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I’ve had a lot of friends looking for jobs lately since we all graduated around the same time.  It’s funny, but this is actually the first time that I’ve been in this situation, since I’ve been hiding my head in the sand of grad school and cavorting almost exclusively with students for ten years.  Now I’ve run into something that I never anticipated, and find both odd and insulting in this whole interview process–when the interviewer has preconceptions about you and you can’t change his or her mind.

I first became aware of this when Wise Lawyer Friend was going on a lot of job interviews.  She graduated a semester before me, and I got to learn all about this hateful process from my safe nest of “one more semester.”  She was interviewing all over the country, jetting here and there, and even though the interviewers had thought her serious enough to fly out, feed and put in a hotel, some also seemed to not believe that she would actually relocate, and told her so (very carefully so as to not break any laws) in the interview.

A similar thing happened to me last summer, when I interviewed for a cafe job and the interviewer seemed convinced–through no action on my part, that I must just be biding my time and saving up enough cash for a U-Haul back to the Midwest.  I could do nothing to persuade her otherwise, and got a clipped email within a few hours of the end of the interview telling me that I wasn’t a good fit.  Jewish Friend actually landed a job a very commutable distance from her home, but now her co-workers are chastising her for not relocating.  One even went so far as to try to sell her a condo.

Penelope Trunk wrote a blog a while ago about long-distance job searching where she basically said that unless you tell an employer you’re already planning to move somewhere, as in “I’m packed and waiting for the movers to show up”, you will not beat a local candidate.  That’s disheartening to someone who likes to move around, but I guess it makes sense.  In the case of the cafe job–I’m already here, but I couldn’t beat a local candidate because everyone seems to think I should be planning to go back to where I’m from.

The problem, in my case, is that I’m not really from anywhere.  I grew up in two states, and moved among five different towns.  Since my first major move was at age one, I’ve spent my whole life being told, “you’re not from here.” When I lived in Hallock, Minnesota until age 12, I was from “somewhere else.”  After moving to Cavalier, North Dakota, I was “from Minnesota.”  Once I moved to Fargo, I was “from Cavalier,” and now that I live in Rhode Island, I pick and choose whether to tell people I’m from Minnesota, North Dakota, Fargo (always mention the movie to give people a frame of reference) or just generic Midwest.  If I want a bit more street cred, I mention things like “30 minutes from Canada” or “damn cold” but for the most part, I don’t go into detail unless requested.  My parents live in a town they moved to while I was in college and my small extended family (who I’m not close to) is scattered across Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.  Where I’m from, doesn’t matter.  Short of telling someone that entire story, I don’t know how I’ll be able to convince anyone.

I thought we lived in an increasingly nomadic society where you have to widen the net when doing a job search, but it seems harder and harder to convince people you’re serious about relocating.  Now I’m hearing you have to pick a town, move there, and hope you’ll find a job.  There has to be a better way.

I’ve never had the temperament of a leader, or someone who really likes to be in charge of things.  I do like to be in charge, to a point, but once things get a bit difficult, I like to be able to foist responsibility onto someone else better equipped to deal with it.  This is probably quite an immature attitude to have, and probably something I should be working to remedy, at least that’s what I’ve been thinking since I became a professional librarian, and began the quest for a professional “grown-up” job.

At this point in my career, I should be hustling, and networking, and making contacts, etc.  I should be wowing people on a daily basis, and thinking outside the box.  The problem is, I just don’t think I can operate that way, and I can’t decide if I’m being lazy, or just realistic.  Even though I love my job and the people I work with, it’s not full time.  Does the fact that I’m not breaking my ass to find full-time work mean that I’ve given up, or just that I’m aware of the economy?

I was talking to another girl who graduated library school around the same time as me.  She is another one, like so many librarians–including me, who floundered around for a while not knowing what to do with her life, and then got an MLIS. After a few months of post-graduation unemployment, her mother finally asked her something like, “are you finally going to get a real job?”  My friend then had to explain that yes, she would love a real job, but there just aren’t any.  Even though that’s 100% true due to the fact that most public libraries are working under extreme budget cuts and can barely afford to keep the doors open, most colleges and universities are in hiring freezes, and private libraries and archives never have money in the best of times.  It’s all true, and none of it is our fault, but we still both feel like we’ve failed somehow.

After I graduated I had a similar conversation with my mother where she basically said, “You told me that you were going to get your degree, and then get a job.  Why are you now saying you’re not going to do that?”  The fact that I really like where I live, my friends, my boyfriend, didn’t seem to matter to her.  Why should it though?  When I tell people “my boyfriend is in a PhD program for another three years at least, and I like being around him” it sounds pathetic even to my ears.  It makes me feel like I’m choosing relationship over career, even though I’m not.

My mother also clings stubbornly to the idea that as long as you have a degree, that’s all that matters, not what the degree is for, which is just not the case anymore, of it ever was.  She drilled that idea into my head throughout undergrad, and I repeated it to other people as well.  I’ve since figured out that the degree may matter less, but the work experience is what people really want, and that people only want to hire you to do what you’ve already done.

I started working at Dairy Queen when I was fifteen, and it took nearly ten years for me to get away from food service.  Then, naturally, I wanted a food service job again last summer, and my experience seems to have expired.  Even when I decided that I was sick of food service and went to a temp agency, the woman tried to hook me up with a new cafe that had opened at a truck stop, “I told them about you, and they’re really excited!” she promised.  When I told her that that was the opposite of what I wanted to do, that I wanted an office job where I could wear nice clothes and not smell like baked goods or a fryer at the end of the day, her face fell and she told me that that would be a much harder sell.  Even though the qualities she had espoused to the truck stop people were some that could apply to any industry, I had passed my typing test like a pro, and had plenty of computer, filing, and multi-line phone knowledge, she was not willing to go to bat for me because I had never worked in an office.

Similarly with librarianship, I’ve got a lot of experience, but not a lot of professional experience, and practically no experience working in an academic library, which is where I ultimately want to end up.  I spoke to the Dean of Libraries of a small college in Massachusetts last week who told me flat out, “If I see a resume, and there’s nothing but public library experience on it, that person won’t get an interview.”  Basically, I’m working in public libraries to gain experience that won’t parlay into the kind of library job I want.  It’s like my career has stalled in year one, and all I can do is hope that not all deans of libraries have the same attitude as her.

I’ve accepted that it may take a while to get a full-time job, and I’m also damn lucky to have a job in my field that I actually love and that’s not just a filler position to pull in a little bit of cash.  Being poor is boring as hell, but never having had a real job, at least I don’t know what I’m missing.  I just want someone else to acknowledge that it’s not me, and that I am capable of getting a real job; or maybe I need to accept that it is me after all.

JobSearchNewspaper_bannerAs I’ve mentioned often, I’ve had a lot of jobs.  Because I’ve also had a variety of positions, I always note how people react when I tell them what I do.  I have this on my mind after coming off a weekend where I met a lot of people, and they asked what I do, and I asked what they do, but it’s something I’ve always noticed and found interesting.  There is always some variance from person to person based on their own perceptions and experiences, but there is a most common reaction for each job.

  • Barnes & Noble, the most common reaction was, “Fun! Wow, so you read a lot?  That must be a great job.” This is usually followed by a small sigh of envy.  This was when I was in my early twenties, so I wonder if the reaction would be different if I still worked there.  My friend and co-worker, The Ausausin, and I used to loathe this reaction and do everything we could to convince the person otherwise.  By this point, we were both quite bitter with our circumstances and the job’s luster had been worn away by horrible management, ridiculous customer demands, and crazy, stalking, and just creepy customers.
  • Tv station, the most common reaction was a wide-eyed, “Really?  That is so cool.  How did you get that job?”  Then there would be a pause where the person would study my face to see if I looked familiar to which I would reply, “I work in production.”  People were fascinated with that job even though it paid the worst and had the worst hours of any position I’ve ever held.  I did enjoy telling people that I worked there, though, because no one had any idea what the job was.  If I was at Barnes & Noble, people could come in and see me working–no mystique there.  With tv station, no one had any idea, and if I did bring them to work, they’d just see a lot of scary-looking equipment and minor, local celebrities.
  • Stupid pepsi–admittedly, when I tell people about this job, I usually say something along the lines of  “I used to work in a call center selling Pepsi products over the phone.” This prompts people to say, “Who doesn’t know about Pepsi that you would have to sell them on it?” Then I explain the situation and how it actually worked, and watch their eyes glaze over.
  • Librarian–this is one that I’m still exploring, obviously.  I read yesterday in one of my library blogs that a woman told a used-car salesman that she was a librarian, and the man laughed out loud, then mumbled something about a dying profession (clearly, she did not buy a car from him).   Thankfully, I haven’t had that reaction yet, but I have encountered a certain amount of skepticism, in particular, when I was in grad school for library science.  I was in the Virgin Islands over the weekend, and I got to chatting with a couple guys on the local bus.  One lived in Puerto Rico, and the other on some other small island, and were the kind of people who talk about buying boats as investments and how great it is to live on a small island in the Caribbean.  When they asked what I did for a living, and I said librarian, the more chatty one said, “Good for you!”  That, or something like that, is the reaction that I get most often.  It’s kind of like if I said that I feed the homeless, or rescue animals or something.  It’s not quite what I expected, but I don’t mind either.

Because this is something I’m intrigued with, I asked The Ausausin, who is now a nurse, how people react when she tells then her job.  “If I just say that I’m a nurse, then they usually seem to feel sorry for me, ‘just a nurse, huh?’ kind of thing.  If I tell them what kind of nurse I am, or what my work actually involves, then people think it’s pretty impressive.”  When my friend the Lutheran minister meets people in social settings, she almost always has to reassure them that she’s not there to judge their choices, just to hang out.

heavy_downpour_banner…but it pours, is not only an appropriate cliche for my current situation, but a good way to describe Rhode Island weather. I’m going to now take this metaphor one step too far.  All summer I have been languishing in the desert of underemployment, thirsty for relevance in my field, and choking on the dust of money woes.

Then I got am email from my boss at my old job telling me that there may be shifts available to me in October. Then I had a couple interviews that I didn’t feel too good about.  I honestly do not know the feeling of a good interview anymore.  There have been times where I really thought it went well, then I didn’t get the job.  I just don’t know anymore.

I think back to all two of the job interviews I had in high school– I had no idea why they hired me. I just sat there like a lump until they offered me the job.  Then when I went to college, I lost out on a job painting houses because I didn’t come off as friendly enough.  A friend who did get this job told me that the boss told her I wasn’t hired because I didn’t smile when I shook his hand. “I don’t like to smile,” I reminded her.

“You have to smile.” she told me.

I understand the point of interviewing, I really do, but when it comes down to smiling just that right amount that they want–not too much–just enough, it seems impossible.  My other interviews for all five of the jobs I’ve had in Rhode Island where more of a “sit down and chat” which I’m amazing at, this most recent batch were more of a “ten prepared questions, each person takes one turn, then you’re in the hot seat” type, which are really hit or miss for me.  When you hire me, you’re going to get me.  I’m not going to go in and pretend I’m anything I’m not because I shouldn’t have to. I am good enough, actually.  Bonus, people think I’m funny.

Someone finally agreed with me and offered me a job, and in keeping with the way I operate, it was completely unexpected.  I got the phone call en route to Niagara Falls, accepted the position from a travel plaza parking lot on the NY state Thruway, then then two hours later got a call from my old job hinting at, but not directly stating that they wanted me back.

At least I got all of that “hanging out” out of my system over the summer, so now I’m seriously ready to work.  I’m just really starting to wonder if I will ever have just one job.  It doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me.  So if you total up all of the freelancing writing and editing, that counts as one job; then two more libraries (good thing this state has so many libraries because I will have worked in four now) I’m back up to three jobs.

Back to normal.

work_life_bannerEven though I have never had a full-time job in my nearly (gulp) thirty years of life, I’ve always kept my part-time jobs for an inordinately long time.  My first job not answering phones for my father or baby-sitting, was Dairy Queen when I was fifteen.  I kept that job for a full year, and picked up another one on top of it just to break the monotony of making Blizzards.  That next job– Bjornson Oil– I stayed at for four years.

After setting that precedent, I kept my two main jobs– TV station and Barnes & Noble for five years each, and interspersed those with other more minor gigs, most of which I worked at for at least two years.  Basically, except for a two week stint as a hotel housekeeper when I was 21, I had never had a job for less than a year that wasn’t a temp job–ever.

Then I moved to Rhode Island.

I was thinking about this yesterday, as I updated my employment section on Facebook.  I’m very meticulous when it comes to that section, for some reason, and feel great annoyance with people who aren’t the same about theirs.  Those people probably only have one job, and have had it for years, where I update mine every three months or so.

Since moving here I have worked at three libraries–two public, one private; done a year as a URI Graduate Assistant; was hired as an adjunct professor, and then got cut along with the budget;  and I am now a magazine editor.  That doesn’t sound like a ton of jobs– 6 in total–but I haven’t even lived here two years. That’s a lot of paperwork.

I sat down with a friend who works in public radio a while ago, and we talked about my many jobs for a piece she’s working on.

“Why do you think it is that you’ve never had a full-time job?” she asked.

I sat there for a full minute before admitting that I really have no idea, but that I’ve never really known what I want to do, therefore, never wanted to commit to something full-time that I was half-hearted about.  Also, doing something FULL-TIME always sounded so time-consuming and dull, so much like my parents.

Now, I would really like a full-time job, but no one is offering me one– bittersweet irony.

What I really don’t know is whether or not it makes me look bad for never having had a full-time job, or if all the part-time work I’ve done makes me more well-rounded.  Even though I have all these degrees, whenever someone says something like “professional job interview,” I get very sqeamish and feel like a dirty-faced kid again.  Professional just doesn’t sound like me.  Perhaps if I got a suit and wore it around the house…

I was the last of my really close friends to finally leave Fargo.  My group of oldest friends left right after college, and I stuck around for grad school, and then the rest kind of them trickled slowly away.  I kept thinking that I would leave immediately after grad school, but I had neither a job nor a plan, and so I lingered for another year and a half saving money and making new friends.

It was an odd position to be in because I was ready to leave, but I had to bide my time since I still wasn’t sure exactly where I would wind up and what I would do when I got there.  I felt a little bit embarrassed because among the friends of mine who wanted to leave, I was the last, and that made me feel unambitious in a way.  People remarked over and over how they figured I would be the first one to bolt after college, and how weird it was that I stayed.  Was I all talk?  Would I never finally strike out on my own?  Were the visions I’d had in my head of me bouncing from city to city living life to the fullest not something I actually had the guts to do?

Also, there was recently an article in the New York Times entitled Towns They Don’t Want to Leave, which highlights the five college towns that have the highest percentage of graduates remaining there after finishing school, number two is Providence, number four is Fargo– seriously, what are the odds?  I’m not saying the New York Times will influence whether I stay in Providence or not, but it’s a bit spooky.

I’ve been in Providence a year now, and I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends, but most of us are students and will have to leave to get real jobs.  I actually really like it here and could see myself staying for a while longer, but again, what if I stay primarily because I like my friends, and then they all leave?  I really like Providence as a city, but just like I’d been wrestling with the entire time I was trying to decide where to move: do I really know any better?  I’ve lived a lot of places, probably more than most, but I’ve lived in very few cities, and the fact that I found one I like right away, makes me feel like I can really be happy anywhere.

When I was in sixth grade, I was pretty miserable.  My family had moved about five times at that point, but I had been with the same peer group since kindergarten.  I lived in a very small town, and my dad was the High School principal, which meant that people much older than me knew who I was, and I had no clue why they hated me.  I was tired of all of my friends and their interests that didn’t link up with mine; I was ready for a change.  When my mother told me that they were seriously considering moving, I actually cried because I was so relieved.  I had done all I could do in Hallock, MN and I was ready for a change.

I very much have a tendency to hang onto things until I’m ready to leave them, jobs, towns, etc. I didn’t feel very sad to leave Fargo because I wasn’t appreciating anything about it anymore, I just saw it as a place to get away from.  Leaving my job at Fargo Public Library was actually the hardest thing, because I didn’t hate it and I’ve never left a job without  hating it.

I also don’t hate Providence, but I may have to leave, and that might make it really hard.  I like the idea of being a nomad because one of my biggest fears is complacency, but I don’t quite know what to do with actual contentment.  What if you are somewhere, and you like it, and all of the professional opportunities you need are at your fingertips– that is what I can’t fathom.  What makes a life?  What makes a person say “I’m really happy with my life”? That statement always sounds like a death knell for me, but it seems like a very nice thing to say.

I was talking to a friend last weekend about these thoughts I’ve been having.

“So you’re done in May, and then you move– wherever?” he asked.

“Yeah, except back to the Midwest, but yeah.”

“That’s sucks, man, it would be weird not to have you around.” We sat for a beat, taking this all in.

“Well, when are you leaving?” I asked him.

“Two years.”