The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

After reading some very fascinating contributions to "The View From Your Recession" and "The View From A Career Counselor," I've come to the conclusion that, when all is said and done, there are no hard and fast rules whatsoever in seeking employment in today's difficult job market. Some hiring managers will be turned off if you contact them directly; some of them will be annoyed when you do. Some hiring managers want qualifications that match the job description exactly, and will ignore anything on your resume that doesn't; others want a broad range of experience and will send your rez to the bottom of the pile if you don't have it. It's a total crap shoot, and that was one of the most frustrating aspects of my search (which, incidentally, went on for 10 months and only just ended a few weeks ago).

The most frustrating aspect, though, was how easy it seemed for people to ignore me.

I'm a writer/editor by trade and had worked for a major public university for seven years before getting laid off last July; I applied for more than a hundred jobs at universities, corporations, media outlets, government agencies, and even sports franchises. Of all the jobs for which I applied, only half the time did I get any kind of response back. The other half, I got nothing. At all.

At one school, I applied for a job that almost exactly matched what I'd been doing for the past seven years, and got an auto-e-mail the same evening informing me that my application had been rejected because I didn't possess the proper qualifications. I called their HR department the next day to ask why I'd been bounced so quickly, and was told they had some kind of computerized system that searches resumes and cover letters for specific keywords and rejects the ones that don't have them. I added the proper keywords and the woman I talked to said she'd send it back through the system again; I never heard anything after that. A few weeks later, I submitted my revised resume to the same school for a similar-sounding job … and after receiving yet another auto-e-mail within hours of applying, I decided that institution wasn't worth the hassle anymore.

I know that with so many people desperate for work these days, HR departments have got to be inundated with applications, but seriously, is it that difficult to send someone a form e-mail acknowledging receipt of their application and giving them some idea of what's going to happen next (even if it's just "don't call us, we'll call you")? If I've left three voice-mail messages at your office asking about the status of my application for a position it turns out you don't even have the funding to fill, wouldn't it be worth two minutes of your time to fire off an e-mail letting me know the position's not available after all, if only to get me off your back? It's hard enough just to be suddenly unemployed in the first place; when you put yourself out there day after day after day, only to be summarily ignored by hiring managers from coast to coast, you start to wonder if the world would even notice if you one day ceased to exist.

Incidentally, the company where I finally started work last week is a Fortune 130 company that consistently makes it onto that magazine's "Best Places to Work" list year after year; I've got a decent salary, fun co-workers, and great benefits, praise the Lord. I couldn't tell you how I landed the job other than luck — my recruiter in the HR department was the daughter-in-law of a family friend, and I just happened to be interviewed by a couple of hiring managers who were wowed by my specific experience and skill sets. But they were all great people who went out of their way to make me feel like I was being paid attention to and carefully considered.

I wish I had better advice to offer desperate job-seekers other than "get lucky somehow," but … well, sometimes that's what it takes. I do have some advice for hiring managers, though: Treat us like people, dammit. Maybe all you've got on your desk is a CV and an applicant number, but those things might represent a guy who's on the brink of depression after nearly a year of fruitless job-hunting, or a single mom who has to figure out how she's going to feed her two kids and is looking for a reason to hope. I'm not suggesting you hire any of us out of pity, but is not ignoring us too much to ask?

The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

I thought I'd give an American ex-pat's perception from the other side of the pond. I've been in Europe about 20 years and England for 10. I had a decent-paying IT job in Yorkshire until I was laid off a year ago last April. ("Made redundant" is the quaint way they phrase it here.) I keep coming close to getting re-hired, but I'm never *exactly* what they want, or they find someone else slightly more qualified. Or younger. I know this is true from one company that flat out told me they were giving the job to the younger candidate as he would be more tolerant of the low salary they were offering.

Like your previous correspondent, I also type 50 words a minute and have decades of experience. None of which seems to matter.

I know I type 50 wpm because I applied for a 911 operator position (999 here). After passing an assessment phase, I failed the interview. One of my sins was not making sufficient eye contact with the interviewers … obviously a key skill for one who will be answering telephones.  I think they were really wondering why someone would be willing to take a 50% cut in pay from their previous job. Which is one of the things you learn; you can't apply for lower paying jobs because you won't be taken seriously (i.e. you're over-qualified).

The only positions I've been able to get are minimum wage – sorting mail over Christmas and delivering leaflets door to door. And they were only part time. And I definitely have to laugh at the perceived socialism safety net the American right spouts so much against. Here, if your partner works, you get $2500 total dribbled out over six months, and then it is cut off – permanently.  True, you don't pay for health insurance, but US unemployment benefits are much better than the insult you get here.

Several things I've learned: You can't apply for jobs well under what your previous job was; you won't be taken seriously and will be considered over-qualifed.  You must fall completely to the bottom and get the occasional minimum wage, temporary job.  No one will commit to any training for a new position. If you've done exactly the job advertised before, you'll be considered. But you'll be considered incapable of learning anything new. General experience will not be considered. Stuff learned on your own will be denigrated or discounted. University degree qualification doesn't matter.  Age discrimination is alive and well.

The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

Thank you for the outlet.  I am a 58 year-old male, and my white hair proves it.  I was laid off an executive position in a real estate company in January 2009.  I directed international marketing programs and was responsible for over $200 million in transactions.  But I have been unable to find work, even well below my former position.  I am told that I appear too smart, too qualified.   I have applied for many, many jobs – jobs I could do in my sleep.

Playing by the rules, I post and scour Monster and Career Builder to no avail, not even an interview.  When I see a job that particularly fits my skills, I break the "rules" and contact the employer directly and consistently.  Still, no job.  The State of Florida has a service to help the unemployed.  When I met with my counselor, she was shocked that with my resume I didn't have a job.  As we pursued opportunities, she finally suggested that I dumb down my resume.  That proved a bit difficult.  I was in charge of a large development marketing operation.  My former company was extremely successful (until the financial world changed and mortgages disappeared).

How do I feel?  I cry.  From there it is anger, then depression. As I like to say, I lost my job that January, and lost my pride by June.  I have now lost hope. I eat very little during the day then my (employed) girlfriend comes home and I cook dinner.  She has been terrific.  She is more worried about me than our finances.  As I like to tell her, I guess I used up all my good luck when I met her.

The View From Your Recession

A fifty-something reader writes:

I type 50 words per minute. I've had decades of customer service experience and can handle almost any customer. I have a good grasp of bookkeeping, payroll and could if I had to, effectively cover for the manager of Human Resources. I acquired all these skills in sophisticated Information Technology environments. I can't find a job.

Right now I'm working for the Census. To verify I do have skills I've taken civil service tests for jobs with titles like Administrative Assistant or Accounting Clerk or Payroll Clerk. I score very high on the tests. I can't find a job.

When I apply for things like cashier at the local convenience store I have a delightful conversation with the manager ,,,, and I don't get the job. When I apply for sales jobs in places like Best Buys they are thrilled to see me, seem to be anxious to place me in the computer

department. I don't get the job. 

I have been able to get work here and there which means I don't collect unemployment while I'm working the temporary job. Even with the extensions I will run out of unemployment in July. I just paid my health insurance bill for June. I don't know how I'm going to pay the one for July. I suspect I'm going to have to apply for welfare and medicaid. If you are able bodied and single with no dependents to maintain your welfare benefits you have to make a reasonable attempt to find a job. That usually boils down to applying for a few jobs a week. I'm going to run out of places to apply in a month or so, there aren't that many employers around here. Which means I won't be eligible for welfare. 

I'm considering waiting tables, assuming I can get a job. Forest Ranger for the summer might be possible too. That just puts this off until Labor Day. … live in the Adirondacks, employment is very seasonal and very oriented to tourists. Might have to move in with my sister so that I'm in the metro New York City job market with more options.

The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

I posted an ad on craiglist for an $8.55 minimum-wage, part-time person to work at our dog kennel in Snohomish, Washington. The job is not glamorous. Picking up poop, walking dogs cleaning diarrhea, etc.  I received over 245 resumes in just a couple of days. Everybody from the high school kid up to the unemployed 60 year old. It's simply amazing how many people are dying to get even a low paying job like this.

The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

My partner and I have both lost our jobs at a mid-sized metropolitan daily newspaper. Given our ages (54 and 46) and our last combined salaries (topping six figures) we've been deemed by the marketplace as unsuitable candidates for even minimum-wage positions here in the brutal economic climate of South Florida. We have sent out hundreds of resumes to little effect. Our retirement savings have been depleted. I've managed to get the occasional freelance reporting gig, but other than that our sole source of income has been unemployment compensation — supplemented at times by caring and understanding siblings.

And depending on what the U.S. Senate does later this week, that source could possibly dry up very soon. I am one of those 1.2 million people standing to lose those benefits in March should Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell fail to reach accord.

Our home of 17 years is now in foreclosure. We have been offered some relatively generous loan-modification options, but given the size of the mortgage and our current income stream, we have not been able to take advantage of those options. I suppose we're among those who fell under the spell of rising home equity values during the go-go years here in South Florida, and we're now paying — or more precisely, unable to pay — the price. It was my poor judgment over time; I understand and accept that.

But what I can no longer accept is our inability now to receive basic health care, while Dick Cheney gets life-saving Cadillac treatment at the direct expense of my partner and myself. Yeah, we were offered COBRA benefits, at a price tag of more than $900 a month. I defy anyone to make that number work while on extended unemployment.

Six weeks ago, while walking home, I was struck by a hit-and-run driver. I lost my glasses, severely impairing my ability to drive, broke my nose, and most importantly, lost most of my teeth. Sheared right off. Fortunately, my dentist of long-standing — as in, back when I had employer-provided insurance — was willing to pull out the dental fragments left behind and stitch it all up, and is allowing me to pay that huge bill over time. But I can only push his generosity and forbearance so far — there will not be replacement implants or dentures in my near future. I'm learning to love soup. And dealing with a now quite pronounced lisp.

My point being: The Dick Cheneys of this country continue to deny me and mine the very health care they enjoy on my dime. As I wrote above, our income for many years topped six figures, which indicates how much in federal taxes we've paid over time — tax money that quite possibly saved Cheney's life this last weekend. Tax money that gives our current and former government officials excellent health care. Yet so many of those same officials — of both parties — refuse to return the favor.

I'm not asking for a handout. I'm asking for basic fairness.

The View From Your Recession: Checking Back In

A reader writes:

I don't have really much to update on my view of the recession (one company did reopen the position I applied for, but they are taking their sweet time to look at my application). That said, Ash Wednesday is soon.  In regards to what I intend to give up for Lent, I decided to stop reading my political blogroll, including your blog.  It's not that I have anything against your blog, especially since you and Chris's and Patrick's work is a testament to the good a blog can do.  But in the recent weeks, as everything is getting drearier, it's becoming more and more of a distraction than anything else. 

And honestly, why should most of these things you report on matter to me anyway?  Or, as my friend put it bluntly in his own case, "Why should I give two shits about healthcare if I don't have a fucking job?"

The rage I have about being unemployed (which will technically be one year this week) has only increased.  This is not to say I'll run off and become a teabagger and yell pointless slogans (besides, I think they're cowards).  It's just that it will be easier for me to handle this situation if I don't let the outside world distract me too much.

So, yeah, I'll quit reading the blogs for Lent, as well as be a better worker for the hostel I volunteer for (the closest thing I can think of for almsgiving, given the amount of poor backpackers we get).  Hopefully, when Easter comes about, I'll have a job and can actually care about these things again.  I'll also quit drinking soda as well.

What do you intend to give up, Andrew?

If I told, it would violate the point.

The View From Your Recession: Checking Back In

This reader was a software developer who was weathering the recession well so far. Original post here. Our reader writes:

Everything is better than previously reported actually. My career moved up, my income followed. I was able to make extraordinary investments in wine as people were selling off cheap to raise cash. And while I didn't pay off my mortgage as I hoped, that happened because I diverted the extra cash I was making on my payments towards investments. So I'm still on track.

But the real reason I'm checking back in is because there was one thing this past year that did change for me. And it may or may not have happened regardless, but I think the recession did bring it into focus for me. And that is my discovery of urban gardening (or I should say suburban gardening). What a rush and how fulfilling. Who knew?!

I've been reading blogs about people doing the same for some time now and there are some incredible success stories out there. (You really ought to do a View From Your Urban Garden series.)  People who were really hit hard by the recession taking it within their own hands to dig out, literally! It's inspiring and very, very, very humbling.

We've been growing all sorts of things in the house with some success and we're still learning. Cucumbers, tomatoes (turns out it is possible to kill tomatoes), onions and mushrooms (not shrooms, although they've been discussed). It's not enough to live off of, but we would starve very very slowly if it came to it, provided we can keep electricity and water. We've been able to give food away as well. Helping my friends get  up and running and showing them how easy it is has been rewarding. It was also something my fiance and I discovered that we both loved to do and really enjoy. What till march rolls around, we're planning on tripling the size of our garden and hopefully figure out how to can and store the extra.

So as the recession seems to be waning I find myself with a really good job and really good health. But I've been there before and so were alot of people before the recession. So I plan on continuing to live well below my means and save and store as much as I reasonably can while still being happy. Being happy is the one thing I know I can control each day as I get out of bed.

The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

I would like to echo the comments of your recent VFYR writer, the one who "never gave much thought to social programs, frankly, I neither needed or qualified for them." This is true of me as well.

I am a self-employed paralegal and project manager, specializing in contract and IP-related law. This year was going very slowly for me, as it was for my clients, until several months ago, when one of my clients was suddenly overcome with demand for its datacom product as a direct result of stimulus funds becoming available to their customers (who were funded to deliver broadband services to *their* rural customers.) Now I have more work than I can handle.

Now I battle the traffic on the main street near my home to get to this work; the traffic is slow, because the street has been under construction for some months, construction funded by stimulus funds, according to the signage on the road. I call my brother on the cell-phone to kill the time while I'm in traffic. He's an IT professional at AIG, employed only by virtue of the bailout.

In the meantime, my retirement savings, decimated by the economic collapse, is very quickly recovering. My IRA has grown 35% in the past 6 months.  I have worked for 7 different companies over my 25 year career, and have never had access to a pension plan. Although it is a common trope that the stock market is not a reflection of the health of the overall economy, most middle class people like myself rely solely on our stock market-invested deferred retirement savings plans for a sense of well-being about the future. My sense of well-being is quickly improving. Love it or hate it, the healthy stock market is a direct result of the bailout.

So, for the first time in my life, my loved ones I are direct beneficiaries of social programs. It is a very strange sensation, but I'm getting used to it. I credit President Obama and his steady hand at the tiller. He is playing the long game, and I believe it will pay off for all of us in time.

The View From Your Recession: Checking Back In

A reader writes:

You published my tale back in mid 2009, so in keeping with the flow of your blog, here's an update:

The freefall of late 2008 & early-mid 2009 seems to have abated. My company went from $10m+ in sales in 2008 to < $2m in sales in 2009. We went from 14 full-time employees in mid-2008, to simply myself, with two former full-time employees working part-time hours, under-the-table, while receiving unemployment benefits. The two PT employees each sent out well north of 200 resumes in 2009—my operations manager received 2-3 different interviews, but all of them were basically for entry-level warehouse type help at ridiculously low wages. My receptionist received a few tepid responses, one interview, but neither of them received any job offers.

Former employees are not faring much better: out of 14, only one has moved onward & upward over the past 18 months. Two took positions that title-wise were a step ahead, however their compensation & actual responsibilities are well below what they were used to under our company. Three have not found any jobs at all and are doing some consulting/brokerage/part-time work to get by. Another is semi-retired, basically a full-time homemaker. The rest have struggled—finding positions, only to lose them as their new companies cut back in 2008-2009.

However, we all feel that the bottom has been reached; our previous customers bought little of our product in the first six months of 2009, as they shed their inventories, and only in the later half of 2009 did we see any interest in moving forward/new orders.

Unfortunately it was too little/too late: my company basically ceased to exist in mid-summer 2009, with the only productive work being accounts receivable collection & asset sales for the secured creditors. The unsecured creditors all have lost out—about $4m total; everyone from big companies like Fedex, Amex, Bank of America, down to the mom & pop businesses that I really, really wish we could have paid, but were prohibited from doing so by the secured creditors. Interestingly enough the unsecured creditors seem to have (mostly) called off the wolves—most of the professional collection calls this past three-four months were of the "just checking in to see if there is any chance you have pulled out of the tailspin" variety. Haven't had a hardcore collection call since mid-2009. Most of our previous customers seem to have pulled thru the downturn as well; a few failed, but most were able to weather the storm to some degree.

Personally things are okay. I'm still going to have to pay the piper at some point in the future & declare bankruptcy due to all the residual corporate debt I personally guaranteed, but that is nowhere near as scary as it was a year ago. One of the secured creditors has contracted with me to help him produce & market some of the products that we previously represented, so a new company has begun. A new contract employee is on board as national sales manager. The two part-time previous employees are still working under-the-table, but full-time isn't too far off. My semi-retired homemaker is going to start working part-time next month. Our customers are taking meetings, making promises & ordering products. The phone is beginning to ring again.

I don't want to say that hope is flying through the air, but there is a sense of optimism that wasn't there last fall, much less last spring/summer. While I don't think we are completely out of the woods yet, I think we are going to be ok. I'm beginning to be able to sleep again.