Putting the Oy in Unemployed

Throughout my last few weeks of grad school, I really couldn’t wait to be done. Getting to pursue a Masters Degree was a privilege, of course, but it was one that I was feeling very ready to put to use. I started to feel like being in school was okay, but it was really centered on acquiring knowledge for myself. With all the tumultuous events in the world, I needed to feel useful. I wanted a chance to have some sort of occupation that would help others, while bringing in an income for my small family. After all, I saw Deanna do it every day. She would talk to kids who were at vulnerable or crisis-level points in life and point them in the direction of help. She also brought in most of the household income, and I was ready to do my share of contributing, to both society and to our team.

As finals week and my last ever exam got closer and closer I kept counting down the weeks that remained. I imagined the glories of the freedom that was approaching. Finally, I’d be able to work full time. I wouldn’t have work that followed me home, I’d have an end of the work day and a more defined transition to life at home, being present with my wife and dog. I’d be able to open new doors for us financially, especially if we were both working. And I’d know that even if I can’t change a lot of the world’s issues, I could put my everything into using my job to improving my corner of the world as much as possible.

It all looked so good and so promising, that I forgot one part of the process– the one where I would be unemployed and needing to find that job.

If you’ve ever been on the job hunt, you’ll know that the saying of job hunting being a full time job in itself is sort of true. My resume would need to be tweaked for every application, and there were the portion of applications that required me to manually input every listing on my resume, to Google the phone numbers of everywhere I’ve worked for, and so on. Rude.

I tried sending out a few applications during my last quarter of grad school, but eventually I realized that it was taking up so much time that I would be better off waiting for the term to end and then taking to it full force.

And at the start of the year that’s exactly what happened.

I’ve always been uncharacteristically pessimistic when it comes to looking for a job. In the past, I’d gotten used to such slow response times and such low response rates, that I figured landing some job offers would require sending out wild amounts of applications. Especially since I was familiar with the job markets in the places where we were interested in living. Portland and Southern California are such high-demand places to live that the competition for job openings in those cities was pretty fierce.

In fact, I decided to make a game of it. I decided to steal the idea of trying to get turned down from a hundred different places. If I was getting that many rejections, I’ll know I was trying hard enough.

Of course that was the secondary goal. The first was to just find somewhere to work.

For the first few weeks of the year, I tried sending out four applications a day, then I ramped it up to five applications, for all kinds of gigs. I had a background in nonprofit management, international development, and marketing, and I could see myself going down any one of those paths.

• Being the Diversity Coordinator for the government branch of Portland that ran the Zoo, the Convention Center, and other things. I kept thinking of the Diversity Training episode of The Office, but the pay looked really good.

• Being the Community Relations guy for the Portland Timbers. Are you serious? Like hanging out with Diego Valeri and taking him to charity events? I’ll bet the competition for this one is going to be fierce.

• Doing PR work for a La Jolla-based travel agency that catered to the extremely wealthy with an interest in going to Europe.

• Being the Study Abroad Coordinator for San Diego State. Hey… I studied abroad twice! I’d do good at this!

All this plus countless gigs being a cog in the machine of several PR firms. I kept sending application after application and entered a few weeks of silence.

Here are a few of the things those weeks really hammered home:

Aim to be the best at what you are… even if it’s being an unemployed person

It didn’t take long for me to get super restless and impatient with the process. Sitting at home all day is really not a good fit for me, and I got increasingly antsy as time went on. Deanna hit a busy stretch at work and we were at completely opposite ends. I am an extremely high energy person with no outlet. Deanna has an emotionally taxing job, and was working even harder in recent days. She would come home to both me and the dog having too much energy to unload and wanting to play.

I would often joke about how I was doing nothing with my life, while really feeling it to be true. Then I wondered if I needed to feel that way. At some point, an idea popped into my head of the world’s best unemployed person. I sized up my competition. Barack Obama and Joe Biden just left office. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were free agents. It could be a pretty sweet contest.

Being the world’s best unemployed person… what would that even look like? Maybe somebody who made good use of the excess of time they had on their hands? Maybe. Maybe I could make a run at it!

I started to think of ways I could use my time well while I had it. I thought of maybe volunteering somewhere local, but I also was likely to relocate if I got a job and didn’t want to make a commitment to something I could potentially leave so soon.

Instead, I decided to take it one day at a time. I decided to spend more time contemplatively, in prayer. I figured maybe I’d find something unique to each day to do to make use of my time.

And as I prayed, all while also praying repeatedly to get hired somewhere stat, I got small urges of things I thought I should do. One time it was calling an old friend to see how he was doing with his own recent career change. Another time it was sending a message to someone I had fallen out of touch with and wanted to fix things with. And another time it was driving up to Portland and ultimately spending some quality time with a friend up there.

It was pretty sweet seeing what came of these small urges. I felt that if I were to move on from Eugene at any time soon that I would be doing it on a high note.

You’re never the one in full control

As the job hunt went on for a few weeks, I had yet to hear back from the majority of places I sent resumes to. One turned me down promptly and I actually appreciated it, just because hearing anything at all beats the silent treatment. Plus, hearing a rejection counted towards my 100-rejections goal. Silence didn’t.

After a while, though, I started hearing back from places… mostly rejections.

Pro-tip for job hunting: When you get turned down, ask why!

Job hunting can be a demoralizing process. The vast majority of the time you send out applications, you don’t hear anything back at all! Then when you do hear back from an organization saying that they’ve decided to go with other candidates, it can be a bit or a relief to actually know, but then that possibility ends and all your efforts go nowhere.

After sending out dozens of apps, I started to get a few inevitable rejections. I decided I was gonna try and not just let the rejections be big bummers, but that I would try and get something out of them. Whenever I got the boilerplate email about the organization choosing other candidates, I would respond with a carefully written, tactful email asking why. I’d ask what parts of my resume could’ve been stronger, and I’d say I am interested in the field, so what can I do to better position myself this early in my career.

I’ve gotten some really helpful feedback from HR people, pointing out things absent in my resume while still noting its strengths. It can be more motivating to know that your resume was at least solid enough to make it through two screenings before that email was sent.

I also did hear back from some places that weren’t rejections. A few places– a school, a nonprofit, a travel company all were interested enough to interview me. Sure enough, they booked me some phone interviews, all within the same week.

With all that interviewing, I found every reason in the world to pray a whole lot. I would walk the dog, using the end of her leash as a prayer bead, and going into our adjacent neighborhood for several laps. All that made me realize how dependent I was on God for what I needed. How dependent we all are.

In a lot of heated discussions about social issues, it’s not uncommon to find somebody yelling that “those people should just get a job.” I think independence and an ability to work is a valuable thing, but those who idolize work think it’ll be the solution to every problem. They forget one important thing: It’s all just mercy.

Pursuing what you love is actually worth it

After dozens of applications and several phone interviews, I got a pretty sweet offer. I would be flown out for an interview. It was the first time I’d ever been transported for work and I felt pretty cool, even while I was stuck at SFO in a fog delay, trying to bargain with the airlines for food vouchers.

The main organization that interviewed me was a nonprofit that worked in several countries. They wanted me to do marketing work for them. In other words, it was relevant to all three of my career interests. I thought I would have to settle for just one for the time being.

I thought it was funny that the opportunity that had the most traction was actually the one that had all my interests combined. I often thought to get that, I would have to start with one of them and figure out how to add the other components. When I thought about it some more, I realized that because I’d dove pretty deep into my interests, they were really where I was the most equipped to work. Earlier in the process, I wondered if I would’ve had more doors open if I was a software programmer or an accountant– everybody’s hiring one of those. Then again, it’s not always about having the most doors open, just the right one.

It started to remind me of something Gabrielle Hamilton said in Blood, Bones, and Butter. “Be careful what you get good at” because you often end up doing it for the rest of your life. I was thankful that I happened to sharpen the skills I enjoy using the most.

The start of my year was full of having to hurry up, then wait. Hurry up, then wait. Wait to hear back from potential employers and interview results. Hurry to make it to interviews. Wait once more.

By late February, I had yet to hit my goal of being rejected by a hundred places. I had managed to accumulate some interesting statistics, however.

I applied to 52 places… so I guess I didn’t quite have an opportunity to hit my goal unless places I didn’t even applied to wanted to turn me down.

36 of those places gave me the silent treatment. I guess that’s kind of the norm.

13 places rejected me, but gave me the courtesy of informing me. In many cases I was able to ask those places how my application could be better, and I got some good advice for what to look out for in future career moves.

Finally, I landed three interviews.

More important than the interviews, though, was the impact that the process had on my heart. I had a good chance to examine my own motivations, my goals, and if anything was askew in my inner life. I was reminded of my dependency on God, no matter what accomplishments or credentials I may have gotten in the past, while being reassured that he makes it all work out to plan.

The final results of the long process were as follows– at the end of last week, I got a phone call from human resources at one of the places I applied. Of the 52 places, it was honestly my top pick. It was one that would allow me to apply my best skills in my desired field, heping some populations I was drawn to serving. I answered to see what would happen.

I was offered a job.

Philippe Lazaro2017