Looking For Work In All The Wrong Places

There’s something I’ve discovered when it comes to job hunting. Interviewing when you have a job = easy. Interviewing while unemployed = hard.

When you have a job in hand, you have confidence and lack desperation. It’s not a catastrophe if you don’t get the offer because you’re not pressed by the immediacy of bills.

Unemployed is a whole different bag. If you let too many pay periods pass, you achieve desperation and you lose confidence. Having an employed spouse might buy you some time, but even that won’t last forever. Sense the resentment when they come home and you’re on the couch, watching Judge Judy. See those shoulders sag when they’re suited up and off to another day as you spread yourself across their side of the bed, turning over for another cycle of REM sleep. Feel the anger burbling just beneath the surface as they hand over their debit card linked to their bank account containing their money so you can buy something.

Unless it’s part of the agreement, it’s not fair to burden one person with the title of “breadwinner.” In our case, it wasn’t part of the agreement and with the cost of living, it wasn’t up for negotiation. I needed to get out there and make some money, honey.

I had a few resources at the ready. One was the recruiting agency that had actually found jobs at the same company in the same office for the husband and me. We talked at length about that offer. Should we take it? Is it what we want? Would we wind up competing against each other for a promotion? Unsaid: If we lived AND worked together would we eventually end up hating each other?

We didn’t take the offer. Instead he took an offer from a competing recruiting firm. This was the job at the top of his list, in the area of the country where we were aiming to relocate and I told him to go for it. He took the job. And me, I took—

Well, I took nothing. I don’t even know why I attempted to make that seem suspenseful; if I took something the rest of this entry would be 100% fiction (vs. 50%, or more, depending on what line you’re on). I took nothing partly because nothing appealed to me. I had panic attacks about getting “trapped” in a job I hated and how awful that would be. Clearly this was before I experienced how awful it was to not have a job when you really needed one.

Fast forward past moving and getting settled. The agency that offered us the jobs we declined was still willing to work with me, but I sensed a reluctance. “We’ve already done found you a job and you didn’t take it, you ingrate” seemed to be the underlying current anytime I spoke with one of the recruiters. “Well,” (sigh), “For the moment, we can line up a few phone interviews. I’ll see what else we have available in that area and get back to you.”

The other agency, also aware of my predicament, and also aware that we had turned down the jobs from the competition, was much more helpful. “We’re having a conference in Hampton, Virginia. Come on down.”

We drove to their corporate office for an interview with a local supermarket chain that was hiring. Not exactly what I had in mind, but I was open and it would be mighty nice to have a paycheck again.

I hit it off with the woman who was interviewing me. We laughed until we cried, we talked about all of the possibilities that came with being a supermarket manager including a quiz about how I would handle things if we were running a special on grapes and ran out. We talked for an hour and a half, running long past the scheduled thirty minute block. She gave me a 12 disk CD booklet with the name of the supermarket across the front—a parting gift. I left that office feeling buoyant; I had it in the bag. The recruiter suggested I finagle an opportunity from a manager of one of the local supermarkets from the same chain to get a feel for the job. I nodded and agreed to this while thinking, “Not bloody likely, pal, let’s wait and see if I get an offer first.”

A week after the interview I heard nothing. Two weeks, nothing. “I haven’t heard from them either” the recruiter said, “but I think the company is going through some sort of reorganization right now.” Three weeks, nothing. Spin those clock hands ‘round to a full ten months later and an ominous message on the answering machine plays: “I heard you did great in the interview so if you’re still interested, give us a call.” It was funny only because by then I was gainfully employed. I would’ve been pissed if I had followed the recruiter’s advice and wasted a couple of hours on shadowing some unsuspecting produce department manager only to hear from them nearly a year later.

Since the interview process began, I noticed I did swimmingly when interviewing for jobs I couldn’t see myself doing. The supermarket interview was just one example of that, but there were many others. When the guys from the home building company mentioned there would be days when I would get dirty at the construction site, I quipped, “I’m washable.” How they laughed—how we all laughed—this wasn’t an interview, it was a cocktail party without the drinks. The line was swiped from Margaret’s grandmother in Judy Blume’s book “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret,” and it was also the funniest thing these guys had ever heard. They offered me the job, but I didn’t accept
(because who wants to move to New Jersey?)

Conversely, I bombed the interviews where I really wanted the job.

Medical sales representative making a guaranteed $90K the first year?

Target distribution center shift manager in the itty bitty town where the only place your husband can work is at the Hershey Chocolate factory?
"You're hired!”

The pharmaceutical sales job with the unlimited use of a company car and perks aplenty?

Transmission factory manager with 6 day a week/5 work weeks in a row/6th week off shifts for a salary that doesn’t come close to compensating for the bizarre use of time?
“When can you start?”

Eventually it seems like everyone else can sense the desperation radiating from your situation. When I saw that Staples was conducting a hiring frenzy at a store not far from my apartment, got myself onto the schedule and drove down to the place for my interview. When opportunity knocks, you gotta hustle to answer the door.

I was directed to the offices at the rear of the store—not the place workers go to see if they have something “in stock” (on a side note: does that place really exist?) but the place where people go to use the rest room, or to take a break or to handle manager-behind the scenes type stuff.

“Go in this room and answer the questions on the computer. It should take about twenty minutes, then someone will get you.”

I worked through a multiple choice survey of what ifs, mostly related to corporate ethics and whether I’d steal a ballpoint pen if no one was looking. I entered the responses I thought they were seeking and signed off. Then I waited. And waited. And waited well past my scheduled time. If I had an explanation, I’d say this was payback for the supermarket interview and instead of me being the one hitting it off and running all over someone else’s designated slot, I was the one waiting because someone else was hitting it off.

I perked up when I heard a male voice down the hallway. “Oh, I overscheduled these interviews,” it said. “Ha ha ha,” they laughed, two male voices in on the joke, except it’s not funny when you’re the one who got all dolled up for nothing. As the minutes ticked by, I got annoyed, then peeved, then indignant. This guy—this someone who was supposed to check on me one and a half hours ago--was taking advantage. He knew whoever was coming to interview with him was desperate. He knew he could make or break us and if anyone got impatient and left, there would be plenty of others, hungrier people who didn’t mind waiting an hour, two hours, three-- whatever it took. In fact, maybe the waiting was part of his weeding out process. After a full two hours of waiting, I gave in and left, fuming all the way home. Back in the sanctity of the guest room/home office, I fired off a complaint to the same email address that I had used to schedule the interview. “My time is still important,” I wrote, “even if I’m not working right now.” I could’ve been home watching Maury, I thought, still furious. I could have been comfortable in a tee shirt and shorts instead of sweaty in a Petite Sophisticate pinstriped pants suit.

“I’m so sorry, they’re not supposed to overschedule interviews,” came the emailed reply from the P.R. person, “would you like to schedule another interview?”

For what? To be a store manager in the same miserable place where I had already squandered two hours of my life? To you I say, good day! Staples*? What was I thinking? (*Before you ask "What's wrong with Staples?", keep in mind this was before they invented the Easy Button.)

Another instance where my desperation worked against me was when the recruiting company came back with an opportunity to be a movie theater manager.

Now, I like going to the movies but that doesn’t mean I want to work there. In fact, working there would probably make me hate going to the movies.

“You’d get Sundays and Tuesdays off.”

Not even two consecutive days? That’s like having two Sundays in one week. Are you aware of how I feel about Sundays?

“You’ll be working through most of the holiday weekends because that’s when we have the biggest premieres.”

In a world where most people work regular hours, the majority of my job offers were coming from industries that made up their own calendars. I.J.’s 9 day week might actually be feasible to some of these guys.

“You’ll be working nights pretty often, but let me tell you, having this schedule has been great for me because I see my kids off to school in the mornings.”

Okay, stop it. Just stop talking. Say no more.

I landed a follow up interview at the corporate headquarters.

“Now you’re going to have to buy the plane ticket to get yourself up there, but they’ll reimburse you.” The recruiter said.

When we interviewed for the company that offered my husband and me not one job, but two, not only did that company make the travel arrangements, mail the tickets, send a car to shuttle us to their office and host a posh dinner at a local restaurant, they paid for all of it without hesitation. “Did you ride on the corporate jet?” asked my mother. “No.” I replied, dashing her high hopes. They were good, but not that good. This, though, this was a far cry from “good.”

“Fine.” I told the recruiter. “I’ll look up the tickets.”

I looked up the tickets and thought, “Where am I supposed to come up with $600 for a flight to Syracuse? Don’t they know I’m unemployed?”

“He’s going to buy the tickets for you then.” Said the recruiter after getting back with the interviewer. “Except you’ll be flying into Albany instead. They’ll drive down and meet you there.”

Out of curiosity, I looked up prices for tickets to Albany. $120. I could have handled that. Funny how Albany wasn’t an option when I was the one buying.

I flew up to Albany, rode in a ramshackle cab to the mall, and met the interviewers. As they talked, all I could think was “Please let something else come along because this can’t be it.”

My husband looked hopeful when he picked me up from the airport.

“I don’t know.” I said.

“If you don’t want the job, don’t take it.”

He made it sound so simple. If our roles were reversed, I’d be nudging him towards that job with a quickness. “I’ll hang out in the theaters on the weekends you have to work, honey.” And “Holiday weekends, schmoliday weekends!” And “Can you bring home a bucket of that movie popcorn? Microwaved isn’t quite the same.” Despite footing the bills on his own for over a year, he said none of these things; he was still objective enough to understand if I decided not to take it. Amazing.

The movie theater people came up with an offer and the recruiter broke the news. “You can take the eight week course at the Germantown theater.” This was a major bargaining chip because the training was usually in upstate New York and they were setting it up less than ten miles away from my home. Then came the offer, for less money than I anticipated and with the niggling detail that it wasn’t actually an offer to be a ‘Manager”, but instead, “assistant manager.” After being in charge of thirty soldiers in an overseas location with a combat mission I wasn’t qualified to be a full fledged manager? Ouch.

“I didn’t interview for that. I interviewed for manager.”

“Yes, but—“

We all know a sentence beginning with those two words is the prelude to disappointment.

“—there was another candidate that was better suited to be a manager.”

So the truth comes out: I was the runner up. “I’m not going to take it.” I said.

Here’s where the recruiter showed his true colors. “Wait a minute--don’t feel bad—they really liked you, they just didn’t feel you were ready to be a manager.” And then, as if that wasn’t insulting enough, he added, “If I were you, I’d take the offer. I know you could use the money.”

Anything that came after that sentence was tuned out. I knew what happened--the plane ticket situation had revealed my hand; he knew I couldn’t hold out any longer. On the flip side, he was desperate too. In the post 9/11 landscape, these recruiting companies were having trouble finding “opportunities” where they could pimp their candidates. My taking this job meant his company got a cut.

I called him on it.

“No, no—it’s not like that. I don’t want to have you in a job you don’t really want and if you end up leaving, it reflects poorly on us.”

“Shove it.” I said.

Okay, I didn’t really say that, but wouldn’t that have been funny? In reality the conversation disintegrated into a verbal tug of war. In the end, it really was as simple as my husband had put it--I didn’t want the job and I didn’t take it. There were other places to look without relying on recruiters and I was just getting started.

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