Friday, March 20, 2009

Guest Blogger

Here is a guest blog from my fellow unemployed friend Matt. I've invited him to share his story about his quest for employment in these tough times.

I'm not sure how often he'll feel like posting, but his story, while not like mine, is not so unlike mine, either. And, to that end, not so different than any of yours.

Here's his intro, a little bit about where he's coming from and, of course, a bit about how his job hunt is looking right now.

This is my first attempt at blogging. To be perfectly honest, I don’t read blogs–in fact I find the whole idea, for the most part, to be a little self-indulgent, notwithstanding the news/political blogs whose professionalism and journalistic integrity can rival the evening news. I’m talking about the blogs that are nothing more than online diaries, or I was talking about them until I somehow decided it might be a good idea if I joined the party (two years after it’s jumped the shark).

Who knows, maybe this healthy dose of skepticism will be an asset. Or perhaps it will just be annoying. Personally, I can see it going either way.

A little about me: Before I joined the shabby ranks of the unemployed, I worked in satellite radio. Glamorous right? Unfortunately no. First the pay: Originally, pre-Howard, when no one had heard of satellite radio in general or Sirius specifically, they paid everyone very well just to get bodies in the seats. Two or three years later they cut everyone’s pay back to the level it probably should have been in the first place… I was disappointed, but pleased I’d managed to milk it as long as I had. This meant that I needed to merely work more hours to make the same amount. But, everyone was freelance, so 50-55 hours was acceptable, and hey, it wasn’t like I was digging ditches. Then, as a new CEO tried desperately to increase the stock price, he mandated that everyone be brought on as a full-time employee, hours maxed at 40. Do the math, I lost 15 hours a week of pay AND they took out taxes, which my magical accountant had some reduced to about 10% AND they charged me for benefits that I was getting cheaper through Freelancer’s Union. All in all, I got hosed. On top of it all, despite working 40+ hours a week for 4 years, I hadn’t been “full-time” long enough to receive unemployment.

Second the Hours: I had to get up every day at 4AM to work on a morning show. While the show itself was fun, the hours ruined my life. All of my friends were going to bed at 4AM. When I left work at 2 or 3PM, they were all in work. So what did I do? I developed a healthy case of alcoholism. I wasn’t so much drinking to dull the pain. I was drinking to dull the boredom. I’d stop in at the bar on the way home from work, drink until I saw double, then continue the party with myself at home. Sound sad? It was. Even worse, I started to oversleep the 4AM alarm. That happened a couple of times too many, and that was the end of that. I was out.

So now what? How about spending a few weeks, maybe longer, in a complete state of drunk. I don’t mean tipsy; I’m talking wake up at noon and drink to win. Unfortunately, the few weeks turned into months. I started dating a girl whose life was actually in worse shape than mine. She was ten yeas my junior and here semi-illegally from Australia. She somehow managed to find jobs that were awful and bosses that completely preyed on her illegal status. Being the kind of guy I am, I, of course, tried to protect and to fix what was broken in her life. God, how I hate to be a predictable stereotype. But, all of this managed to distract me. And there was still the drinking. Even drunk, I could focus on taking care of her and her problems–instead of realizing my own. However, as distractions are prone to be, this was only temporary. She and I didn’t last, although, we did manage to pretend for a good 6 or so months. And, as time marched on, my drinking habit worsened, and as the economy nosedived so did my life.

While all of this was going on, I half-heartedly tried to re-start my career, first in broadcast. It turns out there wasn’t much available in radio, and the experience I did have, while I thought it impressive, wasn’t that special. And, I had no experience in TV, so that was out. The reason I originally began working in radio, was because I was taking classes to put together my creative portfolio as an advertising copywriter. As an account executive, I had some experience writing in different positions I had held throughout my career, and prior to being sidetracked by radio, I had always thought that copywriting was my true calling. To be honest, radio was fun, but not very taxing. In fact, if I’d been able to do it for two years well with a raging hangover, was it really going to push me to reach my full potential? Probably not. Maybe this was for the best.

In between drinks and hangovers, I worked with an art director friend to help him produce a couple of campaigns for his clients. At last, I was working as a copywriter–and it felt right. In payment, my friend agreed to art direct my portfolio of yore. Instead of just dusting off my 4 year old comps, I revisited and completely redid each each campaign. I also wrote body copy for each, which had not been a part of the original assignments. In addition to hopefully being good for my career, this was a valuable distraction from that bottle of vodka sitting in my freezer. Eventually, unfortunately later rather than sooner, I curtailed my drinking and got serious about my life. I had a full portfolio, which included both real work, as well as, spec campaign assignments from my class.

So, to review, I am now single, relatively sober, and searching for a job. The economy sucks, and along with most other industries, ad agencies are laying off people left and right. I’m trying to change horse mid-stream, which, as the saying goes, one should never do. And, because the industry I’m trying to enter depends exclusively on my talent and creativity and ability to compose text that can make people gasp or change their minds or buy something they don’t need, I am filled with a constant dread and self-doubt that my abilities are not enough and that I will fail. I have friends who are filled with certainty that they are fantastic at whatever creative endeavor they undertake. Whether or not this is true, they seem to believe it, and perhaps that’s half the battle–fake it till you make it. Or, maybe their absolute belief manages to blind their potential critics into believing, as well.

Regardless, through a daily scouring of Craigslist, Jobster, Monster, et al, I’ve managed to find and apply to 7 or 8 jobs whose requirements I meet. Also, merely as a favor and to add to my portfolio, I’ve started to help another friend pro-bono whenever his firm has a project that requires any copy. Sadly, everyday there are numerous jobs advertised looking for Senior this or Director of that, which I am obviously unqualified for. Equally depressing are the numerous unpaid internships I see, which, I’d like to believe I am vastly overqualified for. Then there’s me, stuck in the middle. I haven’t gotten quite desperate enough yet to apply for an internship–The Chandler Bing method off breaking into copywriting. As much as I love Ol’ Chandler, I’m not sure, if at 34, my ego or my soul could really take dropping back down that many rungs. As it is, I’ve started to widen my net and apply for jobs that aren’t even in advertising, just general writing jobs, a marketing company, even a sheet metal supply catalog. I guess whatever it takes to get me back into the market. So, for the time being and hopefully not much more, I’ll sit at my friend’s coffee shop, like I am right now, and continue to search for that elusive job. And, I guess the way blogging works is I continue to write about what’s going on in my world. Actually, I’m giving this to my friend, who has started her blog about being unemployed and her experiences. I’m not even sure if this is how a blog is supposed to read, if it should be this long, or filled with this much background. I’m entering new territory, be gentle.


Here's an update M sent me this afternoon:

I just re-read the post I submitted yesterday, and am a little shocked by my frankness. Apparently anonymity has its rewards. (Note to self, do not let Mom read this blog). Anyway, enough with the morbid, today I’m all about the positive. Last night I, and a friend who is a web designer, updated my web site. He had originally helped me create it, and it was actually very professional and may have helped me land some jobs back in the day, but now it was 8 years out of date and pre-dated my recent foray into copywriting. I was beginning to worry that it could have been slowing down or even hurting my current job search–if people checked it, they’d get an entirely wrong impression of who I was and what I was looking for. So last night, until about 4 this morning, we took down the old site and created a new one that focused on just my creative portfolio. It came out great, and is actually more than I had hoped for. I’d give out the address here, but there’s that whole anonymity thing I got going. Anyway, hopefully it’ll bring this arduous and unfulfilling job search process to a quick and well-paying end. I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Walkabout



Ladies room wall
Mason Dixon Bar
Lower East Side, NYC

Fun With Craigslist

You may have noticed that I don't spend a lot of time writing about all the resumes I'm sending out. And there is good reason, kids. I am not sending out a lot of them.

Why? you ask. Am I loving a life of leisure lived on the stipend of unemployment? Oh hell no. I like working. I miss working. I am a happier person (made evident by the crazy sadness that overcame me a couple of days ago for no reason at all) when I am doing a lot of things and have seemingly little time in my schedule.

There is just not a lot out there right now. Those unemployed amongst you know that.

In that vein, here are some fun snippets from Craigslist that I've collected over the past day or two.

I am looking for a personal assistant. I am only looking for a female. I need her to organize schedhules, and documents, call back clients, and answer phone calls. I am willing to pay anywhere from $1600-$2000 a month in salary, plus there will be comissions as well. Hour needed are from 2-10pm. I need someone devoted, so please only respond if your serious in working. 20-30 yrs old is a plus.

Um ... it's entirely illegal to require someone to be a certain age for a job. It's not specified if the poster is a female (who is freaked out by men) or a creepy guy - but my first reaction to it was that this was a lecherous guy who just wanted to get a hot, young woman into his home office on a daily basis. Ew.

To be considered for the position- please fax a HANDWRITTEN cover letter with resume

I'm not going to say what company posted this, and I am actually considering applying for it, as several of the requirements are right up my alley. Over dinner the other evening, I was chatting with a woman I know from the beauty industry who had applied for a different position with the same company. I just figured they wanted a hand written cover letter faxed to cut down on lazy or under-qualified people applying to the job. But, apparently the woman who does the hiring is very into handwriting analysis and if you make it into the interview process, there is a 12 page analysis of your writing ...

Looking to fill position ASAP. Again, you must live within 20-minutes of SoHo; no exceptions.

This person will be missing out on some qualified people. Of course, they probably want someone who lives nearby who can be at their beck and call at all hours. Next!

You must be able to anticipate needs of a fairly off the wall ADD entrepreneur If you need a lot of supervision and cannot think independently you will not be happy here.

In my experience, even people who actually do need a lot of supervision do not think that they need a lot of supervision. Props to the person to admitting their quirks in the actual posting, though.

$10-$14 an hour, depending on qualifications.
MUST SPEAK SPANISH. MUST BE BILINGUAL

This one is not that crazy, I'll admit. It's just an example of many low-paid jobs I've seen posted that have several requirements and require at least two languages (I see Mandarin and Russian a lot). Not so crazy in New York, I know, but at least offer a little cash!

This is a diverse job in which we hope you can grow into Managing and quoting custom Jobs. If you are not bright, articulate, energetic and good with numbers please don’t waste anyone’s time.

Um ... who doesn't think that they themselves are bright and articulate? I don't think anyone out there would be like, "Hey, I'm a dumb-ass, I better not apply."

Salary is $10 per hour and there are no benefits. Please send resume.

Woo-hoo! That sounds great. No benefits. Full-time. And not enough of a wage to pay for one's own benefits.

I know it's tough out there. And I know employers are hurting, too. But one of the first rules of running a successful business is to treat your employees well - it builds loyalty and breeds a harder working employee. Which can only help your business in the long run, no?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Free Work?

For those of you on the hunt for a new job or a career change (as I am trying to make), here is an interview with Leslie Stahl (of 60 Minutes) on yesterday's Brian Lehrer show on WNYC about becoming an intern later in life.

The comments are interesting, as well.

The question comes, when you are at a certain juncture in your life, can you do "free" work? I don't disagree with those college-aged interns who are posting that they feel they get little out of their internships besides getting "the right colored post-its and coffee". But I have to say that they are too young to full realize how a few well placed contacts in the industry of their choice can give them a leg up when it comes time to enter the job market for real. Maybe they don't love getting the boss their 10am Starbuck's fix every day, but they don't realize if they do it with a smile, on time and without complaint every day, as well as remembering to offer to help out when it's not necessarily "their job", that their boss/supervisor/whomever will remember them, will want to be their mentor and will probably not only be able, but very happy, to assist them in their future endeavors.

I'm not in the place where I am looking for an internship quite yet, though I do look at the FIT job board from time to time (the perks of being enrolled, even part time as a student) and if I saw one in the right field, I am not above applying for it.

If you are on the dole, with that employment check coming in, small as it may be, and all your actual job prospects seem very poor, why not spend a handful of hours a week in a work environment? Sure, maybe you could learn a thing or two but, and so much more importantly, you can network with the right people.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Getting Down To Business

Yesterday, I posted a link to a website about how to use your time wisely when unemployed. And, in previous posts, you may get the feeling that I haven't really been doing so. And you might be right with that assumption. I sleep too late. I stay up too late ... And that, in itself, can sometimes throw off any hope for regular productivity.

So, today, I woke earlier than normal - did yoga, drank some coffee and got my butt out into the sunshine day. It's a beautiful day in Greenpoint Brooklyn. I met my friend N, a photographer, for a late breakfast/early lunch at Roebling Tea Room and then got down to business.

I've always been a crafty girl. I have a degree in studio art. I have a huge collection of gorgeous fabrics that I never know what to do with. When I was a kid, I was quite crafty. I decided to make a present for my friend's newborn with some pretty awesome vintage fabric I've been hoarding since the 90s. Today was the great quest for poly-fill in the neighborhood. You'd think it'd be an easy find ... not so much. Shout out to the ladies at Space Craft on Bedford/South 4th, who didn't have what I needed but were not only super nice (and their store is super cute) but they told me where I might find some and some alternatives to store bought poly-fill that were so simple, but I never would have thought of - so then I walked and walked to a cool little fabric store jam packed with stuff on Grand between Lorimer and Leonard (will definitely hit that up before my next trip to Mood!!).

And there it is. Does it have anything to do with the job I'm currently looking for? No. Not so much. I'm really just looking for an admin position in fashion/beauty/retail, as I've done for so long already. But. It does have something to do with the job I'm hoping to get once I'm done with the classes I want to take (and am currently taking) at FIT. And it's something to talk about in an interview when one eventually comes my way. What have I been up to in these months of unemployment? Sitting on my ass? Oh no, not me! I've been using this time to catch up on some crafting that I didn't really have time for before. I've been taking classes at FIT. I've been making little stuffed animals for my friend's infant daughter. Sure, of course I've sent out resumes, but I've been using my time - hopefully - wisely.

It's so easy to feel bummed out, down and depressed when you're unemployed. Especially when you've been so for a while. And it's true that you cannot spend 8 hours a day looking for a job. You'll only make yourself crazy. And, really? You want to tell the HR person at your next interview that you've been spending the day cooped up on the internet? That doesn't make you seem like a very interesting person. Who wants to hire someone dull?

So you have the time! I have the time! Let's use it!!!

Craft. Exercise. Paint. Sew. Walk around the neighborhood and take pictures of the things you see. Just get out there and try not to feel sorry for yourself. There're a lot of unemployed peeps out there right now. It's nothing personal.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Walkabout



An image from one of my afternoon walks.
West Street and Milton in Greenpoint

Helpful Hints

I have one friend, who will remain unnamed, who, whenever we speak since my lay-off asks me about the resumes I've sent out and how the job hunt is going. I've weaned him off it a bit, as there was a while that he was basically saying I should apply for any possible job, whether I was over-qualified or it would pay way less than what I was making before.

Here's the thing. I can't do that. I can't, at this juncture, take just any job that comes my way. I can't apply for a job that pays $11/hour. I can't remember the time that I made that little money but I'm reasonably sure that it was before the millennium. So, every morning, I sit down with the job websites. And I look. And I look. And I look. And every now and then there is somewhere to send my resume. So I work up and appropriate cover letter. I attach my resume (unless it says to past it in the body and then I do that). And I wait.

I've also been reading some blogs/websites/etc ... with helpful hints for the unemployed. Some of them are about how to stay frugal. Some of them are about networking. Some of them are about making use of the free time that you have on your hands. Today I stumbled upon The Brazen Careerist, which seems to be a pretty cool site with some useful hints and advice.

Some of these things are, of course, pretty practical and you probably should have thought of them yourself. But, sometimes in those dark days on unemployment and rejection, it's hard to bring your mind back to reality/practicality and what should be common knowledge. So, a little advice, from someone who's been there before, is never a bad thing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Day In The Life ...

So, it's been a couple of weeks sit I've sat down in front of the laptop to write anything here. Don't worry, dear readers, I'm still on the dole. And, the way things are going, it doesn't look like there is anything on the horizon any time soon.

A day in my life ... lately:
Sleep a little bit too late
Pop in contacts and wash face (maybe in the other order. I can't be sure - I've not had any coffee when I'm doing it)
Put on the coffee pot
Yoga
Drink the coffee from the coffee pot
Spend some time on the internet - Craigslist, MediaBistro, Crack(I mean Face)Book, respond to e-mails and send out resumes
Nosh on ... well, pretty much whatever is in the house
Shower
Dress
And here's where it varies - sometimes I take a long walk. Sometimes I sit on the couch and read. Sometimes I watch really stupid TV (sometimes I watch Gilmore Girls, which is not stupid TV no matter what you say). Sometimes I head into Manhattan and wander around MoMA. Sometimes I meet up with a fellow, unemployed friend (there are, fortunately for them, not too many right now).

Always, I stay up too late playing on the internet and the vicious cycle of not getting up early in the morning starts all over again.

Today's afternoon variant was errand running and a very long walk.

This evening will involve a game of Scrabble and perhaps a cup of tea.

Ah, the excitement in the life of the single and unemployed girl in NYC ...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Frugality

OK. So, you have no job. You live in New york. Expenses are high. It just can't be helped. And you're living off of an unemployment check. And no matter how underpaid you were at your previous place of employment, that unemployment check is undoubtedly way less than you were making. WAAAAAAAAY less.

So you need to be frugal.
You need to count your pennies. You need to cut back on things. You need to mooch off your still employed friends.
And it sucks.

It's hard to go out in New York, anywhere, without spending money. Yes, you need to get out of the house (this is something that you should do every day, even if it's just to the 99¢ store to pick up garbage bags or kitchen sponges or ... something ...). But where to? Take your laptop to a coffee shop and sit for a couple of hours? But this adds up.

I have been cutting corners. I promise I have.
Like most of America, I enjoy buying things. I enjoying having things. I enjoy new shoes in the spring and overpriced jeans. And I'm not doing that now.
Unlike most of America, I have not had a credit card in 8 years, so, I don't have any of that crazy-high-interest-rate-debt that all the radio commentators are speaking of. I have always gotten along by know what was in my bank account and just spending that.

But here's the thing. There was always a paycheck coming. A rent-paying, shoe-buying, cocktail-permitting paycheck.

There are things worth buying. There are times it is OK to go a little over budget.
For me, to stay in check, I make a list. A grocery list, a pharmacy list - a list of the things I need to buy. And I do not stray from this list. I do not buy the new shade of nail polish. I have enough. I do not buy the pint of Ben & Jerry's just because I want some ice cream. But. I do buy two boxes of the good trash bags if they're on sale, instead of the cheaper, crappy ones that leak all over the floor. I do buy the pint of Breyer's chocolate ice cream, under $2, it fulfills my ice cream craving - maybe not so decadent as the B&J, but who needs decadent anyway? I do buy the large box of condoms instead of the three-pack, but I buy the store brand cold medicine.

Sure, I'm counting pennies. But here's the thing. Pennies add up. I promise you they do.

Listening to NPR the other day, I heard a finance expert speaking about some things you can do to stay on track and be in control of your finances. One that sounded really good to me is actually the way I used to live my life right out of college - be cash only.

So, right out of school, I was working retail at a shoe store in Cambridge, MA. We got paid and hourly wage in check form (not bad for the time, but you'd laugh now if I told you how little it was!) and commission, paid cash. Every week, I would deposit my paycheck and use that commission as the money that I would spend throughout the week - to get groceries, to go dancing, to go shopping, to have dinner or buy beer. If the week before had been a slow week, and the commission was low, I would get a little cash from the ATM, but I wouldn't go to the ATM several times during the week. I would go once. If the commission check was big, that's when I'd get to buy myself something nice - clothing, jewelry, fancy dinner with the boyfriend ...

So now I am on unemployment. And I have a fixed income. I don't have the luxury of that fluctuating commission. But I think cash only is a great idea, especially in this economy, to take out a fixed amount of money every week and put it aside - for bills, for groceries, for a social life.

Let's see how it goes ...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The 'Net

Ok. So I spend a lot of time on the internet these days.
And sometimes I learn stuff. And sometimes I find jobs to apply for. And sometimes I find ways to spend my time. Here are two things I have recently discovered - the first I found through a group on LinkedIn and the second, a friend sent to me.

The first is a quick list on Mashable of the thirty best websites for the unemployed . I looked through it and it's pretty good. There are some links to job sites you might not think about and there are some links to ways to spend your day. The worst thing about unemployment is not having something to consistently do with yourself during the days. If you are also unemployed, I think this little website will be a pretty good resource.

My friend S sent me this link to Dessert Corps, which is a volunteer opportunity in my neighborhood. If you're familiar with my other blog know that I like to bake, so this is right up my alley. And, unemployed or not, I think it's important to remember that there are always those who are worse off than you. I'm not sure if this is something that I will be able to do weekly, but I think I am going to try and make something for tomorrow and the next week. It's something that I enjoy doing and also something that other people will really enjoy. I'm also going to post this on my Facebook page, as I think it's a great idea.

Tomorrow, I am helping a friend out with his thesis film at will be in New Jersey all day, so I'll be off the 'net and have my phone off for most of the day ... but I think one day away from that, in an unemployed state, is maybe not such a bad thing!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Time Is On My Side

So one thing about being unemployed is that you have a lot of time on your hands. Loads of time. Tons of time. Oodles of freaking time.

Your employed friends will say that you are so lucky, that they wish they had time. Of course. You probably said the same thing when you were working 50/60 hours a week - I know that I did. And at first, once you get out of that unemployment depression, it's awesome. You can run errands that everyone else has to do on the weekend in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, when the shops are empty and the lines are short. You can read, you can watch TV, you can sleep late ... these things are all great. Amazing. Don't get me wrong, as I really enjoy these "perks" of unemployment as well.

But there is a lot of down time. You can only spend so many hours a day looking for a job on Craigslist, especially these days, when there are only a handful of postings a day. You can only spend so much time competing against your employed-killing-time-at-the-office friends on any of the varied Facebook word games. You can only watch reruns of 80s sitcoms/forensics shows/Law&Order for so many hours a day before your mind wanders.

For me, in this time of unemployment, I am also starting to date. I decided, as I had a lot of time on my hands these days, that it would be the perfect time to try something new, to do something new - internet dating. I put up a profile. I got some e-mails. I responded and I've made a couple of dates. I decided to do this type of dating because it's hard to meet people in New York. It's hard to meet new people when you have little reason to leave your neighborhood. And, what's it hurt? You meet a few people, you kiss a few frogs and maybe something good comes of it. But here's the thing, the evening before my first of the lined up internet dates, I met a guy. In an old-fashioned way, at a party, through a friend. And he was great. Sweet and smart and cute and we hung out for hours upon hours ...

And now is the waiting.
He gave me his number. I texted him, so he could have mine. And now is the waiting.

If I was still working, I would be too busy for it to take over too much of my mind - the when am I going to hear from him thought. Maybe I would hear my cell ring and would wonder if it was him, but I would be busy and my mind would be on a million other things. Today, not so much. I have it on good authority that I think too much and there are a lot of things my mind wonders to on these long, lazy unemployed days ... when will I get a job, how will I pay for the hotel room at my friend's wedding, whatever will I do when unemployment runs out and the economy is still in a "recession"? These things are total bummers to think about. But they are, somehow, a lot less stressful than wondering if this boy is going to text/call me back ...

Do I sound like a high school girl? Probably. But I have a lot of time on my hands and not a lot to think about right now ...

Is this a post more about dating than the pitfalls of being jobless? Maybe. But all I promise is to document what my life is like, living in Brooklyn and being unemployed. And, this is one of those things I'm experiencing.