Friday, October 09, 2009

The Great American Job Hunt

Ever since I got laid off, I've been seeing the pressing questions in every one's eyes. The ones that never get asked. After all, it would be considered impolite to ask the juicy details of how it all transpired.

I, for one, have no reservations. After all, nothing like a little drama before I talk about the mechanics of the great American job search.

For many cold and dreary days, it had been sure that we would not be warming our seats for long. The sure sign of this is when general emails to random colleagues bounce back, leaving you in grey realization of yet another sudden exit. It was my first day off and I was at a friend's wedding when I got an event invitation on my PDA - 'Meeting with the Partner' it said. Now, I had been with the company for barely a few months but I was smart enough to know that this didn't include candlelight and dinner by the waterfront. The actual meeting was smooth and painless. I was better prepared than I was for my interview and even found time to say 'This must be tough on you as well' to the bewildered Partner who had just meticulously delivered her much rehearsed lines.

That was how it all started.

Most HR people write such lovely articles on the steps to get the job you want. Since that is yet to happen, this is the story behind the scenes that doesn't get talked about. What happens in the months (maybe years) before you get to proudly change the work info on your Facebook profile.

Phase 1: 'Big Deal'

Right after the excitement of the ouster ceases, usually on the same day, you prep up a resume and hit the job boards. You are going to seize this by it's neck, you think, before you send out resumes and hastily written cover letters to a few hundred job openings. Every single one that you would remotely qualify for. Of course, you are also convinced that you must have at least a 10% hit rate and should be at your new job in another 10 days. Before people even realize you got laid off.

You do get 1-2 interviews. Except that you have not clearly understood the American job advertising tactics, in spite of an MBA in HR. Which is why a posting for 'Assistant Director -Admissions' tests your cold calling and telephone answering skills and an interview for 'Marketing Consultant' ends with an offer for a door-to-door selling job.

Phase 2: 'Focus Pocus'

In the previous phase, you have been so busy sending out resumes that you haven't had time to notice that you hardly received any responses. This is when that realization sinks in. You suddenly wonder if your gmail account works and grow to accept the existence of the great big application black hole. This is also around when you hear that you need to have a focused strategy. Like the ones you recommend to clients oh-so-often.

So you now have 4 different resumes, one each for each thing you claim to be 'specialized in'. After all, this is legitimately encouraged my campuses and career websites alike. You actually begin reading the job descriptions of the various postings you apply to. Which in turn has a serious side effect. I read a posting calling for ideas for a cooking show and for a whole day I dreamt of my future show that showcases street food from around the world. Oh yes, on those lines I have also, in my imaginary world, redesigned Heinz' entire line of products, changed the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates and done important tweaks to Bayer's organization structure.

Phase 3: 'Everything happens for the best'

By now, it has been 3-4 months since your last working day. You have slowly begun to accept the fact that the job market really IS bad. You have also attended some job workshops, including those which have truck driver jobs on offer. By now your resume has undergone 2-3 drastic makeovers, all with the same results.

You put your chin up and decide this is when you will do what you always wanted to do in life, learn yoga, direct a play or fly a kite. People appear to be impressed and they convince you that once you achieve this and put that on your resume, you will be fighting off hiring managers.

At this stage, you feel mildly superior to those in regular jobs because, they can only be an engineer or a manager or whatever they are. But you can be whatever you want and not answer to anyone. The fact that you will not get paid for it does cross your mind at times but is quickly driven away by other narcissistic thoughts like seeing your name on a poster.

Phase 4: 'Enlightenment'

You finish your earth-shattering mission and are back to the job hunt. You tell everyone how you are back to the market though you know you never really left. The resume is new, the cover letter is better but the goal is still the same. A job that would pay better than your unemployment compensation.

Your sense of self worth has taken an occasional beating by now. You might have graduated from the top school in India and outdone more than 50000 people to your coveted MBA. You might have also nixed three offers in a single day just 3 years back in a different country. None of it matters. All that only makes you the Persian cat in the dog fair.

By this time you have written enough cover letters and resumes to reach the moon. Yet the overlap between what you can do and what you want to do doesn't really coincide with who wants you to do it. The target is no longer the job, it is the elusive interview. In this stage you also begin believing in God, forced networking and fortune-cookie lines like 'Patience is a virtue'.

It is my opinion that this stage is long lasting, further research being on to prove it.

All I ask for is for my Mondays to stay loved. If you still like yours', let me know if your company is hiring.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Another stage

The worst thing about growing up is not that you will one day mourn your grand parent. It is that you will accept it as just another stage in life.

My first vivid memory of my grandfather is when I was about 6 or 7. I would play downstairs with the kids in my apartment for an extended period of time, all the while keeping an eye on the road to see if the sandalwood coloured FIAT would show up. The joy of seeing the car drive up and actually seeing my grandparents was so unimaginable that I can't seem to remember it.

While most summers were about mangoes, cousins and unending pampering, mine was also a little bit about being known as my grandfather's granddaughter. Almost everyone in the area knew him and stopped to speak. Often made me think I was the queen of the world or, at least, the princess. Pens, he would give me pens as gifts. Some randomly chosen off his pen stand, some preciously saved from a souvenir hamper. And I would treasure them all. In my world of beautiful pretense, their home was the castle and my pens, the gold.

When my grandmother passed on, my world shook but it didn't crumble. I was barely 10 and the world was still a very big confusing phenomenon. Life would stay the same, everyone assured.

My brother and I grew older and, at one point, attached to what cable TV could offer. Thus the summer destination without it was, clearly, a bore. By the time my prudent grandfather caved in, we said we didn't have any friends around and slowly, the long summers became brief weekends.

When I wanted to go away to college at a remote desert, I was blind to everyone's reactions, including my grandfather's. But he wrote to me, and I to him, with unfailing regularity. The letters probably didn't say anything new or different each time, yet I knew they mattered. When I would browse his pen stand years later, I would see carefully arranged under his transparent table cloth, neatly titled and dated pictures that I had sent to him.

Then the letters stopped. Phone calls were now cheaper and that was the way to go. I called from everywhere I went, even to say that I had reached my parents' home. He wanted to hear and it made me glad that somebody did.

When the time came for me to be married, I don't remember much of the conversation with my parents, yet, every single detail of how I told my grand father is so clearly etched. I didn't care what style the wedding would be. I wanted my grandfather to officiate and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Six months ago, his health started deteriorating. I hadn't seen him for more than a year then. One day I woke up with a strong desire to see him and a little more than a week later I landed there. I was the princess and I could set things right, I thought. True enough, for the first time in months, he had solid food at the dining table with us that day. He spoke, joked and often called out my name across the room.

After a few days he was brought to my parents' home, without being told. He knew we thought he was getting worse but he wanted nothing to do with a hospital, or doctors. We told him little lies to keep him from going back and to make him stay with us. A few times he would let down his guard and tell me old stories. About his first crush, a girl who was his teacher's daughter. She would lend him her slate and it would have his name neatly written on it. That was love then, he said.

After three days, he insisted on going back. As I helped him into the car, I somehow knew. This was going to be the last time. I hugged him and he planted a kiss on my cheek. He nodded. I think he knew too.

I only spoke to him once after that, to say I had reached back here. It was barely two weeks after I left when I got the news. Pain and anger. A lot of it. Pain for not being there and anger at everything and everyone around me. The doctors for not saving him, my mom for not letting me speak to him the previous day lest he gets emotional, my husband for being the reason I'm so far away, myself for obliging and God for making the world so huge to travel across. It took awhile for the irrationality to melt away.

It's weird. You spend a lifetime learning about life and death and how to deal with them. Yet, when someone close dies, the best way to console yourself is to say that they are in a better place. Like you would tell a 6 year old.

I will always regret not being there with you as you set off on your last journey. But know that I think of you and mourn you a little every single day.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Highest Court

Lady in Red: Hi. New around here?

Lady in Blue: Yeah, it's only been 2 months.

Lady in Red: Oh, are you working?

Lady in Blue: No.

Lady in Red: Oh, ok.< Oh man. Must be one of those poor dependant types. Did an engineering degree. Waited for a US groom. The minute one was in sight, handed over the resignation papers and got ready for blissful matrimony. No interest in her own career or independence. I'm sure she's all set to pop out babies as well. One after the other. She has the time, nothing else to do and can save on day care. Her husband must be happy at snagging a perfect housewife and she must be happier providing for all his demands.
Really, how pathetic.

Lady in Blue: What about you?

Lady in Red: Yeah, I work downtown.

Lady in Blue: Oh nice. < Oh. She must be one of those aggressive career woman types. Junk food. Late night. And bosses to suck up to. I'm sure she spent years away from her husband just so that she can still have her career and come here with a work visa. Which quite obviously means she had or maybe still has a sad marriage. Doesn't feel the need to be with her husband every night. And yeah, DINK - the double income- no kids thing. Or maybe she has kids. They must've gone straight from the hospital crib to day care. What's the point of being married and living a life if you don't take the time to enjoy it.
Really, how pathetic.

Lady in Red: I got to rush. Nice meeting you.

Lady in Blue: Sure, Bye.