In the old days, when I was a young person on the job hunt my Mom gave me good advice: show up early in the morning, put yourself together, look people in the eye, leave your resume, check back in person.
I was once in the grocery store on a Friday evening when I watched a man with his two children try to turn in an application to the manager. He was in his painter’s pants and there were lines at every register. Not everyone had received the same advice.
But the rules are all different now because of the internet: email your resume, don’t get too dressed up, don’t be too confrontational and if you circle back, they automatically put your resume in the circular file. Show up in the afternoon when people are more likely to have the time to talk to you.
Because I am a single mom, in a new city, it is hard to know the etiquette of job searching. Some places consider it rude to actually show up and try to make a person-to person impression. They look bewildered, as if they were never going to have to talk to you, ever. Some places are so big that even if you impressed someone by doing so, they probably have no input at all. And the rules about what you should put on your resume seem to change daily: don’t put the year you graduated from college, that will date you, don’t offer your references, that’s not the style these days.
And please don’t get me started on what counts as “business attire” today. I walked into an interview recently where I had been informed that business attire was required and the woman who greeted me was in a mini skirt and hooker pumps. Skin colored, platform hooker pumps.
I have never gotten a job from my resume alone; I always shook someone’s hand and said something unexpected to make them laugh. I complimented them on something specific about their business in a genuine way to indicate why I wanted to work there. I never got nervous in an interview because if I was honest people usually got it.
But I am getting nervous now. My savings is dwindling. My expenses are many. I realize I am in a much less precarious place than most people in this country, even this world. I have roof over my head and food in the fridge. But the threat of not being able to make ends meet makes me desperate, and employers smell desperate from miles away.
And of course, there is always this lingering feeling that I’m trying to push myself into a space that was not designed for me. There are many, many things I would rather get paid to do, like write fiction, teach yoga, sing jazz. if I could find a job that combined all those things and paid me 80k a year with bennies, I’d be set.
But here I am, in a blazer that fit me much better before Thanksgiving, driving around, clutching my resume, smiling and hoping to find a sympathetic bureaucrat to take it off my hands and put it in a stack of other resumes. If I can even get through the door.
I am always tempted in my cover letters to blurt out: “you know, I could come up with some amazing adjectives to describe myself, but why don’t you just throw me in there and see what i can do?! You won’t be sorry!” I’m sure that wouldn’t come across as desperate. Maybe I should just try the hooker pumps.