This is my story of being unhirable. It has been 503 days since I graduated from college.
How I Became Unhirable
This is my story of being unhirable. It has been 503 days since I graduated from college and every day since then, I have tried to find a career where I would at least make enough so that I could save money and some day buy a normal-sized house where my wife could raise our little boy and baby girl.
I am simply documenting my journey, with the hopes that it will have a happy ending. It has taken me so long to type this out because I was hesitant to present my predicament to the internet. I couldn’t pull the trigger because it is embarrassing that I am not desirable enough for a business to want me. It is frustrating because my current job consistently passes over me although, in my eyes, I am the best equipped to take on the task. It is infuriating that racism, I strongly suspect, to play a factor (I know this is triggering for some, I never throw down the race card. We’ll discuss this part later on, for now, I am just registering all of my emotions) in the hiring process. And lastly, it is depressing because not only am I way behind in my personal goals, but I get to drag my beautiful wife and adorable children down with me. And they deserve far better than the hand I’ve been dealt. Before I can talk about what I am doing now, let me get you up to speed.
I was married in 2010. My family isn’t a rich family. My father immigrated to the U.S. when he was young, met my mom and worked hard to provide for his family (including me and my four other siblings). My wife didn’t come from a rich family either. She is the youngest of ten kids, one of whom is special needs, so needless to say her parents also worked hard and did the best that they could. I fell in love with her and, after some persuading, somehow she fell in love with me. After dating for a while, we decided that we wanted to spend our lives together. But despite our concerns of money, school and work and having nowhere to live, the discussions gradually became more about when, not if, we should take the next step. After some time pondering our futures, we decided it is better to be poor and together, than to be struggling and alone. So we tied the knot in January.
I worked as a waiter for almost two years. I did pretty well in that industry because I love talking with people, but realized I was never going to get to where I wanted to be if I stayed on the dinner shift. I finally got a lucky break and got a job working for Delta Air Lines in October of 2010. We were ecstatic. With this new opportunity, we could travel around the world and visit family, and make a lot more than I ever could waiting tables. Delta offered me a less-than-part time Ready Reserve position, only 24 hours a week which was great, I was going to school anyways. I spent all of what little money we had on my tuition. But it was worth it because those with a bachelor’s degree make 84% more than those who do not (http://lat.ms/1tm4JY1).
Now, I just needed to decide on what degree to pursue.
Time Heals (almost) All Wounds
I ended up choosing to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Aviation Science. My wife sacrificed a lot for me to complete my education. We took out loans, but paid them off very quickly with our savings. Although we continually had to replenish our savings account after every payment, paying off the full balance in less than a year was a blessing for us. I hoped that after getting my degree, I could put my degree and extensive work experience to good use and, if not get a higher salary position at Delta, at least get a full-time position with the company. So far, that hasn’t been the case.
So, I couldn’t get a full-time job. I also didn’t want to get into debt again by pursuing a master’s degree… developmentally, I had nowhere else to go.
504 Days Later
“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” — Thomas Jefferson, supposedly
For an entire year, I applied for job after job, both in the business administration field and the aviation science field. I registered with Monster.com, Indeed.com, careerbuilder.com and simplyhired.com. I applied for everything I came across on LinkedIn and even looked on craigslist (although all of them looked like scams for some reason). I did, redid and redid again, my resume. I researched paid internships and regular internships. I used all the connections I could and after 365 days of fruitless applications processes and hoop-jumping, I finally called it quits in a fit of frustration and depression.
I was angry at the system, angry at my education, angry at myself and angry at God for, what I felt, turning my resume into occupational leprosy.
I was faithless and broken, and this lasted for several months.
After a while, I started to realize that my anger was very misguided. The only faiths that had betrayed me were my faith in a broken higher-education system, the job-seeking system and the hiring system at Delta Air Lines. I had been doing the same thing for months and months, each time expecting a different result. Wasn’t that the definition of insanity or something? I eventually resolved to do something about it, but to do something different.
I determined to begin to do things differently. I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks to improve myself and expand my point of view. And If I was going to refuse to feed the higher-education system, I should at least continue my education. After all:
Don’t let schooling get in the way of your education.
When I found that quote, I took it as a sign. Finally I felt good about where I was headed. The podcasts I listen to aren’t gospel. But they are helpful and insightful, and if they don’t offer any solutions at least they challenge my current mode of thinking. That is exactly what I needed.
Gary Vaynerchuk brought up a great point in one of his podcasts. It talked about being self aware enough to realize your strengths and weaknesses. I needed to focus on my strengths. I was not good at bragging about myself. I was not good at asking friends for jobs. In fact, I felt weird doing both of those. But what was I good at? I was really good at flying through applications, attaching my resume and hitting submit. This, I found out, is THE worst way to apply for jobs. What is something I do and know better than other people? And if I am not THE best, am I at least in the top nine? This hit me hard and caused much self reflection.
Rediscovering Things I Don’t Suck At
Ever since I was little kid, I’ve been the creative type. My cousin Joseph once candidly told me that ever since he’s known me, I was the type that if I focused on something, I could master it. I came to the conclusion that when I am focused, creativity is my greatest strength. Creativity that I had been suppressing, in favor of resumes, forms and curriculums. Instead of creating, I was chasing employment, trying to catch a job. I decided I needed to get off the hamster wheel, and just create.
I made a resolution that I was going consciously let my creativity grow. I was going to do things I usually never do, at times when I usually never do them, if for no other reason than to create. So, instead of going to sleep after my work shift, I stayed up all night sometimes until three or four in the morning honing my Photoshop and Illustrator skills. I took it a step further and instead of creating for myself, I offered to create images and photos for other people for free. I started sketching and doodling like I did when I was in middle school, creating doodles for others just for fun. I wrote songs and sang for people who simply wanted to hear their favorite song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5gA9ICGl9M). I have been creatively writing and blogging and even taking photography. Making, creating, giving and expecting nothing in return has become a sort of obsession.
(We beat the LA Clippers, by the way.)
And that is where I am currently. Do I know where this will lead? No. Do I have a timeline of when I will land a great opportunity through my creativity? Nope. Does this scare me? Hell yeah it does.
I don’t know where any work I am doing will lead, in fact, the only thing I am sure of is that I feel better than I have in over 500 days. I feel like faith in myself is returning and that is a pretty good start.
Capable of Anything
Over the last couple weeks I received, again, more rejection emails from job applications (It felt like I applied for these jobs years ago) but this time my emotions didn’t even flinch. Slowly, I’ve been feeling my self-worth return even though, weirdly, those rejection emails just keep rolling in. After this article went public about a week ago, I have received an overwhelming flood of love and support and I couldn’t be more grateful. Of course, it wasn’t my intention to go fishing, but many have offered to help with connections to job opportunities. But more than anything, discovering that I wasn’t alone in my circumstances did help me feel A LOT better. There is something about the dark being not so bad when you’ve got a hand to hold. In my life, my wife Norma has been that hand, always there when I need her. On the internet, as stupid as this may sound, it’s been those that have shared their experiences digitally (no pun intended) that has made me feel hope, made me feel capable of anything. A friend named Tyler shared the following message:
“I came out of undergrad school with $0 of debt due to scholarships for good grades and my parents’ help. I started PT school at Midwestern University in 2012 with hopes of making a good living and providing for my family. My wife worked at Olive Garden till she had [our daughter] and then stopped. We utilized Medicaid and food stamps and whatever government assistance we could get our hands on. I had to use student loans to pay for school, but I thought it would be easy to pay them off [especially after getting a job]. While in school, and without warning, i discovered that tuition would go up every year by some percentage. When I started I was paying like 30,000 per year for tuition alone. When I got done, it was 36,000 per year… I [graduated] with roughly $198,000 of debt. I have a doctorates degree, I graduated in the top 4 in my class. Guess how much I make? Not what a doctor makes, not even close. I pay two mortgages a month. A rent payment of 925 and a student loan payment of 860… I work two jobs and my wife recently went back to work part-time to make ends meet. We don’t live a [destitute] life, but with as much as I paid for school, I shouldn’t have to work two jobs and my wife shouldn’t have to work at all…I will keep you guys in my prayers. If there is anything I can do for you, please let me know.”
Now, I am not so naive as to think that I am a special case (as some of the more rude readers have pointed out to me in some messages lol) but it is still a strange experience feeling comforted that I am not alone, but saddened that each person’s personal challenges have caused suffering to some many readers. Perhaps more than any other emotion, I’m horrified that it is such a common occurrence.
Despite this common denominator of young adults and crushing debt, more and more students are still electing to bury themselves in debt and go to college. Last year, 20.5 million students were expected to attend American colleges and universities, constituting an increase of about 5.2 million since fall 2000. (http://bit.ly/2kgvu6Q)
My grandpa Heimuli sold everything he had in his homeland of Tonga, to bring his family to the United States because it is a place of prosperity and hope for a better life. But after selling all of his things, he only had enough cash to bring half of his family to Hawaii among them my dad. My grandpa had a job hookup, his friend set him to work as a dishwasher in his restaurant in order to earn enough money to live in Oahu and to save up to bring the rest of the family from Tonga. While my grandfather worked all day and all night washing dishes, he sent the boys to school because it is important to go to school because people that get an education get good jobs and those that get good jobs get good money. Good money gives you freedom. The U.S. is the land of the free after all. To my grandfather, education is the door to financial freedom. He is still alive, and he still believes that. He was so proud when I graduated from Utah Valley University with a degree in Aviation Science. I think he is a real man in every sense of the word. I also think he is wrong. From simply an analytical viewpoint, to him, the return on investment was worth the risk of immigrating to the United States. Our lives a definitely better because he came, had he not, I most likely wouldn’t exist. I believe that the metaphor, is true, that I stand on the shoulders of giants. I am grateful that I am where I am, because of my father and grandfather and those that have come before.. But I also have found new truth from building on the knowledge that they had. The U.S. is the land of opportunity. But higher education will not guarantee that you will find it.
Battle of Who Could Care Less
I’ve been feeling my self-worth return slowly, but surely. But there are still trying moments that test my newfound resolve. The majority of those rejection emails are from Delta. I’ll be honest, I still very much would like to continue with the company, although lateral movement is not ideal. I still apply for “anything that could lead to anything” which also, isn’t much of a game plan. One position I have applied for, operations service management — basically the boss of the position I am in right now. It would be a small promotion, but a promotion nonetheless. If there is a next rung on the corporate ladder, it’s this position. At our station they just hired a new operations service manager and spoiler alert: it’s not me. After reading the new service manager’s accomplishments and resume, I found it is very similar to mine. Too similar to just sit well in the pit of my stomach. So that kinda sucks.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very happy for the new guy. But my family is still waiting for their break. We still live in the basement of my wife’s parents, we moved here last year. It is a great home, and although we are very grateful to have a nice place to live, my frenetic son is still confined to the indoors for half the year when it’s snowing or raining. He still shares a bedroom with our boxes of crap that we couldn’t find space for. I just have to be happy with it all. But concerning my career, I suppose the happy place is probably somewhere in between where I am, and where I could care a little less.
Seers, Prophets or Thieves
Since I have posted this article, I have received many messages from people who want to help. I am truly, truly grateful that their are still so many people who want to help me. I have taken up offers from every single person who has offered to help.. except for professional resume writers. I’ve only communicated with a few, but even still, I haven’t gone through with it because I’ve paid to overhaul my resume a couple times before. Apart from paying, I’ve also been to several free resume building classes put on by my schools, by Delta and even my church had some free classes. I’ve been to them all and in the end, they haven’t really helped. I’d like to make up a story to illustrate how I feel about those pay-to-up-your-resume-game businesses:
There once was a gold lender who wanted, more than anything, to become the royal treasurer. In order to do that, he needed to find out how to best present himself to the king for consideration in becoming treasurer. I mean, not just anyone could travel to the palace, bypass the guards and walk up to the throne. You had to be invited by the crown. The king only invites those that are useful to him, and only talks with those who hold his interest. How does one solicit an invitation from the king? What could he say that would grab the king’s interest? Obviously everyone knows that the king is interested in those that are useful to him but how could the gold lender ensure that he is exactly who the king needs? “If only I could find a seer, or someone who knew the thoughts of the king, I would be set” the lender said to himself “then the seer could tell me what the king wants to hear, then I could definitely gain his favor!” Suddenly, an old man appeared and in his raspy voice said, “I have helped many in the kingdom gain favor with the king. The cobbler became the royal seamstress. A farmer became the keeper of the royal horses, I am the seer that can make you treasurer! All I ask, is a portion of the payment you will receive when you become the treasurer in advance..”
Well, it seemed good to the lender. The seer did seem to have evidence of success. He also seemed to know the king or at least, knew how kings think. To the lender, it seemed like it would be a sure thing if he enlisted the help of the seer. After all, the seer said ‘when’ you become treasurer, not ‘if’ and what other gold lenders in the kingdom have the help of this seer? The paid the man who carefully began writing a letter to the king, asking for an invitation to the palace, listing every reason the lender should be considered for treasurer.
“You see” said the seer, “Kings don’t typically like to hear about experiences that don’t directly translate to responsibilities of treasurer. He won’t care that you plowed fields ever since you were young.”
“Ok. What did I know?” thought the lender. He grew up plowing fields, saving all the gold he owned. He figured out how to lend all by himself. He didn’t have any family that lended money, he didn’t have a rich father to show him how to be a lender, he had to learn everything alone. So he trusted the seer, because best case scenario; the old man is a seer, and the lender will become treasurer. Worst case scenario; he is a fraud, but the lender is only to where he started. All he knew for sure was that he alone did not possess the knowledge to win the king’s favor. He supposed trusting the seer was better than a shot in the dark.
Finally, the lender received a letter from the palace. The treasurer had been selected and it wasn’t the lender.
“How did I not get the position?!” said the frustrated lender, “I gave you your requirement, where is my work?!”
The old man hissed, ”You are the one that does not possess the qualities the king seeks! There are gaps in your history that disinterests the king, there is insufficient proof that shows you are ready to become treasurer! If you only had sought more knowledge, you would have become the treasurer with my help!” And at that, he slinked away.
The lender was left wondering, was the old man right? Was he the only one the seer couldn’t help?
He stewed in his own thoughts for months after. Until he had an epiphany: What if the man wasn’t a seer at all? What if he was a thief, who didn’t know the king’s thoughts and the problem isn’t me but a problem with expectations?
Did he expect the seer to deliver, something that could never be guaranteed? Perhaps there was nothing the lender could have done that would have bettered his fortunes?
Do I think that there are people who do have better insight in resume writing? Yes. Do I think they are all only in it for the money? Probably not. But, like a degree, can they guarantee that I will get the job through paying for their services? They can’t. Is it worth the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on improving my resume? Nope.
Still Fighting It
Since the release of this article, I have been asked for my resume several times, been referred to people several more times. I am still in the process of applying for those jobs because a seer once told me that it is best to tailor each resume for the specific job — and that I believe. I hope that my journey leads me somewhere good, but so far it already has. Especially creatively, I have been more productive than I have ever been. I’ll keep you updated with the latest in job application statuses, as well as my latest in creative pursuits. But as far as this piece of writing is concerned, I feel like I have not much left to say. Everybody knows it hurts to grow up, but everybody does. It helps to know you have friends who feel the same so you can share your experiences, with me on social media and you can also keep up with what I’m doing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
UPDATE (08/01/2017): I have had several job interviews in design and branding, but as of now, still not hired.