Job-Hunt Book Review: “Get a Great Job When You Don’t Have a Job”

This rather plainly-designed book appealed to me much more than the three-inch-thick tomes that only offer resume or only cover letter examples. (I have to carry this home three quarters of a mile with my other six books, people!)

Authored by Marky Stein of, apparently, in 2009 (although I had sworn my version said 2011; not sure if it was updated), this ought to be a fairly relevant source still, although we are several years deeper into the recession.

I have to admit that it confused me. The format is a bit strange, seemingly a book-in-a-book (“Fearless Resumes,” a section, seems to have been previously published). And the advice is… out there. So different from almost ALL other resume books. Is she right? Does she know? Is this really how things are? It’s hard to say. It would be interesting to see a review from the perspective of a recruiter!

Examples: She suggests only sticking to one page if you have literally nothing to say (new grads, etc.). Whereas the traditional wisdom goes that only very-high-level applicants and scientists with lists of publications should have many pages. (I.e. a CV rather than a resume).

She also suggests some salary negotiating strategies that I swear would have people calling security.  I am sure projecting confidence is great, but you deciding when to end the interview seems so rude.

I am trying some of the strategies to improve the first impression my resume seems to be making (judging by lack of interview calls), but I am hard pressed to believe that creating a table listing my nine most relevant skills is REALLY the step I need to be taking here. Or putting in an “objective,” when everyone else says “for the love of god, they know what your objective is: this job!”

The most helpful passages were about body language during the interview and about eliciting an emotional response in your reader in the application process. Who am I to say that the resume formatting tips aren’t also terrific.

If you’ve also read this book please leave your own impression in the comments. All the better if you are or have been a hiring manager!


We Get Diddled By Uncle Sam At Christmas

This layoff was my first unemployment claim ever. I’m in my thirties. I know people who have been “on the dole” (legitimately!) ten times or more! I figured the government had to have some method of cutting people like me a little bit of slack. So when I heard that the federal extension to state benefits was going to be terminated– the first time since 2008 that it wouldn’t be offered!– I was sure that I couldn’t be among the millions who (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!) would get cut off completely in January 2014. (Oh, what disappointment to invest naive trust in a body that cares not a whit for anyone’s actual well-being).

Never mind that I was still making a “whopping” $150 a week working more than half-time at the gym. Never mind that the only real interview I’d been on at this point in months of looking was for a part-time job with no benefits… which I was not offered. Never mind that, again, I had never cost the state one dime in unemployment insurance benefits, in over fifteen years of working here. Sorry! No benefits for you.

There is no extension because the economy is ADDING JOBS, right? And unemployment numbers are down! Everyone rejoice, the recession is over!

…Except that the unemployment numbers are low because NO ONE IS RECEIVING BENEFITS ANYMORE, not because we got jobs. The long-term unemployed ranks continue to grow. The people falling off the rolls, those who fell off long ago, previously at-home moms ready to go back to the workforce, or students just getting started, don’t even count. Think about that when you hear a nice low unemployment number like I did from the Boston Globe today about Massachusetts: 5.6%. Over five percent of people have lost their jobs in the last six months. Put an alarming way if you consider the complaint-status possibilities, theoretically fifteen people out of my three hundred Facebook friends are newly unemployed. And once that’s been the case for six months, it’ll just be called screwed.

Don’t tell me we’re adding jobs when we’re still losing them at that rate, never mind leaving the newly-poor, formerly-middle-class, now-hopelessly-unemployed (unemploy-able?!) millions who have no further recourse and who are simply being overlooked by the American government. I would wager an unemployment rate of about thirty percent and an additional under-employment rate of thirty percent. (To say nothing of those folks working full time or more who still cannot cobble together a living).

That would put us at Great Depression levels, folks, not a recessing recession.

Unce Sam is really Wicked Uncle Ernie, and we are too deaf, dumb, and blind, or helpless in the face of corporatocracy, to do anything but suffer in silence.

I’m your wicked Uncle Ernie

I’m glad you can’t see or hear me as I

Fiddle about, fiddle about, fiddle about, fiddle about!

Interview In Bizarro-World

Have you ever heard of a “group interview”?

I have heard of the kind of group interview where the candidate meets with several of the people on the team they’d be joining, if hired. In the PhD world, it is a time for the candidate to give a presentation.

Since I was already working in the fitness industry (front desk at a gym part-time), I applied to a fitness franchise company’s corporate office for an admin position, assuming I’d at least have the field advantage. And it appears I did, because along came an interview request for a “group interview” to “save time.” By my numbers, only about one in fifty applications has garnered any sort of interview, so it was kind of a big deal!

The salary was lower and the location less ideal than any of the jobs I’d applied to so far, but hey, any port in a storm, right? I bought an interview outfit and made the trek into the middle of nowhere suburbs on the bus.

Then I discovered that the office park’s driveway meant about another mile straight uphill, after the stated half mile from the bus stop. Fun. Glad I left extra time. (Always be early! Ten minutes is ideal. Twenty is a bit rude, just in case you weren’t aware… Go get a cup of coffee. I speak as the receptionist/office manager who scheduled and greeted 90% of candidates for six years… trust me. Ten minutes is ideal, and for goddess’ sake don’t show cleavage.)

I walked into the conference room and found two twenty-somethings in identical black suit jackets. I was in a bright cardigan, by the way, because I haven’t had any luck finding a suit yet. Some hilarious (humiliating) confusion ensued as I tried to break the ice and offered them copies of my resume, thinking they were “the group” interviewing me, although suspiciously young and oddly doe-eyed and silent for interviewers.

“No, no, we’re here for the position, too.”

Sigh. How silly of me.

So the president of the company finally comes in and proceeds to talk at us for about thirty minutes about missions and yadda yadda. (Again: You want to make money. Stop beating around the bush.) They are all about “family” and “keeping employees long-term”… yet the total paid time off (vacation/sick/personal) is under two weeks, and they offer fewer than eight holidays (typical is eleven in Massachusetts). Yeah, that’s how I like to treat my family: work them into the ground and make sure they get less respite than most other people. Awesome.

After the lies and disappointments, he pits us against each other as we go around in a circle and answer the same question one after the other. Distasteful at best; more like disgusting.

I am certainly curious as to how he decided to “rate” us and what all of us could possibly have said that turned him off, but I know I certainly never heard another peep from them (not even a no thank-you!), and the position was listed again immediately! How on earth can they be that picky when they have such abysmal PTO and pay compared to most office jobs? As I say… what a world.

If you’ve ever been through something crazy like this, please give us the story in the comments.

I’m curious, too, to know how important you think a dark suit is. My old recruiter said it was crazy important. I can’t afford one right now… so I wear nice trousers and blouse and cardigan. Thoughts?

Apparently I’m A “Tweener.”

No one places their own job ads any more. Not entirely true, but the vast majority of HR departments are disinterested in wading through hundreds of sub-par, half-hearted Craigslist applications and have decided to instead pay an enormous commission to an agency to find them someone decent.

I knew this because it is how I got my last job six years prior, so I went back to the agency that placed me at that time.

“Sorry,” said my recruiter. “I can’t place you. You’re a ‘tweener:’ between admin and management. I don’t know who places ‘tweeners’ but nothing we’re getting wants ten years of experience. One or two, max.” What a world. A guy who could make ten or twenty thousand dollars by forwarding a piece of paper and telling me to show up somewhere, wasn’t willing to even try.

Where does that leave me? Should I spend forty thousand dollars I don’t have, get myself drowning in debt, to get the master’s degree that may or may not be of any use whatsoever in getting me a job? (Why does an administrative manager need a master’s degree, anyway? Master of saying “yes, sir?”)

I tried working with a couple of other local agencies. What is with recruiters and the damn phone? I applied to one position, not a mile from my house, for which a stated requirement was having “access to a vehicle on a daily basis.” I sent my resume to the staffing agency, with a quick question about that caveat: did it mean reliability for arriving at the office? Or did they actually want someone to use a car as a part of the job? (I don’t drive.)

…Of course, in response to my email I got a phone call. I was working the front desk and couldn’t pick up, so later I sent another email. “Picking up during the day is difficult for me, so if you could just answer this one question by email, we can schedule a time to speak on the phone.” …No response. Two more phone calls. Another email asking me to call, although the email also said “or just reply to this email.” I replied. “How about this car requirement?” …Nothing.

It’s really too bad you can’t reach through the phone and shake people.





Disappearing Act

So at this point in the story I am recounting (about February/March of this year), I am so absolutely fed up with the gym, and yet so exhausted from being there all of the time (they’re scheduling me for four or five six-hour shifts now, realizing I am a reliably great employee) that I can hardly look for a job, never mind take an interview if one were offered to me… So I go to Mexico.

Ha. I mean, I sort of planned to go to Mexico, about three weeks before I went. My unreasonably awesome brother, who “dragged” me to Hawaii in 2012, too, “made” me get myself to Cancun for my niece’s spring break. I expedited my passport (having not been out of the country in 26 years) and bought a ticket after vacillating… “but what if I find a job! I can’t take a vacation right away!” (Haha, how naive I was).

It was incredible.

…But I digress from the point of the post, really. (Maybe I’ll talk about Mexico and the Mayan ruins and the Caribbean Sea and the Mexican way of life in another blog…)

Around this time I found what I thought could be a perfect job. In the non-profit sector (check), as an admin (check), for a classical music organization! Gasp! (I should note here that I have been playing stringed instruments since I was four and was at one time being groomed to “go pro,” as many of my old friends now are, in famous and less-famous symphonies worldwide. I hadn’t the discipline to practice for six hours a day, unfortunately.)

Somehow I found the right combination of words in my cover letter, for a change, because I actually got an email back! And a phone interview!

…Which went splendidly, as far as I could tell. She said we would schedule something in-person over email and I finally had that funny little feeling beneath my solar plexus I think they call “hope.” Although it’s awfully similar to “about to vomit.”

We scheduled for Friday, which thankfully I had off from work. Thursday evening, she canceled Friday with apologies, as some of the Directors couldn’t make it. I wrote back “absolutely no problem; if it helps, here is my full availability for next week:”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

She never, ever wrote back.

Not when I wrote to ask if she had been able to get availability from the others. Not at all.

Is it stupid of me to be absolutely befuddled by this? Did I break some unspoken rule, somehow? WHAT DID I DO WRONG?

I Make Less Than My Teenager

About four months into collecting, I realized that I could be making about $200 a week in addition to my check. My volunteering only took up a half day once a week, so I had time to find a job. Since I was enjoying the hell out of being far more active, and looking for a good place to take classes to intensify my fitness routine, I decided to apply at a gym I could walk to from home.

I’ve always been pretty obsessed with the latest food research, but I was lazy. Having a desk job doesn’t help. I learned to love fitness (cued in part by a trip to Hawai’i where everyone plays outside all day; I wanted that). And working out is probably the only thing that kept me from going completely off the rails during those early realization days, when it started to kick in that I could become one of the long-term unemployed. So I wanted to keep it going as the autumn encroached and I wouldn’t be hiking or running the track for much longer…

Unsurprisingly, I got the front desk job there. They were willing (gosh, I’m lucky) to go above minimum wage because of my vast reception experience. (All told about fifteen years answering the phone nicely and ten also smiling at people in person). But I still made, at the time, a full dollar less per hour than my seventeen-year-old son. How humiliating.

My son suggested that I might be able to be a supervisor at his work, too. But something about going back into food service after leaving it happily in 1996 seemed so very wrong to me, even for the extra dollar, and I needed the free gym membership more than the free ice cream, that’s for sure.

It wasn’t so bad at first. I liked the people, for the most part. It was dull, but not unbearable, and the promise each shift of the workout afterwards that I couldn’t reproduce at home was appealing indeed. But that whopping $100 and change a week, sometimes less, started to feel like a little bit too little for how much I did there. I embodied their missions and statements and the nonsense they tell you because your mission being “we want to make lots of money” is rude. I learned the regular members’ first and last names (I at least hope that helped to keep new neurons firing). I was a $25/hour employee making $9. (Lucky them!)

…And then a new phone system, and a new manager “filling in” (there too much but not helpful enough at the same time) suddenly made me consider (fancifully, of course) arson and (legitimately but briefly, although it was against my sense of propriety) just walking out.


At one point around 2009, no fewer than eleven of my friends (and by this I mean people I actually see and not just scroll by on Facebook) were out of work. Despite this remarkably portentous fact, I was secure in my successful-privately-held-company ivory tower. It simply did not occur to me that I could join their ranks. I had never been laid off before.

It certainly did not occur to me (dude), as I smugly told the man laying me off, that I would have any trouble at all finding something new. I’m a secretary, for god’s sake. Administrative Assistant, whathaveyou. My skills are highly transferable and useful in every industry. My only difficulty in finding work previously had been a slight hesitation among some that I was still working on my undergrad degree in night school. Surely with degree now in hand (magna, no less; people still care about brains, right?), it would be even easier!

In the first days, while I was still enjoying my severance package and vacation pay, I went through hilarious moments of grand, ill-conceived plans of reviving my freelance writing career (instant writers’ block when writing was suddenly a job); or launching a wholly new career in the non-profit sector (no one hires without lots of years of experience). I even spent the last $2,000 of my severance package on a graduate grant-writing class at Harvard hoping it would make me more marketable. I did stick with my commitment to volunteer for a Boston non-profit whose work I greatly admire: I’ve done their social media every week for the past year. For the greater good, of course… but I also couldn’t stand a gaping hole on the record.

…And then once I was actually on unemployment benefits, I applied. I networked. I slogged through the colored parachute and “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” section at the library and learned about how everything I’d ever been told about writing a cover letter was wrong. I sent emails (so many emails) and LinkedIn requests. Made phone calls. Practically begged for jobs or tried being super confident and everything in between. I revamped my resume about thirty-seven times. These were, by and large, jobs I was extremely qualified for.

This garnered me, over the course of many months, exactly one phone interview (where they were concerned I wasn’t turning on my webcam after not warning me that was the expectation; I was in my bathrobe) and one in-person for a part-time job, which they gave to somebody else with an off-the-cuff “we’ll contact you if that person doesn’t work out”… and then promptly re-listed days later.

As summer waned and beach days were no more, “living the dream” quickly began its descent into something decidedly darker.