The Sweetest Déjà Vu: My One-Year Journey Through Unemployment

Walking into the office I felt a sense of déjà vu. It wasn’t exactly déjà vu though because I’d never been there before. The place was just eerily familiar. From the expanse of the office, to the filming equipment in the corner, to the name of the place spelled out in embossed letters behind the receptionist’s desk; only these were gold instead of blue. I don’t know if this familiarity is a good thing, but for now I’m deciding that it is.

This story actually starts in late summer of last year. After being let go from this sketchy content writing job in the diamond district for the simple fact that they no longer wanted to pay me, I panicked. In just three months I’d already gotten used to having money in my pocket, and having somewhere to go during the day. Decent writing jobs just didn’t seem to be very common, unless they were unpaid internships, and I’d had my fill of those.

Two friends were always discussing their plans to join the Navy in my presence. They urged me to join with them. ‘We can travel the world together,’ they’d say. The Navy has a journalism MOS, so I considered it for a moment as another method for getting my career off the ground, but ultimately fate took me in another direction. A pep talk from another friend encouraged me to hold out for a job in the civilian world. About a week later, I was starting a reporting job at a place we will call CP.

In hindsight, there was always something about this job that was off to me, I never realized it until now. I never had a moment to process and even be excited to be working, to be working in my field. It was simply, ‘get to work; now we own your soul.’ The irony about it all is that C in CP stands for ‘Christian,’ but this place was far from Godlike.

I was there for just short of four months before I was unceremoniously fired. I fully own up to what it was that I did, but as far as I’m concerned, I was provoked and I snapped. There was a lot of snapping going on that day actually. That morning one of my colleagues quit suddenly after an editor used an original report she wrote for a video segment without properly crediting her. To give all the gory details of what went on at this place would be extremely long winded, even for me. All of the employees felt overworked and under appreciated, manipulated and pit against each other. We were all actively looking for new jobs. After I left several of them were able to move on to better opportunities. While it was never my intension to get fired, I’d wanted to secure a new job, resign, and bow out gracefully, but part of me did feel that this was something that needed to happen.

By the time I got home that evening all of my CP accounts had been closed. Save for the 30 pages of articles that encompassed my archives, it was as if I never worked there. I started sending out resumes right away. I figured, or at least hoped that this time would be like the last time, a few marathon resume-sending sessions and I would have a new job in a week or two. No such luck.

One-month unemployed quickly rolled by. I continued to stalk my usual job sites, Craig’s List, Media Bistro, Ed 2010, Journalism Jobs and Linkedin. Resume after resume. Two whom it May Concern: buttery yet professional cover letter here. Some weeks would pass by with an interview or two, some with no responses at all. It took me a little while to realize the brevity of what had happened. I am no silver spooned baby, but I just had this idea that once I got my foot in the door it would be a lot easier to find work. There were so many opportunities and none of them wanted me. Or if they did, they would bait and switch me. One listing I remember was looking for an editorial assistant and when they responded to my resume they asked if I would be willing to start off as an unpaid intern. What? I think this one goes without saying. Around the end of January things started to look up a little. I’d found a paid freelance writing job, but it was another bait and switch. They had also advertised for a part time assistant editor.

Now simply very underemployed, I woke up in the mornings, sent out my pitches to my new editor and wrote one or two short articles about addiction and recovery. A celebrity in rehab here, a strange addictions report there. It was decent. It put a little money in my pocket. But it still wasn’t what I wanted.

I began thinking that if I couldn’t find a full time job in my field, I would also try to see if I could find any job, use that money to pay off my tuition debt and then apply for graduate school. You see, my mother, bless her heart, paid for my tuition with absolutely no aid. Once I graduated, she cut me off with a remaining unpaid balance. I had no problem with that; that was what the jobs were for. But all the jobs I was looking at required 3-5 years experience or an equivalent graduate degree; and any other job was not looking for someone whose only marketable skill is writing. Even a barista at a swanky up town coffee shop has to have at least a year of milk steaming experience to accompany their headshot. Considering graduate school at least gave me a goal to focus on, but it did not ease my job hunt.

The office where my freelance gig was located is an area of Flatiron right along Fifth Avenue. In the coming weeks I had a few other interviews in this same area, even on the same street and in the same building. I then put it in my head that I was supposed to work in this neighborhood. I never heard back from many of those jobs though.

Around the end of April I interviewed at a small social media management company as an intern and got the position. I was happy because though it was a part time position, as advertised I would have been making enough to maintain my expenses, save up a decent amount toward my tuition fund and have a little extra spending money. But alas this was another bait and switch. Instead of 20 hours or three days a week they advertised in the listing, I only worked two days a week, 14 hours. But I still took it. At the time, in conjunction with my freelance gig the pay was still not a lot but something I could deal with. However, soon my freelance gig ended as they decided to have unpaid interns take over my job.

I enjoyed my internship as much as one can enjoy an internship where the your two colleagues who are essentially your supervisors are two years younger than you and insist on treating you like an intern. I’m not 100 percent sure they even realized that I was older than them. All I know was there was an incident where one of the girls gave me a task and asked me to complete it in red pen because ‘it was hard for her to see in her old age.’ The good part about the set up was I was able to stay by myself and not get into trouble. I wasn’t really spoken to unless someone was giving me direction, which was perfectly fine by me. While my going out to lunch for more than half an hour got my pay docked, when my boss and colleagues went out to lunch I used it as an opportunity to shirk off and play around on the Internet. I’d usually finish all of my tasks with time to spare anyway.

My three days off were filled with job hunting and resume sending. Sometimes I really don’t understand how unemployment is so bad when there are so many jobs out there for which to apply. But then I remember applying is just part of the equation. There are also the 500 other applicants that your resume is wedged between. If you do happen to get an interview, you have to explain, even though you have excellent qualifications, why they should hire you since there is one requirement in which you’re lacking. Hope had left me months ago. I found myself getting very upset by the end of each job hunt session. Half of the jobs I was applying for were in my field, half were not. I didn’t know which was worst, hardly getting responses from the jobs in my field, or getting responses from jobs not in my field only to be harshly rejected. One man called me to follow up about an administrative assistant position I’d applied for and hung up on me when I clarified that I did not have that experience.

Around mid-August, I got an email from a job I’d interviewed for around the time I got my internship. It was a part time editorial assistant job that I figured I could do three days a week along with my internship and essentially be working full time. I thought my interview went great but they never got back to me until then. The woman explained that the job fell through, but now they were hiring someone for an editor position and wanted to reach out and give me a chance to come in and have an interview with her and a managing editor. This job was in Flatiron, on the corner of that street where my old freelance gig is, and I was excited.

This was an editor position, so though it was still basically part time, just four days a week, I was expecting that the pay would be a little higher than I’m used to as a writer. I know editors get paid an upwards of $20 an hour. I’ve seen as high as $25-$27 an hour. As the extent of my editor experience ended in college, I was not expecting that much; I thought $16 at the most was fair. But once I got into the interview, the position had changed from an editor position to an associate editor position, which is basically the same as an editorial assistant, and the pay was just $10 an hour. I made more than that per hour at my internship. I left knowing that they did not want me for this position and that I definitely did not want the position either. My idea for a blog post detailing my triumphant return to the workplace that I was going to title ‘From Fired to Fifth Avenue’ was suddenly scrapped. My taste for working on Fifth Avenue died after that.

My internship continued being decent, but I could not shake the uncomfortable feeling of being an intern to girls two years my junior. I guess it was jealousy, I mean, I don’t blame them for my circumstance, but I could not help but wonder why they had full time jobs and all I seemed to be worth was a dinky internship. But I continued to grin and bear it. I tried to make the situation more comfortable for myself. I’d bring in snacks and share with my colleagues. Occasionally we’d strike up conversations and share a laugh, but I did continue to keep mostly to myself. I continued to send out resumes and occasionally get interviews that never panned out. I even had one interview that seemed like they were willing to offer me the job, but it was me who never got back to them.

Then last week the cogs of fate began to churn in my favor; and it began with a horrible blow out between my mother and I that had me questioning whether or not I would have a place to live. The very next day I decided I needed to become more proactive about finding a job. Despite the fact that to that date I’d sent out over 300 resumes and been on countless interviews, there had to be more than I could do. I got an email from Linkedin advertising a 30-day three trial of their jobs seekers premium account. I decided to sign up for the trial after having put it off for many weeks. But fate is a tricky thing, even if it plans to help you out, it can’t help but throw some mischief in the mix. I had trouble signing up for the trial and when I attempted to try again I selected the wrong option and ended up paying for a professional business account. Suddenly $520 was being drained from my bank account and panic set in.

Luckily I got it quickly resolved. I contacted Linkedin through email, the only option, and called my bank and they advised me to cancel the account and that they would credit the money back to my account. Linkedin later contacted me and resolved the issue completely, completely shutting down the account and reimbursing my money. They took such good care of me I felt comfortable to try and sign up for the free trial again. Once I did, I glanced at some of the job listings and saw one posted by the International Business Times.

Now I actually have history with IB Times. At CP, we often referenced their articles in ours, so I knew the site well. I have applied for reporter positions as IB Times at least two or three times previously and never heard back. Before upgrading my Linkedin account I’d pass by their job listings, having resolved to not apply there again. This time however, I felt I could have a chance. The premium account has a ‘featured applicant’ option that would put my resume on the top of their list. So I send it out and continued with my life. The next day I had a missed called and a voice mail from an editor at IB Times.

She wanted to schedule a phone interview with me and I will never forget how I almost broke down in the middle of the street on my way back to the office from lunch. I got back to her and my interview was set up for that next day, and I was shocked, excited and positively scratching my head. Suddenly what can only be described as my mother ship was calling me home; everything was about to come full circle.

The editor called me right on time for my interview and we quickly discussed my passion for writing and how I already know this job like the back of my hand. She said she’d like me to continue the process with a writing test with one clincher; it was timed, 30 minutes. But I drafted up a piece on environmentalists trying to get the ‘Finding Nemo’ orange clownfish on the endangered species list in exactly 30 minutes, clicking the send button right as the clock hit 1 p.m. They let me sweat for a few hours before I got an email inviting me to an in person interview that coming Monday.

On Monday I was in front of the office building at 10:20am for an 11am interview. While I was walking a man approached me and tried to give me his number. He asked me if I worked in the area and I said I hope to soon. He said that he was a manager where he works and advised that during my interview to just keep talking and minimize the amount of questions they have to ask me. I was still so nervous, but that sense of familiarity I felt upon walking in the office was honestly comforting. The place was an almost mirror image of the CP office.

I was interviewing by 10:30am, and tried my best to follow the man’s advice, and as I walked out of the building at 11am the appointment notice they had sent me via Gmail begun to alert on my phone. It made me laugh.

On Monday I was feeling pretty confident, but by Tuesday I suddenly realized that the editor had said she had other applicants to interview all week. That’s when the stone dropped in my stomach and I was nervous again. No amount of encouragement from my friends and reading articles on how to handle waiting to hear back about a job could calm be down. By Wednesday I was absolutely miserable. All I could do was try to write my feelings down on a more personal blog and push them aside. Lo and behold just three hours later my phone alerted and I had an email that was titled something about a job offer, and that was it.

My poor boyfriend was roused from his nap and watched as I literally leaped from my seat and almost hit the ceiling as I read about my salary, my benefits and paid vacation time. He claims that he’s jealous because he’s never made me that excited. I said, ‘you’ve never given me benefits.’ Later that day I emailed back my signed contract. The next day I resigned from my internship and I start my new job in a week and a half.

Yesterday I had the most glorious lazy day, of sleeping, watching TV, eating and drinking wine before midday. Without that constant looming feeling of, you’re unemployed, shouldn’t you be sending out resumes or something?  I was really able to relax.

It’s like I’ve had a dark cloud over my head for the past year. I honestly did not even realize how much this had affected me. I thought I was doing okay. I thought I was dealing and making the best of my situation. But I was really depressed, embarrassed, dejected, and losing all hope. Now that the cloud is lifted, I just feel so calm, serene. And exhausted, though that might just be caffeine withdrawal.

I am determined to have this opportunity turn out better than the last. I find myself in a lull, and then I get a burst of excitement and anticipation, a squeal or happy dance, that something that I was lacking before. I am really looking forward to my first day.

But through it all, the best part of this whole ordeal is that I did not find this job on Craig’s List.

Please stay tuned for part two, where I will talk more about what can be done to have a more successful job hunt as someone still fairly new to the workforce. 

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