A certain nostalgia comes with having to revisit a resume. I long for the days when I was straight out of college, when padding a resume was the sort of challenge that fostered a liberating sense of artistic expression. In a field I once dubbed "Related Experience" (as opposed to my now dreaded "Work Experience") I could haughtily appoint myself such glamorous distinctions as the director
of student films, an editor
of the school newspaper, a writer
for the campus literary magazine.
My resume, as it stands now, is nothing but a testament to dashed dreams and aspirations. And sadly, to make room for one disappointing failure after another, I've had to remove the silly tributes to my former glories as a director, an editor, and a writer.
The latest version of this curriculum vitae of mine currently lies faceup on the gray Formica desk in front of me, yet I cannot bring myself to meet its eye. It embarrasses me how my name leaps off the page, so cocky and bold. Yet despite my resume's seemingly desperate pleas for attention, Mark Shapiro, the stocky, bald-headed man who sits across the desk from me, pays no heed to it at all. Instead he fixes me with a steady, penetrating stare and an eager smile I find rather unnerving.
Mark Shapiro is my last hope. He's a headhunter.
Now, I don't really put much faith in recruiters, staffing agents, or any other slick hustler looking to pimp me out as a two-bit work whore, when really I'd much prefer to think of myself as a classy, full-service, employment escort. But my steady stream of interviews has recently dwindled to a minor trickle, and the tedium of having spent the last six months of my life as a recluse has begun to overwhelm me. So I've scheduled my appointment with Mark Shapiro. If anything, it's just another excuse to get out of the house.
Mark Shapiro is exactly what I expected. Wearing a shirt halfway unbuttoned to display his copious chest hair, he is more desperate amateur comedian than polished professional. He beseeches me like he would an unreceptive audience, hoping I'll find him somewhat likeable and warm up to him eventually. Fat chance.
"So! Sarah Pell-tee-ay!" he says, clapping his fleshy hands together. I cringe. Like most people, he has mispronounced my name. I am too ashamed to correct him, to tell him the name--pronounced "Pell-eh-teer"--is an apathetic nod to my long-abandoned French heritage.
"What are you looking for?" he asks.
"Umm, well, most of my experience has been in the film industry."
He raises an eyebrow. "Uh-oh."
"But I don't have
to work in film. I was thinking about moving into publishing. Preferably magazine publishing."
"Uh-huh." He nods. "And?"
"And maybe books? Or even television? I'd like to find something media-related."
"Sure you do. So does everyone else in this town. Anything else?"
"And," I am rapidly running out of options, "PR? Advertising?"
"Oooh, that sounds good!" Beaming, Mark finally picks up my resume. He winks at me. "Let's see what we got." He takes one glance at my resume and his clown-like grin vanishes. I'm not surprised.
It is torturous to watch his labored reading, his obvious distaste for the document in his hands. His bushy brow is knotted, and his thick lips move as he scans the page. To prove his displeasure even further, when he is done he flips over the page to study the back of it. When has anyone ever included valuable information on the back of a resume?
"Content development assistant, huh?" he asks.
"Did you answer phones?"
"Did you file, catalog, and enter data?"
"All the time."
"You handled faxes and all written correspondence?"
"Then you're an administrative assistant." He tosses me back my resume as if it were tainted, made tacky with flowery language and an overinflated sense of ego. "Change it. Nobody is looking for a content development assistant."
I blink at the resume in front of me because I can't imagine how I'd go about changing it again. By now the words no longer make sense to me. I've copied, pasted, edited down, searched for synonyms. The page is only a list of phrases and expressions I think I might have overheard from a distant conversation. They mean nothing to me anymore.
"Okay, look at me," Mark Shapiro commands. I look. He chews on a fingernail. "You see this? Don't do this."
I realize he's mimicking me. I'm the one chewing on a fingernail. But it's not chewing, exactly. It's my pensive, meditative pose. It's a variation on the pose Rodin used for his Thinker
. It's the gesture I assume when I pretend I am seriously considering the nonsense little shits like Mark Shapiro spew at me.
I remove my finger from my mouth.
"Good. Now, when you go on interviews, I want your hands in your lap, like a little lady . . ."
I shoot Mark Shapiro a deadly look and he reads it perfectly. Chagrined, he clamps his mouth shut and rubs a nervous hand over the two o'clock shadow on his chin. "You know what you could do?" he muses. "Maybe you could include your computer skills on your resume. You good with computers?"
I sigh. It's degrading to think someone like me, someone who has, in fact, been a valuable contributor to the workplace at one point or another, would have to list something as obvious as computer skills.
"Oh, I'm excellent with computers," I assure him.
"Really? You know Word? Excel? Powerpoint?"
"Sure," I lie. Powerpoint? Never heard of it.
"Terrific!" He claps his beefy hands together again. "Then we're going to run a couple of tests."
He sets up the exams for me in a dark, neglected computer room at the end of the hall. The machine he has selected for me, like the others, is a stained relic of a computer with a grainy screen and indecipherable graphics. It's a computer better suited for a contemporary art gallery than a contemporary workplace.
Pleading a long list of "urgent" phone calls, Mark hands me a crumpled sheet of instructions and leaves me alone in the room with a dusty timer.
"I'll be back in forty-five minutes," he says with a wink and heads out the door.
As soon as he leaves, I crouch down low in my cubicle and hit the timer. There is no point in waiting. I'm as ready as I'll ever be. I begin the typing test, my fingers dancing nimbly on the keyboard.
There is something about the buzz of the fluorescent overhead lights, the shrill of unanswered phones down the hall, the blue glow flickering off my aged computer screen. This anonymous office feels very familiar to me. I am comfortable here.
I sail through the test, one page after another. I hit my stride during the Word exam and my momentum carries me well into the Excel and even the Powerpoint sections. I don't mind tests. In fact, I rather enjoy them. Taking tests reminds me of college, and I was good at college.
The timer rings while I am checking my answers. As if on cue, Mark Shapiro flings himself into the room and lingers in the doorway for a moment, one fat, cocky eyebrow raised.
"So? How do you think it went?"
"Fine," I shrug.
A pained cry erupts from somewhere in the room and I nearly leap out of my chair. I realize the brittle, graying printer is slowly spitting out my test results.
Mark Shapiro yanks out the page and glances at it.
"Not bad," he says, handing it to me. I skim over it quickly.
Typing: 50 wpm
I find it hard to stifle a laugh.
When I arrived at the headhunter's agency two hours earlier, it had been raining. Thick, violent sheets of rain. But now the deluge has subsided, and the sun has poked a hopeful head between clouds, peering to see if the worst is over.
Summer has never been my favorite season in New York. Summer is a nasty, bitter, old windbag, armed with blasts of hot air for insult and steel drops of rain for injury. But I do like New York after a rainfall, when the streets glisten with invitation, a gracious perfumed hostess in pearls.
I step out of the office building on Park Avenue and am so pleased by the change in climate I decide to walk home. I do have twelve dollars left on my MetroCard, but I am reluctant to use it. Those are the last twelve dollars I have to my name. As soon as my card runs out, I will be officially broke.
While I stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change, I close my eyes and allow myself a moment to bask in the shielded sun's warmth. Still, I refuse to let the sweet coolness lull me into any sense of false optimism. I know what this summer brings. I know it brings sweat stains on the knees of my pantyhose, damp patches under the arms of my silk button-down shirts, and matted, sticky hair clinging to the back of my neck.
I also know what this summer does not bring. As Mark Shapiro has dutifully informed me, the summer months are notoriously slow for the job market, catering primarily to recent college grads who snap up the poorly paid entry level jobs and feasting on summer interns who toil for nothing more than college credit.
The light changes and I step off the curb. A taxi screeches as it careens around the corner. It doesn't occur to me to step out of the way until it is too late. The cab flies full speed into the pungent puddle in front of me and I remain paralyzed in its wake as the infested wave, a mossy gray stew of urban rot, crashes over me.
jobs. People look
for jobs, they go
job-hunting. But it is also important to remember that people are
unemployed. Unemployment is, by its very nature, inactive. It is a condition, a state of being, much in the same way that a person can be
an artist, or can be
There are many rules that apply to job-hunting. But there are just as many, if not more, that apply to being unemployed. You enjoy the time off. You try out new hobbies. You force yourself to be social and meet new people--people who could, potentially, provide access to more job leads. You interview for jobs you have no intention of accepting, if only for the practice. And first and foremost, above all, you develop a routine.
This is mine:
The panic attacks usually start some time around 2 a.m., when the world is dark and quiet and I am slipping into a terrifying dream that either has me missing the deadline for a college term paper or stepping onto the wrong express train, heading twenty blocks in the opposite direction on my way to an interview. I toss and turn for a couple of hours, pounding and fluffing my terror like a lumpy pillow.
Most mornings I wake up before 9 a.m. and that really pisses me off. The 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. slot is the hardest part of the day to kill. Because if I let temptation get the best of me and turn on my computer any time before 11 a.m., I'll discover I've received no new e-mails
and that no new job listings
have been posted on the online bulletins. For the rest of the day, I'll have to live with the bitter disappointment. Ideally, I'd prefer to sleep in past noon, leaving only seven (all right, five) hours before I can start drinking when it's still considered socially acceptable.
When I finally do manage to pull myself out of bed it is for one reason and one reason only: there is a Snickers bar in the refrigerator.
My next major event of the day is getting dressed. This might seem like a rather mundane activity to note in the schedule, but its significance cannot be overlooked. It would be all too easy to fall into a bathrobe-and-fuzzy-slipper funk, whittling away the daylight hours with the shades drawn. Miss Havisham at least had her wedding dress. Emily Dickinson was writing poetry. What's my excuse?
That said, I no longer force myself to wear fly-collared blouses and tailored skirts just in case
. If I do choose to get dressed my daily wardrobe is standard: jog bra, wrinkled gym shorts, anything that might pass for matching socks, sneakers, and a faded college T-shirt marking the year and the event that rewarded student participants with free attire. Today, I boast my contribution to Yale's 1997 A Cappella Fest. It's a lie. I didn't go to Yale. And I am quite positive I didn't visit the campus to take part in the finger-snapping, foot-stomping charade of mediocre vocalists. How the shirt has insinuated itself into my standard daily wardrobe is a total mystery to me.
You're probably thinking my next stop is the gym. You're wrong.
At 10:30 I decide it's okay to start smoking.
At 11--drum roll, please--I make for my final destination: the Aeron office chair. Fabric web upholstering, backward recline, forward tilt, adjustable aluminum arms, the works! (There's a story about this chair, but I'll get to that in a bit.) I then turn on my computer and log on to my Hotmail account. Today I've received one new e-mail and my heart soars. It is from Marjorie Newman, head of a boutique literary agency.
Thank you for sending your resume, but you are far too overqualified for this job. Good luck!
Is it thrilling to think someone actually considers me overqualified for anything? Of course not. I know I'm not overqualified. I'm just qualified in a way no one knows how to deal with. Still, I find the letter oddly flattering. So I save it.
At 1 p.m. I decide to take my first break and head to the gym. (Happy now?) I do not go to the gym because I am health conscious. And despite what several magazine articles say about exercise being an excellent stress-reliever, that too is none of my concern. I go to the gym because there are TV sets, all of which receive cable, and no one is going to be there to argue with me when I flip to HGTV to watch homeowners remodel their log cabins. This is the only hour of entertainment I will indulge in. I am not permitted to watch daytime television at any other time. (This is a stringent rule. Without it, I could easily spend the entire afternoon watching marathon reruns of Newlyweds
At 2 p.m. I come back to my apartment and watch Newlyweds
After the conclusion of one episode, and one episode only (yes, I have rules for breaking rules), I head back to my bedroom and ready my lasso. For the rest of the afternoon I will straddle the Aeron, my well-worn saddle, tip an imaginary Stetson on my head, and cock the barrel of my mouse to make sure it's loaded.
And this is how it generally works. Me, a regular Gary Cooper, cruising the online plains--head tilted, eyes squinted, sniffing for trouble.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Pounding the Pavement by Jennifer van der Kwast. Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer van der Kwast. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.