Three weeks ago I was gainfully employed. A paycheck. Health insurance. Fully invested in a 401k.
After 5 1/2 years of being a newspaper editor, I hung it all up, punched the final time clock, put away the pipe. It all ended just when I was comfortable with my job duties, really making a positive impact in the office and the community, and even learned what is a 401k.
Now I am unemployed. I sleep in til 10. I watch Maury Povich’s enlightening DNA paternity tests and Judge Joe Brown admonish money-grubbers with his down home common sense and realism. And then I will spend at least an hour intently studying my fantasy football line-ups.
At some point in the day I will get the balls to look at my online bank statement and think, “Oh crap, I need to get a job.”
I haven’t been without a job since high school. If you count my paper route, I haven’t been unemployed since the sixth grade.
A 20-year string of one shitty job after another. So it’s time to find a new one.
I have essentially been on the job hunt since last July, when I helped Lisa move into her new apartment here in Philadelphia. That was when I had my first interview with a New Jersey newspaper that was owned by Gannett, the same company I was working for in Iowa.
The interview went as well as could be. Unfortunately, they had no jobs available. But the lesson that came out of this incident, is that you have to know somebody to get an interview, it doesn’t matter how well you know them, you just have to have an in. Those in the business call this “networking” or having a “connection.”
For instance, my old roommate Mike was working for a newspaper in North Carolina. When I told him I was looking at newspapers in Philadelphia, he told me his current editor used to work in New Jersey. I asked Mike if his editor wouldn’t mind if I “interviewed” him about the New Jersey paper. The editor, Thomas, agreed to speak with me, gave me the ins and outs, and said it was okay if I dropped his name as a reference.
Sure enough, as soon as I mentioned the name “Thomas” to the current Jersey editor, I was in like Flint.
I met with Jason for our interview, and we got along great. He went to Penn State and knew the reputation of the Daily Iowan. He enjoyed my clips and appreciated my career arc. But like I said, there was no job available, though this encounter would pay dividends down the line.
I was able to line up another interview with a Jersey daily a month later. This required much more sweat equity, time and money. I sent e-mails. I left voice messages. I finally got the editor on the phone, and because she liked my “moxie” she granted an interview. However, she was out of town the day I was in Philly visiting Lisa. So I flew out from Iowa to PA for one day, specifically to interview for a job.
The problem is, once I purchased the flight, I became lackadaisical in my preparation. I thought that since my first interview went so well, the second one would be a breeze. I thought I could walk in like Don Draper, light a cigarette and wow them with my cool and confident demeanor.
This didn’t happen. Not even close.
I did no research into the newspaper. I had no new ideas to bring to them. I didn’t even know what cities they covered and I called one of the editors by the wrong name.
The interview bombed in every way possible. They thanked me for spending $350 for a plane ticket and I was ushered out the door.
This was a demoralizing experience, and my hopes of finding a job in Philadelphia were fading faster than Adrian Clayborn’s draft stock.
It was becoming apparent that nobody in Philadelphia was taking my resume seriously. As soon as they saw “Iowa” at the top of my application, I got shuffled to the discard pile.
Lisa and I decided the best option was to hoist up the hem of my skirt and make the move to Philly, which I did three weeks ago.
I was amazed how much of a difference it would make just having a Philadelphia address. I spent my first Monday in town sending out resumes and applications. Two days later, I was flooded with e-mails and phone calls from potential employers.
Of course, none of them were really offering any money.
My first interview was with Green Philly Jobs NEWS. This was a volunteer newsletter promoting environmentally friendly business, municipal and home practices. No pay, but I could pad my portfolio.
The second interview I lined up was with essentially turned out to be a temp agency that finds jobs for “creative” people, like writers, artists, etc. When we talked on the phone scheduling the interview, they had two job opportunities as a copy editor. By the time I showed up for the interview, the jobs were filled and they took my information, and will hopefully find something for me soon.
As my light of hope was again flailing like a cat thrown in the deep end of a swimming pool, someone drug me up by the scruff of my neck.
I sent an e-mail to Jason, the editor who I first interviewed with last July. The one that went well. I sent him a note saying I was in Philadelphia, looking for work, and I was available to freelance.
He sent me a reply within 30 minutes. Sure enough, Gannett had just made another wave of layoffs. A group of weeklies in Hammonton laid off two reporters, and there was one editor trying to manage five weekly newspapers on his own. He was in desperate need of freelance reporters.
Jason forwarded my information to Mark, the unfortunate editor in Hammonton, NJ. Another half hour later, Mark called me up and I had a freelance job. Last Thursday I covered my first school board meeting and next Monday I will be at my first Hammonton City Council meeting.
A paper route would probably pay better, but at least I am padding my portfolio with fresh material and I have a reason to shower in the morning.
Another random connection helped line up a promising interview for next month. A good high school friend Alissa (what up!) read this blog and immediately thought of her brother-in-law and his wife who used to work at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and are now in NYC. Alissa contacted her sister-in-law, Elisa, and told me to send her an e-mail.
Elisa has been nothing but a blessing. She has sent me links, contacts and job postings. She even put me in connection with one of her colleagues who has started a new independent online publication in Philadelphia. Because of Elisa, he has agreed to meet with me next month.
Like I said earlier, lining up the interview isn’t the end of the process. For the next month I need to do my research and be sure this time to bring my A game.
In reflection, there are a few pointers I would like to pass along to fellow job-seekers.
First, you have to be persistent, yet cordial, when trying to get your foot in the door for an interview. And as I have learned, connections are key. Network, meet new people in your industry, no matter their level of import. DO NOT burn bridges.
Once that foot is in the door, you need to pry it open. Do your research. Bring a list of ideas. Be professional, look professional and have your documents, portfolio, etc. organized.
In the end, it requires a lot of luck to get that job, but you don’t get lucky unless you put in the hard work first.