Saturday, October 11, 2008


I apologize for the insufferably whiny nature of last night's post. I've been doing this kind of thing since the days of OpenDiary; I thought I'd learned by now that nobody likes blogs that exist solely to convey how much pity their authors deserve.

I did not start Entry Level Jane to complain about my lot in life. This blog is meant to be a record of my experiences, and unfortunately for you, world, last night I was experiencing a self-indulgent sulk.

Friday, October 10, 2008

You are cordially invited to Jane D'oh!'s pity party.

I'm doing retail for the time being; like I said, the devil I know. I slipped back into the old phrases and cadences with terrifying ease.

It's not the worst job I've ever had-- heck, it's not the worst retail job I've ever had-- but it just left me feeling empty. As if I needed any more evidence that not so deep below the surface lurks a selfish, nasty, spoiled little bourgeois brat. When I hit a pocket of idealism, I will tell you that any job done with integrity is a worthwhile* job, and what I do to make money does not define who I am as a person. But when I'm pretending to be the authority on stuff people don't really need, stuff I honestly don't care about, so excruciatingly careful to be polite that I slip "please" or "sorry" into every sentence, I've never been further from my ideals. And I may be doing this job to the best of my ability, but I can't find the integrity anywhere.

* With the exception of, like, Nazis. Work with me here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Forget it, Homer. It's Chiro-town."

This is a true story of an interview I went on in June, which, in retrospect, was awful to the point of hilarity.

I found an ad on Craigslist-- and so many trainwreck stories start that way-- for an assistant position in a chiropractor's office. No experience needed? I am so there. I sent them my resume, they replied with an invitation to come into the office for an interview. I had something going on that day; sweating bullets, I responded with a very polite and professional email apologizing, saying I have a previous obligation, could I reschedule? The response I got was the same email as before, with the interview date changed to a week later.

(At this point, what I should have done was deleted it and forgotten the whole thing; as you might have figured out by now, for a smart girl I can be phenomenally stupid sometimes.)

I drove out to the office (about half an hour from my apartment). There was a small group of people in professional dress standing by the door-- oh fantastic, a group interview. As I parked my car (this was in a busy supermarket mall), I noticed a few other professionally dressed people getting out of their cars and heading in the same direction I was. Okay, a big group interview. As we stood outside the office waiting for the door to open, even more people came and stood with us. I've never been good at determining the number of people in a group, but there were at least 50 applicants.

Now, I know that chiropractic is controversial. My dad had shoulder surgery, and a combination of chiropractic and physical therapy helped him to regain movement and heal. I think that seeing a chiropractor can be a legitimate route to take in certain medical situations.

This guy was the very soul of quackery.

As I stood on line, waiting to get an application and pen, I picked up a homemade book in his waiting room. It decried the evils of surgery, complete with graphic photos of, well, surgery. It's gross! People die on the operating table sometimes! (Your friendly neighborhood chiropractor doesn't get a slice of the pie!) I'll have to remember to get my spine aligned if my gosh-darn appendix ever becomes inflamed.

There wasn't anywhere in the waiting room to sit, so I ventured deeper into the office. It was an open room filled with obviously home-made exercise machines, wooden monstrosities with pullies and slings. Other people were sitting awkwardly on them, working on their own applications. A patient was still using one of the machines, doing his stretches and exercises in the midst of dozens of people storming the office and perching all around him. I crouched in the children's section-- yes, he practiced on children too-- and filled out my application. I grabbed a binder to lean on. In it were photos of the chiropractor aligning a newborn baby still in the hospital. You know, get 'em while the bones are still soft.

While I crouched in the play area in the midst of the teeming mass of hopefuls, a local radio station had been playing. This cut out, and a song started playing.

A song with amateurish production values.
A song with an irritating melody that still gets stuck in my head sometimes.
A song about chiropractic.

Then the song ended, and the silence that followed... oh wait no, it was being looped.

So finally, after hearing the Song what seemed like a dozen times more, the chiropractor comes out. He was wearing a polo shirt that looked like the one my gym teacher wore when I was in elementary school (in the early 90s). It was embroidered with the slogan that had been repeated ad nauseum in the chorus of the Song. Because of this little detail, I like to think that he wrote and recorded it himself, because that makes the story even more deliciously ridiculous. I'll never know for certain.

He introduced himself and set about explaining the job, which was less assisting in the office and more standing around in local shopping centers offering free consultations to the general public. Now, I'll tolerate some things that I'm not entirely comfortable doing in the name of a steady paycheck, but this involved (a) being That Girl at a mall kiosk, (b) working for a quack, and (c) potentially hurting children. Plus, from a purely pragmatic view, between the previous week and this session, he was interviewing over 100 people for what couldn't have been more than 4 openings, and I had never even stepped foot in a chiropractor's office before.

I waited until he was done with his spiel and started asking people to give their names and sell themselves. I got up and left-- with about 10% of the other applicants.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

$50 OBO

The call center job didn't pan out. By that, I mean that the only way it could have been worse would be if I had to pay them for the privilege of doing the job. I have made the risky decision that it would be better to really throw myself into applying for more jobs than filling my time with an occupation that left me feeling listless and miserable, and having less time to look for something better. I have two interviews lined up for the end of the week, both for retail sales (aka The Devil I Know).

I was filling out an application at a restaurant today. The manager asked if I had any experience with the restaurant industry. When I told her no, she responded, "Well, you'll really have to sell your personality then." What a distasteful phrase, "sell your personality." And I do realize marketing one's skills and achievements is a necessary part of finding a job, I just wish it was less reminiscent of prostitution.

I find the process of selling myself to be bewildering. Extracting a passable cover letter from the neurotic, second-guessing labyrinth that is my mind was incredibly difficult, and it is specifically for jobs in the non-profit field. I am at a loss when it comes to, say, applying for a receptionist job. I believe it's something I could do, but what do I say? "I'm very good at answering the phone, and my handwriting is legible, so you would have no problem reading the messages I would take." I'm being facetious, of course, but when I try to come up with something write to Employer X to separate myself from the pack, I consistently come up short.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good news, everyone!

I got a job! Which would be more accurately be described as a "gig," since it's part-time and temporary and I'm an independent contractor. Um.

I have a source of income! Hurrah!

Starting tomorrow, I'm working at a call center, recording and filing claims for an insurance company. There are some definite perks:
- the hours are flexible,
- the pay is pretty good for something so simple,
- it's a casual dress/tattoo-friendly work environment, and
- it's great incentive to find a job doing anything else.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

O. Henry was a bank teller

While doing my daily perusal of job posting sites, I found an entry-level nonprofit position, which felt a little like coming across a 1965 silver dime (except I can't sell the job posting to a collector for $9000+. What a sad life I lead). A friend of mine also put in a good word for me with a few of her friends who are managers at local restaurants, so hopefully I'll be bossing around volunteers or busing around dirty dishes relatively soon.

I've been thinking lately about the dreaded Day Job. I write, I act, I help to run a con-- not things that usually pay the bills. And it hurts, a little; I wish I could forge my life completely on my own terms, and not have to worry about whether or not my manager thinks I'm a team player.

However, making your art your day job is problematic. Your dreams become product, your audience becomes a customer base. There has to be a compromise between the artist's vision and what the audience is willing to consume (and what the producer/publishing house/venue is willing to put their name on). I'm not saying that full-time professional artists lack integrity, but there is the lack of the ability to say to a largely critical public, "Go fuck yourself, I don't need you" without the likelihood of completely ruining everything you've built up.

Then there's the issue of fame. How many people have to approve of what you do before you're satisfied that it's successful? I seem to recall reading something that Stephen King wrote (I think it's in On Writing) where he says that he writes primarily for his wife Tabitha, but I'm sure the millions of fans are a nice fringe benefit (and have some sway over his creative process).

It is so desirable, so lovely, to have what you do mean something, really mean something, to someone you've never met. And yet to let something you've created float off into the unknown fog of the minds of other people is a scary prospect, and I imagine requires a healthy lack of ego. Nobody is ever going to see what you've made in the same way that you have, and you're certainly not going to have more than a ten page introduction or an occasional magazine interview to explain to the world that your protagonist is based on a dream you had where the president was a closeted homosexual and this is the kind of person you imagine his press secretary would be, even though the novel takes place in Kyoto during the Tokugawa shogunate. When I would write critical essays for the English courses I took in college, I often imagined the author standing next to me, reading over my shoulder. More often than not, their reaction was along the lines of, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

It still doesn't change the pit I feel in my stomach when filling out applications for retail stores and restaurants, but at least we can all be miserable together.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Almost Always

It's been three years since I've applied for a retail position, and somehow in that short amount of time the process has become more draining. A lot of corporations are going paperless, which gives me the eco-friendly warm fuzzies, but with the applications that I can complete from the comfort of my own laptop come the ridiculous personality tests.

I had to take one of these once before. When I was in high school, I applied for a position at a CD store (ask your parents) where my best friend worked, and the interview included one of these tests, which was administered over the phone by an automated voice kerjigger. I had to answer the questions as quickly as possible, so it was all knee-jerk reaction. Of course now, I can sit on my couch and spend the entire night second-guessing myself, stretching out a process that is supposed to take half an hour ad infinitum. On a related note: isn't the concept of taking half an hour to apply for a job, per job, pretty ridiculous? Is that just me?

The general format is multiple choice, with the choices ranging from "Never" to "Always," or "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree," with varying degrees in between (usually). The questions come in the form of statements, such as "You finish your work no matter what."*

Some of them, such as the one previously mentioned, make a lot of sense in the context of a retail sales job. It's pretty obvious that they want someone who is hard-working, courteous, and honest. However, there are some questions where I just can't discern what they're trying to figure out about me. “You would rather not get involved in other people's problems.” Okay, they're probably weeding out applicants who like to gossip at work and stir up drama. “Agree.” But wait a second... maybe they count looking for the graphic novels section as a problem. Maybe they're trying to see if I'm the kind of employee who would see a confused-looking customer and be proactive about helping them. Well, I'm not a callous jerk... “Disagree.” But there's nothing less professional than two sales associates standing around bitching about their personal lives to each other and ignoring you. “Agree.” But maybe... and so on. I'm lost, and it's cold in here.

Another frustrating aspect of these tests is the unspoken but highly implied quest for perfection. The questions dance the line between being so open-ended as to be interpreted in several different ways and leaving no room for middle ground. “You love to be with people.” Well shit, it depends on the people, doesn't it? But four radio buttons don't leave much room to fully explain my impressions and experiences dealing with people. So, potential employer, I always love to be with people. Whether at a SoHo gallery opening or Hell's Angels gangbang, I am the consummate social butterfly.

So my impression is that not only are they looking for someone who doesn't steal or lie, but also is never late, never complains or argues, always works at full capacity, and never shows any emotion beyond cheerful professionalism. Apparently to be qualified for a sales associate position, one has to be the Nietzschean ubermensch. Well, except that the ubermensch doesn't obey the outmoded social ethics that would require him to greet every customer with a friendly smile.

* I'm lifting these examples from an online application that I just filled out.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Too Good to Be True

I had a phone interview today that was supposed to last 20 minutes, but ended up taking 3. It was for a career in financial services; I know, not something remotely close to my career goals, but hey, they contacted me for once. The form email should have been a tip-off, but it wasn't any skin off my nose to respond, and like I said: they contacted me. Exciting stuff, world.

Apparently I wasn't cut out for this position because I'm new to the area. Everything on my resume was from out-of-state, but the recruiter I spoke with had been hoping that I grew up in this city, and would therefore have plenty of contacts. So I apparently missed out on a fabulous opportunity to bother my friends and family for commission.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago, where I had a successful interview for an entry-level management position for a marketing company. They do marketing for non-profits! And it's management! Holy crap! Anyway, they brought me back for a second round of interviewing, which involved spending the whole day with someone doing the position I was interviewing for. That involved standing next to a card table in the lobby of a K-Mart while the people I was shadowing tried to sell children's toys, with 5% of the proceeds going to a non-profit. For comparison: Target puts 5% of their income into a foundation for various community projects. Needless to say, I left of my own accord as soon as I was able to get to my car.

It's surprisingly easy to get suckered into these "too good to be true" situations, even when the language of the ad is so obviously inflated to sound a lot better than it really is. There's a bunch of obvious red flags-- don't send money to a potential employer, don't give out your credit card number-- so I haven't been scammed, per se, but gosh is it easy to get me to interview for a technically legitimate but still pretty goddamn sketchy job. I just give them the benefit of the doubt, because hey, what if this is the Best Opportunity Ever? And besides, it doesn't hurt to send in my resume... or talk to someone on the phone... and then I find myself leaning against a gumball machine in the lobby of a big box discount store, smiling at strangers and hoping that they'll buy a stuffed animal. I like to think that I have integrity, but it's amazing what I'll do for the promise of a $50k salary.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Greeting and salutations

Hello world.

This is the story of my career. I'm currently unemployed.

First, some background: I graduated from a well-known university last year, with a BA in English. Highly marketable. After graduating, I did a year with Americorps*VISTA, so I am not without professional experience. In fact, I had been told during my year of service that a lot of employers look very favorably upon former VISTAs, and that I wouldn't have trouble finding a job. On top of this, I was president of a student organization for two years in college and am on the board of a small but growing convention.

I moved to a new city in May, 800 miles from home, to live with my boyfriend while he goes to law school. I have post-graduate aspirations of my own, but none of the schools here offer the course of study I want, so that's being put off until 2010.

I have been looking for a job consistently for the past three months. My plan was to stay in the nonprofit field, build off the development experience I gained in Americorps, and start a career as a grantwriter. I was also open to starting a career in publishing. Around late June, I broadened that search to any office position. In August, I broke down and started applying to retail (which I swore I would never do again).

So-- starting on Labor Day, irony of ironies-- I've decided to chronicle my misadventures in job hunting. As it stands, I have no job (i.e. method of earning a steady paycheck) and no career (i.e. occupation that I want to advance in and keep for the long run). Let's see what happens.