Category Archives: Job search

The return of gainful employment

We would all be happier if we were gainfully employed. This is the conclusion of Wikipedia, so who am I to argue? Apparently, work is only second to relationships as the most important determinant of quality of life. Ultimately, work gives us a sense of identity and purpose.

I suppose how you define ‘work’ is the question. Would you consider raising children ‘work’? I have felt that having children is probably some of the hardest work I have ever done and it definitely gives you a sense of purpose. But it has also negatively affected my sense of identity. I have lost touch with what it means to be me, doing something outside the house.

winter boot

I’m going from wearing something like this every day…

I can’t even remember the person who used to get dressed and go to work every day, armed with the belief that it would one day pay off (or at least pay the mortgage).

These days, getting dressed before 10am feels like an accomplishment. I squander time on inane conversations about the potty, putting clothes on/taking clothes off, brushing teeth, the potty, eating food, washing hair and the potty. I once said to the Chatterbox, in a moment of exasperation, ‘You know, I feel like a broken record sometimes.’ She looked at me confused and asked, ‘What is a broken record?’

I’ve also become an expert in bribery and human manipulation. I could probably lead an expedition through Africa, doling out bribes like some people give out pencils and pens to children in rural villages.

But my circumstances as a stay-at-home mother are about to change. Finally, after more than a year of searching for a job, I am going to return to the ranks of the working again.

office shoe

…to wearing a shoe more like this. Will my feet revolt?

On Monday it’s back to five days a week, on a three-month contract. It’s going to be a shock. People tell me that I will enjoy it. I think there will certainly be an element of that, but after so much time outside the office, I am a firm believer in getting the right balance. Five days a week doesn’t seem like much of a balance to me. I am trying to raise children who won’t turn into neurotic adults, blaming me during therapy sessions for never picking them up from school.

The Pew Research Center in the United States did a survey of working mothers in 2009. An overwhelming majority (67%) said they would like to work part time. Only 37% of working mothers wanted to work full time. According to the US Department of Labor, approximately 59% of women are in employment or actively seeking a job (as of 2009).

Attitudes to women working have also changed. A Pew Research Center survey found that, in 1987, 30% of Americans believed that women should return to their traditional role of staying at home and rearing children. Today, only 19% of American people believe this.

Yet going back to work full time and juggling family life feels like it might overwhelm me. Perhaps that’s why many women choose to make a compromise. They let their jobs and ambitions drift a little, to make room for life outside the workplace. I watched a documentary about working women which stated that 83% of men and only 17% of women reach the level of executive board at companies. Ironically, girls tend to do better academically.

I have no ambitions of trying to be some high-flying executive any more. That is definitely behind me. I still would like to make some contribution to the workplace. Here’s how it seems to stack up for me:

Stay at home (pros and cons):

  • I can lounge around in my pajamas until 11am (any later and I start to feel like A HUGE LOSER)
  • I can’t usually drink a cup of coffee uninterrupted first thing in the morning
  • I spend most of the day picking things up off the floor
  •  I will referree more fights than Muhammad Ali contested in his lifetime
  • I don’t really need to get out of slip-on shoes
  • I will freeze to death in the park for the umpteenth time this coming winter, cursing the swing, the see-saw and the slide for making my life misery
  • I’ll put the Raging Bull in the stroller and will get drenched with rain (this will happen eventually)
  • I’ll continue to feel dissatisfied about how much mental stimulation and adult company I have
  • I’ll continue spending money on frivolous things

Go to work (pros and cons)

  • I’ll need to be dressed by 7.30am, possibly in clothes that are more uncomfortable than fleece
  • I’ll be able to drink a cup of coffee first thing in the morning and sip it leisurely
  • I’ll spend most of the evenings picking stuff up off the floor
  • The only fights I’m likely to witness will be between people trying to get on crowded trains in the morning
  • My feet might hurt at the end of the day
  • I’ll never have to visit a park during the depths of winter (except at the weekend, which is bad enough)
  • I’ll be able to hold an umbrella if it rains
  • I’ll be able to use my brain (if it still functions normally) and talk to adults about things unrelated to children for several hours
  • I’m going to get paid money!

Are you a working mother? How does it stack up for you? I’d welcome any tips/comments/suggestions about how to get through the next few months without becoming a walking zombie.

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It’s crowded in the blogosphere

It’s a curious thing to be labelled a blogger. In the absence of any other occupation, I guess it’s what I do – and I don’t even do it that often. I’m not blogging as if my life depended on it. Good thing I’m not actually expecting to make any money off it. The fact that very few people make a living from blogging has not put off a slew of writers I’ve encountered through my very part-time ‘job’.

Parade cover

According to this magazine, we'd all be better off being funeral directors and putting our writing ambitions back in the drawer. (Unless you are Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, who has earned $10m.)

A few months ago I joined a group on LinkedIn called the Freelance Writers’ Connection. I was hoping I would be inspired to look for writing work (hasn’t happened), learn more about where I could find freelance work (kind of happened) and meet people who might prove to be good contacts (still to be determined).

Instead, what I have indisputably gained by joining this group is a hell of a lot of email, mostly about blogs. About two months ago, a member of the group posted a thread asking people to share their blogs. He got a landslide of responses. As a member, I am emailed every single time someone replies to this thread. To date, there have been over 300 replies and counting. Normally, when you post something on one of these groups, you are lucky to get 10 people paying attention.

It has made me wonder what motivates people to spend so much time writing on a crazy number of subjects, especially when it doesn’t pay. Here’s a sample of blog themes, courtesy of my freelance writing group.

A blog about:

  • a disabled foodie in Toronto
  • a mediocre mother
  • a good mother
  • a blind traveler
  • gay teens
  • fly fishing
  • insecure writers
  • Zen and tennis
  • twists of fate
  • the Holy Land
  • the Universe (an ambitious theme if you ask me)
  • dogs
  • cats
  • movies
  • rants, ravings and ruminations

I’ll be totally honest with you, I kind of started this blog to see if it would help me find a job. So far, the answer to that is no. I’m still thinking I could show it to someone one day, but possibly not to a future employer, who might be scared by a number of things I’ve revealed so far. The more I write, the more I think I need to keep it from anyone who would potentially hire me. So, I think I am now writing as a form of therapy or to stave off boredom.

If I could start all over and choose a profession today, blogging would not be high up on my list. I think I’d go for funeral director. An odd choice? Not according to Parade, which published its annual ‘What People Earn’ issue. Marshall Kelly, age 62, is a funeral director from Arkansas. He rakes in just over $100,000 a year and chose his field because ‘the work would be steady’. Wise man.

Another job with good potential is voice actor. Dan Castellaneta, 54, from Los Angeles, earns $9.7m as a voice actor. In 1990 he was earning $660,000 a year. The recession hasn’t affected his earnings. A nice job if you could get it. (Dan is the voice of Homer Simpson, by the way.)

Then there’s Alberto Reyes, 46, a casino host from Las Vegas. It sounds like he keeps high-stakes gamblers from killing themselves. ‘We go to the Grand Canyon, we drive race cars. It’s not just about living like a superstar; I also keep them out of harm’s way.’ He earns $118,000 doing this.

On the other side of the spectrum is a martial arts instructor from Michigan who earns nothing after being forced to sell her business; a self-employed tour guide who only makes about $7000 a year in South Carolina; and a guitar shop owner from Missouri who also makes nothing from his business. Owning your own business appears to be a scary thing.

The Parade article would not be complete without the inclusion of one blogger. She used to make $60,000 a year as a media consultant in Atlanta in 2001. She now earns nothing, but seems happy blogging about her life as a mother in Los Angeles. I’m glad she finds this satisfying, but I can’t help thinking that I am in the wrong line of work if I want to own a house one day and move out of my mother’s.

For any bloggers who have made it to the bottom of this post, why do you blog? Or what would you want to do for a living if you could start all over again? Feel free to dream big.

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The marginally discouraged worker

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, I am on the verge of becoming a ‘discouraged worker’. It strikes me as a misleading term because I am not actually working, but the government moves in mysterious ways. This is how they define the discouraged worker on their website: ‘Persons not in the labor force who want and are available for a job and who have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but who are not currently looking.’

dead fish

Gulped his last breath. Kind of sums up how I feel about the job search these days.

Those not looking for a job are considered to be ‘marginally attached to the labor force’, according to the BLS. The website goes on to state that the marginally attached are further divided into those not looking because they believe the search is futile (me) or those not looking because of other reasons such as family, ill health or lack of transport.

I have not completely stopped looking for a job, but I am doing it with as much will as a fish mechanically gulping its last breath. For this reason I will call myself the ‘marginally discouraged worker’. I had three interviews last week. THREE. None has worked out. I thought two weren’t really for me anyway, but it’s still disappointing. It’s like being rejected in a relationship – there is a bit of a sting and a period of morose introspection. And even though recruiters tell you it was ‘a tough call’, you still inwardly take the decision as a personal attack on your abilities.

The BLS studied the unemployed and found that, in 2010, individuals were jobless for about 20 weeks before giving up the job search and leaving the labor force. In 2008 this figure was only 8.5 weeks. It surprises me that people spent so little time actively looking for a job in 2008 before giving up entirely.

How labor has changed over the years – men versus women

Here are some more facts taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which I thought makes for an interesting comparison of the workforce in different countries over 40 years ago and then again in 2010 (the latest available data):

Men participating in the labor force (percent)

  • In 1971: US, 79.1; UK, 83.1; Canada, 77.30; Australia, 83.8; Japan, 81.9; France, 75.5; Germany, 75.8; Italy, 71.0; Sweden, 78.0
  • In 2010: US, 71.2; UK, 69.9; Canada, 71.8; Australia, 73.2; Japan, 70.8; France, 61.9; Germany, 65.1; Italy, 59.1; Sweden, 69.1

Women participating in the labor force (percent)

  • In 1971: US, 43.4; UK, 44.6; Canada, 39.4; Australia, 41.0; Japan, 47.7; France, 40.2; Germany, 38.5; Italy, 26.3; Sweden, 50.9
  • In 2010: US, 58.6; UK, 56.8; Canada, 62.4; Australia, 59.8; Japan, 48.1; France, 51.7; Germany, 51.6; Italy, 38.3; Sweden, 60.4

You don’t need a degree in advanced mathematics to see that the percentage of men participating in the workforce has dropped for every single country observed since 1971; the opposite is true of women. The most dramatic difference is in the UK and France, where the percentage of men working fell by about 13%. For women, Canada has significantly added females to the workforce, by about 22%. Australia also recorded a significant rise.

It’s hard to draw decisive conclusions based on these numbers, but it’s certainly true that more women are working now than in 1971, which is not at all surprising; it’s an example of how women are no longer expected to be in the home after marriage or perhaps they can’t afford the luxury of a choice. The one country still lagging far behind is Italy – and that’s hardly astonishing considering how patriarchal and traditional it can be. The women of working age in this country only account for about 38% of the workforce today and that’s less than every single country in the study, even back in 1971.

Okay, so I don’t want to be a woman looking for a job in Italy. That’s pretty certain. Things are much better for women in the US and the UK – they are nearly on par with each other statistically. These numbers, however, don’t tell me how many women would like a job but can’t find one. Discouraged is definitely one word for it. Or how about draining?

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Social media can make you feel unpopular

Girl all alone on playground swingThis is a truth I don’t mind acknowledging as an adult – I was not the most popular kid in the school playground. I was never a cheerleader; I wasn’t ever invited to the coolest parties; I didn’t have a boyfriend who would sneak notes to me in class; and I was terrible at all sports that required hand/eye coordination. When you are terrible at physical education in the United States – to the point where you are the last kid picked for someone’s softball team – you are effectively an outcast.

I had mostly forgotten about the angst-ridden experience that was high school – but then along came social media, and I started to have a few uncomfortable flashbacks. I initially resisted the 21st-century collective fun that is social media because I didn’t understand what good could come of tweeting what you had for breakfast. I stubbornly stuck to my old-fashioned principles until I left my job, and I realized that I might finally need to get involved with the art of being sociable online for the sake of my career.

Having worked for a major broadcaster, in a vaguely creative field, I started trawling job descriptions looking for my next career move, and I noticed that employers invariably wanted someone with a twitter profile (and lots of followers), someone who blogged regularly, someone who understood Facebook as a marketing tool. The list goes on.

I needed to up my game, and fast. I joined LinkedIn, started a blog and then got the twitter profile. I’ve so far resisted Facebook. The more I look for a job, though, the more I start to think that social media is like revisiting the torture of high school. You want to be popular, you want to be seen as hip and fun, but it all feels a bit artificial and forced. It’s like showing up to the school dance without a date – you are meant to be having the time of your life but the experience turns out to be stressful.

Social media, as far as I see it, seems to be built on the psychological premise that everyone craves as many friends as possible and those who don’t have them might as well be losers. I fear employers might fall for this faulty line of thinking, as demonstrated by LinkedIn. I go to the website daily, check my profile and look at updates – I think I’m getting addicted, which is probably what the website’s architects wanted.

One of the first things I notice is how many connections a person has. If you are in the 500+ range you are the high school jock – everyone wants to date you, maybe everyone wants to offer you a job. Anyone with 200+ is doing pretty well too – they are like the cool kids who run for the student body and don’t humiliate themselves in the process. I am hovering well below 100 contacts, which I kind of feel puts me in danger territory in terms of perception: I am playing tuba in the school band and hanging out with the geeks (who go on to design LinkedIn, to their credit). I obsess about adding more people. Do I contact people I haven’t seen in years and who I’ve barely spoken to ever, all for the sake of appearance?

Then there’s twitter, built on followers. I had seven followers when I last looked. There are probably domestic cats with more followers than me. You can’t help but feel like you need to get out more, or you need to start tweeting complete lies to make you sound more interesting.

The latest edition of Newsweek carries this statistic: 67% of women with a social networking profile have deleted friends; 58% of men have. So, if you’re already feeling a bit unpopular in the digital world, things could get worse: people might start deleting you from their accounts or blocking you from seeing their Facebook page.

I’ll tell you what might make me sound terribly unpopular: I find social media a bit of a chore. Call me a geek or a refusenik. If you want to make friends with me, you’ll find me sitting at the school cafeteria (and I’ll probably be sitting alone).

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Looking for a job sucks

A bit of cardboard

Maybe I should start wearing one of these signs around town

I could come up with a more eloquent synopsis for my current predicament – jobless and back in the parental home after nearly 20 years, with two kids. But it’s what it is and it does kind of suck. So we are one month into the new year, and I thought I should update everyone about my current FRUITLESS JOB SEARCH so far. (Yes, in my mind I see these words in caps – I need to give them extra emphasis.)

To recap, I am looking for a job so that our family (which includes the English Husband) could move to the United States on a permanent basis. Otherwise I will go back to London by spring/early summer, where my husband actually has a job that supports our little unit, but which is 6000 miles away from my own parents, who I miss often. I have felt this homesickness more acutely since having children of my own.

I think I have said this before but I feel like my existence in the United States is hanging by the thinnest of threads. If I’m honest, sometimes I don’t even know what I’m doing here after so many years abroad. It’s so difficult to move to a new country without a job and a means to support yourself. Add children into the equation and this difficulty is magnified many times over. You’re not just trying to scale a mountain; it actually feels more like scaling the mountain without equipment and shoes.

I’ve not yet given up entirely. I am still staring at the computer, trawling numerous job websites, until all the job descriptions start to sound the same and the screen starts to blur. I’ve at least got better at deciphering some of the cumbersome lingo that employers use. Looking for a communications specialist who is an expert at corporate-wide engagement and adept at administering technical platforms? What you want is someone who can get people excited about the place where they work and can use a load of different things – the internet, blogs, email and social media – to do it. I could go on…

I did have one short job interview over Christmas for a job in Portland. I got pretty excited about this – I love the idea of this city – but I didn’t get past the phone stage. I still console myself with the knowledge that I did have one offer back in November. It didn’t work out, but at least someone was willing to table an offer. This is a huge psychological boost because I have concluded that looking for a job in the current market is probably one of the most soul-destroying, confidence-depleting tasks you can do. No matter how many times people tell you not to take all the numerous, anonymous rejections personally, well, you kind of do. Or maybe I just don’t have the thick skin of an elephant.

A digression on top cities

Despite the fact that the economy is still as shaky as an alcoholic before his first drink in the morning, investment in London is booming. I read the summary of a report (released by Jones Lang LaSalle) about direct commercial real estate investment in the world’s top cities. London gets the no. 1 spot out of 30 cities with investment of $43bn  (2010 to 2011, Q3). California has three cities in the top 30: Los Angeles (#11 with $10bn), San Francisco (#13 with $8bn) and San Diego, where I currently reside, in the 25th spot with $5bn worth of investments. Tokyo and New York took the #2 and #3 spots with investments of $32bn and $27bn respectively. Manchester came 30th with $4bn. In summary, only 30 cities account for 50 percent of the real estate investment volumes worldwide from 2008-2011. The top five – London, Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong and Paris – have the biggest share of this by far at 25 percent.

Interestingly, the top ten fastest-growing large cities in the world are all Chinese. (Click the link above to see the report in full – it’s kind of interesting if you scrawl through it; there are lots of graphs!)

Chinese aircraft

Why not book your flight today?

My very simplified, and probably naive, conclusion is this: If you have money (and lots of it), invest it in London and China. You probably can’t go too far wrong. If you’re looking for a job, like me, head to Asia and learn Mandarin.

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The difficulty of saying ‘no’

The Raging Bull

The Raging Bull doesn't mince her words

When you are two years old, saying no is one of the easiest things in the world. The Raging Bull spent several months emphatically answering ‘no’ to every single question I put to her. It was her first word and still one of her favorites. But when you are an adult, saying no can be considerably harder – and so it was with me.

If you read or even glanced at my post about finding a job, you will know that I traveled all the way to Atlanta for a job interview with a great company called WebMD. They are a health/medicine/wellness website with a ton of information and are very well known in the United States. In fact, they proudly told me at the interview that the company is the number 1 health information website in America. They are expanding into Europe and wanted someone with UK experience to help them tailor their newsletters to the British audience. It was perfect for someone like me – but it was also in Atlanta.

I miraculously got an offer, but I decided to decline it. This didn’t come without a fair amount of stress, anguish, soul searching, tears, you name it. I went through a gamut of emotions but, rather tellingly, I never felt totally elated about getting the job because of the location. Ultimately, it was the location that swung it. After a series of long-distance Skype conversations with the English Husband, we decided that we just couldn’t see ourselves there. It did seem rather pointless to travel all the way to the United States, to supposedly be closer to family and friends, and end up in a city five hours away by plane and also where we don’t know a single soul.

So I am back to square one on the old job search. In the last two weeks I have applied for a job at the fashion retailer Forever 21 as a writer for their clothing website (they’ve already rejected me); a job as a writer for a university in La Jolla (UCSD) that pays very little but I think might offer some decent perks; a job with a luxury magazine in San Diego that wanted someone with local contacts, so landing this one would be like getting told that I’ve won the lottery when I’ve never played; and a job to edit features at Weight Watchers (this one is in London). Not sure about that last one. I wonder if they will end up rejecting me because I’ve never had any major issues with my weight. But, hey, you’ve got try everything, people tell me.

A reason to cheer? – new figures on jobless claims

According to the United States Department of Labor, weekly claims for jobless benefits have fallen to their lowest level since last April. The number of people claiming unemployment dropped by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, the Associated Press reported today. It was the fourth drop in five weeks. Economists say that a level below 400,000 could lead to more companies hiring, but this is still only speculation. Meanwhile, I heard a segment on NPR (National Public Radio) this morning about a college graduate with an accounting degree who has spent the last 10 months looking for work – and found nothing. He has now taken to the streets of San Francisco wearing a placard saying ‘Hire Me’. It has got him plenty of attention but no job yet.

This kind of desperation is not just reserved for the United States, however. The New York Times reported yesterday that the total unemployment in Britain has gone up to its highest level in 15 years; it has risen by 129,000 to 2.62m in the third quarter of this year, bringing it to 8.3 percent. Youth unemployment in Britain (defined as those out of work between 16 and 24 years of age) has now risen above one million, the highest level since 1992, according to the same New York Times article.

I am not 24 years old – and don’t I know it – but I am competing in a shrinking job market, in a very competitive sector. I don’t have the guts to wear a placard to walk the streets of downtown San Diego, in the hope that a bit of aggressive guerrilla marketing might do something my resume can’t. I would rather hide behind my computer and do anonymous job searches on the internet. This is both time consuming and frustrating. Maybe soon I will need to think about ramping it up a little.

My lack of progress makes me wonder if I will eventually regret saying no to the one and only job offer I’ve had. While the Raging Bull may not know what she screams ‘no’ to most of the time, I know only too well how close I got to something good.


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Filed under Job search, transitions

On finding a job

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Filed under Job search, transitions