Sunday, March 30, 2014

No. 67 – Living in the U.S.A.

Performer: The Steve Miller Band
Songwriter: Steve Miller
Original Release: Sailor
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents the Steve Miller Band, 2002. I love, love, LOVE this version from a 1973 show. It’s loose and jammy, much longer than the original and definitely free of the pop sheen that Miller employed to enormous success just a few years later.

Excuse me if I’ve said this before, but the worst thing about any job search is the seeming complete lack of regard that employers have for basic social graces.

From August 2005 to April 2006, I applied for 68 jobs in the Chicago area in the journalism and publishing realm and got rejection letters from 15, or slightly better than 20 percent. I probably got another dozen at least acknowledging my application via automatic reply.

Having been on the other side of the fence, I know that responding to everyone who applies for a job can be impractical. Small businesses likely don’t have the resources to handle that.

However, I also have seen that most applications are from people who haven’t even read the requirements of the job position, haven’t sent a cover letter and aren’t in any way qualified for the job. In every case, I applied for a position with a cover letter addressed to a specific person—in print as well as via the Web. (This was still early enough that most companies still wanted print applications, resumes and samples.) My letter detailed that I had looked into the position, or at least read the job post carefully.

This was a time-consuming process, and it was deflating to not even get acknowledgement of my existence, let alone the job. As I mentioned, if you’re minimally qualified for the job, but I don’t interview you, you get an email thanking you for applying but that we’re looking in another direction. It’s the least I can do.

Yes, that takes time out of my otherwise busy day, but I remember what it was like on the side of that fence. No one likes getting bad news, but I think everyone at least likes being respected enough to be acknowledged. At least I did.

Early in February 2006, I had a huge day on CareerBuilder. No fewer than five jobs were on there that I was qualified for, including one for which I also received notice through Northwestern’s placement office. I whipped together my letters and assembled my mailings over two days, sent them out … and got one rejection notice a week later.

Sigh. Fortunately, I had a lot of freelance work to keep me occupied in addition to going back to the drawing board. One thing I did to keep myself active and not get down about my lack of a job and ever-dwindling finances was go to the gym regularly. Yes, I couldn’t really afford to go. I also couldn’t afford NOT to go.

On one particularly sunny springlike day in middle March 2006—in other words, nothing like March in Chicago this year—I was driving home from the gym on Ashland when my phone rang. I’m not one to answer my phone while I drive, and I’m certainly not one to answer my phone any time when I don’t recognize the number, but during a job search, you never know who’s calling. I quickly turned onto a side street where I could park and answered the phone.

The voice on the other end said his name was Rich. I instantly recognized the name as someone to whom I’d addressed a cover letter a month ago. I applied for a job as a copy editor at a magazine that I assumed had been filled long before now. I never got a rejection notice, however.

He said that he received my resume … a month ago and said he didn’t consider me for that job (I knew that already), because he thought I was overqualified for it. That’s always nice to hear, but I need a job here.

Then he said, however, a new position opened up at the magazine, for a senior editor’s position, and it would seem that my experience was better suited to THAT job. Was I interested in that position?

Well, let me think about this here … a BETTER job, at least better-sounding, than the one for which I applied, which probably means better pay … My response in the affirmative took less time than it did for you to read that last sentence, let alone me write it. OK, would you be available to come in, say, tomorrow for an interview?

I frantically wrote down the directions and a brief job description, so I could think about how my experience applied. The job was all editing, no writing, and I was fine with that. I’d be in charge of five or six projects from cradle to grave, meaning I’d have to find and hire expert authors and maneuver copy through the editing process till it went on the page. I knew right away that it wasn’t a slam dunk. If I were up against an experienced magazine editor, I’d lose. But you can’t win if your foot isn’t in the door, and the door was open.

Fortunately, I’d had some experience with working directly with writers. Even better, I’d made printouts of articles that came to me from freelancers at The Dispatch and what they looked like in print. There was a huge difference, and it was an indication, I thought, of how I managed the process. Maybe Rich wouldn’t know what exactly my role in the process was, but the results were undeniable.

The job was in Deerfield, where my journalism career nearly ended before it began 20 years ago. When I arrived for the interview, I knew I made a good first impression when I immediately acknowledged the various photos Rich had in his office of various Indy 500 drivers in their cars. They were circa 1985. Heck, for all I knew, I was at the track that same day.

The interview ran long, but only the duration was a struggle. I felt confident. Of course, I felt confident at an interview I had in February only to flush out of the job when my writing test went poorly due to problems out of my control.

We talked about the job, my experience and what I’d been doing for the past three years. (On my resume, I noted my freelance work and my job as official scorer for the Columbus Clippers, 2004-2005.) Rich laid out the work involved, the hours and, finally, the pay. It was low Forties, which was less than what I made at The Dispatch but way more than what I’d made since. At the end, Rich said he had another person to interview, and he’d get back to me next week.

Then … nothing. By the following weekend, I thought I’d had my answer, but I wasn’t going to let Rich get away with a pocket veto. I interviewed, so I wasn’t being pushy by calling and asking what was up. When I did on Monday, Rich was apologetic. Yes, I still was under consideration, but he hadn’t made a decision. (What I know now is that the magazine was right on deadline.)

I wasn’t about to just sit around waiting, however. I went back to the drawing board, again, and sent out a few more resumes. I was feeling confident. This had been my second interview in two months. Things were happening.

The next week, the first week in April, I got a call from Rich. He still had one more person he wanted to interview, but I still was under consideration. He should know something the next week.

I knew then that the job was mine. Laurie, who is very superstitious about job offers (you never say ANYTHING until you have the gig) didn’t want me to jinx it, but I approached it logically. I’d interviewed three weeks ago. If the job were gone, I would’ve heard by now, but that Rich kept interviewing people yet kept telling me I remained in the running meant I still was the best candidate. Someone had to beat me out, and no one had.

And no one did. The next week Rich called on a Tuesday and offered me the job, for $47,000 based on my experience. I already decided that if offered, I’d take it regardless of the salary, so to actually get a little more than I was expecting was a nice surprise.

One thing, Rich said, he wanted me to start tomorrow. What? I couldn’t; I already was committed to work the Wednesday and Thursday at AM News, and I still had one more story to write for Chicago Home & Garden. I wanted to start Monday, so I could finish up my other projects, but Rich wanted me to start as soon as possible.

Well, I wasn’t about to queer the deal over the start date. Somehow I’ll just figure it out, but I wondered: What the heck was I getting myself into? Little did I know …

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