Working For a Living*

Forgot to mention...the job interview I had went well, but I've learned not to believe the hype until I see an offer. I've had too many instances of "everything looks great, give me a call in [x] days" and then I call, and the people I need to speak with are mysteriously "in a meeting" or "at lunch" -- all day. So I don't get my hopes up.

Actually, since I've upended this particular can of worms, let's talk a bit about finding work. I've been accused of being prideful or lazy because I don't go leaping after the first toilet-scrubbing job presented to me. And of course lately, I've been accused in some quarters of being lazy because I'm blogging instead of looking for work/housing.

That's not accurate, because the Web has made job searching much easier. I can surf several employment websites before ever writing a thing. In fact, I visit my favorite job site several times a day whenever possible: Creative Hotlist. That's because I've noticed it's often updated several times a day. I've gotten really good leads from there.

Other sites I visit on a regular basis, in no particular order, are: the NC Employment Security Commission, Career Builder, Monster, Triad JobNet, and Triad Careers. I've discovered that the bulk of jobs within my field get posted to these sites. I check these at least once a day.

A useful technique I've found is to go either to the Employment Security Commission or the book store and keep my ears open. I've gotten several leads that way. Few that I'm qualified or trained for**, but useful nonetheless because they often lead to other leads themselves.

They say networking is the big thing now to find work, but I've gotten only limited use out of it. I have many friends and aqcuaintances forwarding listings to me all the time; the ones I'm qualified and trained* for, I pursue. If I'm lacking certain training or qualification for a job, I won't waste an interviewer's time. Despite what you've heard, if you can't fulfill the duties of a job, interviewers get testy when you come sniffing around for it, and it's grounds for termination later if you actually manage to get in. I think an extended gap looks better on a resume than a string of firings because of dishonesty, neh?

Then there is the old pound-the-sidewalk thing. I've done that, too. A technique I like to do is, whenever I enter an office building for the first time, is look at the registry to see which companies present seem to, by way of their name, do the things I'm qualified for, and make up a list. Then later, when I get to a computer and printer, each of them get a resume.

I used to just walk into companies, smile, explain why I'm there, and leave a resume. I don't do that anymore for reasons best not gone into here. I let the resume do the talking now, and if the prospective employer wants to meet me in person, my phone number and e-mail are right there.

So why am I having such trouble finding work? I've thought about it, late at night, Pepsi in hand, ,and come to the conclusion that it must be a combination of factors. Some are easy to fix (and I've fixedmost of them), some aren't so easy, and a few are out of my control completely. With your permission, I'd like to take them a group at a time and relate them. Maybe some of you can see a solution or two that I haven't.

The conditions I can correct with ease are lack of independent transportation (which is being taken care of with the help of a good friend. Hey, Jay!); redesigning my hardcopy resume (I've already done this, but I'd like to get it in front of a professional resume writer for review. That, of course, costs money); expanding my database of job search sites and resources; and learning better how to "sell myself" in interviews.

The things that are not as easy are getting more training (it's out there (3), but it takes a time/money commitment I can't afford right now. The catch-22 is that I need the training to get a better job, but I've got to get a better job to pay for the training); getting interviews in the first place (rather difficult when no one returns your e-mails and phone calls); and overcoming race and age discrimination (I'm black and in my 40s, with graying hair. Some employers take one look and run, some don't. It's often hard to tell which is which because it's so subtle.)

The things totally out of my control are the economy (flaccid until recently; few people hire during a recession; and the constant outsourcing and illegal immigration) and the level of competition I face in applying for jobs (and some of this may sync up with age discrimination; more in a moment).

There are a few conditions a little more intangible that I'll take on one by one:

"Why don't you just take anything?" I've heard this many times, and in December 2004, I did. The problem with is that "anything" is usually just a code word for one of the ubiquitous low-wage "service" jobs floating around out there. Most pay a wage sufficient to ensure that you're either going to be deeper in the hole before long, or you'll need a second, or even a third job.

"So take a secord or third job." Then the problem becomes not seeing your spouse (especialy if s/he also works) or your kids (4), and taking on too many jobs -- especially if they're strenuous -- leads to missed sleep and possible health problems

"You may have to go outside your field." Yes, I might. And I agree; there are careers more lucrative than graphics. But that still requires training, which is a time/money commitment I can't handle at the moment (see the Catch -22 above).

"You seem to be overqualified." This one never ceases to floor me. How exactly is one "overqualified" for something? I prefer to think of it as "being trained well enough to be able to handle the unexpected," but regardless, no amount of persuasion to the contrary has yet shaken the perception of any employer that chooses to hide behind this fallacy. More's the pity for them, I say.

"You're just lazy/picky." No I am not. I'm no stranger to work, even hard work (5) (one of my chores at the Day Center is scrubbing the toilets in the men's room. I do it without complaint, because I know it's got to be done.) I simply prefer to focus my efforts toward securing a job that 1) pays all my bills without juggling from month to month, 2) allows me time to spend with my family (I think they call that a work/life balance now) and 3) gives me the feeling that I've actually accomplished something. Remember, you spend one-third of your life at work; it ought to be doing something for you other than turning you into a latter-day chattel slave.

There is a pervasive (and as near as I can tell, uniquely American) mindset that holds that if you're not willing to "do anything" for almost no pay but work 16-20 hours doing it that you're lazy, worthless, wanting to beat the system, wanting to go on welfare, or some other such derogatory thing. Maybe the people who are looking for a particular job have already been in a low wage-dead end job, seen that it didn't meet their needs, and now know what kind of work will make their life better. Isn't the entire American Dream (6) predicated on making one's life better? Isn't that why we strive to educate ourselves, get better jobs for better pay and instruct our kids to shoot for the Moon instead of McDonald's? How sad, then, that when one tries to do just that, someone else is willing to pooh-pooh the notion.

The elegant solution is if I could get my old job at the ad agency back. I already know how to do that job, and do it well. And the pay was superb.

We'll speak of this again, I'm sure.

*I was going to use a quote on work for the title of this post, but I saw so many that were good and/or wise, I thought I'd simply link the page.

**I've had several people ask me for a copy of my resume. I remembered (finally) that I have one posted at Creative Hotlist.

3 GTCC has some of the finest training and educational programs anywhere, but they rightly don't work for free.

4 I'm assuming you love your family enough to want to see them, if you're otherwise that cold-hearted, please feel free to ignore this paragraph.

5 In my life, I've been a busboy/dishwasher, fast food cook/order taker, data entry operator, survey taker, thrift store retail worker, phone operator, data entry operator and hotel housekeeper. All before I went into graphic design.

6 Which, I've come to believe, is merely a lie told to pacify the lower classes. But I digress...

My distant friend,
I absolutely agree with you. You have to fight the risk of entering in a low wage-low reputation downwards spiral.

Cheers from Italy
You re right, #6 is a lie. It keeps the boss man in his goose down filled bed, while those that made him rich sleep on fodder and planks made from the tool shed. You re are too astute, thats your overqualification. The employer know you re not studpid and therefore you ll be nothing but displeased by working for morons. I ve thought about yesterday. I got to talk to the mayor like I said previously(different name), his idea of reducing poverty is to create vocational job training programs. I thought that was a dumb idea. Why? It s not new. Didnt Newark, Boston, Cleveland, most other industrial cities try that 50 YEARS AGO when industry starting leaving for lower taX base areas and the suburbs? If people cant earn enough it doesnt matter what they are trained to do? You didnt cover this point: People assume if you re making more than minimum wage you re doing OK. Not true, what you need to make depends on the cost of living index in your area. To compare Miami with some Inuit village in Alaska isnt right. One may make the same amount of money in federal dollars but be at a disadvantage in locaL region possibilities. One cannot make less than $14/hour in this area and rent an aprtment for your family(a small one with no luxurious accoutrements). Health insurance?!? Ha! Everytime you go to the hospital(the ER) you give them people a different name and make up a SS number. Basic services? Light, phone, food? My friend, the Grapes of Wrath grow upon us, yes indeed. And dont even get me started on illegal immigration. I mean, can we talk here?? Can we really talk??
The more I read about you the more I like your point of view. Unfortunately the US is not the only place where "if you're not willing to do anything" you have no right to speak. Work/life balance? ha! My co-workers here simply grin at my words when I try to change some unhealthy routine here.. they can't understand WHY I wish to have some time to spend with my family and friends - or even by myself!

Oh, just wanted to add this: can't really make out your sentence about "God being in gear" my English is not so good, but just wanted to share a feeling with you and your family
"Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things"
Don't be scared. Don't.
Hey there-

I just graduated from a top ten business school here in the United States. They indoctrinated us with hours and hours of resume advice...

I looked at your resume and you have what it takes to succeed in the interview! But your resume is formatted pretty awkardly. My advice would be to really examine the wealth of resume advice online or in your library.

The list of "Career skills" is superfluous and should be absorbed into your Objective statement at the beginning of the resume. Separate the software skills with commas, not line-breaks.

But the BIGGEST problem with your resume is that you don't expound on your experience/history section. I'm sure you did some valuable work in each of those positions (be they freelance or not), so try writing just a quick sentence for each one like "Completely revamped the x section" or "Awarded Outstanding Graphic" etc... Even if you didn't get an award in these jobs, at LEAST explain what you did there!
- avolokitisvara - thanks for your comment/translation on my blog. I left you a note there, too.
(I usually don't comment, but this one sturck a chord.)

Back in 2001, I had a great contact job as a programmer. Due to cutbacks and such, I lost it. My last day of that job was 12/31/2001, when my contraact was not renewed.

I figured I wouldn't have much trouble finding another job, but I was dead wrong. I finally managed to get a data entry job 2 hours away paying less than a third of what I had been making. After that job (I had to leave it because it wasn't financially viable to drive four hours a day for it), I took a job stocking groceries at Wal-Mart, then one doing customer support for Verizon DSL. (Note to others: DO NOT WORK FOR TELETECH DOING VERIZON DSL CUSTOMER SUPPORT! There were at least 2-3 ambulances there every week due to stress health problems. I was in one of those ambulances.)

Now I am working at a small company paying about 1/2 of the going rate as a programmer again. I got it on January 7 of 2005. That means for over 3 years I took what I could get before getting back into my field. Not good at all.
One other thing. At VideoBomb: Struggling to Survive, there's a video some students did about people making minimum wage not having enough to live on.
I'm an Architect in Baltimore, so my only help is to offer you a different solution. Many architecture firms, especially larger ones, hire people with graphic design experience to do their marketing materials. As each project is different, each set of materials is slightly different, so the firm essentially needs marketing professionals permanently. Try www.aia.org & www.aiapiedmont.org to find a list of architecture firms. Good luck!
keep rockin those asterisks!*

Never lose your hope...best wishes to you.
I find your blog to be fascinating. I don't know that I agree with much of what you say or your positions, however, I do find it interesting to explore another perspective.

I have been working, paying bills, and raising babies since I was 17. I don't know what it's like to not have a job, because 1) I've never been fired, 2) I've never been laid off, 3) when I have quit jobs I always found another to go to.

I've worked everything from: stocking grocery store shelves, to waiting tables, to customer service in a call center, to being a stock broker, to being an administrative assistant, to managing a dentist office. Some of the jobs have used my "training" and been "in my field" and others have definately not. But that's just my path and my experience.

I wish you God-speed in your search for employment and am trusting that He knows better than you or I or anyone else exactly what the needs of your family are.

I don't know if there has been advice that addresses this, but you may be a 'displaced worker'
Employment Security has programs for displaced workers which include re training, and if you haven't looked into it, it's worth checking out.

I was an insurance agent, and September 11th took care of that, it was a slow process, of for 8 months not being able to get any business. I am older, I have physical handicaps so I went in to DVR and got help to go back to school. Up until recently that has worked out well. In my schooling I did two things, Billing and Coding, which I had to withdraw from, because the fine print was killing my eye, and the online site for the classes has serious accesibilty issues right now.
The other thing I have worked with that is going better is to be a medical interpreter. I am actually linguistically gifted, and the program gave me an unusually good comand of medical terminology.
So one part of the program hasn't worked for me, and the other part did. I anticipate taking the state exam to be certified as a medical translator very soon. I'm concentrating my efforts in that direction now.
I'm not against taking something lower paid IF 1. some skill you have is used 2. it's close enough physically to you to be a viable alternative 3. the pay isn't too riduclously low and 4. the hours are ok. If it doesn't meet all four of those criteria it's not at all worth it.
I have taken lower paying jobs if there were benefits or in one case, I was able to work from home, so the lack of benefits and the lower pay were outweighed by not needing to spend money on transportation or professional attire, or other work related expenses.
Incidentally one way to deal with the 'overqualified' stigma is to target your resume toward the specific job. The internet allows that to be done very easily. It's possible to have a very professional resume, and to make adjustments where needed.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

I wanted to check out your resume, but it was WAY too hard to find. You need to put it in a more visible spot, I think you should BLOG it... or clearly link to it.

I'll see if I can edit it for you, since I'm a professional translator/writer.
The biggest problem America is facing isn't the fact that no one wants to do the low end jobs. You're right, the low end jobs just don't pay enough to survive. If the upper management (read CEO's, Presidents, and Directors) of companys wouldn't make 400 times what the lowest paid worker was making we could all survive

I'm currently doing what you had done in the past and working whatever I can to keep bills paid. If it weren't for my mother I would be homeless as well. Ironically I'm finally doing a job I enjoy and feel as though I'm making a difference. I won't be able to keep it though unless I start getting more money. I've actually been looking for another job because I'm burying myself in the financial hole I'm digging.

Best of Luck to you and your family. I hope this job works out well for you and you get back on your feet soon.
Have you tried www.craigslist.org ? They have some pretty interesting job opportunities on there. They have full time, part time and "gigs" if you need a quick job for fast money some time (working security @ a concert, moving a house etc...). First click your city on the right side, then click the area of job you are interested in. It's not a fancy site - but it's free and has lots of stuff!!
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