Thursday, April 22, 2010

You Never Forget Your First. Or, A Lightweight's First Shot Of Recession Rejection.

Nearing the end of my time in Seattle, Spring '09, I gave myself a sort of ultimatum. If I couldn't get a new job in the remaining month of my lease, I'd move home. I mean literally. To my Dad's house.

Prompted by my first taste of total unemployment, I did my first Craigslist Job Search. (And little did I know then that this would become a serious habit.) I wound up interviewing with and getting accepted by a small temp agency. I won them over with my pedigree and "bubbly personality."

When I met with them after being accepted, I told them the ultimatum. Either I start making money, or I pack it in and go back east. My "talent coordinator," let's call him Joe, seemed both concerned and excited.

Joe: One month. That's not a lot of time.
Underemployed: It's as long as I have. I won't renew my lease without a job. My Dad said I could live rent free for a while back east.
Joe: Great. That's great. Well, I love a challenge and I'm going to do my best to do get you to as many interviews as I can. We'll place you. Seattle wants you.
Underemployed: Well, thanks.

The first interview they sent me on was to do cold calling to raise money for a charity supporting MD research. "Just be your bright, bubbly self," Joe told me before the interview. As I walked up Aurora, I felt great about my prospects. Here I was, Miss Never-Met-An-Application-That-Didn't-Like-Me, schlepping up Aurora for a temp job in my perfect purple tweed ballet flats, denim pencil skirt and cardigan. I was a slam dunk and I didn't even have to meet the other candidates to know it. (For those of you who don't know, Aurora Avenue is a small highway. Like, fast cars and billboards but you have to walk it if you want to reach this dive of an office without taking a cab. )

I followed the signs through the office to the interview. There were so many people. Forget enough seating, there wasn't enough room in the company's office space, so we wrapped around in a line in the hallway outside their door. Looking around me, I got my first real taste of what it means to be facing serious national unemployment. Sure there were a couple of people younger than me, but there were middle aged people too. So many men and women of various walks of life all united in collective misery- here we were, resumes in hands hoping for the chance to cold call for a couple months.

We were given name tags- first name, staffing agency. In groups of 10 we shepherded into a small conference room. Everyone was tense. We went around and introduced ourselves. Do we have any outstanding interest in MD? Stories of nieces, nephews, children of friends of friends. Any sales experience? Stories of traveling salesmen, real estate agents, Avon ladies. Any significant phone experience? My turn to shine. After spending a year telling actors (or their agents) they didn't get the part, I had developed some reprehensibly smooth ways with a telephone.

We each recited a monologue that we had to adapt from the script they gave us. I would have been embarrassed but for the fact that everyone else sucked at re-writing and sucked even worse at selling it. Without giving away too much, all I will reveal is that I had to say, out loud, in front of other human beings, such phrases as "paddy wagon" and "dance till you drop." But the kicker, of course, was repeating the words "muscular dystrophy" approximately 5 times in 2 minutes. Everyone got tongue tied. Except for me, who studied diction in acting class and in a class on public speaking.

After the monologue humiliation, one on one interviews. The young woman interviewing me seemed no brighter than a thumb tack, but she was really sweet and wore non-threatening frosted lipstick. I left assuming I had a shot, but I knew my chances were low. There were just so many people.

A phone call.
Joe: Well, I heard from the MD people.
Underemployed: Oh?
Joe: They loved you. They said you were warm, and positive and have great speaking skills. But they're going with another candidate. However, their liaison told me they might be hiring again soon, and she said you're at the top of that list.
Unemployed: Well, that's nice. Do you have any other leads? I've got three weeks to figure this out.
Joe: Don't you worry, Underemployed. I'm working on it for you.

That was the last I heard from Joe. I sent him an email, just giving him the heads up I was leaving town, and he never wrote me back. But I owe him a lot. I mean, if a talent coordinating professional like Joe couldn't place me in a month, I knew I was going to have to work doubly hard to find work when I got back east. Not getting that job was exactly the wake up call I needed. The job market isn't just tough, I realized. It's a damned formidable backstop that demands strength and endurance from those who wish to get to the other side.

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