My Job Search: What Fox Mulder and I Have in Common

photo by Beckie

I’m looking for work, and I’ve made applying for work my full-time effort for the last month. I have an MBA, a Bachelor’s degree, and even two Associate’s degrees under my belt. I have excellent references, and I have over fifteen years of experience in IT, plus experience in human resources, facilities management, and teaching higher education. I also have experience in retail and even experience as a dog groomer. I’m not a job hopper by any means, and I’ve often held more than one job at a time, so my work history is solid and reliable.

With all the education and experience in my favor, this should be a cake walk, right? Wrong. I wanted to share what my month of job searching has been like applying for a wide variety of roles.

Some Ground Rules

I do have some criteria for what I need to earn. Don’t roll your eyes at me, because I’m sure you, too, have a minimum you can earn to pay for your housing and expenses. I don’t have a car payment. I don’t have cable television. I don’t live in a fancy subdivision, and I can’t remember the last time I bought myself a new pair of shoes or jeans. The super low-paying jobs can’t be my first choice because they won’t cover my basic life expenses. I’m willing to work a full-time job plus a part-time job if I have to, but in my forties, I’d really like to work just one job; that’s my personal preference, so it’s what I set out to do in this job search. Even with the hope of working just one full-time job, I still cast a wide net, applying for a variety of roles based on my experience and education.

Rehire…and Missing Socks

To get started, I applied to several jobs with one of my previous employers in higher education. I left that employer for what I thought was a better job (it wasn’t!), and when I was working my notice, I was told I was an excellent employee and I was eligible for rehire whenever I wanted to return. I reached out to some of my coworkers at that large organization, and they said that human resources had to initiate the rehire, that my former supervisor couldn’t initiate the request. I applied, and I applied, and I applied…all for positions that I am qualified to do, but the submitted applications seem to go into some dark, deep, silent Internet abyss, never to be seen again. I like to imagine my job applications are covered in a pile of socks that disappeared in the wash never to be seen again, because at least my applications are being kept warm and cozy.

Jumping through Hoops

I reached out to a local staffing agency in hopes of getting right to work on a temporary assignment while I searched for a permanent position. In my twenties, when you went to one of these staffing agencies, you jumped through a million flaming hoops of reference checks, background checks, and drug tests, but then they sent you to work. That’s not how it works anymore. An applicant still must leap through all the flaming hoops, but you aren’t sent out to work once you’ve run their gauntlet: you’re sent to interview for temporary work, and an interview doesn’t mean you have the job. Of course, you’re not sent to interview until they check your references, and the agency that I used didn’t start checking my references for over three weeks. I also want to note that this agency, like many of the others in my area, is not on the bus route, so for candidates in need of work with no car, they can’t even start the process.

Arts and Crafts Time!

I applied to a large craft supply retailer. I have retail experience from cashier to manager, and I’ve even taught craft classes at the local community college. I didn’t imagine that this gig would pay much, but it would be an environment that I liked very much, so it was worth a shot. The application was pages and pages online, plus a personality test. It’s important to point out that pretty much every medium to large employer uses online hiring portals now; gone are the days of introducing yourself in person and asking about open positions. They do not want you to show up to introduce yourself, they do not want you to call, and they do not want you to email; going through the application portal is the only way to apply to many of these positions. I was fortunate to be able to apply for this position from home, but how would a job seeker on a shared computer at the public library, for example, even have time to complete just this one ridiculously lengthy application and personality quiz before it was time to get up and give the computer to the next waiting patron?

Going to the Dogs

Applying for a dog grooming position with a major pet care retailer was even harder than applying for the craft store job. In addition to an overly long application, there was a personality quiz and a test. If you haven’t done one of these personality quizzes for a job, they present statements like “I often think about burning my workplace to the ground” (or something like that) and ask you to rank your responses from strongly disagreeing with the statement to strongly agreeing with the statement. For the pet store, the personality quiz was twelve pages long, and then there was another test to assess my understanding of English and math. Apparently, to give your cocker spaniel an excellent haircut, I should know how many rolls of vinyl a person would need to cover nine boats for winter storage as well as a few synonyms for the word “tardy.” This kind of application takes a huge chunk of time, and frankly, the length of the application itself is discouraging; if an applicant isn’t a quick reader or a quick typist, this kind of application could take hours. If you wonder why people aren’t applying for jobs, these kinds of applications are bound to be a deterrent.

Rinse and Repeat

Day after day, I have applied to local jobs, and I have also applied to jobs that offered telecommuting or travel. For some positions, I get what I like to call the “insta-reject,” a canned email response from the employment portal that arrives in your inbox so quickly that you know a real person never truly scrutinized your application or the cover letter so carefully tailored to the position. For most positions, I never heard anything, not even a “no thanks.”

I’ve applied to executive jobs, teaching positions, management positions, and of course, I’ve even tried the retail craft stores and retail pet stores. I’ve applied only to jobs for which I was qualified, jobs that I know I can do well where I can be proud of the job I’ve done and my employer will get value from my time there. I even considered a total career reboot and pondered some training for a new career path, but I can’t afford the cost of the classes and would still need to pay my bills while I study for something else.

I’ve used Indeed, LinkedIn, CraigsList, Monster, CareerBuilder, HigherEdJobs, FlexJobs, and any other portal I can think of to locate opportunities. Well-meaning friends have suggested jobs I’ve either already applied to or jobs that won’t even come close to covering the basic costs of living.

I Want to Believe

This, boys and girls, is the tough part. What’s next when your years of experience and years of education don’t seem to mean anything to any employer? I’m trying not to get discouraged, but it’s getting harder every day to stay inspired.

For now, the only option I have is to soldier on and keep applying. Like Agent Mulder, I want to believe…only instead of believing in aliens, I want to believe that my right work is out there. Somewhere there is a fair wage for the effort I’ll put forth, and someone needs my talents. The job is out there, somewhere.