Coffee heat rising

Beating the layoff stress

For the first six or eight days after I learned about the rumored layoffs, I felt so stressed that my chest hurt. One day at the office I had to lie down on the floor for a few minutes when an anxiety attack started to come on. Determined not to end up in the ER again, I managed to get the feeling that I was about to pass out under control with some breathing and relaxation exercises. But that didn’t stop the scary ache in the chest.

Today, though, I’m feeling a lot better: no pounding heart, no chest pain, no sense of oxygen starvation, no distractibility, and no sleeplessness. For sure, yesterday’s call from one of the employers I applied to helped. Even if I don’t get the job, at least now I have some hope that my age won’t disqualify me from every job I ask for. That was a big worry.

Also, with amazing speed I’m getting more and more comfortable with the idea of not working for GDU—even if it means taking a lower-paying job. Matter of fact, that prospect not only looks less scary, it’s starting to look downright welcome. Although I personally have had relatively little to complain about (other than the months-long PeopleSoft fiasco, the [probably illegal] reneging on an approved job offer I made to a prospective employee, and the overall toxic atmosphere on the campus where I taught), I certainly have seen the administration treat many of my coworkers abominably.

The prospect of being somewhere else begins to look more attractive. So does the idea of a new job with new things to learn and do.

I’m glad I started the job search before any university-wide announcement came down and before I knew whether this next round of lay-offs will apply to me. Just doing something to help yourself, rather than hunkering paralyzed in the headlight while the train bears down on you, goes a long way to make you feel better. It gives you a little sense of accomplishment, and it jump-starts the process you’re going to have to put into gear soon, anyway.

The first cover letter and résumé took a good five or six hours to put together! I thought I was gunna die. If every job application took that much time, how was I going to manage the work for the day job? To say nothing of all the freelance work The Copyeditor’s Desk has taken on?

However, the next application only took 30 or 40 minutes, and neither of the other two took any longer. Because the jobs I’m seeking (with exception of driving the zoo train…) are in the same general family of work and they’re all at nonprofits or colleges, tweaking the cover letter and resuméis pretty easy. It’s just a matter of writing new first and last paragraphs for the cover letter, adjusting the “what I can bring to your job” paragraphs—deleting some of them, moving others closer to the top—and shifting the resumé’s “list of accomplishments” to highlight the items most relevant to a given job. After I realized this, I began to feel a lot more confident that applying for a series of jobs isn’t going to kill me.

And really: if I get an offer from next week’s interview and then learn I’m not included in the next set of layoffs, I may take the job anyway—even if it pays less than I’m earning. The recurring workplace flaps, which seem to come more and more often, are ridiculous. I don’t need to put up with this kind of grief. And besides, the prospect of starting something new is beginning to sound pretty good. Darned good!

The Continuing Saga…

1. Unemployment for Christmas?
2. Does any of this have meaning for individuals?
3. Rumors start to fly
4. On the trail of the elusive job
5. Beating the layoff stress
6. How low can I go?
7. Interview No. 1

On the trail of the elusive job…

I’m not going to sit here and wait for the ax to fall. My source has had further confirmation of the rumor that everyone in my job classification is about to be laid off, and, although my own spy in midlevel administration hasn’t heard the story, he remarked that it was entirely believable and that his unit is so strapped there’s some talk of closing down entire academic programs.

A couple of days ago I applied for a job at a regional nonprofit—an organization whose mission and philosophy seem very laudable and that has a high reputation among nonprofits. Yesterday I applied for three more jobs.

Given that we’re supposed to be teetering on the brink of another Great Depression, it’s surprising how many job openings are out there, with pay in the general range of my present salary. Now it’s true, my salary is middling at best—but I’m not starving and I don’t really need to earn much more.

One of the community colleges is advertising for a marketing director. I used to know the woman who held that job about 15 years ago. She really loved it. And it pays $9,000 more than I’m earning.

The strategy right now is binary (oh! can you believe I know a word like that!?):

Possibility #1: Get another job comparable to the one I have. This will carry me over to full retirement age, whereinatupon my problems will be solved.

Possibility #2: Collect early Social Security and start a 5% drawdown of tax-deferred savings; get a part-time job paying around $14,000 (the max you can make before the government starts confiscating early Social Security payments) and limp along until I reach full Social Security age. Then turn back the $31,000 S.S. will have paid me, reapply and obtain full Social Security (about $400 a month more than I would get now) and collect the returned taxes.

Both of these are problematic.

Scenario 1 could require me to (gasp!) actually work. Horrors. I’ve honed Creative Malingering to such a high art, I’m not sure I remember how to work. Seriously: at my age it’s unlikely anyone will hire me for a full-time job. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, of course; but truth to tell, it’s probably a waste of time to apply.

Scenario 2 entails a significant drop in income. I may be forced to sell my house (if I can!) and move to Sun City, where costs are a lot lower. I suppose I could rent it and use the rental income to pay a mortgage out there, but the tax complications make my head spin. By the time I’ve paid the various tax gouges, I’d probably come out way behind.

At any rate, one of the jobs I applied for yesterday is a part-timer: driving the tourist train at the zoo! LOL! Can you imagine? Actually, I think it could be a TON of fun during the winter months, when the weather’s good. And it would keep the wolf from the door for nine or ten months, until the heat comes back up. I’m not going to drive around in an open vehicle in 110-degree heat. But if I keep looking for work something better should come along before next summer.

My strategy is to consider the broad categories of organizations where I’d like to work: nonprofits, colleges, and publishing houses. Then brainstorm all the employers I can think of in those categories. And then go to their websites and check their HR pages—once every week. I’m also checking job links at various trade groups I belong to: Arizona Book Publishing Association, Society for Technical Communication, and the like. To ensure that I check each possible employer every Monday, I’m building a table with date columns to check off.

????News Flash!???

This afternoon as I was racing out the door to meet a friend, one of the employers I applied to yesterday called and asked me to come in for an interview!

Good grief! Somebody wants to interview me! One day after they get my resumé & cover letter! That is astonishing.

The interview is set up for Tuesday afternoon. I was able to squeeze into the beauty salon Monday to get my hair cut—I’m looking pretty shaggy after a summer of neglect and pool water. And…gosh. I haven’t interviewed in so long I can’t even imagine how to prepare, other than to get the hair styled.
The place is situated in the center of a lovely desert park—absolutely gorgeous. I have no idea whether they have cubes inside those rustic adobe buildings or what the rate of compensation is. But the pay rate may not matter: not much is a heck of a lot better than nothing. It would be a wonderful place to work, and the job—an educational program manager—could be a lot of fun.


The Continuing Saga…

1. Unemployment for Christmas?
2. Does any of this have meaning for individuals?
3. Rumors start to fly
4. On the trail of the elusive job
5. Beating the layoff stress
6. How low can I go?
7. Interview No. 1

Best jobs, worst jobs

J.D. Roth’s Labor Day post at Get Rich Slowly, in which he recites all the jobs he’s ever held and asks readers to describe their best and worst gigs, got me thinking about my checkered career. For a person who’s on the verge of retirement, I haven’t held all that many jobs, especially if you don’t count the twenty years as a generously supported lawyer’s wife, mother, and society matron—less than a dozen, some of which were part-time.

Which were the best jobs and which the worst? And did my hypereducation do anything to help land the best ones? What, if anything, would I do differently, given a chance to start over?

At GRS, I left a comment opining that my most hated job was as a secretary for a demented market researcher. The guy was truly paranoid: convinced he had Enemies (no joke!) who spent every evening sifting through the trash behind the office building, looking for corporate intelligence with which to do his business in. He insisted that every, single piece of trash be snipped up into confetti—this predated inexpensive shredders—before it went in the trash. The job also predated word processors, and since I was not a great typist I threw out a lot of botched letters and memos; these also had to be snipped up, even if only a few words appeared on the page. My employer was given to insane rages and casual insults, an altogether obnoxious gentleman.

But really, what made that a bad job was the wacko boss, not the job itself. I enjoyed working as a receptionist and probably would have enjoyed secretarial or clerical work in any office environment where the boss was blessed with normal mental health.

The real worst job I’ve ever done is teaching freshman composition. After I finished the Ph.D. and several years of TAing, during which I taught many sections of both regular and advanced composition, I swore I’d go on welfare before I ever did that again. Years later, I landed a full-time lecturership, which paid as much as an associate professorship, teaching writing and editing to university juniors and seniors. For a long time, this was a fine job. Then after I’d been there about eight years, the university decided to turn that satellite campus into a four-year institution. Everyone was expected to teach freshman comp, whether they had degrees in English or not.

Ugh. I was right the first time around. If I’d wanted to teach high-school kids, I would have gotten a teaching certificate. At least if you teach high school, you can live wherever you choose, not wherever you can get work. In fact, in my desperation I looked into taking a postgraduate teaching certificate: to get it, I would have been required to take the very upper-division courses I was teaching (!), and I would have started at $24,000, a $19,000 cut in pay!

My favorite jobs—because they were the most fun—were editorial positions at Phoenix and Arizona Highways magazines. Journalists don’t earn much, but they have a good time going hungry. I enjoyed every moment, even the overnighters (which came once a month at Phoenix Magazine), loved writing features, loved editing copy, loved working with artists and photographers, and liked all my bosses and colleagues.

And no doubt the best job I’ve had is the one I hold right now, directing a university’s editorial office, where our staff of five does preproduction work for scholarly journals. The workload is almost nil, because I can delegate most of it to my associate editor and three graduate assistants. Pay is not great, but it’s more than I’ve ever made before. And I don’t waste too much of my time sitting around the office.

So…what effect did hypereducation—I have a B.A. in French and an M.A. and Ph.D. in English—have on this mottled career?

The hateful secretarial job required no higher education at all—the previous incumbent had been my cousin, who didn’t yet have an A.A. (she later became a registered nurse). Neither did the nice little receptionist’s job; however, the B.A. did get me the highest starting salary any receptionist had every earned at that firm, a munificent $300 a month.

The teaching assistantships were associated with graduate school: you TAed because you were in the program. The editorial jobs required a B.A. in journalism or English. Again, at Arizona Highways I was paid a premium for the advanced degrees, and in fact I landed the job because the editor was looking for someone with above-average competence.

I fell into the lecturership because I was assuredly the only English Ph.D. in the state with 15 years of real-world writing and editorial experience. At the same time I was hired, the department hired as my opposite number a man with a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford: presumably an M.A. from Stanford = a Ph.D. from Arizona State University, which oughta tell you something. I earned more than he did, though: approximately six dollars a year more.

The doctorate was not de rigueur for the job I’ve got now, but it certainly thrilled the hiring committee. It also got me a starting salary about $30,000 higher than the university had planned to pay the successful applicant.

So yes, the higher ed helped with the jobs I did get. If I’d started in journalism when I finished the B.A., though, by now I’d probably own Phoenix Magazine and be retired on its proceeds.

If I had it to do over, what would I do differently?

Well, if I knew when I was 22 what I know now, I would still get advanced degrees, but you can be sure they wouldn’t be in the humanities. I probably would combine an M.B.A. and an LL.D. in an attempt to develop a heavy-hitting corporate career. Or I would get a Ph.D. in business management, which opens the door to far better-paying academic jobs than you can get with the same degree in the humanities.

There’s no question that higher education, even in the liberal arts, sets you up for better-paying jobs. And there’s also no question that certain degrees, even some that won’t kill you with difficult coursework, will do better for you than others.

So…what are your best and worst jobs? And what would you do differently if you could start from scratch?

Another bullet dodged

So, once again I’ve escaped the attention of upper management. In the current “reorganization,” eighteen chairs and two deans were demoted, twenty-eight administrative and support staff were laid off; and an unknown number of unannounced layoffs continue to lay waste to the custodial crew.

My dean, thank all the gods on Olympus, remains in place, and so do I.No hiring freeze was announced, so the search for the replacement for the director of the program whose graduate students staff my office continues apace.This means I have a job (probably) at least until the end of my current contract, next June. By then I can retire with no serious harm, although, like Bartleby the Scrivener, I would prefer not.

Whew! I could practically hear that slug whistling through the air past my noggin.

Times are getting bad, possibly worse than most of us realize. La Maya reports that in California her niece, who has been working for the booming prison industry at a very nice salary, just learned her pay would be cut to a little over $6 an hour — minimum wage! Picture trying to live in California, anywhere in California, on that!

If you’ve got a job and you can hang onto it, cling for all you’re worth. This is not a time to make reckless moves.