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.

How Not to Get a Job Part 2

As shitty as it is to be unemployed and looking for job, I must say it’s equally as frustrating to be an organization in need of an employee. The fact is in smaller organizations there is often no human resources department or person to do the initial grunt work of weeding through applicants, those tasks often falls to some employee or maybe even the actual employer. Who at the same time must do their normal job duties on top of taking time to try to find what they hope will be a fabulous new employee.

This month is turning out to be stress inducing multiplied by about a hundred which is why my posting has slacked off. Kids starting school, new grants, and more importantly the need for new staff at my center have got me wanting to pull out my damn hair, its crazy time people! So I am still interviewing for my center in case you haven’t figured that out, my task is made harder by the fact that as a very small non profit my budget is minuscule. Oh, but it’s far larger than it was almost two year ago when I took over as director. Back then there was no money to hire anyone else.

The interviews have continued and let me tell you while the official stats tell us that for every job opening there are 5 applicants; I am convinced that out of those 5 applicants the stupid runs deep for 4 of them hence why they are unemployed. I have grown convinced that for strong applicant’s jobs exist. Maybe it’s a sign that I am getting old and that I am slowly becoming a lovable curmudgeon but let me tell you meeting applicants who clearly do not bother to read job descriptions drive me crazy. Now I know as several folks have already told me, I am basically looking for a saint. Someone willing to commit to a full school year for very little in terms of remuneration. I want to be sympathetic to folks but the fact is when running a program devoted to at risk kids, the strength of our program is that we develop strong relationships with the kids. Relationships that really make a difference, for many of the kids that my center serves they lack stable home environments and the center is the one constant in their lives so it only makes sense that I hire someone who can at least commit to staying the entire school year. Yet out of the now many folks I have interviewed only two seemed willing to make that commitment. Unfortunately the two who were willing to do so lack the necessary skills sets for that particular position, though one candidate I did offer a lesser position that will allow me to train them and see if perhaps they can eventually move into the primary position I am hiring for.

Next thing, life happens…Lord, knows I have lead a life where shit happens. But if you have to reschedule an interview calling two minutes before your interview time asking to reschedule is a fail. Especially when the interviewer has given you their cell number so if you need to change the time you can do so in a timely fashion. Look, if you are interviewing for a position where timeliness and responsibility are a huge factor and I think a program where you would be the overseer of 20-30 kids falls into that category, please know you are being judged on everything. I know some of you may say damn BGIM you are a harsh taskmaster. No, but I need to know if I hire someone they are not going to call me 10 minutes before the center is supposed to open telling me they can’t make it. If that happens on a day I am say at meeting miles always then the center literally would not open. To the working families that use our services that means kids getting off the bus to a center that is closed if someone calls out at the literal last minute. Needless to say in this interview process I am paying attention to all the small details.

Also while it’s illegal for employers to ask certain questions, why the hell are so many of my applicants over sharing with me? One woman in a cover letter mentioned being a single Mom….that’s cool but honestly I don’t need to know that about you. I also don’t need to know that you are on unemployment and trying to see if you can work my job and collect your benefits at the same time. I have had several applicants share that with me and each time thought um…okay. People, people…I want to know you only insofar as it would affect how you work, all that extra shit is just too much. Besides if you are over sharing your personal life with me, how the hell will I know that you won’t over share about the folks we serve?  In my work confidentiality is a huge deal; I need to know you won’t be down at the local coffee shop talking greasy about one of our families.

There are so many pieces of finding a job that is a good match for the employer and the employee but in both instances a little common sense can go a long way. We are living in a time when all around us we are encouraged to live open lives, hell just turn on the television. Reality shows have changed how we view what’s right and wrong…um, competing on a show for a 5th rate celebrity frankly says a lot about you. Social media which I have a fierce love/hate relationship with has broken down the filters that we use to have, hell even I am guilty at times of over sharing and being a little out there online. But in the work world especially in a place where you are dealing with vulnerable folks, a certain amount of integrity is needed.

Anyway wish me well as I start another round of interviews this week. Happy Monday!

PS: If you are looking for a job, you really need to be mindful of what you put out on the interwebz, because when employers do background checks we really do take a look at your online persona. Some might say I am an intrusive employer but my agency reputation and my professional reputation hinge on making sure I don’t hire a pedophile or some other unsavory character so I need to do the appropriate checks. I am not turning down any applicants due to their political beliefs or things like that but if you like to engage in borderline illegal activities in your off time, well that does give me reason for concern.

How not to get a job!

Hello readers! Life has been busy, busy as we prepared for the kidlet’s first at the educational industrial complex…ooop! I meant school. So far she survived the first day of course when its only two hours and it involves animal crackers and a bus ride, it’s not too stressful. Though the verdict is still out on whether or not she will  stay in school since I am leaning strongly towards homeschooling but I will keep you posted.

In other happenings, after slaving for the last two years at my non-profit job, I have finally secured enough funding to actually hire additional staff and thus make my life just a tad bit less stressful. Though I am finding the entire process of hiring to be stressful, as a small agency it’s important to hire folks who are going to love the work, be dedicated and are totally okay with earning peanuts.

Thankfully the shitty economy works in my favor, after all 7-8 years ago I doubt I would have had degreed folks tripping over each other just to get their foots in the door of an agency where I will work em like slaves, pay em peanuts and occasionally say thank you.

That said, if you as the job seeker think you have it bad, let me tell you it’s no fun weeding through resumes some which make me think they were written by twelve-year old’s masquerading as adults. Today after I spent some time weeding out the obvious no’s, it was time to set up interviews and let me tell ya I learned something new.

First candidate, not a perfect match but met the minimum standards of what I am looking for in a candidate, so I try to call to set up an interview. Except I noticed something funny on both the cover letter and resume….there is no phone number. Um….how the hell can I reach you without a phone? So I email the candidate who replies and tells me they are traveling for the month therefore they are not available for an interview in the time frame that I am conducting interviews.

Let me get this straight. You applied for a job, no phone number and now not available for an interview anytime in this calendar month. Call me old but last  time I looked for a job, I was relatively available for interviews. No, I don’t expect you to be available tomorrow but if you aren’t available to even interview for a month, why bother to even apply? Hey, if you got some thoughts on that, please let me know.

Next candidate, I give a call and this person answers the phone like I am Capital One demanding payment on an overdue Visa. It took a good minute or so before the person realized I was calling about a job and then switched up their tone. Um….first impressions matter, even on the phone.  By the way telling me you were planning on calling about the job was a bad idea. Why? The posting specifically says no phone calls please.

Look, the ability to pay attention to details is very important. If you send a resume on Friday and you think calling the company on Tuesday is a good idea, especially when the posting says no calls. Guess what? That means no fucking calls. Some might say it shows initiative and yes that is true but it also shows someone who does not pay attention to details and as the person running a small agency, unwanted calls at inconvenient times is a nuisance.

Lastly, the person who sent an email asking how to apply for the job when the listing was real clear…it read “email resume, cover letter and 4 references to or mail to Helping Agency 123 Job Lane, Jobs Now, ME 55555.” So sending an email asking how to apply shows someone who lacks the ability to follow the fucking directions.

Look, being jobless sucks!  I did 18 months of unemployment/freelance gigs back in 2007-2008 and that was before the economy went to hell in a hand basket. But taking a few extra minutes to follow the directions or hell even writing in the body of the cover letter that you are traveling and not available until a certain time goes a long way in presenting yourself in a good light.

By the way, while many folks for whatever reason hate talking on the phone, if you are looking for a job you really need to put your best voice forward when answering, worse case if its Visa, hang up.