Some Things I've Learned Since Losing My Job by Jeff Kay

One day in late February my cell phone rang, and it was my boss's boss. He and I never really, you know, saw eye to eye. In fact, when he became my boss's boss, I felt a twinge of panic. "He's gonna find a reason to get rid of me," I told the paranoid and fleshy reflection in the mirror. 

But I'd been with the company for seventeen years, much longer than he'd been around, and had weathered many a storm. It didnít take much effort to convince myself everything would be fine.

He asked if I could meet him for breakfast the next morning. There was something he needed to talk to me about, and couldn't go into it over the phone. I sensed just the tiniest bit of anxiety in his voice, and it sounded like he might've been calling from an airport.

Gulp.

It's worth noting, I think, that this guy is based in Southern California, and I'm in Scranton. So it wasn't exactly common for him to drop in like this. Something was up, I knew, something I probably wasn't going to enjoy.

And so, over scrambled eggs and bacon, I was gently fired. After seventeen years, in three cities, and across two divisions of the company, it was over. Just like that. They'd decided they only need one facility on the east coast, and mine was the one they were closing. It was a very difficult decision, and we're prepared to offer you a generous severance package... blah blah blah.

I felt like I was going to vomit. I'd been working at that place my entire adult life, it seemed. It was part of me, and I was part of it. And here they were telling me they didn't need me around anymore. 

I don't even remember driving home.

Now a few months have passed, and it seems like a hundred years. I've been through the full spectrum of emotions: shock, denial, anger, the contemplation of throwing my face through plate glass, etc. And for some unknown reason Iím now feeling the need to perform an inventory.

What follows is probably more for me than you, but hopefully it's at least semi-useful, or entertaining. Or something. 

Here are some of the things I've learned since losing my job...


Internet job sites  Like everybody else in my position, I reflexively threw together a resume and posted it to Monster, CareerBuilder, and the other well-known job sites. I figured Iíd make it the heart and soul of my search for new employment, since thatís the way itís apparently done these days. I foolishly expected to receive a few nibbles on the very first day. After all, I'd posted my information before noon.

When that didnít happen, I told myself not to panic and began applying for jobs listed at each site. I fired off dozens of resumes, and filled out scores of applications, in a wild frenzy of activity that left me feeling exhilarated and certain better days were ahead.

And I might as well have climbed to the top of an elevated bluff somewhere, unzipped my pants, and begun urinating directly into a powerful headwind. 

I have never received
a single response from anything Iíve done at an internet job site. Since my ďbreakfastĒ in February Iíve been on six interviews with three companies, and exactly zero came about because of Monster or CareerBuilder or any of those outfits.

As best as I can tell theyíre a complete waste of time, something akin to typing up a resume and cover letter then throwing it all into an open storm drain. 

For the most part, Iíve now washed my hands of those websites. Oh, Iím still receiving their emails every day with a list of exciting new opportunities for me. And itís usually stuff like spinal cord surgeon and assistant key-person at Lids - nothing in between.

Iím convinced internet job sites are the biggest scam this side of corporate consulting.

Human Resources  One of the reasons the sites donít work, I believe, is because resumes and applications get dumped into human resources departments. And human resources is where resumes go to die.

Itís been my experience that many HR folks are beaten down with a constant all-consuming concern theyíre going to screw up and allow their company to be sued somehow. Theyíre absolutely averse to risk, and will not take action of any kind unless thereís almost 100% certainty it wonít come back to haunt them.

Therefore, resumes are scanned (sometimes electronically) for a reason to reject it. Thatís their function: to provide HR an excuse not to take further action. Every resume shitcanned is a problem solved, and another risky decision delayed.

I have no proof of this, but I believe the only reason anyone ever gets hired anywhere is because an executive finally blows a gasket and tells HR to quit their freakin' stalling. And unless you come onto the scene at the exact time that hissy-fit is being thrown, youíre screwed, brotha.

And thatís why Iím doing my best to avoid human resources, and going straight to the execs themselves. If my new method bears fruit, you can rest assured Iíll soon be conducting a ďfreeĒ seminar about it at a Ramada Inn ballroom near you. Watch your newspapers for details.

Four year college degrees  I donít have a degree, and was convinced it must surely be one of the more popular shitcan-triggers amongst HR folks. 

But, to my surprise, it hasnít been as big a deal as Iíd feared. Certainly Iíve encountered companies that dig in their heels about such things, and there have been some unpleasant experiences because of it.
 
I attended a job fair, for instance, and approached a corporation I was (am) interested in. The woman seemed friendly, and took my resume with much enthusiasm. Then I watched her skip over my entire work history, and go straight to the education section. 

My seventeen years of real and relevant experience were just tossed aside, and all she wanted to know is whether or not I have a four-year degree. It didnít seem to matter if it was in Physical Education, Herbology, or the Dark Arts.    

Once she received my answer, I was treated like a man wearing a sash of sewage. She handed my resume back as if she believed it to be smeared with post-pub diarrhea. It was quite a demoralizing afternoon for your corpulent correspondent.

But, for the most part, companies seem to require a degree
or a comparable amount of experience. And thatís been one of the more pleasant Things Iíve Learned.

Career counselors  My former employer offered to pay for six months of career counseling, reportedly to help ease the pain of transition. Iím from West Virginia and donít usually go in for such fancy-pants things, but my wife convinced me to give it a try.

And itís been extremely helpful. Since I hadnít really been on a job interview in more than seventeen years, I had a lot to learn. I didnít know (or believe) I had a lot to learn, but I did. Those folks got me prepared for the ďmodernĒ job interview. 

They also helped with my resume, rejecting it four or five times and making me crazy. It irritated me while I was doing
yet another re-write of the thing, but the final product is very good indeed.

I sat through several classes and seminars there, during the early days of panic, and it helped me mentally. I always came away feeling hopeful and optimistic, and found myself clinging to the place like a life raft.

Now Iím at a point where I just call my contact for advice and opinions when needed, I donít attend many of the seminars these days. But it remains a valuable resource. The man knows his stuff, and is a good person to have in your corner.

Iím glad I was talked into it. I wouldnít have gone on my own. You know, because Iím from West Virginia.

Treatment by family and friends  One of the more frustrating consequences of this ordeal is the way some folks insist on treating me. Thereís a slight pitying tone to their voice, and it seems like theyíre being very careful with the words they choose, etc. As if Iím teetering on the edge of sanity, and one wrong move might be all it takes.

Iím sure they mean well and all, but I donít much care for it. Iím no delicate flower, and donít need to be tip-toed around. My job was eliminated, and thatís certainly a kick to the eggs, but it hasnít affected my DNA. Iím still the same person I was on February 25.

My mother-in-law visited us a couple of weeks ago, and told my wife she worries that I might be ďsuicidal.Ē This is some kind of Oprah crap she brought with her, along with her water-driven lung machine, and it has no basis in reality. I busted out laughing when I heard about this latest drama. Suicidal, my big riffled ass. Her mind was made up about it before she even left her house.

On the other end of the spectrum is a guy at my old office, a person I once considered to be a friend. As soon as the work-bond was broken, our ďfriendshipĒ ended. I called him a couple of times after I left, and we didnít really have anything to say to each other. Apparently it was a relationship built entirely on bitching and mockery, and now weíre all misaligned.

And so it goes.

An opportunity?  People like to tell you that losing your job is an opportunity. I think thereís some truth in that. Lord knows I wasnít very happy the last few years, and now have a chance to make things right. 

While looking for
better employment, I'm also having crazy and terrifying ideas about striking out on my own, and maybe starting a business of sorts. If Iím ever going to do it, nowís the time.

At least that's what the demons are telling me.

Yeah, these things are exciting in the abstract, but they donít make it any easier in real life. I sometimes feel like Iím going in twenty directions at once, and standing still as a result.

By definition, of course, options complicate matters. Some days I have a powerful urge just to get this episode behind us and find another job to complain about - get back into the "real world." Then I become angry with myself for being weak, and get all fired up about the small business ideas again.

It's the kind of thing that causes communism to take hold around the world.
Will somebody please make all my decisions for me, and tell me where to report every morning, and at what time? I'll be getting hammered on potato vodka in the corner if you need me... 

Being patient  A watched cell phone never rings, and I don't much care for it. Ring, bitch!

Spending time around the house  Remember that unlikely episode of The Andy Griffith Show where Howard Sprague dreamed of escaping the hustle and bustle of Mayberry(!) and moved to a Caribbean island where he planned to lie around in hammocks all day, and build ships in bottles? 

Yeah, it turned out to be one of those
be careful what you wish for situations. Once he actually got to the island he was bored to tears, and seemed ready to cast himself into the sea (which would've really spiced up the show, now that I think about it).

When I was working and mildly miserable, I had my fantasies like everyone else. Man, I thought, if I didn't have to go to the office every day I'd be the happiest person alive. I'd get so much
important work done, and not waste all my time on meetings and conference calls and rolling my eyes behind people's backs.

And now here I am feeling like Howard Sprague about twenty minutes in. 

Sure, economic uncertainty taints the whole thing, so it's not really a valid comparison. But I don't think I could do it, long-term, under any circumstance. In fact, I'm writing this on a laptop computer inside a Panera Bread, just to shake things up a bit. The walls were closing in on me, man. 

Hanging around the house all the time, ďdoing what I want,Ē is a sure trip to Howard's island, I've learned. If you're not careful it'll be Sudoku in no time. Which, as everyone knows, is the beginning of the long slow decline to death.

Replying to newspaper ads  According to the books I've read, and the things I've been taught, replying to Sunday newspaper ads has one of the lowest success rates of them all. But I've had good luck with it so far. 

No, I still haven't been hired, but I've been on interviews, and come very close on two occasions. The problem? You're going up against dozens of other people, and the odds are long.

Also (and here's where the paranoid and fleshy reflection returns) I believe many companies, when given the choice, will gamble on a young and cheap candidate over a seasoned and more expensive veteran such as myself. In fact, I'm almost certain it happened to me recently.

On the other hand, I remember being young and believing the exact opposite
. So who the hell knows? One thing I do know is that I'm watching the papers every day, and firing off resumes and cover letters when appropriate.

The ďexpertsĒ can kiss it. I will be exceedingly smug when I prove them wrong.

Networking  At your age, they say, networking is the key. I don't much care for that statement. For one thing I'm not exactly an extrovert; I'm much more comfortable operating in the background. I'm less a ďperformer,Ē and more of a guy who shows up every day and performs his duties well.
 
Some folks seem to be perpetually campaigning for the next promotion, playing golf and laughing real loud and acting like assholes. That's not me. Oh, my inclinations have probably cost me a pay-grade through the years, but it's cool. I have my dignity. Sort of.

And so, I get nervous when so much emphasis is placed on networking, because it's calling for me to do things which go almost exactly counter to my personality.

I was recently at a neighborhood block party and decided, against my better judgment, to give it a shot. Everyone's a potential networking contact, they say, so we'll see how it goes. 

And it was right back to the sash of sewage. When those guys found out I was unemployed, they almost literally recoiled in horror. I believe I would've met with a more receptive crowd if I'd asked for some of their teenage daughters' used underwear.

I probably wonít be doing much more networking,
at my age.

The interviews  I attended several interviewing workshops after being restructured out the door by my old company, and they scared the crystal-clear ice water out of me. They told us we could expect almost anything, then fired off horror story after horror story. Everything's changed, they said. The traditional interview methods most people know have been almost completely abandoned.

Traditional, of course, is you and another person sitting on either side of a desk. The hirer asks questions, and the potential hiree answers them. That doesn't happen anymore, they claimed. It's been replaced by New Methods.

You might, for instance, be subjected to an environment where you're on one side of a giant conference table, with a freakin' team of people on the other side, tag-teaming you and sitting in judgment. I didn't like the sound of that one, not one tiny bit.

Or they might send you from office to office, talking to four or five different people over many hours. That would be OK, I thought. Better to get it over with. 

Or they might ask you to explain - in excruciating detail - a certain problem you've encountered in the past, and how you dealt with it. This one scared me the most, because it can supposedly drag on for the better part of a day, and you're required to recall every tiny inconsequential tidbit about the event. It would probably be like going into "the box" with Pembleton on
Homicide.

There are others, but these are the ones that jump immediately to mind. 

And what kind of interviews have I actually encountered? That's right, traditional. For the most part, anyway. Once there were three people on the other side of a table, but only one spoke. I think they were just trying to screw with my head. I'm not sure the other two folks even worked there; I suspect they were rentals.

So all that worrying and stressing about unorthodox interviewing methods has been for naught so far. Except, of course, that I always feel a rush of relief when I realize it's just going to be me and another person talking. 

Maybe it was the counselors' sneaky way of helping us, some kind of reverse-psychology? Perhaps they led us to believe we'd likely be eaten alive, so we'd be happy about only losing an arm? I just don't know. 

Conclusion  The bottom-line to all this? I'm prepared; I'm horribly unprepared. I'm doing the work necessary; I'm not doing nearly enough. I'm calm; I'm freaking the hell out. I know what I'm doing; I'm stumbling around with drool on my chin. My background is solid; who would possibly hire me? 

It'll all work out in the long run... but what if it doesn't?


Yeah, it's under control.



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