Category Archives: Job search

Through the wringer

I guess I’ll start this off the Kurt Vonnegut Jr way and give you the ending first — I was offered a job this afternoon, a long-term temp job in medical editing, and I am very happy. I start on Tuesday (no more sleeping late!).

But I still wanted to write a bit about some of what led up to that, as yesterday was quite challenging emotionally and physically.

To start off, I wasn’t happy with my interview suit, and I’d picked shoes that went with the suit but were uncomfortable. I knew this, but I figured I could tolerate them for a short time, and I put them in my shoulder bag. I’d wear sandals and switch right before I got to the interview.

Oh — I also wasn’t having my best hair day. I managed to get it reasonably under control. I was wearing jewelry when I left the house but when I saw myself in the mirror later I didn’t like the look, so I took it all off. Basically, I was approaching the interview a little uncertain about my appearance even though I was wearing the “right” clothes and should have felt just fine.

I was meeting a friend later in the afternoon and would have a few hours to kill in between. So I brought the current manuscript I was proofreading plus my journals. I shouldn’t have brought them, I should have just grabbed a few sheets of scrap paper in case inspiration hit. Then there was the folder of materials to prep for the interview and a small makeup kit and hairbrush. The bottom line was that my bag was quite heavy.

The recruiter had called me on Wednesday and set up the interview for 10 a.m. Thursday. Unbelievably, I had gotten a second call on Wednesday from another agency, which wanted me to do a phone interview at 10 a.m. on Thursday. I haven’t gotten a bite in months and now two potential employers want to see me at the same time? I told the second agency I couldn’t do 10 a.m.–what about the afternoon? She said the company didn’t do interviews in the afternoon–what about 11 a.m.? I said that was cutting things rather close. She suggested 11:30 and I reluctantly agreed to that time, knowing I was still cutting things too close and there was a good chance I would not be done the first interview.

The second job, by the way, was a temporary fundraising/telemarketing gig. I wasn’t exactly jumping at the bit for that kind of position, but since I wanted to show the agency I was willing to work, I thought it best not to turn it down flat. I simply should have said, “No, I won’t be able to do the phone interview on Thursday morning.”

I got to my 10 a.m. interview a few minutes early, just as another person was arriving, and she was there to see the same recruiter I was seeing. Wasn’t sure if this was a bad sign or not. I tried not to think about it.

The receptionist then handed me the most massive application packet I’ve ever seen. Besides the application itself there were at least 20 other forms to read, fill out and sign. I even had to give them a voided check and routing numbers for direct deposit.

The paperwork took a long time, almost an hour and a half. I estimated I’d printed my name 19 times, signed it 16 times, given my date of birth 15 times, provided my Social Security number 10 times, and wrote my address and phone number 9 times.

Then they took me into a computer room where I had to fill out information and my job history again–electronically this time. Then I had to take a proofreading, MS Word and MS Excel tests. I finally met with the recruiter at around 12:45, and was finished at 1:05.

Jumping back, a few minutes before 11:30, I asked for a bathroom break. I had the second company’s name and number and needed to call to try to reschedule the interview. That was all I was calling about; I didn’t think I needed to have the agency’s name handy.

The lady on the other end of the line didn’t seem too happy about my requesting a new time. It turns out I’d written down the name of the interviewer wrong. I remember repeating the name to the agency representative, but either she had mispronounced it or I just hadn’t heard it correctly. I had written down a similar-sounding, but different, name.

As a result of this mix-up, I suppose I didn’t sound very bright on the phone (I didn’t know I had the wrong name until later–I was simply surprised when they told me there was no one there by that name). They told the agency rep that I was “unprofessional.” I guess if I were the person awaiting my call and didn’t know what had happened I would have called me “unprofessional” too, but there was a lot out of my hands. It was unprofessional of me to agree to the interview, that’s for sure.

I wasn’t sure about writing about that event in my blog, but I think I am going to leave it in because I want to show that not everything goes perfectly all the time. I’m sure others can identify with similar mix-ups. Even though we’re supposed to be competitive and knowledgeable and always well-prepared, sometimes things happen.

Anyway, the main interview went well, I thought, but you never can quite tell. Later that day the rep called back and said I had an interview set up with the actual company for 1 p.m. today.

It was business casual, she said. Business casual, huh? Is this going to be a trap? I decided to wear black slacks, a nice button-down shirt and a suit jacket. The shoes were comfortable. The bag wasn’t too heavy. I had all my information and gave myself plenty of time to get there. And I had researched the company as best I could with only one night to do so.

What a relief to see the interviewer come into the room wearing blue jeans. She was friendly, the second staff person I met was friendly, and I was ready with prepared questions (yes, I wanted to do everything right after the previous day).

I took a fact-checking and two proofreading tests, and that was it. Handshakes all around. The interviewer said I was the last of the interviews and they hoped to make a decision by that afternoon.

And less than two hours later I got the call–I’d made the cut.


“Are Jobs Obsolete?”

Fantastic article published today on CNN Opinion, by Douglas Rushkoff, special to CNN.

“New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures — from EZpasses ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete. Every new computer program is basically doing some task that a person used to do. But the computer usually does it faster, more accurately, for less money, and without any health insurance costs.

“We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. Instead of collecting tolls, the trained worker will fix and program toll-collecting robots. But it never really works out that way, since not as many people are needed to make the robots as the robots replace.

“And so the president goes on television telling us that the big issue of our time is jobs, jobs, jobs — as if the reason to build high-speed rails and fix bridges is to put people back to work. But it seems to me there’s something backwards in that logic. I find myself wondering if we may be accepting a premise that deserves to be questioned.

“I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks — or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?”

Read the rest of the article here.


I’ve personally felt discouraged from time to time as I’ve looked for work, but “discouraged worker” is, of course, an official category of people out of work, otherwise known as the “not-collecting-unemployment unemployed.”

From NPR’s Jobless Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story, by Sonari Glinton:

“The number of people who are long-term unemployed remains unchanged — more than 6 million people. The number of ‘discouraged workers’ also remains the same. Those are people who are not looking for work because they believe there are no jobs.

“(Linda) Barrington (a labor economist with the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University) says the long-term unemployed have to be asking whether or not the search is hopeless.

“‘I think for some people, there is a ratcheting-down that’s going to have to take place. That may mean taking a pay cut; it may mean going back to school, and these are really difficult decisions,’ she says.”

That’s why it hurts when those in power talk about cutting unemployment, or other social programs, at a time when so many are suffering and struggling.

Paul Krugman of the NY Times: “Check out the opinion page of any major newspaper, or listen to any news-discussion program, and you’re likely to encounter some self-proclaimed centrist declaring that there are no short-run fixes for our economic difficulties, that the responsible thing is to focus on long-run solutions and, in particular, on “entitlement reform” — that is, cuts in Social Security and Medicare. And when you do encounter such a person, you should be aware that people like that are a major reason we’re in so much trouble.”

Apparently, that “entitlement reform” includes unemployment, which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is suggesting the government stop paying for and make workers pay for themselves. He said the government should “give” out-of-work Americans “responsibility for their own employment opportunities.”

Romney: “Unemployment benefits – I think they’ve gone on a long, long time. We have to find ways to reduce our spending on a lot of the anti-poverty programs and unemployment programs, but I would far rather see a reform of our unemployment system to allow people to have a personal account, which they’re able to draw from, as opposed to having endless unemployment benefits.”

The phrase “responsibility for their own employment opportunities” just sets my teeth on edge. You’re laid off suddenly, you can’t find a job in your field, you get rejected over and over (sometimes because of age discrimination), but you need to be more “responsible.”

Unemployment benefits aren’t endless, and they are little more than a cushion for survival between jobs. More importantly, they aren’t charity, and they are only available to people who have worked recently. No, it may not be “fair” to an employer whose employee quits or does a bad job — but it’s certainly fair to employees who have worked for years and are suddenly laid off due to no fault of their own. Beyond that, it is a benefit I get when I work. I produce something for a company, I work my butt off to help them earn profits, and when I’m let go, that safety net should be there.

Here’s the thing. I could probably find a job very quickly in retail or food service–that’s certainly not a given, since I haven’t worked in those fields in years–but those jobs pay a fraction of what I was earning at my last job. Unemployment is slightly more than minimum wage, and allows me the time to search in my field, and perhaps find a new line of work if nothing in my field comes through.

I know my unemployment will run out soon. That’s why I’m starting this freelance business and hoping to get editing work. I don’t know if I’ll be successful. I’ll probably have to take a lower-paying job while I get established, and that’s OK. I don’t mind working. I’ve always been a hard worker.

But let me make it clear: I’m not taking from a system that I’ve never paid into. I’ve worked and I’ve paid for many, many years. And I’m sure most of the more than six million people out of work could say exactly the same thing.

Do I look confused in this?

What are people wearing these days to job interviews? Here is some helpful advice:

From The Return of the Interview Suit, NY Times:

“… go with a pantsuit because that gives a better silhouette.” — Simon Kneen, creative director of Banana Republic.

“I’m really against pants. They look too casual in most situations.” — Designer Nicole Miller.

“… clean and simple lines — anything that doesn’t distract the interviewer from understanding the qualities you bring to the table.” — Karen Harvey, a recruiter for top fashion and retail jobs.

“ … give people something to remember. … pick a color, as opposed to wearing all gray.”  — Jenna Lyons Mazeau, the creative director of J. Crew. “”

“I’m a big fan of sticking with navy or gray pinstripes.” — former designer James Purcell, who now works as an image strategist for executives and politicians.

Cost of all this?

From Buyer’s Guide: The Perfect Interview Suit:

“It’s reasonable to expect a suit to cost somewhere between $300 and $1,000.” — Erika Chloe, celebrity stylist and founder of fashion consulting company “My Image Expert.”

Confused and depressed now?

Best foot forward

I had two interviews recently that I considered fairly important — good jobs at respected, successful companies (dare I dream of longevity? … no, let’s get in the door first). I had done enough research about each company that I was prepared. Still, I had a certain amount of anxiety. Both jobs are medical editing positions. This is work that I know, but it’s been a few years since I’ve worked full time in medical publishing.

Because of this time gap, when I look at my resume and writing samples, I will sometimes get this odd, disconnected feeling that someone else wrote those stories, that someone else did those jobs, that someone else holds the experience listed on the resume with my name on top. My medical pieces were published before I got married, so my maiden name is on the bylines. But it’s still me; I haven’t changed (much). I wrote those stories, I interviewed those doctors, I attended those medical conferences — all those things my resume says I did. And I consider myself more valuable to employers these days. I have more computer skills, I know more about web research, website creation and maintenance, blogging and tagging, and at least a little bit about using social media.

So there I was, conservatively dressed, with extra copies of my resume, the job description, a list of references, and a few informational pages about the companies for me to review prior to the interview. In the first interview I met one person; in the second  I met a team of 10, over the course of four hours, and took an editing test. Although the rapport was good and I left both interviews with a good feeling, I have no idea what impression I really made.

Did I seem positive? Did I seem confident? Did I come across as phony? I certainly wasn’t depressed and I don’t think I acted negative. I worry if I seem less confident when I start to think, What are they looking for? Is making a joke good or bad? Do I come across as too aggressive or not aggressive enough?

The people I met were in a very wide age bracket. The youngest looked 30-something, possibly late 20s. The oldest might have been 60-something. So I didn’t feel I would be shut out because I was too old. But there could be any number of reasons why I don’t make the cut. If I’m offered a job, they might tell me what led them to make the choice, but if I don’t get selected, I’ll probably never know why. It’s emotionally draining because you might know how to do a job but if you can’t win over an interviewer than you’ve failed.

And the process starts all over again — I have another interview on Monday. I’ll research the company, I’ll make copies of my resume, I’ll get all dressed up, I’ll be upbeat.

Someone gave me some interview advice a few weeks ago that I had completely forgotten until just now. “Walk in on your right foot.” Damned if I know what foot crossed the threshold on the last two interviews. I’m not a superstitious person in general, but I’ll try anything if it seems harmless. Maybe I’ll get some placebo effect going — if subconsciously I think the superstition works, maybe I’ll project onto the interviewer that I am the person he or she is looking for.