Brave New World…The World of Work

Last night I was sitting around sipping on adult refreshments and wasting time on twitter as I am prone to do when I am too brain dead to do anything else. I was chatting or shall we say tweeting with a real life friend who had made a comment about job applicants being careless in how they present themselves via their resumes and cover letters. I made a comment that turned into a slight discussion with someone else who thought that perhaps employers in this job market are the ones being unfair, I won’t bore you with the whole discussion but I will say it provided me with some food for thought.

It’s no secret that in this current economy if you are looking for a job, you might be looking a while. The reality being that there simply are not enough jobs for all who desire them, hell does anyone even know how many people are actually out of work? After all the weekly figures that are released are based on folks who apply for unemployment compensation, when there are plenty of folks including my spouse who as an independent contractor don’t pay into that system thus when they lose a job they aren’t counted. Then there are folks like yours truly who is technically underemployed since I would love a full time job with things like health insurance, a retirement account and all those goodies. Instead I have a position that is technically part time which everyone including my higher ups know is full time, I just don’t get paid a full time wage.

So it’s probably no surprise that folks are just losing hope, I mean how many fucking resumes do you send out before you start thinking…this is bullshit! Truthfully you just start functioning on auto-pilot when you send shit out because you know the odds of scoring an interview are probably about as good as hitting all the numbers in Powerball. My own brother has been grappling with this as he gets ready to celebrate two years without a job; my brother is an architect with a master’s degree who is now currently working on his second masters as a way to try to keep his resume fresh. Hell, I spent 18 months unemployed in 2007-2008 at the beginning of this financial shit storm, so I know firsthand how hard it is out there!

That said, I say to anyone looking for a job, I am a big believer in when life hands you lemons, you turn that shit into lemonade. In the past year I have been on the hiring end which is a vastly different place than being on the looking end. Last year I hired three people for the small non-profit that I run (when I say small, I mean small, our operating budget is well under $100,000 yet last year we served 300 kids!) and right now out of the original three I hired only one is still with me. Nope, the other two did not leave for greener pastures but instead were terminated but the one who stuck it out well, he took a chance on me and worked his ass off for not much over minimum wage and in return his effort was rewarded by me making a decision that means I won’t see a raise or bonus anytime soon because I decided he was worth keeping so I increased his pay substantially.

Of all the applicants I have met in this past year he was the only one who took the position seriously and despite the fact the salary was laughable he treated as if it were a well-paying job. Hell, he actually showed up to the interview in a shirt and tie! In many ways he reminds me of my younger self where often times my lack of a degree held me back so I knew I had to bust my ass to prove myself.

Oh, I know many will say but why do I have to do that? You don’t, but in this economy if you don’t find a way to make yourself stand out you decrease the likelihood you will find a job even more. Yes, it may be an employer’s market to some degree but that does not mean we should be passive, over the years I have discovered you never know who someone else knows. I also know that working in a small state like Maine, especially in a field like mine, everyone knows everyone. So today’s grunt might be tomorrow’s boss.

There is no escaping the fact that wages are stagnant…how I know this! Yet my Granny always used to tell me some money beats no money. Now if you have some savings and time left on unemployment, you often can afford to be choosy, I know I was initially. But with the average time it takes to find a job creeping up on a year now, many folks can’t afford to be choosy. Sadly the social safety net once you have exhausted unemployment benefits and used up your savings is pretty much a stop to get a food stamp card and if you are lucky maybe you can access TANF benefits which are also getting pretty difficult to get depending on the state you live in. I don’t know about you but while it’s nice to eat, staying housed is also cool.

When I took my job back in 2008, I was skittish about it but having exhausted my unemployment benefits and making a bit of cash with a few grant writing clients I knew I needed some stable money. So despite the fact the salary was laughable I took the job and have been able to grow with it, my salary while still modest for what I do, is no longer quite laughable and more importantly I have been able to grow my professional network. So while I lament my lack of bennies, I also know why they don’t exist at the same time I have been able to get my name out there which has had some benefits.

The reality is we as a nation, are in uncharted waters these days and to survive I think we are all going to have to start thinking outside the box.