I see them every time I drive through town, shaking their signs on the street corners, living the dream and dragging down 8 bucks an hour to boot. Some are gyrating, some are flipping their placards like a baton twirler at a halftime show, some appear to be doing nothing more than hiding their faces. I always give a sympathy wave, knowing it could just as easily be me out there.
There’s been some speculation that the worst of the economic downturn is over, that the recovery is underway. It’s the kind of talk that plays well on Capitol Hill, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t take a swig of the Kool-Aid. Here in the trenches it’s a whole ‘nother thing.
I know this because I’m still sitting in front of my computer scouring the internet for jobs, three years after moving to Colorado. Oh sure, there was that 6 month stretch last summer where I worked as a “Reset Merchandiser” – which is PC-speak for “overnight stockboy” – but the commute (to places like Lander, Wyoming and Alliance, Nebraska) was killing my car so I, sadly, turned my back on a promising career in retail. At the moment I do a little writing for a couple of websites, but that hardly pays for the electricity to keep the Dell turned on.
It’s disconcerting because this is Fort Collins, a thriving university town and perennial “top ten” finisher in those “Best Places To Live” lists. You’d think a guy with an above-average skill set could find gainful employment somewhere. Think again. The Fort may have attracted plenty of hi-tech firms and trendy micro-breweries, but without a college degree I’ve been unable to get a foot in the door with either, as it appears you need a B.A. just to push a broom around here. That may explain why there are at least as many panhandlers as there are sign wavers on the street corners.
And the matter of my education – or lack thereof – probably isn’t the only thing holding me back. As a baby-boomer, I’m decidedly more “mature” than the bulk of the workforce around here, so I have to imagine my expiration date is scaring off at least a few employers. The rest apparently assume I don’t know a hashtag from a hole in the ground.
The good news is, it takes the pressure off when it comes to those tricky decisions regarding my career path. At this point about the only choice left is whether I’ll look better in a paper hat or that day-glow vest the guy collecting carts in the Walmart parking lot gets to wear.
Wait, I take that back – turns out I can’t even land one of those jobs. I blame it on the dime-store psychological profiles I’m required to fill out along with my application. Talk about loaded questions – I feel as though I’m in a battle of wits, like Vizzini and Westly in The Princess Bride, trying to figure out what answer I’m supposed to choose that will keep me from drinking the poison wine, as it were. If you saw another employee goofing off on the job, would you: A – Do nothing. B – Work harder now that your team is short-handed. C – Tell your supervisor. D – Kick the employee in the crotch. Well, I can clearly not choose “A”…
Thankfully, I’m getting lots of assistance. Every week there’s some article on Yahoo from another “expert” with advice on how to land a gig. For instance, did you know there are 10 words or phrases that should never appear on your resume? So I’ve ditched that old stand-by, “responsible for,” along with all those tired descriptors like “extensive” and “creative.” Apparently the computers that are scanning my documents looking for key words don’t go in for that flowery shit.
And the advice doesn’t end with my resume. It turns out there are five things not to do in an interview (I’m assuming most of them involve various bodily functions). And five ways to tell if your interview went well (beyond keeping the aforementioned bodily functions in check, I would imagine actually getting the job might be a decent indicator). But wait, there’s more – like the five questions great job candidates ask, or the 10 simple ways to improve your LinkedIn profile, or the one thing successful people never do, or the four ways to hide employment gaps on your resume. Damn, I probably should have been taking notes. The most pertinent – the four things you must do to get a job if you’re over 50 (surprisingly, none of them involve adult diapers).
Look, I appreciate all the help – I really do. But even so, I’m brushing up on my baton twirling, just in case.