“You have to be where your feet are.”
An NFL player on the Sunday NFL pregame show just now said this, and it sticks. You don’t watch football all day on Sunday anymore, in place at exactly 12:55 p.m., friends filling the house, dogs and kids running from the front door straight out the back of your shotgun house, the Sunday New York Times Book Review section in your hands.
But the player who’s talking is from your hometown. (Rock Hill, baby. Football City USA, baby.) You try not to think about CTI (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
But where are your feet?
It has been exactly five strange months since the layoff. You’ve started referring to yourself not as “laid-off,” but as “a writer” or “a writer between full-time jobs.” And it was seven months before that since you quit a long-time job to take a new one writing at a journalism startup, and about 20 months total into not wearing deodorant.
Perhaps journalism + startup + pandemic don’t = smart. You failed math, often. The job was a risky decision, but it felt like you’d been hired because you were the perfect starting running back for somebody’s dream team.
Now you are sad, and angry. Some days, you want to smash all the china in the house.
Ageism and Interviews Have You SPINNING
According to The Muse, “a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that workers over age 40 are only about half as likely to get a job offer as younger workers if employers know their age.”
You had a job interview for a fantastic position. You were to present a piece of your tech writing. You dug it up, read it again, practiced to your bestie on Zoom, but the silver around the edges of your face kept grabbing your attention.
The day before the interview, you rushed to see your stylist, who you thought was going to give you a toned-down brown, but instead gave you a Bonnie Raitt red. You took a deep breath. You and your shiny copper strands presented a technical document that you’d written and designed and explained why the processes saved time, and laid the groundwork for companywide growth, wider hiring options, talent retention and software as a solution.
Given the response from the six-person team interviewing you, your hair could have been purple (and it has been) and they wouldn’t have cared. You’ve stopped hiding behind 54, and you figure if they don’t want your 54-year-old self, then they are losing out.
But some days, some weeks, you’re spinning. You’ve been making rookie mistakes (not fact-checking your memory, not filling out your calendar so you avoid overlapping appointments, writing your daily notes on different pads), and saying bad things to yourself. You’re spinning. Your friend Flea, who’s also between full-time jobs, says she, too, is spinning, like those performers who have five or six plates on sticks. You feel like the plates.
You are selling your house. The layoff pushed the decision, which gets you in the gut. Somehow, the leaves on your elm and dogwoods seem brighter this fall. Somehow, saying “we are selling the house” makes you feel powerful. It is something you can control.
Resumes Are Trying Your LIFE
In July, your niece looked over your resume, and after nine iterations on a Saturday night, she pronounced the two-page doc pretty darn good. You uploaded the sparkling document and cover letter, hit “apply” at 12:02 a.m.
The job had expired.
Friend Flea said the resume was too long, anyway, and needed a photo of you. Then Friend Pajama Carl had to explain the difference between a resume and an CV (none, according to him), and his resume was 13 pages long. He just pulls out what he needs for each application. Another friend said that whenever you’re applying for teaching jobs to use the long resume and ditch the mug. You tweak each resume to fit each job. You now have 560 resumes.
You’re saying bad things to yourself, and you’re spinning.
But you’ve stopped applying indiscriminately. You are being more thoughtful in your applications, because there are things you want, and one of those things is to allow your experience to speak for itself. You don’t want to play games with an application or an interview.
And you want to get paid what you’re worth. For starters.
One thing about job descriptions: for a long time, it seemed as if nobody knew what they wanted. It was like they had grabbed a wire-tangle of words off the internet and dumped them on the page. One needed to manage social media listening while writing tech briefs and performing brain surgery and by the way can you give us a six-word story about why we should hire you? Oh, no, sweetie, we won’t see your application because the AI tossed it out and we won’t call you back even if we do see your application because we’re busy in this fast-paced place, but we have coffee together each morning, yay!
Look: If you have to put fast-paced into a job description, either you don’t have enough people to handle your workload, or you don’t have processes in place to allow time for thought. You’re burning out your staff.
You applied for one job that had a two-paragraph description and about seven lines of responsibilities. No nonsense. The interview process—streamlined and meaningful. They didn’t need to say they worked fast.
Recruiters Got You JACKED
You and your bestie light candles and then call each other before interviews. “Who’s the SH*T? If they don’t think you’re the sh*t, you don’t need them.” You take turns yelling this into the phone. This mantra works for spouses and potential partners, also. The bestie finally got a new gig after a long, long search, and you’re so proud of her.
But recruiters got you all kinds of jacked. Bad recruiters send emails that say some version of this:
My name is … and I’m an IT recruiter at … For more than 15 years, the world’s most prestigious companies have turned to us blah blah blah…. Our expertise in the industry allows us to match major companies with top talent, and I have a role that could be a great match for you!
Please review the job description below and let me know what you think. Is this a role you’re interested in hearing more about?
If so, send me your most up-to-date resume in a Word document and let me know a good time to give you a call.
We are grateful to hear from applicants and will be certain to reach out in cases where you are a strong fit for the requirement. If you do not hear from us, your resume will be preserved for future opportunities.
Job title: Search Analyst
Location: 100% Remote (PST Hours Preferred)
Duration: Permanent Rate: DOE
Start Date: Immediately
So far, out of about 15 discussions with recruiters, only five have led to anything even close to an interview. One led to a question about “your philosophy on editing and working with writers.”
Write drunk. Edit sober. ← You did not say this.
Or recruiters call and give details about a job, and then ask for the last four numbers of your Social as identification before you talk to their boss to confirm they talked to you. "No,” you said. “That’s how ID theft happens.”
“Ma’am, if you cannot provide me with your last four numbers of your Social, I cannot process the application.”
“If you can’t provide a better way to identify me, then why should I trust your organization?”
They swipe left, because here’s a woman who doesn’t play by the rules.
Many of these calls are from another country, or a call center, and that’s all detectable because of the time delay, and the occasional group mumble in the background, and the clicking that’s in the line, all of which make conversations difficult. One man yelled at you. He asked if you had questions, and because of the time delay, the start of the question overlapped his next sentence.
It happened three times, after which he yelled, “let me finish what I’m trying to say!”
So, you’re going to call, demand Social Security numbers, and yell? That’s how you’re playing this?
They’re masters at ghosting, and sometimes you call back after the ghosting. “We talked a month ago about content writing/social media manager/tech writing job for X company. I wonder if you’ve had any similar positions come across your desk?”
They stammer through an explanation. They swipe left because here’s a woman who doesn’t play by the rules. Who’s the (writer currently between full-time jobs) SH*T?
Recently, you got a note from a recruiter about applying for a job as a recruiter.
Where Are Your FEET, Anyway?
You’ve dropped the ball more than a few times. Waited too long to apply for a job. Several jobs. Got chicken about applying. Self-sabotage. Thinking small. Thinking so big that you frightened yourself.
How else will you get published in The New Yorker and The Atlantic, if you don’t think big and work toward it? Because Dartinia is getting published in The New Yorker and The Atlantic, before the end of 2022. And getting paid. You got that, universe?
The line about being where your feet are was taken from the title of a book written by Philly 76ers exec Scott O’Neil. It’s about finding meaningful moments in the irregularities of life, and surviving grief.
You think you and grief are buddies, although you love the line from Yiyun Li: “Grief, I don’t know who you are. So don’t pretend to know me.”
Diagnosis of granulosa, a rare ovarian cancer, caught early, no chemo, but still: grief.
Shutdown: irregular, no grief, because you could hear yourself think. You could feel something in the air, something sharp and prickly. And then, once more: grief.
You wrote a note to yourself sometime near the start of the pandemic: Write your way through. Write your way out. (You’re the SH*T, BTW.) You wrote so hard last year. So hard that you learned a lot about yourself. And you set a standard. You found your way out. You are not a cupcake.
You have a part-time job curating and writing targeted newsletters for professional organizations. You have several clients for whom you write and design, and they involve you in planning and decisions—and you can invoice them, swoon. You learn that if you think a story will take three days to write, it might take five.
You aren’t where you want to be, but you’re making this thing work, and you are where you need to be.
You also are writing two books and one book proposal. The agent you’re talking with says it’s got teeth.
You’re even getting used to the idea of moving, and today, the National Kidney Foundation came to pick up several pieces of furniture.
You have a number that you want to hit weekly. You have put this number into the universe for manifestation.
Your insurance extension has run out, and the HR agent from the old job calls to ask if you’d like COBRA.
“I can’t afford COBRA, and don’t want to think about it,” you say.
“I understand,” he says. “I have six children, and two of them are laid off right now. There is nothing to say except this just sucks. It’s not what anybody signs up for.”
No, you think, and you recognize the grief in his voice.
Dartinia Hull, MFA, does all of this from Charlotte, NC.