writing

The Truth About Jobs in 2014

Over the past 6 months, I have really enjoyed getting to know my smart phone.  I’ve owned one for 4 years, but mainly when I first bought one, it was a toy. I used it for calling friends and family, texting long distance friends, and playing games. I’d peer into the 4G screen and write pithy notes on Facebook while commuting to work. During the bus ride to my car, I’d be half blind from LED.

This time, however, LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster Jobs, Siri directions, Calendar, Twitter and Craigslist and I have become team players. Team players, Multi Taskers, Above-Board and Transparencies, all office speak I never thought I’d use in my lifetime.  You see, I’ve been laid off for six months, run out of Unemployment benefits, blasted into my precious IRAs to keep up with bill paying, and am desperate for a new job. Er, position. Er, late in life career, whatever I am forced to tell whomever is interviewing me at the time.

The “time”, it seems, is few and far between the older I get. Not that I’m anybody’s grandma yet. My son is young, single, and in no hurry to marry. But, jobs for anybody older than 55, once they’re laid off, vanish into thin air the worse the economy grows. This is the truth about the job market, despite what The Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, John Boehner, the White House correspondent, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’Malley say. That saying, “Growing old gracefully doesn’t exist.” My age group of writers, secretaries, program coordinators, babysitters, and property managers with years of experience and ability to solve problems at the snap of a finger are the forgotten ones.  Hiring managers toss our resumes out faster than they come in. Reason?  Our health insurance will cost their company more than that of a 25 year old.  Yet a 25 year old doesn’t know what loyalty means. She won’t show up for work when a project is due if her head hurts, whereas people my age take Excedrin and get on with the job. We’re mature, we don’t call in sick for hangovers, we don’t party all night long and come to work late, we don’t leave early, and we don’t stay home when our kids are sick.  We’re knowledgeable, dependable, trustworthy, fun to be with, and know our jobs. Yet for us, there are NO jobs!  It doesn’t matter whether you have a Master’s in Child Psychology, or no college degree, unless you want to work at McDonald’s as an assistant manager for 7 days a week at a starting salary of $30,000, you might as well take other means to become employable.

When I was first laid off, I was protected by a promised 52 weeks of unemployment insurance.  But one day, out of the blue, 26 weeks into my 52, the benefits stopped coming. I had managed to pay only 2 bills with those weekly stacks, but at least it was incoming money.  To suddenly do without with no warning was panic worthy. Apparently, the remaining 26 weeks are tired up in the House of Representatives, where they’re twiddling their thumbs, even though Congress has passed the bill to disperse the monies, and ignoring the fact that the unemployed are in some cases, living on welfare, food stamps, and on the street. I am fortunate that I have a small savings account, but with UE, there was no ability to “save.” Therefore, I applied one week to every single job listed on CraigsList. Most of them were scams. Some of them wanted to pay me a whopping $7.50 an hour to do events planning at the Children’s Museum. A man wanted to pay me to model shoes for his fetish. Another one wanted me to be her personal gardener 24/7 for $5 an hour. I was to carry a cell phone with me at all times and answer it on the first ring when she called.

I’ve networked like crazy, telling anyone who would listen that I was seeking a job. I got involved in playing tennis before I was laid off and have since joined more leagues in order to keep my mental sanity.  I’ve gotten 2 job leads via friends who play tennis, but the jobs would not pay enough to compensate for gas used to drive there.  I also have taken to walking in to shops that have signs in their windows advertising “Hiring, Apply Within.” One such stop landed me a job within 2 weeks that lasted 3.  It was a fun job, I learned SO much about my abilities to adapt, and reaffirmed my confidence in myself to perform.  I don’t regret having taken that job. I just regret that it only lasted 3 weeks. I had planned on networking there too, in the hopes of it leading me to a better place.

My favorite online job seeking sight is Indeed.  Indeed is always up to date with current openings, and instead of making you bare your soul by displaying a resume to 1,000s of evil job web scam artists, instead Indeed sends you directly to the employer website. You can find out all about what the company does, how it got started, what is its purpose, and a large job description of what would be expected of you. Most important, it informs you how long the job has been listed. I’ve taken to not applying for jobs that have been on the website for longer than 1 month. Why, you ask? Because either the hiring manager is taking their sweet time reviewing resumes, not really hiring, or has been inundated with people applying for the same job.  Sometimes I see jobs listed for which I applied 3 months ago, and never heard back.  What the heck? They must be fishing. If you are unemployed like me, you don’t have time to allow a hiring manager to fish at your risk. I have an inherent distrust of Career and Monster dot com because all that’s offered me are chances to sign on with job agencies, which in turn, pay you very little after taxes and parking. You don’t get charged for their assistance in finding you a job, but agencies will talk you down to a salary that’s good for them, and not for you.

My work history is varied:  When I dropped out of college after one year, I went to work for the County Courthouse to learn how to do data entry. Being young, I didn’t like the job so I quit at summer’s end. From there, I took a job as a clerk in a medical foundation and returned to college to take courses related to medical technology. I worked in hospitals for 5 years in a federally funded medical scribe program.  I was very good at scanning patient charts for necessary information and interacting with nurses and doctors, but I also advanced as far as I could in the program without a college degree. In my spare time, I did a little bit of freelance writing, concentrating on poetry, and a lot of dating.

After 5 years in medicine, I switched to law. I worked my way up from being a proofreader of legal documents to running the cutting edge word processing department. I was on top of the world! I loved word processing – it was a lot like formatting in writing. Cut, copy or paste. Save. Print. Proof. I was in Law until I for pregnant, and then was fired for being pregnant. In the early 80s, lawyers could do that then. Fire a pregnant woman. My husband at the time was serving time in the Maryland National Guard in NC, so we luckily had an extra salary for me to take off the duration of the pregnancy.

I began writing my first novel when my husband gave me an Apple in the late 80s. I taught myself how to work an Apple and how to do WordPerfect.  I also free-lanced, worked part time as a psychologist’s secretary, began my own Third Party Medical Billing business called Doctor’s Orders, free-lanced for 3 months as an On Call word processor for Becton Dickinson, and then segued to a full time but part time director of PR and alumnae at St. Paul’s School for Girls. Again, I loved the job, loved event planning, was really good at everything I did, and when I asked for full time employment, was let go. Suffice it to say that when I left, it took two people to fill both jobs I’d been doing for 3 years. (One of those people has been replaced by a 24 year old who does social media all day long – you know, Facebooking, taking Instagram photos, Tweeting, and YouTubing.)

Following that, I worked as an editor for AON, then called Alexander & Alexander Consulting Company-Benefacts, and then managed a women’s social club. For 3 months I worked at Hopkins Hospital, stepping over a large pool of fresh blood and brain parts on my first day there. (That was an omen.) After that ill-fitting job, I sold computers for 3.5 years. Then, tired of constantly seeking jobs, I got my foot in the door at Baltimore County Public Schools doing Third Party Billing as a contractual employee. I would have stayed there forever if Roland Park Country School had not offered me an administrative position in their upper schooI. Once again, I loved the nature of the job, the students, the faculty, the work, the amount of work (tons), and the short commute.  Pay wasn’t so great, but health insurance was a small perk. And over the 12.5 years I was there, my pay grew.  In fact, it grew so much, the school chose to unload me in order to save money.

I was 58 when I began pounding the pavement for another job. Some friends told me I would never succeed. I had recommendations in writing from various faculty members and my former boss. Others encouraged me. I networked so much that over the 8 months it took me to find a job, I interviewed every single week – if not via phone, then in person.  It was 90 degrees most of that time, with 80% humidity. I grew blisters from walking from my car to the various buildings where I was tested, interviewed, and shown offices I would never grace again.  My underwear would ride up my crack from sweat so that I felt as though I’d been cleaved in half. Bugs flew into my bra, clawing their way out while I tried to answer psychological questions in interview after interview. Life was hell. But I had to forge on. I was too young to retire and wanted to prove my naysaying friends wrong.  I interviewed some places 5 times and didn’t get the job. I also had an interview that lasted 3 hours and didn’t get the job.  It’s a shame, because it was a good company with fantastic salaries.  And, they had court time at Greenspring Valley Racquet Club! For a painful year, I was an executive administrative assistant for a nonprofit no kill animal foundation where I had nothing to do all day expect pretend I was busy.  That is extremely hard for someone as honest as I am.

Being laid off is a humbling experience, but you aren’t always humbled right away.  First you’re in shock.  Then you blame yourself. Then you get depressed. You obsess over and over where you went wrong, and believe you me, this is a waste of time. You didn’t do anything wrong. You only aged, or made cost of living pay increases your boss can no longer afford.

Imagine bumping your head on a car’s dashboard at 75 mph. This is what losing a job feels like.  You have a constant headache of worry, concern, determination, and loss in confidence.  My advice is to take 2-3 weeks off and play.  Adjust to the fact that your employer to whom you were so loyal that you went to work with pneumonia, a broken foot, and torn meniscus has dumped you for a leaner, younger model.  Pretend that your employer is a man who is constantly seeking a young woman to make his own aging process slow down. Someone who will work for less and do more. It’s a reality that doesn’t exist.

Don’t waste this time feeling sorry and sad without taking action to protect yourself.  I.E., apply immediately for Unemployment Insurance. You spent umpteen years paying the tax to State of MD, you might as well collect on it. Besides, you’ll have bills, and no other way to pay them. Draining your savings account should be the last act you utilize. Make sure you can pay your mortgage/rent above all else. You cannot go on an interview and do your best if you spent the night on a friend’s sofa with her Himalayan cat.

Go out to lunch with friends. Sleep late, stay up late, and take long, luxurious naps. Read books from page 1 through to the end. Shop, if you can afford it. Take a vacation if you can afford it. Go grocery shopping during the light of day.  Browse the aisles. Discover things that you never had time to do when you were working.  Mull over which kind of lipstick will look good on you, instead of always going without. Make deals with your doctors. If possible, since you’ve lost your health insurance, and COBRA’s costs are higher than most mortgages, see if your GYN will accept a fee that’s half her normal one. You’d be surprised at how many others are seeking the same compense, and how willing doctors are to accommodate you. Same goes for prescriptions. Target and Walmart offer discount drug programs.

After your mini vaykay, make job seeking your main focus. Spend hours each day pouring over various job websites. Cover letters aren’t as popular as they were 3 years ago; but learn how to rewrite each one for that specific application. If your resume needs updating, Indeed, Monster or Career dot jobs will help you write a professional one.  Or, the MD Taskforce will get you hooked up with CCBC where you can take a resume writing class, or, better yet, have a best friend or relative who is gainfully employed write one for you.  Keep it plain and simple. No flowers or extra-large bullets are going to catch the employers’ eyes versus a resume without them.  Besides, many places now have electronic scanners that cull resumes from stacks received, or an HR secretary scans them and tosses what she thinks are lacking in required skills. Most important, though, as they say in the writing world, “kill your darlings.”

Killing your darlings is the same as dumbing down your resume. You might not be willing to take a job with a lesser salary, but if you’re over the age of 58, you HAVE to consider it. Really. So if you dumb down your resume, and not include every job you ever held dating back 30 years, you won’t necessarily be labeled “old” by the hiring manager. List only the jobs that apply to the one you’re applying to. Change the wording. If you have no experience in a doctor’s office but lots of experience in customer service, play that up, and offer to take a medical terminology course on your own time. DO NOT INCLUDE DATES FOR WHEN YOU WORKED SPECIFIC JOBS. State of Maryland says you can include that in the hiring company’s application, but if you want to get your foot in the door, don’t put it on the resume you send them.

Now is the time to think about what you next want to “be” in the working world. If you were a banking executive making $75,000 a year, you, in the eyes of your employer, were making too much and were expandable. You will be damn lucky to see that kind of paycheck again. This is where life gets really tough. $50,000 probably won’t find its way to your bank again, either. You will have to reinvent yourself. Obama thinks it’s okay for you to try floor sweeping because “it’ll make a man out of you.” Translated, he wants anyone who made any kind of salary over those who routinely are underpaid, to suffer and walk in their shoes. So, can you accept $30,000 with benefits to work in a bank, starting all over at the bottom? Can you be a vice president one day and a teller the next?

The jobs O’Malley and Biden are talking about as being plentiful are bathroom cleaners, floor sweepers, gambling casino card dealers, and retail workers. Minimum wage earners, at best. Are you ready for this kind of job? If not, don’t apply.  Most retailers don’t offer health benefits, or if they do, you won’t be grandfathered in to the Obama plan.  If you are making $8.50/hour, you won’t be able to afford an Obama health care plan that costs $600/mo. with a $5,000 deductible. To apply for medical assistance, you have to have NO money – no IRA, no savings, no checking and no job. Same with welfare.

The job I got after my first big job search was at a local university. I used my skillset from Roland Park Country and transferred it to Loyola. For a year and a half I worked my ass off to prove my worth. I lost nearly 20 lbs. from stress, and was confused with the Energizer bunny. And then, I made a mistake.  I misspelled a parent’s name. And then I made another mistake. I left a telephone message on my boss’s door instead of emailing her the message.  This, all while greeting visitors, training temps, supervising 36 work study students, answering a 6-line phone system, invoicing for lost keys, and sleeping only 2 hours a night. I also planned the Christmas party for Student Development, won a college scholarship, started writing a novel, took classes, and was elected to the governing body of staff employees for the college. I had 4 new supervisors in 1.5 years. That’s 4 different supervising styles. I was told I was great, I was told I was an embarrassment to the office, I was told I was mentally ill, and I was told not to hire white people. I was told they wanted to help me, and yet, all they did was find things wrong. I was repeatedly asked to quit. After 2.5 years, I was let go. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

CraigsList is full of absolutely wonderful sounding jobs, which, unfortunately, mostly turn out to be places like AFLAC or again, job agencies. Once in a blue moon, a job I apply for turns out to be bona fide, or “already filled.” What I like about Craigslist is that they often misfile jobs beginning in “A” sticking them with the “W’s, which, on your way out of the site, gives you one last chance to apply for a job that the rest of the world might not know exists. It’s like getting a party favor just for the privilege of looking! Both Indeed and Craigslist, for the most part, show jobs in the city you want, versus Monster and Career or Job Hut, or Start Wire, or MD Nonprofits which send you all over creation before you realize that perfect vocation you want is located in Calgary, Canada.

LinkedIn has wonderful articles about writing resumes, how to hire, and 5 of the worst mistakes you can make interviewing. It’s a great place to network for people with IT experience, people who have StartUps, and people in the biomedical business. But what about those of us who can never nail an interview? I like connecting and following on LinkedIn, but I very rarely find a job I can fill on this App. People look at my site all the time, but don’t offer me jobs.  This time around, I also created my own website through AboutMe, started a blog through WordPress, and every cover letter I write, includes those addresses so the hiring manager can see what I look like and read that resume instead if he/she wants.  I also make my FB accessible. I never post anything pornographic – mostly show photos of flowers, or dogs (I’ve started a dog sitting business), or quotes.

What the job market is REALLY like out there in July 2014, versus what the press and White House have been telling the American public are two vastly different things.  Bottom line, from a mature female who looks to be in her 50s, has no gray hair, lots of energy, is very skilled in word processing, excel, proofreading, editing, greeting customers, can add and subtract, make a mean deli sandwich, work a register without stealing the money within, keep her head about her in times of great stress, can spell, speak English fluently and believes in contractions, apostrophes, knows the difference between “they’re, their and there,” and doesn’t interject every sentence with an ‘F’ bomb, type 68 wpm, without errors, there are NO jobs for me.  No I cannot lift 50 lbs. No I cannot rise at 4 am to open up a convenience store by 5 am. No I cannot and will not clean toilets for a living. But other than that, I don’t stand a chance of getting hired any time soon.  Without any employer saying it to my face, I am too experienced, which translated means “too old” or “will ask for too much money” or “might quit right away.”  How do they know anything about me without giving me a chance?  The economy has not improved, and small businesses are either closing shop, or offering only contractual jobs.People, both hiring managers, and the unemployed, are running scared.

Sorry, Obama, I am calling your bluff. O’Malley especially. And, Anthony Brown, who will most likely be elected next governor of Maryland, you don’t care either, do you?

All I can say is that the rules have changed. New rules, there must be rules for this unemployment game.  There are always rules, even if half the population doesn’t follow them.  Who knows, maybe this blog will lead to a job.  A real job with a survivable salary. I don’t need benefits. I don’t even need my own office. I’ll pay it forward, too.  I’ll be sure to share my success on LinkedIn.

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