Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Light at the End of the Unemployment Tunnel

Nineteen months is a long time to be unemployed, no matter how you look at it. My husband Bruce recently returned to the work force after 19 months of job searching. The company where he’d worked for 18 years moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, not a viable option for us. Bruce thought it wouldn’t be difficult to get another position, but when the economy took a dive, so did job opportunities. We had our anxious moments, but we survived.

We’re thrifty by nature. We’ve been married 32 years and many of those years were lean ones. First, Bruce went to college while I worked. Later, I went to college while he worked. During our years together, there have been other times with no appreciative income, namely when we served with the Peace Corps and when we sailed the South Pacific. We’ve learned to manage with little or no income.

One of our hard and fast rules has always been to stay out of debt. Except for our house, we’ve never purchased an item on credit. Oh, we use a credit card, but pay it off each month so we’re never charged interest.

Bruce received unemployment benefits, which were a tremendous help. Other than originally going into the Employment Security office, most of the job search was conducted on-line. He was required to make personal visits to the job security office three times during the 19 months–they understandably need to see hard-evidence of job seeking.

Looking for employment is hard work. In today’s job market, making cold-calls for managerial positions is almost unheard of. In fact, it’s usually impossible. The State’s Employment Security Department has an active on-line job listing, and there are several other job search engines available.

What Bruce found, however, is that most of the jobs listed are often not real positions, or they are positions that will be filled from within the company. In these hard-economic times, companies are just not hiring new people. An obvious flaw to this, however, is that people are often promoted to levels beyond their capabilities, and companies are falling behind in production. When massive lay-offs occur, the remaining workers are over-worked, creating an unhealthy environment. Or, companies are letting important elements of their business slide, also a risky trend. Some companies have the unfortunate policy of not hiring anyone currently unemployed, but rather seek those who are and entice them away from their current position.

Bruce diligently filled out applications, kept his resume current, tweaking it to fit the job description, and wrote cover letters. Many of the applications were long; most questions required narrative responses. Many applications were confusing and he’d click where told and all his work would disappear. He formally responded to 270 job openings, most of which took hours to complete. Rarely did he get a response; occasionally an automated acknowledgment of application received. He did get a few personal interviews and some of them went very well, but the result was often that the company eventually hired from within, they’d changed the job description, etc. Many times employers didn’t call when they’d promised and Bruce would follow up only to be disappointed again.

During this time, to save his sanity, Bruce expanded his interest in growing native plants. A neighbor who sells produce from his farm asked Bruce to start some plants by seed and he happily grew vegetable starts to be sold at the produce stand, along with northwest specialty plants, such as salal, flowering current, red osier dogwood, etc.

Bruce also has a keen interest in photography and he researched the possibility of pursuing this interest commercially, including real estate photography. Unfortunately, the economic climate for real estate wasn’t much better than the job market. But it was a way to productively keep busy and feel as though he was accomplishing something. My third novel, Tenderfoot, was released this past year and Bruce designed the book cover, and was invaluable in helping me with promotional material such as postcard design, press releases, posters, etc.

I was amazed with Bruce’s positive attitude and dedication to whatever he was doing–job search, gardening, photography or promoting my work. Also, I was appreciative of his respect for my time–my work, with the release of my new book, went on as before.

After all those 270 job applications, it wasn’t any of those that resulted in a job. It was a former colleague who works for a company that could use Bruce’s skills. The position was an obvious fit and within 2 days of the interview he had a job. Not only that, he is again working in the marine industry, where he has spent his working career. Perhaps this is another example of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” that is key to finding work in today’s marketplace.

Long saga with a happy ending. Let’s hope that all the many others who are diligently seeking work will soon find a satisfying and productive position. Being out of work is no fun, but it still can be productive.


Lani Schonberg said...

Thoughtful and hopeful article! Thank you for sharing your story with us. L. S.

Heidiwriter said...

Wow--270 applications! That IS perseverance, and I congratulate you both for weathering this!