“If You Were An Ingredient in a Salad, Which Would You Be?” (December 23, 2010)

My friends, this is no attempt at satire. This is a straight-faced question posed to me yesterday afternoon during the course of what seems like the thousandth job interview since mid-October. The self-satisfied 27 year-old in an ill-fitting suit who formulated this query seemed very pleased with his “out of the box” interview style. I would have been more impressed with this HR Manager had he been able to tell me anything about the job’s potential hours, pay rate or expectations.

But instead I had to listen to personal tales about his birth in Dubai, his brief military career and when the topic of commuting came up, I mentioned that I would prefer to ride my bike. The office of this life coaching center, which is looking to hire a part-time marketing and media writer, sits about seven miles from my humble abode. This is when my interlocutor decides to tell me that he has ridden a bicycle exactly once since moving to Chicago – to make a much needed run to the liquor store.

Throughout the course of this extremely trying half-hour, a question ran repetitively through my weary mind: “Why are you employed and not I?”

When we got around to the titular question, so mystified was I (because really, what could this answer possibly tell about my potential for success?) that I blurted out “the dressing!” before I had time to compose myself. This is when Mr. Smug Jr. Executive informs me with a sneer that “everyone says that.”

As I sat sweating in the young man’s office, not from nerves, but rather from the 90-degree setting of the thermostat, I asked if I would be able to meet the hiring manager before I left. I was informed that the man was very busy, but I was welcome to return tomorrow (now today) when I could also ask my tiresome questions about hours and pay. You could tell that this guy believed he was an angel who willingly took a tumble to Earth just to anoint me with the condescension of this conversation.

Bear in mind that none of these people, including the “hiring manager,” also known as the life coach who doles out the therapy at the center, is a writer. I was told before I walked in the door yesterday to bring a stack of marketing samples from my professional life, which I almost had to remind Smug Jr. to take from me. He assured me they would “closely evaluated.” By whom, may I ask? I didn’t suppose they had Warren Buffet secretly lurking in the back.

By the time I left, after yes, having shamefully agreed to return tomorrow (today), I was on my way to truly hating myself. Eating dirt slung at me from a young punk still working on his bachelor’s degree, for nothing more than part-time work? This is the new normal for the eminently qualified, eminently desperate unemployed.

Merry Christmas to all, and especially to those collecting the government cheese, I say, drink up!

Another Job Interview (December 7, 2010)

This afternoon I will suit up and take the train downtown for yet one more job interrogation. I know precious little about the opportunity except that it’s some form of copywriting contract work that will not get underway until after the first of the year. At 2:00, I am to report to a downtown Chicago office building and ask for Deborah. It is reflective of our desperate times that I am even making the trip on such a bitterly cold day with bare information. For all I know I am walking into a mob hit (and I can think of one recent ex-friend who’d have the motive), but on the slight chance that this conversation could lead to employment when so many others have not, I’ll take the risk.

This may sound arrogant and smug, but I assumed I’d have the last laugh over my former boss by now. Fired for having an opinion and a voice, I consoled myself with the absolute certainty that I’d land somewhere else before she hired my replacement. Yet I heard through the grapevine yesterday that her fresh victim has arrived, while I continue to file a bi-weekly unemployment insurance certification and waste time providing writing samples for part-time jobs I don’t get offered. Yes, I know what the unemployment numbers say, but I figure someone has to be the exception right? Why not me, especially after such an episode of karmic injustice? I am relatively young but have a decade of experience and an advanced degree. Somehow this makes me too green for mid-career jobs, yet too institutionalized for entry level positions.

If this is my story, what are the prospects for a high school educated individual in a smaller market? I am ok. I am surviving. I don’t have any children to provide for and my husband has a stable career. It would be nice to be able to start saving again. But I wake up at least once a night wondering about families with scanter resources.

This is a rhetorical question that obviously can’t be answered with an easy sound bite, although politicians from both parties are sure doing their best to try: what is being done about this crisis? How can corporations post record profits, while the middle class worker posts record decline: home ownership, employability, personal savings? The math doesn’t add up at all, and I for one am ready to declare that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. We can’t turn on CNN and hear about “good days” on Wall Street without looking around and wondering where the hell that run is for the regular guy.

Last week, network anchors were positively gleeful about the “93,000 jobs” added to the economy in November. Except that we need to be adding upwards of 300,000 every 30 days to even begin to recover from the employment hole blown in the economy from 2007-2009. The unemployment rate is now estimated at 9.8%, although many of us are aware that the true figure is closer to 20%, when you take into account the underemployed and those who have simply given up trying.

With so many depressing figures on the horizon, it is tougher than ever for the average job seeker to keep morale up, yet those of us on the dole have to try. The alternative is to take to the bed and wait for the repo man. So I will wear a hairstyle that meshes well with a winter hat, dust off a smile and the scattered remnants of my personal charm and have another go.