I don’t think there is ever a solid way to give someone advice on what to do when it comes to looking for a job. I’ve had a ton of advice given to me in some way or another during the last six months. Some of it has been good; some of it has been bad.
A number of people have given me advice on my resume so I could clean it up and condense it into a nice, neat one-page summary of my professional and volunteer life. Some people have helped with cover letters from the very basic to a specific and detailed letter that’s to the point and targeted for a particular job. Both have been good and useful.
Then there’s been some really bad advice. I’m talking about advice that might sound good to one person, the one who has a job, and absolutely terrible to the one who doesn’t have a job — me.
I don’t have time to list all the bad advice, but I will say there was one in particular that stood out from the rest.
The “advice” came from someone I met in the summer and I really thought this person was going to be a great point of contact. Instead, she turned out to be a terrible reference. We met through an acquaintance and I told her about my move to the San Francisco bay area, my goals and really that I just needed a job, any job.
For the most part, the conversation was going as well as one would expect when you meet someone for the first time and you are asking for help in getting a job. (Not to mention, I was essentially on my knees asking for help, a humbling experience to say the least.)
Mind you, I wasn’t asking her to get me a job, just if she knew anyone hiring, if she had any contacts at the companies I was looking into and if she had any advice.
That’s where it went down hill.
“You know Chris,” she said, “you seem like a really great guy with a great resume and I’d like to help. Did you know you really should look for a new job only when you have one?”
I tried not to look befuddled but my head started racing with thoughts.
“Did I hear that correctly,” I said to myself. “Hold on a second, did she really just say that? Did she just mean to say it in her head and accidentally said it out loud? Holy crap, she really meant that! What a motherfucker! Okay, get over this. Keep smiling. Just keep smiling. Don’t let her know how terrible that just sounded.”
“Uh, thanks, that’s really nice of you,” I said out loud. “I’m really hoping to get a job pretty soon to get me over the hump.”
“Actually, the more I think about that, that was a pretty shitty thing to say,” retorted my internal voice. “That really wasn’t nice of you at all you stupid asshole. Who the hell tells someone to look for a job only when they actually have one? Didn’t you hear me when I first started talking say, I DON’T HAVE A JOB! Didn’t you just hear me say I need any job I can get? I thought you were supposed to be helpful. I really need to talk to my friend about you. That sucked.”
“Well,” she said, “it’s the best advice I’ve ever been told and I think it’s important to remember that.”
“Perhaps that is good advice IF YOU ALREADY HAVE A JOB! Didn’t you just hear me say I didn’t have a job and I need to get whatever?” said my internal voice as it grew angrier by the second.
The conversation pretty much ended after that and what made things worse was that she left the old-timey coffee shop without paying the tab. It was only a couple bucks but it felt like a million dollars to me at the time.
“Seriously, who makes someone with no money pay for coffee even if the bill is only five bucks? I’m not asking for a hand out and would be happy to pay for my drink but c’mon man, I NEED A DAMN JOB AND YOU MADE ME SPEND MORE MONEY THAT I BARELY HAVE ENOUGH OF!!” yelled my internal voice as I walked away from the coffee shop.
Perhaps the craziest experiences in my never-ending job hunt haven’t come in meeting people but during the interview process itself. I feel pretty fortunate to have a decent resume and it has really helped start conversations about potential jobs. It’s been good in that sense and there have been people who have really wanted to help. I’m grateful for that.
What’s thrown me for a loop have been the conversations I’ve had during a phone interview or face to face about why I’m applying for a job.
And begin scene …
Interviewer: “I’d just like to say you have a very impressive resume and I was taken aback by it. You do know what kind of job this is, right?”
Me: “Why thank you, that’s very kind of you. Yes, I do know what kind of job this is.”
Internally: “Great, here we go again. You’re gonna butter me up and say how great I am and then tell me I’m over qualified. I wish I could bet on this so I could make some kind of money off you.”
Interviewer: “I don’t know if you know this but you are very over qualified for the position. Are you sure about this?”
Me: “Of course, I am aware of the position and the duties as I reviewed the description before applying. As I’ve said before, I’m really interested in getting my foot in the door and working with a great bunch of people.”
Internally: “Ding, ding, ding, ding!! Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Double or nothing you’re going to tell me you’re worried about the pay OR worried I’ll be leaving soon and how you’ll have to look again.”
Interviewer: “I’m glad you looked over the job description, many applicants don’t do that. If I can be honest with you, there is a bit of a concern about the pay scale for this job as it compares to your resume. We are worried if we do give you the job, you’ll leave in less than a year for a job we think you should be paid appropriately for.”
Me: “Thank you for being honest and expressing your concerns with me. I am aware of the pay and I can promise you this, should the job work out: I’m willing to commit to this organization if you’re willing to give me a shot and let me show you I can excel at the job.”
Internally: “Holy crap, had I bet on this in Vegas, I’d be swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck and I wouldn’t have to look for a job! If only! And really, ‘can we be honest with you’ is the death-knell for an interview. Why don’t you just say you’re not going to hire me now instead of waiting for a couple of weeks and torturing me? Nah, I know that would be too easy and you needed me in your interview pool to make things look that much better when you hire your friend who already works here.
“Damn it, I’m not gonna get this job. Ugh.”
Sure enough, things played out that way and there have been several times I did not get a job even after being told I was “such a great candidate but we decided to go in another direction.” What makes things better is when I legitimately want to know where I messed up, what I could do better and learn from for my next interview.
“Nothing, you were great!”
THEN WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T YOU HIRE ME YOU STUPID ASS! YOU’RE KILLING ME SMALLS!
For all of this that has happened, I really have been very fortunate to find a job working with a special education department within a school district. It has helped bridge the gap for right now, allowed me to pay some bills and given me something to do.
More importantly, I’m not an administrator at all and it’s great. I work one-on-one in a full-inclusion program and I have loved every bit of it. It’s been fun working on a campus and being right in the mix of the student population. I’m no longer the administrator who comes down from central office and tells people what to do.
I do that with the kids now, ha!
Even more importantly than just finding work, life has really been great since I started. I feel as if there is purpose to my life, I feel like I’m contributing something to society and I really do get to see the wheels of education in progress. It’s really an awesome feeling seeing a kid learn something and watching the light bulb turn on. It doesn’t happen every day and sometimes that bulb doesn’t turn on for a couple days but when it does, it’s just awesome. I won’t say this is going to be my job for the rest of my life but it has been great thus far.
What’s been even better has been having the kids be afraid of me. Yeah, I said it: they are afraid of me for any number of reasons. Mainly because 1) I’m a guy and bigger than a lot of the other staff on campus, 2) my beard is apparently very, VERY scary, 3) I make kids call me Dr. Chris (much to my delight) and they get terrified for no apparent reason and 4) I really don’t put up with crap. I make kids say yes sir/no sir, yes ma’am/no ma’am and thank you/you’re welcome all the time.
(I was told that I have brought good ol’ Texas manners to the school. I have not succeeded with getting kids to say ya’ll as frequently though.).
Ironically, I think this “fear” spilled over to the staff as well. When I began other teachers didn’t really talk to me. I got weird looks and I heard I was the “big scary man with the kids now.” Hilarious.
For all the evils of networking and instability there is with trying to look for a job, it’s actually the necessary evil we all have to deal with from time to time and it helped me get my job at the school. I work with some really great people and I’m excited to learn as much as I can while I’m here and applying that to my outlook on life, like patience.
(SPED teachers apparently are very, very good at patience. I’m sure they are laughing right now as they read that sentence.)
I guess now that I have a job I can start looking for a job like the advice I was given earlier this fall. I’m halfway there now, right?
I still say that was a terrible piece of advice.