Archives for posts with tag: job search

Under-employment offers some advantages, including the ease with which one can excel. In the first six months of my little job, my efforts have been formally recognized three times, and I have received lots of great informal feedback from my managers. I have also been allowed more responsibility. Rather than simple floor sales, I will be able to schedule appointments to sit down with customers and develop plans for bigger projects, and I’m excited about the opportunity.

I see this job as a long-term, but not necessarily central, part of my work life. It is fun, the people I work with (and for) are wonderful, and I am developing skills in an area that has always interested me. I’m also applying skills I brought to the job. And of course, there’s the discount. I sell beautiful things for the home, and I have a home that needs many things, which might as well be beautiful.

Being officially “part-time” also keeps things fresh, and leaves me plenty of time for…

That’s the problem. Even with my puttering and my projects, my walking and my Waldo, and my lovely family, I find myself searching for somewhere to direct the rest of my energy. The years of experience in my field are jingling in my pocket, just crying out to be spent. (wow, tortured metaphor or what?)

I’ve been diverted this last year by many things (details available in previous posts), but have been inching back toward the hunt for a “big girl job” with a big girl paycheck (I have not given up my dream of hardwood floors.)

I applied for the local version of my old job when I spotted an opening in early May.  I tweaked my LinkedIn profile. I asked the colleague I most admired at my last job for a recommendation, which he promptly provided. I perused LinkedIn, scanning for anyone  with whom I might have some tenuous connection, who might give me some insight into the prospects for the job. I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone, but I noticed the profile of a woman who had previously held my prospective position. We seemed to have a lot in common professionally, although she has already done things I am still aspiring to: certified mediator, mitigation and sentencing specialist. I’d love to talk to her. I started composing a message, and couldn’t find the right tone. Dr. T came home and off to lunch we went.

I did not receive a response to my application, which stung a little, but was something of a relief:  a full-time job could be hard to juggle with the parts of my life that are working well- studying with BR two nights a week, and my little job, and there was a certain “been there, done that” aspect to the job. Ideally, I’d  come up with something that allowed me to set my schedule around my existing commitments, and give me room to grow. This train of thought pulled up right back where I started last year: mitigation specialist, certified mediator, private investigator, graduate student, freelance writer. All highly acceptable options, but how feasible? Time to start getting serious again.

About two weeks ago, I received a LinkedIn invitation from my prospective contact.  Had I sent the message after all? I couldn’t find it, and decided I was becoming just that much more senile. I happily responded to the invitation, promising myself to contact her after the in-laws left. Before I got to it, she sent me a note today, saying she’d found my profile on LinkedIn, that she was interested in moving to California and hoping I might be able to offer her some information on how things are done there. She offered to provide any information I might need about working here. I expect we will meet for coffee soon. I am still grinning at the cosmic symmetry.

…on the way to wherever it is I am trying to go. Those sneaky 10 pounds I mentioned have crept away, taking  a couple of their pals. I attribute that in large part to my little job, since it keeps me moving for hours at a time, and prevents me from freely accompanying TMIM out to lunch and breakfast in The Land of The Fried Potato (where I am helpless to resist.) I’ve also been able to walk regularly with my neighbor, new puppy (walks with him are “bonus” walks), and now, he and I are also walking another neighbor and her dog. Of course, I’ve also made a point of incorporating more of the foods I used to eat while I was living alone, so all of those things help. Because I was not actively “trying” to lose the weight, I can’t really say how long it took, but I did start to notice the drift somewhere around March.

The funnier thing that happened is that we have realized that my fundamental assumption about this move- that I would have to have a “real” full-time job or we’d be in trouble- has been blown to smithereens. Sure, we’d get things done around here a lot quicker if I had a bigger paycheck, but we are bumping up on a year soon, and I am guardedly optimistic.

Maybe it’s getting out from under the pressure of feeling solely responsible for my family’s financial existence, maybe it’s spring, maybe it is getting some distance from the emotional maelstrom attendant to my mom’s passing, but suddenly I am feeling a little more positive about finding that elusive “big girl job.”

This morning I spotted a posting for the job I used to do in California at an agency in a neighboring county. I applied, no longer in the spirit of desperation, but with the sense that getting an interview would be a win. (I would be happy to take the job if it were offered, but my dream job in the field is a step or two above it. I’d be thrilled just to have face to face conversations with my professional community at this point, considering the complete lack of response I got last summer.) If they don’t call me, I’ve lost nothing, and I have other interests to explore, don’t I?

I feel that I can capture that elusive future job in the same way I escaped from those sneaky pounds: by moving forward and doing what I know is right in furtherance of my larger goals.

Good thing, too, since I am making a very small fraction of what I used to earn. I’ve been at my part-time job for four months now, and I have decided that I am enjoying it. Recently, my boss asked me, in a teasing way, “Isn’t this more fun than your old job?” I answered truthfully that they were both very fun, but very different.

The first couple of months were rough; I did not work many hours, and it seemed to me that I was forgetting everything I was being taught between shifts. I was shocked to realize I was finding my “little job” to be so stressful.  I’d been a criminal defense investigator, for crying out loud- going to the projects of San Francisco alone after dark, serving subpoenas on hostile witnesses- I was dealing with people at the worst times of their lives- how in the world was working a few hours a week in retail making me anxious?

I worked in retail off and on during my twenties, and felt I could easily manage it again. I had worked through my questions of whether I could be comfortable in such a controlled environment after the autonomy and responsibility I’d had during the last 25 years of my working life. I realized that I am not defined by my job title or my paycheck, and carefully considered where I might enjoy working. I applied at only two stores: a clothing store and a home furnishing store. My logic was that there was no point working anywhere I would not want to use my discount. This way I could either refurbish my wardrobe or refurnish my house, however slowly.

I did not hear from the clothing store (too bad for you, J.Crew!) I re-entered the time clock world in January. After adjusting to the changes in retail technology (computerized registers and inventory control, walkie-talkies and headsets) and generally getting the hang of things, I am having fun. I realized that a large part of my stress had less to do with the job, and much more to do with not feeling competent at what I was doing. I knew that feeling would pass with time, and it has. I remembered that even a menial task is more fun when attacked with enthusiasm, and made a conscious decision to give what I do my best effort, even if it is polishing shelves of glassware or restocking candles.

I spend about twenty hours a week in a beautiful environment, dealing with people who are about 98% pleasant. Every day is different, and I learn something. I help people improve their living environments. I have a reason to get dressed and somewhere to go. I move around a lot- back and forth across the sales floor, up and down ladders. After decades of working in fields where effort does not always produce observable progress, I am appreciative of something as straightforward as a sales per hour goal. And, to paraphrase Sally Field at the Oscars: “They like me, they really like me!”  In stark contrast to my previous job, the only way I take my work home with me now is in the form of pretty new bedding or  a comfy new sofa.

I know long-term I will want to earn more, and to be more challenged. Whether I find a way to do that within or outside of my present employment remains to be seen. For now, I am quite happy.

If the job search is progressing, it is at a pace indiscernible to the human eye. No word from anyone I’ve contacted recently, and I subscribe to the theory that most people do not care to be bothered on Mondays. That said, I am turning my attention this rainy Monday to something where I might see some progress.

We’ve got this chair. It’s a big, manly recliner we bought when TMIM embraced his codger status shortly after his 50th birthday. The chair was originally purchased in Durham, and came back here when he did. It’s been well loved and well worn, and it shows. In a demonstration of flattering but misguided faith in my ability, Dr. T asked me to re-cover it. Sure, I’ve made some simple curtains and pillows, and I’ve even re-covered a storage ottoman (talk about your learning by doing.) But a recliner? That’s complicated. My good friend Google said don’t even try.

I took time to consider. A lot of time. The chair had been in the family room, but we’d replaced it with a pair of smaller club chairs and ottomans, so back to the living room it went. And it sat there in its shabby glory, at complete odds with the rest of the room. Couldn’t we just kick it to the curb? Dr. T was clearly not emotionally ready to let go of his old buddy. I considered further. I will undertake any project if the “after” can’t end up worse than the “before.” The recliner qualified.

My favorite part of designing a room is the “if this, then what?” aspect. My this: a hulking mass of navy blue leather in a room otherwise populated by smaller, lighter furniture, including wicker and rattan. The dominant colors in the room are smoky aqua, turquoise, taupe, and a sort of olive-brown. Mr. Chair was not invited, but now that he was here, I’d have to help him fit in; he was going to have to lighten up and lose some of his macho.

I decided I could manage his transformation if I left the back and sides alone. The real wear was on the footrest, seat and arms. The footrest seemed straightforward enough, the seat cushion was really just a glorified pillow, and the arms…well, I’d get to that when I got to it. I knew I was not ready to deal with leather, so the trick was to find a fabric sturdy enough to withstand the wear, and to make sense with the leather. Rather than trying to match the solid blue, I  wanted to use a pattern that related to the other colors in the room. Fortunately, mismatched upholstery is kind of a “thing” right now, and it suits my style, which I call, “I dunno, but like it (or can’t afford to replace it.)”

We found and ordered the fabric. I’d carefully calculated and measured  before I ordered, but now I was afraid to commit by cutting. I am not a math person, and I worried that there wouldn’t be enough material for the job. Finally, I decided to at least attack the footrest. It turned out fine. Emboldened, I ripped off the seat cover. And promptly lost my nerve again. I will not tell you how long I have been staring at that naked cushion. Today though, I am prepared to go forward. Sometimes you have to really not want to do one thing before you can make yourself do that other thing you have been avoiding.

The same adaptability that flummoxed my realtor many years ago (an aging farmhouse on acres of land? loved it! a quirky cottage in Chapel Hill? I could see myself there. a 70’s ranch in Durham? Sure!) allows me some leeway as I hunt for my next job: I am not necessarily interested in doing what I’ve done before, even though I really enjoyed it.

The three jobs for which I applied last week involve my core competencies in some way, although they differ in the details. The first involves investigating and resolving claims against insurance companies on behalf of the state. Considering my extensive background in investigation, and that I was licensed as a claims adjuster in this state, and certified as a claims specialist, I believe that on paper, at least, this is my best fit. The next job is conducting background investigations of federal job applicants. This is posted as an entry-level position with a private company contracting with the government. “Overqualified?” Probably. I do not expect to hear from them, but hope I do. The third job is my favorite. The title is a mouthful: Human Resources Consultant (Grievance Coordinator and Violence Administrator.) The employer is a local university. Not only would I be spending my days on a beautiful campus, I would be most likely to be able to resume my education. I’d be right there after work! I am sorry to say that I am probably less likely to get an interview here. The warning language, directly from the announcement: “Bachelor’s degree and two years of progressively responsible professional human resources management experience (italics added); or equivalent combination of training and experience . All degrees must be from appropriately accredited institutions.”

The problem is not convincing myself that I can flex into the demands of the position, it’s making it clear to the hiring authority. I am feeling more and more like a character in the Wizard of Oz. I possess the desired qualities, just not the symbol of such possession. Will my combination of training and experience be considered “equivalent?” I can only hope that my cover letter was convincing.

In the meantime, the hint that I am getting is that of the jobs that I am finding most interesting, experience in HR is a frequent requirement. Is there an MBA in my future?

Well, of course I am, but I can’t be, for purposes of my job search. I must be a commodity, or a product, or a client. I must take a step back from myself, and in a 180 degree turn from my normal practice, focus on my strengths instead of my failings.

I, the product, am an experienced professional, with a strong work ethic and exceptional people skills. I am adept at identifying a problem and developing strategies to address it. My strongest skills are adaptable to many contexts; to date, I have exercised them in the arenas of criminal law, juvenile dependency, child advocacy, and insurance (worker’s compensation and auto casualty.) I can sell: products and concepts. I am comfortable in high stakes, emotionally charged situations. I have experience in negotiation and mediation, both ad hoc and in formal settings. I research and write. I develop and maintain relationships with peers, clients, and other “stakeholders.” (I can use corporate jargon if I have to.) In a perfect world, I would be in a position that allowed me to train and mentor. I like nothing better than resolving conflict and providing solutions. I operate most effectively in one on one situations, but also enjoy working as part of a team.

Now, all I need to do is convince me that I can sell myself.

According to a list I cribbed from a blog post to the SFGate on February 9 about how to triple your chances of being hired,  employers most value the following traits:
  • honesty,
  • trustworthiness,
  • commitment,
  • adaptability,
  • accountability, and
  • flexibility.

First of all, the math escapes me. There are six traits listed, not three. Besides that, who trusts anyone who talks about how honest they are? It seems to me that any description of a job candidate with those words would be far more credible coming from a reference, rather than the candidate. I have all those traits (trust me!) and I am still looking, possibly because I haven’t mentioned them in any cover letter I’ve sent.

Ironically, in my own case, those traits are pretty much demanded in my chosen field (investigation,) so I suppose I can easily tweak my language to better reflect them in the future. In the meantime, the pretty bubble I inflated last week by finding and applying for 3 interesting positions was deflated somewhat by my husband’s well-intentioned assertion that according to what he heard on the radio (NPR, so you know it’s true) you should never apply for a job until you have networked with the employer.

I have long been aware of the reported value of networking, and have long avoided it. I don’t understand my aversion; I have spent my working life making cold calls, face to face and on the phone. It seems a small step farther to do it on my own behalf, rather than for a client. At the risk of climbing back on that darn couch, I have to suspect that I suspect that I don’t deserve the effort. I must say that my feeble attempts at “networking” in my own very specific field were met with resounding indifference from my professional peers, and I was surprised and unsettled by that- I mean, I was volunteering, for crying out loud.

Well, boo-freakin’-hoo, as they say. Maybe I was doing it wrong. It’s time to try again. So I will, turning again to my two friends, the library and the internet. I will commit to making some effort to connect with someone in my field every week. I will make the same effort with someone outside my field, in a related area of interest. I will document those efforts here. I will also be reviewing current writing on the job search process, and commenting on whether I find any of it helpful. And I will clear the final hurdle of completing my Linkedin profile.

Finally, I will re-commit to this blog. For a minute, I thought I had run out of things to say, but I am happy to report that simply completing this post has recharged me in some way.

By now, my imaginary readers (their number is legion) are beginning to ask questions: “Waaaaaait a minute, didn’t you say this blog was about your search for work? HMMM?”

Me (head bent, kicking at phantom dirt clod): “Right. uh…”

I had big ideas and high hopes when I came back in June. I’d take a couple of weeks off to decompress from the demands of quitting a job and packing a two bedroom apartment within a six week window. (Although there was no doubt I would be doing this “someday” the  decision as to when was fairly abrupt.) Then, refreshed and relaxed, I’d start contacting people and agencies in my field, introducing myself and offering to meet to discuss what I might do to be of use, including volunteering my time as I began my search for full time employment. I would also consider what else I would like to do in my new and improved life- start a blog, work part time in a job that tapped into one of my other interests, volunteer as a literacy tutor, go back to school, whatever. And in the meantime, there was plenty to do around the man cave  house. I was sure I’d be working by August.

The R&R part of this plan was easy. Immediately after the 4th of July, I started sending my letters and resumes. Crickets. I made a few follow up calls. I trolled  internet employment sites and sent some more letters and resumes.  I started focusing on the house, and spent some time inventorying what needed work and determining what I could accomplish right away. And then it got hot. I mean, “I don’t remember it being this bad, who gets dressed in this weather?” hot. I began suffering aches and pains I’d never experienced. I didn’t sleep well. I was over-sensitive and emotional.  I was overwhelmed, and beginning to doubt myself. Somehow, my focus shifted from the positive: I am home. I can choose the course of my life from this point. I have time to do what I enjoy- read, paint, sew, putter around the house…to the negative: I’ll never find a job. No one wants to hire someone my age. There is nothing in my field. I have nothing to offer in another field. This house is falling apart and I will never make enough money to get it the way I want it. I became paralyzed by indecision- what should I do first? What if I pick the wrong thing?

I didn’t give up, exactly, I just slowed down. I have realized in retrospect that I  had unrealistic expectations of what I could manage, or at least of the time it would take. Even good changes carry stress; I knew that, but occasionally  suffer the delusion that I am exempt from certain unpleasant realities that apply to others. I have also realized that I couldn’t do what I wanted if I did not know what that was. Rather than continuing to blindly rush headlong at what I thought I should do, I started to circle around the idea of what I wanted to do. I also decided to order myself to just do something.

I have spent the last six months with my family, without having to buy plane tickets. I have become a tutor. I have finished a few projects around the house, started others, and planned even more. I have picked up a part time job that I think I will enjoy (more on that- maybe- as soon as I have digested my new employer’s policy on social media.) I have resumed my old habit of walking, both by myself and with my next door neighbor. And I have started this blog.

This blog is my job, to the extent that it helps me structure my time, and compels me to address what I am doing to identify and achieve my goals. It’s something of an ideal job, because it is fun, but it is clearly part time.  Next week, I attempt to identify the components of my ideal full time job.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (

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