searching for a guide through life

Got to have a J.O.B. — the whole story hiring managers will probably never know

Like I mentioned in past blog entries, job hunting sucks. My emotions flip flop from being confident and energetic to useless and dismal to confused, underminded and frustrated. I would have thought after two months of living in my new city, I would have definitely secured a job somewhere. I don’t think I can describe in the right words how much I want to get back to work, but at the same time, being unemployed has caused myself to question what I really want to be doing with my life.

The jobs I have applied to in the last months have run the gamut from jobs perfect for me and in my field or a closely related one to temp jobs, customer service gigs, work I’m overqualified for, work I’m underqualified for, and jobs I clearly think are not for me (i.e. a 911 operator – stress much?). So I’ve been reflecting on my former work experiences – what I liked about them, what I disliked, what I learned about myself, all that good stuff.

While some may still classify me as a fairly recent grad (I was class of ’09 but graduated a semester early in Dec ’08), I technically have 10 years of work experience. I became part of the tax-paying working class at the ripe old age of 15. I spent the summers during my high school years and the summer after freshman year of college working as an administrative assistant at an engineering firm. The same firm of which my father happened to be the president, CEO and majority owner. My dad kept a lot of the biz in the family, which was both a blessing and a curse. As in turns out, the business is no longer in operation and while I don’t know all the details regarding its collapse, I truly believe some of it had to do with business partner problems and the pressure of having underqualified family and friends on the payroll. The economy tanking didn’t help either. But my role at the company wasn’t a challenging one. The atmosphere was relaxed, as you can imagine. In fact, the office was always pretty quiet, because it wasn’t a big company. I spent my days answering phone calls, delivering messages and mail, taking inventory of office supplies and making sure the office was in good stock, filing, ordering lunch, preparing correspondence, and designing PowerPoint presentations and brochures. In the later years, I had the pleasure of editing proposals and assisting in accounting and payroll. I’m not being sarcastic when I say “I had the pleasure” because I really enjoyed doing those things as opposed to some of the mundane secretarial duties. The real highlight of the job, however, was working alongside my sister, cousins and godsisters and the lunch breaks we’d take to our favorite little pizza joint or hotdog stand being that the office was located in a highrise right on the Atlantic City boardwalk. The pay was pretty good too. I never had to negotiate my salary and still I would get raises and was paid more than say choosing to have a summer job at the mall. What I really took away from that job was a love of entrepreneurship and desire to be my own boss along with important lessons about the challenges and joys of mixing business and family.

Sometime between my first and last paychecks at that job, I had a very significant life change. I graduated high school and went on to attend college out of state. Now all throughout school I took my education very serious and I excelled in my studies. I stayed in AP and honors classes and was very accustomed to getting straight As. Come graduation, I had a 4.0 and was the salutatorian of our class of about 525 students. The head guidance counselor wanted me to go to an Ivy League. In fact, he clearly expressed his disappointment that I had chosen to attend an HBCU. Honestly, I could have had my pick of schools and it was flattering to have all these schools from around the country send me packets and pamphlets and invitations and even Christmas cards all with the desire for me to enroll at their institution. But I had fallen in love with that waterside HBCU in Virginia during a black college tour and after a lifetime of attending majority white schools, I wanted something different. When I initially applied to my college, I had thought I had my career plan all figured out. I would major in biology and attend physical therapy school after graduation and become a PT. But of course, things wouldn’t go according to plan. While I enjoyed science and math and learning about the human body, I knew that choosing to study physical therapy was more of what I had just come up with as what I thought a good, successful career path would be. It was something I could do, but it was not my dream. My career goals have changed a lot since I was a little girl. I wanted to be a dentist, a teacher, a dermatologist, a professional basketball player in the WNBA … but I feel like the core of my heart has always been to create stories and to be an author. And before I went away to Virginia, I had the epiphany that if I were going to have the chance to go to college basically for free (which I nearly did with a full academic scholarship), I should study something I loved. The next challenge was: English or Journalism? I thought that a love of reading and writing would suit well in both majors — but the choice for me was pretty simple at the time. I was a complete magazine junkie, so yeah, journalism made sense. So naive. Plus I hated analyzing books, especially the boring classical greats (books are meant to be enjoyed!) and I thought an English degree was too general and did not have a direct outline for a career. English majors could be teachers, law school students, struggling poets or writers. Instead, I’d be a journalist … although I hardly ever picked up the newspaper and you couldn’t pay me to watch the news.

During college I would have two paid internships in my field. It should have been three but I was too scared to go all the way across the country by myself the summer after freshman year for an internship one of my professors hooked up for me. My first was a newspaper internship between sophomore and junior year at a daily in western – nearly rural – Maryland. That internship was definitely interesting. It was through a prestigious journalism group that sends its interns to partnering papers across the country so we were first treated to a week-long training session in NYC. That was a blast. Definitely challenging times, definitely a learning experience, but also fun. I bonded more with the students in my group for that one week than I did with any of my coworkers or fellow interns in my 10 week internship. I’d say that first internship was the “getting my feet wet” experience. The lesson I should have taken away was to switch career paths before I got in too far. Unfortunately I didn’t take that away. What I learned that summer was to keep raisin bagels in the fridge so not to attract ants, how to take advantage of a clock punching system, and that taking a six hour driving trip just to visit with loved ones for a short weekend trumps having a miserable weekend in solitude.

My next internship was also … interesting. I use the word interesting a lot when I want to soften how I truly feel about something. But the internship between my junior and senior year was at a business magazine — the one I still freelance for which is located in the metro area where I currently live. It was kind of a last minute thing. I think I applied on the last day of the internship deadline. In fact, I think I was already out of school for the summer. The compensation for the internship was half paycheck, half scholarship. The job was definitely a change of pace from the daily newspaper world. No daily deadlines, more editing, a specific targeted readership and the greater emphasis on design. I also had my own office and I was made the unofficial “head intern” based on my skill and professionalism. The job was challenging because of the specific expectations of our supervisors. In fact, out of the four interns that summer, I was the only one to stay until the end. One was fired, one quit before being fired and one left for a better suited opportunity. That summer also should have taught me not to stay in my chosen profession and that this city was not the one for me, but again I ignored warning signs.

The reason it is hard to really put my resume in chronological order is that between working internship #1 and internship #2, I was employed in the food service industry and I continued that job after internship #2 when I graduated early from school and couldn’t find a job in my field right away. Then late last year I began freelancing for internship #2, so things are kinda a jumble. But yeah … at the beginning of my junior year, I started as a server at a dine-in movie theater. For those not familiar with that concept, it seems like a typical movie theater at first glance but in each theater there are long tables in front of the seats and instead of a concession stand, you order like you do at any other restaurant from a full-service menu with appetizers, salads, pizza, sandwiches, main dishes, dessert and even alcoholic drinks. Popcorn and candy are available on the menu as well. Like any other server job, my compensation was basically earned in tips. The salary on payroll was too meager to seriously regard. Still, this was my favorite job I have ever held. It has created in me the desire to open my own little cafe/diner/restaurant in the future because I really did like working in the food service industry. It’s such a different atmosphere than your typical career job, but I feel like I got so much of the experience. I regularly set goals for myself (about how much tip money I needed to earn) and often made or beat those goals. Throughout my time there I took on added responsibility and was eventually promoted to bartender and crew leader and earned a higher salary. I learned to thrive in stressful situations. I had bosses I enjoyed and felt comfortable talking to on a person-to-person level. My co-workers became extended family and we worked well as a team for the betterment of the business. It was great. And of course, there’s the fact I met my future husband there and his brother and the guy I’ve informally adopted as my brother. So many movies that came out in 2007 and 2009 bring me back to specific memories there. I loved the perks of seeing movies for free and getting food for free or half off. And although I left that job because I thought a college graduate should have a better job than working at a restaurant for minimal wage, I do miss it there.

After a year of working there post-graduation I decided I needed a change. My lease was also up and I wanted to move but I didn’t plan things out well and ended up having to move back in with my family in NJ. But I took that as the opportunity to just search for journalism jobs full time and discovered what a pain that was. After a little over three months of unemployment and searching for a job in the southern US, I got an entry-level newspaper gig in the city I was born. While it was exciting when I first started, I knew soon that it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. It was a stressful job that didn’t match my personality and the industry itself was weakening by the quarter. My coworkers were nice but I didn’t bond with them. I didn’t have any local friends with the exception of my fiance. I had a whole gang of bosses, but my main boss – I didn’t think he gave a shit about me really and I ended up trying to avoid him when I could. I did learn a lot in my position, and I loved the location although we lived too far away from family or friends. The salary and benefits were the best I’ve had but still less than I thought I deserved for my work. The work itself was making me mentally sick to the point that I deliriously thought that quitting my job and moving someplace new in a down economy would be better than just sticking it out there.

So I’m wondering, what do I do now? I’d be lying if I said I have no clue what I want to do because I know exactly what I want to do. I want to write novels and run a niche cafe and advocate for the injustices against ex-cons and their families and be an active mother to about 4 or 5 kids. I don’t care about being rich, I just want to make decent wages and have a comfortable lifestyle and be able to take my kids on vacations sometimes and support them through karate or dance or piano if that’s what they want. I want good healthcare and a solid retirement. I don’t care about retiring early, but I want a bit of freedom to enjoy the life I work hard for. I want time to stay at home with my kids when they are young but I don’t want to be a career housewife. I want to earn my own way to support myself and those who depend on me. 

Trying to get a job in today’s workplace is so random and spotty and no matter how I look on paper or appear in an interview, it truly is impossible for the powers that be to know the whole picture. Jobseekers are taught to explain what they can do for the company not what the company can do for us. So it’d be inappropriate to mention how my dad’s been out of work for years and is going through tough health issues and that my mom’s job just issued everyone pink slips and may still keep her on board but it’d likely be full-time work for part-time pay and no benefits. I can’t explain how I have an eight year old stepdaughter who is growing faster than time itself but who’s not technically my stepdaughter because her father and I can’t really afford to marry anytime soon. I’d love to just follow my dreams but writing a book doesn’t guarantee a successful published piece and it takes start-up money to start a business. Banks don’t loan just based on plans and faith and what collateral do I really have? I need a job, any job, but yes, I would also like to do something that suits my skills set. That way I can most efficiently benefit a company. I am shy and quiet, an introvert, and I may not like pushing people to buy things they don’t need or didn’t ask for, but I’m very friendly and sweet, I’m a hard worker, I don’t complain, I’m a good problem solver, I’m creative, I’m an excellent communicator, I go above and beyond, I’m not lazy, I see both sides to many situations, I’m tolerant, I’m helpful and people speak highly of me. I want a job and I need a job so that eventually I have the ability to fully achieve my personal goals. In the meantime, just put me with a well suited company and I promise, I will be golden for their goals and bottom line.

But clearly this all is too much for a cover letter.

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