooohs and ahs though I can’t make out much with their cold weather bike gear and sunglasses.

“Ooooooh!” She stomps the floor in multiple staccato poundings. “Oooh, I can’t stand it I miss him so much. Girl, this celibacy thing is something else. But I told God I would save it for marriage this time.”

“Wow! You got some self control there.”

Aw whatcha’ waitin’ for, heifer, celibacy at your age? It’ll take him the first week just to clear the cobwebs out. Give it up honey. Just give it up.

“Oh it’s driving him crazy. Cause he’s so gorgeous he’s never had nobody tell him no before. I said ‘I’ll bet nobody’s ever said no to you before and he said ‘No, nobody’s ever said no to me - never.’ You know who that was that came in here? My ex-husband. Yep. He’s so jealous and I know he still loves me. He says ‘But I only had one affair!’ Too bad. I don’t go for that. Cause when I’m into my man,” she inclines her head and winks, “I am really, really into my man. You know what I’m saying?”

Well, following your rapid-fire psycho rambling is like chasing a manic squirrel, but yeah, I think I do. You’re saying you’re a very horny looney toon.

“Oh, yeah, you play it smart.” Damn! I’m good! The envelope, please! She answers the phone, turns back.

“We have a perfect record with the Better Business Bureau. Perfect. See, we have their logo and a link on our website. No one’s ever complained to the Better Business Bureau about us. How many companies can say that?”

“None that I’ve ever heard of.” My first honest answer.

“No. No one. But you know that night we were in the cabin and he was out on the back porch and he had heavy shoulders and I had heavy shoulders I said whatever problems you had with your ex-girlfriend have nothing to do with me.”

This low-rider chair is killing me, my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? If I lean back I look like a stoner. Where can I put my legs without feeling like young Abe Lincoln?

“I left him on the porch and then came back out and told him I was packed and ready to go. He couldn’t believe it. I said ‘I’m all packed and you can take me to the airport. If I don’t hear from you what I need to hear tonight, not what you think I want you to say, not what anybody else said, I’m leaving and you can take me to the airport. I’d rather sleep on the airport floor than have to stay here with you with heavy shoulders.”

She leaned in and glared intently at me. It was my turn?

“Oh, wow, that is really deep. Really what happened then?”

“It made him think. He wasn’t expecting that. And if you can’t make a man think,” she says, punctuating each word that followed with a jab of her finger in my direction, “He’s not worth the salt on his food.”

“You ain’t never lied.” I proudly declare. Though I’d never heard that one before.

She grabs my resume. “What do you want from this job?”

“I’d like $16 hourly.”

And a secret webcam on your crazy ass because no one is going to believe me and I could probably turn a good movie script or edgy sitcom out of this.

The perfectly sprayed hair swings back in my direction.

“16?”

Oh, man, did I low ball, high ball? I’m sure I’ve screwed myself now. I hate needing a job this badly. “That’s the minimum I get from the temp agencies.” A lie, but…

She launches into a fit about temp agencies. I can’t listen, just nod. My back is killing me. I’m glad I wore pants. My head hurts, my back, my seat. I’ve been in there for 80 minutes! 80 minutes of insanity! Am I on television? Where’s that cute little Kutchner boy? Bucking protocol, I comment on how busy she is and try to end the torture, er, interview. It’s obvious I could be there 80 more minutes and still know nothing more about the job. Ten excruciating minutes later, she tells me she has more interviews coming tomorrow and will make her choice on Wednesday.

“You know how I make my final decision?”

“No.”

But if you’re getting wound up again I swear I’ll paper-cut my wrists!

“I take all the resumes, narrow it down to the ones I like the best, and spread ‘em out on my bed before I go to sleep. When I wake up the first name I think of is the one I’ll hire.”

“Now that’s a plan!” I carefully unfold myself and try to balance and stand. Sweet Mother of Dog, don’t let me fall and break one of these precious, cheap, redneck treasures. I’m sure I could find a replacement at Wal-Mart were I the type of person who goes there. I shake her hand and get out with a quickness. Back into the sunshine and the parking lot, I welcome the sticky humidity like an escaped prisoner. With a quick glance over my shoulder to make the dog-boys aren’t drawing a bead on me I get in my car, buckle up, throw it in first and fling gravel.

Sadly, to be continued...

11 comments:

Collin Kelley said...

Jennifer, this brilliant!!! I laughed my ass off...and that's a lot of ass. xoxo

BING! said...

Give 'em hell!

Siva said...

Great one!!

Anonymous said...

fantastic Jenn! You're the best. (jb)

Petula said...

Job hunting is a monster... Sorry I didn't actually make it through the entire thing. Eyes a little tired and puffy from a faulty inner sprinkler system. Uh, face in downward position, but wanted to come by and check you out. Have a good weekend.

JP - The Mistress of Corgi Manor said...

Thanks for coming by, Petula. This was bit long. I hoped to make you laugh, I feel like I'm living in a David Lynch script. Good weekend to you, too.

The Girl from the Ghetto said...

Jennifer, you had me at job hunting. I've been looking for a job for about 8 months now, and I'm totally sick of the "fake" job postings, etc. (I'm in Michigan, and we have a lot of it.)

I interviewed last week with someone who told me how she weeds out applicants, and how her best friend who works at another company does it - if the applicant has the same first name as another employee, they just toss the resume without even looking at it. AGH!!!

JP - The Mistress of Corgi Manor said...

Girl from Ghetto: And you know a lot of people won't believe it when you tell them that, but I DO!
Just know I'm feeling what you're going through. Thanks for stopping by.
JP

Lisa K. said...

It's a tough world out there and it's great that you can still find the humor in it. Loved your post.

Carin S. said...

wow, scary! As I ebark on job-hunting, your stories aren't reassuring, but at least I'm not alone in the craziness!

Lori St John said...

Jennifer Perry, we met at the Book Expo and you gave your card to my assistant requesting I get in touch with you for an interview. You can reach me at lori@loristjohn.com The Corruption of Innocence, a Journey for Justice. great to connect but cannot find a way to send you a message- not tech savvy with this :( Thanks a million. I look forward to speaking with you.