Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Unemployment Diary: My Pledge to You

Dear Potential Employers:

It's been brought to my attention by the counselor at the Department of Labor that my resume may be a problem for you because it contains titles such as Executive Director and Vice President and the things I've listed under accomplishments and duties make you itch with anxiety and your eyes cross with boredom. Contrary to what those liars in the college employment placement office told me in 1989, you are not dazzled by my transferable skills and upward career trajectory as illustrated by the job titles beginning with secretary (1989) and ending with Vice President, Programs and Services (2009). In other words, my resume intimidates you or causes you assume that I'm only applying for your job because I am desperate.

Now that's a pity because I am desperate. As in you can smell it on me if you get too close.

Because life is full of paradoxes, people who will counsel me to sanitize my resume of high falutin' words and dastardly deeds like creating budgets, managing volunteers and staff, developing marketing plans or serving as the chief staff of a small organization (read: guide the Board of Directors to do what you want, but make them think it's their idea) think that I'm not smart enough to know that I should have multiple versions of my resume, each targeted for specific industries, fields, and levels of employment, I've been advised to once again revisit my self-promotional material to see if perhaps it can be whittled and reworked in order to make you think that I didn't work for nearly twenty years to get promotions, better pay and better titles.

Well now that leaves me with some interesting choices, doesn't it? The last time I held a secretarial job was in 1995 and even then it had the fancy title of Administrative Coordinator or some such nonsense and paid more than most of the jobs I see listed today. Plus it had killer benefits. So how do I explain what I've been doing for the last sixteen years?  Okay, the last year is easy - job hunting, bitching about job hunting, cleaning, living on the dole, writing things to shove into a pile under my bed, taking pictures of birdies and pussy cats, reading and more recently couponing which I now like to call Hunting and Gathering. But what about the years 1996 - 2009? How do I rework the pain and pleasure of those jobs which ultimately led me to Georgia, the running of a small organization and the path to ruin also known as my last job?

Oh, hang on. Potential employers don't appreciate negativity, do they? Fine. Let me worry about how to fix my absurd problem of having played by the rules, climbed the ladder and achieved some career success. I'll just take out my magic Sharpie et voila! I've always been a secretary/administrative assistant/customer service associate/waitress/barista/sales associate/other duties as assigned doer.

Because in reality, I was. Not just as a mother and wife, but in my former paid jobs, not only did I do the big, important, if you fuck this up, we're going to have expensive problems kinds of things, but I also cleared the table of food debris after Board meetings, ordered lunches, planned meetings and parties, wrestled with the copier, crawled around on the floor hooking up technology, packed and lugged boxes, made love to the postage meter, cleaned out storerooms, answered phones with a smile in my voice, created and maintained hardcopy and database files, kept multiple calendars, made travel arrangements for myself and others, submitted expenses, stuffed envelopes, designed newsletters, drove my boss to the airport, and ruined many a manicure inputting reams of data entry. Because when you work in an office of two or three or five people, you pretty much have to do it all at some point. We didn't have People for that. We were the People.

As for other duties as assigned, I've even written about how I'm willing to go above and beyond. You can expect topnotch effort and creativity from me and that includes Breaking and Entering on Your Behalf and Teaching You How to Use Urban Dictionary and Other Swell Things to Make You Appear Hip. If you will only give me a chance, that is.

After careful consideration, I've decided that all future resumes and pleas applications for employment will contain the following pledge (places hand on stack of books made up of a Gregg Shorthand Manual, The American Heritage College dic-tion-ar-ry, three manila folders, a generic employee handbook and a daily planner circa 2003 that came free from a marketing firm):

I, Lisa Golden, do solemnly swear to be an honest and faithful employee, willing to carry out the simplest and most complex duties assigned by you, The Employer, with a professionally cheerful demeanor, a minimum of supervision, a maximum of customer satisfaction, no questions about work conditions or rules, no sniping about salary or benefits or lack thereof, no comment about your tie choices, shoes or taste in movies, no eye rolling or heavy sighs, no passive aggressive references to your lack of intelligence, no use of sarcasm, humor - ill or otherwise, or large words. I vow to never utter the words "Well, in my last position" nor to ever mention that I once made more money or held a higher position than my current one or yours for that matter. 

I pledge complete loyalty to you and the organization for which you stand or sit in that fine leather manager's chair and to complete all tasks to the best of my ability without dragging with me into the workplace any personal issues and needs, any reminders that I might have ideas of getting up in the world or any need for vacation, sick or family leave days. I will not litter my workspace with personal items or reminders that I have a life outside of work. I will never make a suggestion about how to do things better unless expressly asked by you or your superior, at which point I will offer the most obsequious (sorry about that big word, it means boot-licking) answer, repeating the phrase "Well, as (your name here) suggested" first.When it is just you and me, I will make you feel comfortable in taking my ideas as your own because, as any employee worth her White Out knows, your success is my success and any and all good things coming to you will eventually trickle down to me.

Finally, you have my assurances that even though I've had better paying jobs with fancier titles, I will not bail out on you at the first sign of an economic recovery. I've learned my lesson about changing jobs for better opportunities. I am here for the duration. You own me. I know how lucky I am to have this job. And if you find that you must, at some point, let me go due to economic factors outside your control or because you must slash payroll to make a larger bonus, you can be confident that I will not leave in a blaze of poo smeared file folders and angry emails to vendors and customers. I will stay as long as you need me and create as smooth a transition as I can for the person who will be doing my job after I'm gone.

So help me, Todd. I do. Amen?

And now that I've made my pledge, please allow me to address some things that might be obstacles to my employment as far as you're concerned.

1. The credit check. While I understand that it's important for people like bank tellers and bookkeepers to have clean credit and no reason to embezzle to pay off their debts, I find this new wrinkle in employment requirements unnecessary. It is a new day. It's not bankruptcy, it's a government bailout trickling down. We gave taxpayer money to the banks to cover their bad debts. I paid my Chapter 13 bad debts as long as I had a job. After that, it became impossible to pay the monthly bill. Ergo, the banks got most of the money owed to them plus the car and the house which was how the deal worked. That's called a secured loan because it has collateral that can be repossessed by the lender. Neato, huh?

Understanding this weakness in my personal financial history, I've shown the good sense to not apply for jobs in finance, banking and bookkeeping. Now you show the good sense to stop using credit checks to weed out good potential employees who've been swept aside in this mess of an economy.

2. Those advertising that Unemployed Need Not Apply. This isn't unemployed. This is learning new skills. With my new stockpiling skills, just think what I can do for your office supplies line item. Hand me that Staples catalog and watch me make magic happen. Phone bill too high? I've got tin cans and string. You can save money and go green at the same time. What are you paying for that water cooler?  Your staff can have that some sharing time carrying buckets of water up from the industrial park's retention pond as they get from standing around the Crystal Springs bubbler.

Hey, maybe I should become a consultant and charge three times as much as you would pay me!``

3. My former salary. As I told the woman at the Department of Labor, of course I'm willing to work for ten, twenty, thirty thousand dollars less than I used to make. Who wouldn't want a deal like that? It's exactly why I went to college, worked my ass off for almost twenty years, left my kids in the care of others, took on extra duties to earn promotions, traded off salary for title, worked for no insurance benefits and no pension or 401K because my former employers were cheapskates and wanted to pay me about 1/4 less than a man would make for the same job and tried to make me feel guilty for asking for more money.

This is me dangling over the barrel. Do I look like I'm in a position to negotiate?

4. Moving to where the jobs are. While the kids would be delighted to be uprooted again and MathMan can afford to leave his megabucks generating scam as a math teacher, this isn't really a viable option. Employers understand this economy all too well. Just try finding a position that offers moving expenses these days. Besides, we got rid of our snow shovels when we moved to Georgia. Not only would I have to pay to move us and our stuff, I'd have to buy snow shovels and Snow Melt again.

5. Isn't it time for you to retrain to be something else? Oh sure, I like to think about how my future in auto or diesel would be sweet like crude oil, but we've been over this. As I like to say to the cats in my best Jewish Mother voice "And why do I need another job title that isn't doctor or lawyer? So I can make minimum wage cheering people on as they pass kidney stones?" Cheering them? I'd be more likely to rush them.  Are you done yet? How about now? Oh, please, I've had three kids with no drugs, so just stop with all that grimacing and noisemaking. You're fine. And wipe that up. I'm your nurse, not your maid.

Seriously, you do not want me in the medical field. It would be a setback to humanity of epic proportions. But since I mentioned maids, now there's something I've been training to do all my life, but I digress.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon about the open position.  I am available for an interview at your convenience, but don't think that I'm without time commitments because I'm not currently working. Today is Mystery Coupon Day at Publix, after all.


  1. you pretty much wrote my story - i would add that the employers of today only want IGNORANT people - those that cannot think and do not remember the days when wages and benefits were decent enough to live on - they really don't want anyone that will do more than what the job calls for - that used to be what got me the job -

  2. May I just say that I love this. And you.

    Are you sure you can't make it fly for the long term as a freelance writer? Maybe with some combination of corporate and editorial work? You just seem, I don't know, too good for some crappy I-just-need-a-job job. And, although I understand your interest in eating and paying your bills, it does seem like some of the energy and creativity you are putting into your blog could be channeled into paying freelance work.

    Fwiw, I was able to transition from a corporate job into a pretty successful freelance career with the help of a coach, Travis Young. And that's without a Mathman (though I'd love to find one), so I pay my own and my kids' expenses and health insurance.

    Either way, good luck--I'll be cheering oyu on!

  3. You could ghost write blog posts for cash.


  4. There are job postings that REALLY say that? Unemployed Need Not Apply? Isn't that discrimination? Can't they be sued for that so at least we can keep more lawyers employed?

  5. honey, this is the best post you have ever written. you are so snarky that it hurts but it's the truth and needs to be said to our corporate overlords who then should have the good sense to be ashamed of themselves--but they won't don't you worry.

    On Diane Rehm today one of her guests made the point that 50% of the profits from the last two years that has been generated in this country have gone to our corporate overlords--they have no intention of sharing. You work your ass off and get crumbs in return but dammit you had better be grateful!

  6. Great post. I'm so appalled by te whole credit-check thing for employment- it's total bullshit. A few summers ago, I was looking for something to do for work as I don't get paid at all during summer break (yeah, that's me- one of those overpaid union slackers). I was basically hired on the spot at Bloomingdale's for customer service, and then two days before I was supposed to start I got a letter basically telling me that having filed business bankruptcy from my failed restaurant excluded me from being a Bloomie's employee. The letter was accusatory and insulting- it was obvious they wanted to treat me like a criminal. It was kind of humiliating and totally infuriating.
    It's shocking how inhumanely employers are allowed to treat job-seekers these days.

  7. If I was an evil billionaire, I would totally hire you based solely on this post.

  8. You are one of the only persons I've seen to actually count the costs of having a stable job. Almost no one mentions that it's a sacrifice to put one's children in the care of others.

    Y'all should move up here. If nothing else, we have a lot of rich professors and managers who need their houses cleaned by someone who thinks ironing is fun.

  9. I'm so damned impressed after reading this I'm now short of breath. You are a truly remarkable writer.

  10. "Hey, maybe I should become a consultant and charge three times as much as you would pay me!"



    (you are a great writer. listen to all of us. you got more in you than book reviews and blog posts. i'm starting to sound bossy, so i'm stopping.)

  11. I agree! You are a GREAT writer!!! You should be writing for a living. I know...easier said than done. I am a great scrapbooker and a great horseback rider, but I'm doing neither for a job at the moment. I should talk (or write) right?? But you are truly talented in this field!

  12. Unemployed need not apply? Seriously?

  13. I wonder if you could get a major newspaper to pick this up? Forget Dear Abby; the U.S. needs an unemployment diary.

  14. Oh Lisa. I know how frustrating this is for you. I wish I could be magical job fairy and wave my wand to grant you the perfect job. Or, even NO JOB - but a lifetime of financial security.

    But seriously, you need to get paid for writing. You are sofa king talented.

  15. Would ye consider bein' th'Personal Assistant t'a Pirate Queen then?

  16. Meh... face it, Lisa, if a potential employer finds Politits, they'll either hire you on the spot cos' you fit right in, or you're screwed (and wouldn't want to work there, anyway).

    Rewrite that resume, with your name and phone number up the top. and the website in 10pt courier font in the middle of the page. That will sort the wheat from the chaff...

  17. This is another fine effort, and one which would be appreciated by about ten million other Americas who are in roughly the same boat, if only they could read it.

    I agree with Bee, shop this stuff around to newspapers - it'll sell!

  18. It must be weird having both me and my sister Debbie show up here and make similar comments :-). Since she already nudged you about freelancing, I'll refrain this time!

  19. Thanks for this overwhelming response. You guys know that what I want to do is write for a living and I'm working on that now. But I have to keep applying for jobs, as well, and it is interesting in ways I never would have imagined. And that's me being polite. Interesting? Bahahahahahahaha!

  20. I've said it before, I'll say it again - you write so well. I'm with Bee - someone needs to pick this up as a column.

  21. I think you should apply to The Daily Show. Videotape yourself reading this post and send it in. What do you have to lose?

  22. 'Unemployed Need Not Apply'...Oh, for pity's sake. Anyone who writes that bit of thoughtless drivel on a job posting needs to have their head caressed by a car door.

    Good luck, Lisa. Better days ahead.

  23. I'd hire you in a heartbeat! I loved your pledge. In fact I loved this whole thing. MAN what a pathetic pile of crap Ronald Reagan left for us. Build middle management until it falls in on itself in an effort to fool people into thinking they are middle class... only sustainable for 20 years... why would he care. He'd be dead by then...

  24. You know I am on the same page! I am wearing a damned uniform to work now and I have a law degree that I never, ever put on a resume (and I have 5 versions, by the way.)

    I dumbed down every job and left some of them off. I low balled when they asked for salary requirements. My husband said I was aiming too low - but there is no "high" out there. No one is hiring experienced professional people, at least not in areas outside big cities.

    It took me 2 years to get hired full time with benefits. I am not only making less than I did in my last job, but making less than I did just out of school in 1984.

    Your writing is fab - I hope you get a chance to use it.

  25. That might be the best -- the very damned best! -- "application" for a job. Any job. My god, what a letter. And what a story you're telling. Who could read that and not give you a job? Who else would be that open, that honest, that pure in their intentions.

    And wow, Lisa, can you ever write.

  26. Listen to MSB. The Daily Show would love this!! Seriously, I do not want to see you on Hoarders.

    I had been a trader for 10 years, and was burnt out. This was before the economic crunch. There was a final blowout, I quit my job and that was that. I thought that because I have done, and will do anything it shouldn't be a problem.

    Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, every admin position you could think of. I tried to explain to financial people how easy there life would be. I traded bonds. They could hire me for a song. I just wanted to be around for my newly started family. No, no and no.

    I ended up in the same field, when I would have taken so much less for some happiness. I am so sorry, that I know exactly where you're at, and wish I had something better to tell you.

    However, I didn't have your skill. Your gift with words is really, really exceptional. Go big, what do you have to lose?? Use some of that time, and either come up with a nonfiction project, or work towards a column. Submit this stuff! Don't make me get hostile. I'll do it.

  27. a well written post as usual.

    In UK it has been suggested that those who ae being made redundant in the public sector cuts will not be employed by the private companies taking over those services. Not quite as explicit as saying unemployed need not apply.

  28. Good points all, Lisa.

    I boldly wasted time filling out a job app for a position that turned out to have *shitty hours*.
    I'm too old for swing shift.

    But before the HR poobah spilled the beans on the funky shift.... she fired off the classic, dreaded question:

    What are your long term career goals?

    #1. This is a lower level position, she just informed me that only someone w a 4 year degree could be promoted as a manager.

    #2. Do they throw out these questions just to make you squirm??

    What I really wanted to say was "I'd like to win big in the lottery & get the hell off the corporate treadmill, once & for all".

    Or something like "Ultimately, to never have to answer ridiculous questions like this."

    But instead I spit out some schpeal about a mutually positive success story.

    Oh please! I have to pay the frigging mortgage & I literally need to replace the roof over my head this year.

    Then she delivered the fatal blow-- the hours are 3 to midnight & both weekend nights.

    That made for a short conversation.

    Why the hell do they not just put the shifts & times in the ads? They could save themselves a whole lot of time since so many people realize they too have life & no way would they work those hours.

    I did once have this one zinged at me in a job interview:
    If you were a tree what kind would you be?

    The temptation is to answer WTF?

    Or "The kind that falls on you so you never ask that question again!"

    Can you sense a twinge of bitterness and sarcasm???

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  30. Wow. This is a powerful post, and captures so much of what is infuriating and terrifying about the current employment landscape (and the people running it) in America at the moment.

    And I apologize for giving advice on your resume - stupid of me, in restrospect. I did assume you would have different versions, but I couldn't sit still not knowing if you were always fully disclosing titles or not. I didn't even think about what you would say about that period of time (not short, in your case) - also stupid of me. And I felt I should mention to you the second thoughts hiring managers have about hiring people with executive titles in their backgrounds... Thoughts I have to admit have crossed my mind, as well, or my boss' mind, when I've handled resumes with VP titles, or degrees in fields like the law while hiring for an entry level position which won't challenge those titles/skills. It seems like a problematic fit - someone who is not going to be happy in the job. But if the person does have the skills/experience needed, I interview the "overqualified" applicant to find out what they're thinking. And I've hired sometimes even with the knowledge that it might be a shorter than usual stay, but that all would get their money's worth from the experience, because the individual would kick butt while they were with us. And several of those hires went on to promotions within the company - imagine that... Hiring the best people possible - what a novel concept. Why is it such a struggle?

    And all of this stuff (euphemism) going on today is what makes it harder and harder to be employed the longer you're employed. Age, experience, title, demonstrated capability... they intimidate and concern too many of the people in our country who are entrusted with the opportunity (too scarce right now) to hire someone. And that's a scary thought - as an older, experienced employee, and even more as a member of our society, who has to wonder what America/Corporate can build with leaders who are afraid of hiring people who have strong resumes, or people who have taken risks and taken the consequences when those risks dealt them setbacks. If the school of hard knocks is the only one that teaches life's real lessons, why aren't we hiring its graduates? *** Don't they know more than the rest of us? *** Shouldn't we at least interview them?

    And not interviewing the unemployed... Are the currently employed (and hiring) so certain of their own positions that they can't see themselves in the same unemployed position someday? They'll never be laid off? They'll never have financial troubles too large to resolve? It will always happen only to OTHER people? Do they actually think people without work somehow deserved that? Or is this actually some kind of denial due to fear? Like if we ignore the homeless maybe they'll go away? Like if we declare it wrong to be gay or lesbian then our children (or ourselves) will all be heterosexual? And if employed people make unemployment something "those people" DID, then the employed can control their situation by just not DOING whatever that was?

    What exactly was that thing the unemployed did? No one wants to think about that... That would burst the illusion of control.

  31. Catching up with your blog and noticed this great post. I imagine the frustration level you are at now. I always try to send my best vibes that something good will come your way soon.


And then you say....

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