Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jul 14, 2010

Another Satisfied Candidate

Guest Lecturer Marie Hills reflects on 13 months on the unemployment rolls.

I was laid off in May 2009 so I took advantage of having a summer off. In retrospect, if I knew how long it was going to take to find a job I would have started right away. After 3 months, I got started – nearly a year since the last time I had looked for work.

I looked for organizations that were financially viable/healthy. Before I applied for a position, I researched the organization’s financials. I also sent out emails to friends and former colleagues to see if anyone had contacts at certain organizations. By using a contact name, I was able to personalize my cover letters. I felt like this search was more about who I knew vs. what I knew. Having an “in” was a key at having your resume looked at even if it didn’t lead to an interview.

Some people recommended that I “dumb down” my resume. I’m extremely proud of the positions I’ve held and the things I’ve accomplished professionally. Dumbing down my resume felt like I was selling myself short – it was an injustice to my accomplishments.

During my numerous phone interviews I heard two things:
1) you’re a fundraiser; and
2) I don’t think we can afford you.

I did not want to go back into fundraising. I did it for years and it took me awhile to get out of that area. There were numerous positions that I saw and liked, but the minute it mentioned fundraising it was added to the NO pile. The only way I would have gone back into fundraising is if my unemployment benefits ran out and I had no choice.

I was willing to take a pay cut from my last job, but I refused to go below a certain level. Believe it or not, over the last 15+ years, I have taken 3 pay cuts to work at organizations that I wanted to work at. The last two pay cuts were worth it. We’ll see about this one. For me it’s all about where I am, not about how much I make.
This job market requires “Reflexiablity.” There has to be a give and take relationship between job responsibilities and salary requirements.

Of course, I had to make some concessions at home as well.
a) During the winter, I kept my heat down so the bill wouldn’t be too high. I wore a lot of layers to keep warm.
b) I took advantage of my gym’s “hardship” membership. (Was able to get a reduced rate when I showed unemployment paperwork.)
c) Purchased as many sale items at the grocery store as possible.
d) Told my family not to get me holiday/birthday presents because I couldn’t afford to give a present in return.
e) Only purchased clothing when needed.
f) Limited the number of times I went out with friends and where we went.

As summer came back around again, I was prepared to cut deeper – to cancel my gym membership when my “hardship” membership has expired. Using the AC only at night during the summer or only when necessary.

Two things surprised me the most :
1) the number of people applying for one position and
2) that it took me as long as it did to find a job.

 I had a phone interview with one organization that told me I was 1 of 300+ applicants. The organization was speaking with 24 applicants via phone and then planned on bringing 5 or 6 people in for in-person interviews. Being 1 of 24 made me feel like I accomplished something even if I didn’t get an in-person interview.

I even looked out-of-state, focusing my search on 4 geographic locations. I got a call for a phone interview from an organization in New York City. Oddly enough, the interviewer was a friend of a friend. The interviewer wanted me to meet with staff in the area office vs. a visit to NYC. The following week I received an email from HR saying," thank you for applying, but we decided to go in a different direction." I emailed the interviewer with this news and never heard back.

 Even if employers are overwhelmed with applicants, I think they should still get back to applicants that they have spoken with on the phone. (I did hear back via email from 2 phone interviews that they hired someone else. These are organizations that I will look at the next time I interview.)

After 10 months of searching I made it to one (One!) on-site interview. This was after several phone interviews – some of which said I would be contacted to schedule an in-person interview, but nothing ever happened. These places also ignored follow-up emails.

Truthfully, I had no other choice but to keep going. I found a job because I feared I would become homeless. I know that sounds dramatic. I was able to survive on unemployment by watching how I spent my money, but I knew my benefits would eventually run out. I was smart enough to have several months of savings. I don’t own a home so I didn’t have to worry about foreclosure. If I had no benefits and ran through my savings, my options of where to go were very slim. My family lives out of state and doesn’t have the space for another full-time adult. I’m too proud to ask friends for help. (Trust me when I say, at this point, I would have gotten several part-time jobs to survive.)

But in the end, I was able to re-connect with old friends through the found time and the drive to network. I also had the time to evaluate what I wanted in life. I wasn't even planning on applying for this job until a friend mentioned it. I think people need to listen to friends and take advantage of their intuition. It paid off for me.

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