A Broken Path In A Broken World

“I think I’m in a unique position to be able to not give a shit what people think. Who’s going to stop me?”Gretchen Peters

IMG_20140918_181427Later this year, barring something unforeseen, I will observe the most frustrating and humbling of anniversaries. I will be five years unemployed.

Five years.

This is not how I wish it to be, nor have I been quietly accepting my situation. I have applied for hundreds of positions in my field, walking distance from home, and as far away as Chicago. I’ve interviewed in the District of Columbia and Baltimore, Ithaca and Poughkeepsie, Purchase and Buffalo (twice). Of course, I’ve had a good many interviews right here at home in Syracuse, as well.

I’ve been willing to step backward in terms of career path, to live away all week from the people who are my life, hoping to steal a day and a half with them on weekends. I’ve brought my decade and a half of experience, my successes, my talent, my outlook, and my intelligence. I’ve brought my integrity and my loyalty and my vision. I’ve brought my lifelong record of overcoming adversity and striving to make this world a better one.

Nobody wants me.

The irony here is that my chosen field, the not-for-profit development field, needs people like me desperately.

If you go in to a room of fundraisers and mention “Donor Centered Fundraising,” you will most assuredly get nods of recognition from most in the room. The problem being that knowing something and doing something are not one and the same.

Fundraising is based, as the cliché goes, on relationships. It’s a cliché because its true. The problem is that folks who work in development, and their organizations at large, damage relationships on a daily basis. Would you keep a friend who only came around when he needed money? If you gave an associate money for a task and she never gave you any indication that task had been completed, that your money had been put to good use, would you trust that she did what she said with it? Would you trust her enough to give her money the next time she asks?

That’s why the not-for-profit development field is so nomadic. Because fundraisers churn through their “relationships” with bad behaviors. Then it’s on to the next organization and a (hopefully) new slate. A lot of my own struggles to find a position are no more than losing at an ongoing, maddening game of musical chairs. The problem isn’t only individual, it’s systemic, but it can only be changed by individuals.

Here at home, we’ve been fortunate to have been able to financially weather this loss of the larger portion of our household income. Many families have not. I tell myself consciously every day that, while things may not be ideal, we are lucky. Damn lucky.

With that good fortune comes responsibility. Make no mistake, while it seems my profession has turned its back on me, my resolve to change the things I see in need of change remains strong. I will not go quietly.

Who’s going to stop me?

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Observations From The Wilderness

When I unexpectedly lost my job last year, I became a data point: one among millions of people in the United States looking for work, and not finding it.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for May (the most recent month for which data is currently available) stood at 9.1 percent. Here in New York state, we’re doing better than that, with a May unemployment rate of 7.9 percent (752,094 people).

Of course, the unemployment rate measures those actively looking for work, and I have seen the suggestion made that the drop in our state rate may have to do with some former job seekers simply giving up.

Some days, it is hard not to give up.

Like most, I have been in the job market before. It has always been a humbling and frustrating experience. That there are so many of us in the market now has made it no less so. In fact, the process of looking for a mutually beneficial professional relationship with a new employer seems to have become even more frustrating. And it’s not the economy, stupid.

If I have had one thing repeatedly proven to me in the past year, it is that many employers simply “don’t get it.” More often than not, applications for open positions are met with silence. Nothing. No reply at all.

Other times “due to the large number of applicants, this will be the only contact you receive from us, unless you are contacted for an interview.” In the worst cases, interviews are conducted with no follow-up contact on the final decision at all.

This is entirely unacceptable.

I’m sure I speak for many when I say that we aren’t looking for handwritten thank you notes and home-baked cookies. We’re looking for the professional courtesy of communication. I don’t even care if it is the rhetoric-filled, canned mass reply, as long as it lets me know where I stand. It is simply a part of the cost of doing businesses — and mass, blind, copied emails don’t cost a thing.

What potential employers who behave in this way “don’t get” is that every one of us (remember, that’s 752,094 New Yorkers) is a customer. Note that I didn’t say a potential customer, because by expressing interest in your company we have initiated that business relationship.

Think I’m wrong? Go talk to someone you know who is looking for work. Ask them about their experiences in the search. Did they experience any of what I describe, especially the more egregious slights? If so, ask them if they will give that employer their business? Will they ever apply there again?

Personally, I harbor no ill will for the employers who communicated with me about how impressive my credentials are, but that they’d found a better fit for the open position. I can disagree with a decision you’ve made and still feel good about your company. I suspect many people can.

With the unemployment rate so high the past couple of years, businesses are burning bridges and destroying relationships with the lifeblood of their existence, their customers, in record numbers.

We the unemployed are at a vulnerable position at this point in our lives. We will have long memories about those who treated us well, with professional courtesy and respect, and those who did not. The companies that will excel, and in some cases survive at all, are those that understand that every interaction you have says something about your company.

Ignoring people is certainly no road to success.

This entry was also published as an op-ed piece by the Syracuse Post Standard and syracuse.com on July 25, 2011.