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Posts Tagged ‘jobs’

It used to be a kind of game: I’d sit in meetings, especially ones marked “strategy” or “content,” and mentally (or sometimes physically) take note of every empty word or phrase my colleagues, or especially outside consultants, used to talk about our work. Words like stakeholders, platforms, multi-channel, workflow and especially content. The words ask and creative used as nouns; the word language used as a verb; acronyms like KPIs and ROI and SEO. I’ve even heard a few like operationalize (what?).

All of it makes me itch – it seems like a false, too-easy way to get away from talking about what we’re really doing (writing stories, interviewing people for podcasts, creating websites and brochures) and why we’re doing it (to get students to enroll, to advertise events or programs, to inform and entertain our alumni or other audiences). Jargon is also a way to exclude people: it’s so easy for students or new colleagues or even experienced folks not to know what you’re talking about. It’s gatekeeping language, often used to self-aggrandize or hide problems, and it is bland and impenetrable as tofu.

This is a problem as I continue the job hunt, because most of the job descriptions I’ve seen contain a fair amount of jargon. I can translate it, and I don’t fault them for it, necessarily, but the jobs I’m drawn to tend to be the ones whose posters write clearly and concisely about what the job actually entails. If a job description is stuffed full of hyphenated phrases with no real meaning, I’m wary of both the job and workplace it’s trying to describe.

While communications work in general is a bit more abstract than, say, serving coffee or teaching a yoga class, it does include measurable, concrete tasks along with the broader work of “strategy” and “ideation.” I don’t want to work at a place where people are so wrapped up in high-flown phrases that they’re unable to define what they actually do. We are all human beings who live in a tangible world, and I believe it’s important to talk about our work in human (vivid, interesting) terms. I also believe we should be able to laugh or roll our eyes at ourselves when we do get tangled up in jargon.

Have you run into long-winded, abstract job descriptions in your own searches? (Please tell me I’m not alone.) And other than a well-practiced eye roll, what is there to do about it?

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Hello, friends. It’s Monday again and I’m back at the computer with a mug of Earl Grey at my elbow, watching the fog drift over Boston Harbor and pegging away at the job hunt. There are a few postings today that look appealing, so I’m making a list and diving in, while pausing to acknowledge the Groundhog Day quality of this whole enterprise – namely, search-draft-apply-rinse-repeat.

I keep thinking of that old saw about the definition of insanity. I don’t know if Einstein actually said it or not, but it seems clear to me that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a recipe for at least feeling crazy.

Why should I apply to this job or that job, if the same set of actions last week garnered a rejection or (more) radio silence? What makes me think this college or nonprofit will answer my email, or call me for an interview, when most of the others have not? How do I know which job description, full of industry jargon and careful HR-approved wording, might possibly lead me to a real place with real people where I can be useful, be welcomed, make a contribution (and earn a living)?

I don’t, of course. And while it’s true that getting creative with the job hunt – going to webinars, letting friends and former colleagues know I’m looking, even writing a whole blog series about job hunting – might help, it’s also true that, for many jobs, a resume and cover letter are required. You have to go through the process: find the posting (or look at the one someone sends you), decide whether it sounds interesting, write and proofread a cover letter, go through the electronic steps to apply. You have to sit through the auto-response emails and the waiting (more on that in a later post). You have to, in short, do a version of the same thing, and expect – or at least hope for – different results.

I don’t have a neat and tidy answer for this one, except that it’s got to be done. Grit and gumption (and lots of tea) are definitely required. And for now, I’ll try to vary the process (and my cover letters) enough so that it doesn’t feel exactly the same every day.

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Friends, I am job hunting. And it is the worst.

Some of you know that I was furloughed last spring, then had my furlough extended through the fall as the pandemic dragged on. I was officially laid off a few months ago, and have been slogging through the job hunt ever since. (Photo is of my makeshift standing desk at home.)

Some weeks, that means sending out applications and resumes; most weeks, it means combing through job boards and email alerts, and doing freelance work (like this recent story I wrote for Harvard’s Ed School, where I used to work). And every week, it means fighting the job-search demons in my head.

Everyone I know has been through the job-hunt wringer a few times, but it seems like nobody talks about this stuff, at least not publicly. We gripe to our partners and get networking tips from friends, but I’ve yet to find a real, honest exploration of the toll it can take on your soul. I need a way to wrestle with those challenges outside my own head (and my journal), so I’ll be sharing some of my job hunt woes here on the blog for the next while.

First up, the blindingly obvious: what nobody tells you.

Nobody tells you how disorienting it can be, the sudden feeling of being cut adrift from a paycheck, a workplace, an institution, a community. No one admits–or, in my experience, people rarely admit–how daunting it is to wake up in the morning and have no idea what you’re going to do next. How it feels to have a few tools at your disposal–a newly polished resume, job boards, cover letters to tailor and send–but to know that so much of the search is completely beyond your control.

It’s like chipping away at a mountain with a pickaxe, or like those diggers working to free that ship in the Suez Canal last month. No one, least of all you, has any idea when the daily patient effort–or some totally unrelated effect of an external force–will crack the granite wide open and let an opportunity through. And no one admits how demoralizing it can be.

I’m job hunting, we say, as if it were going to the dentist or walking the dog or cleaning the kitchen floor. Just another item on the to-do list. Something everyone does, sooner or later. While that last part is true, nobody tells you how painful and frustrating it can be, although most of us know. Nobody talks about how it can wear away at your sense of identity and self-worth, not to mention your bank account. And in the middle of a pandemic, few people seem to have any idea what work will look like in a few months. Remote? Hybrid? Fully back in the office? No one can tell me that, because no one else, at this moment, knows.

I’m writing these posts because I need this conversation, but I’m hoping that maybe it will open up a space for others, too. If you’d care to share your job-hunt woes (past or present) in the comments, I’m all ears. Let’s be honest about how tough it is, and maybe share what’s gotten us through, or what’s helping right now.

More job-hunt musings to come.

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komorebi harvard yard tree sky

First, the leaving.

I knew it was a possibility for a long time: the job I signed on for, back in 2016, is of a type that comes up for renewal each fiscal year. This was my fourth job at Harvard, and I’d already weathered a layoff and two temp gigs – so I wasn’t all that surprised to learn, in April, that I’d have to leave at the end of June.

Even at Harvard, few things are set in stone: my time there has seen massive internal shifts, many of them for the better. This storied place, ancient and rooted, is also a place of constant movement and change.

I did my best, this spring, to soak up all the rhythms and traditions I love there: Morning PrayersCommencement, my daily walks to Darwin’s. I had about a thousand coffee dates and sent out so many emails telling people: This chapter is ending. I don’t know what’s next.

On my last day, I walked to Darwin’s mid-morning, then went back later for lunch with a girlfriend. We sat outside, leaning against the plate-glass windows, eating sandwiches and talking about change. She had just started a new job, and I had no idea what the summer held. We agreed: change is hard, even when it’s exciting. And uncertainty is a beast.

Later that afternoon, I slipped away for a walk with a friend, and then came back to the office for my own bittersweet Mary Tyler Moore moment: packing up my bags and switching off the lights for the last time.

Of course, as a friend reminded me, Harvard isn’t going anywhere: it has survived for nearly four centuries, and if I want to go back there sometime, there’s a good chance I can. But this chapter, this particular stretch of five years where the Square became my daily ground, has ended.

I don’t have a word to sum it up neatly: like so much of life, it is full of contradictions. But somewhere between all those emails and meetings, between the headlines and the phone calls and the student interviews, between Tuesdays at the farmers’ market and Thursday mornings on the sixth floor, between frequent trips to the florist and every single day at Darwin’s, Harvard Square became my home.

I’ve landed in a good place across the river. But I left part of my heart in Cambridge, and for now, I’m making a point to get back there as often as I can.

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Last week marked my six-month anniversary of being unemployed. Happily, I got a job offer on Monday morning – which also happened to be my sister’s birthday. (Her reaction, when I called to tell her the news: “Happy birthday to me! You got a job!”)

However, the offer was contingent on a successful check of my references, so I waited in limbo for four days while the good folks in HR did what they had to do. And that was almost worse than not getting the offer at all – so paranoid was I that they’d find some small reason to revoke it.

My week of limbo/liberty was blessedly free of hitting the job boards, but full of the other activities which have filled my last six months: a freelance project or two; laundry and dishes; making soup for lunch; walking to the post office and the branch library; playing around on Twitter and blogs; sipping tea at the dining-room table while journaling or writing. And feeling guilty.

No, I don’t feel guilty about doing freelance work, tending my house or even taking a break for a cup of tea. I love my quiet mornings here at the dining-room table, sunshine coming in the windows, my current bouquet (this week it’s daffodils) blooming away. I love being able to stir up a pot of soup or nip down to the branch library for a new novel. And I am so glad I haven’t had to brave the cold during our string of snowstorms (though I am now joining the commuting hordes at my local T station).

Rather, I feel guilty about all the things I haven’t done while searching for a job. Couldn’t I have applied to more jobs, gone to more networking events, worked harder to score more interviews? Should I have taken a part-time job somewhere to make money, or applied for plain old temp work instead of specialized writing temp work, or allowed myself fewer excursions to downtown Boston? I definitely should have spent less time browsing the Web, clicking links and reading my favorite blogs. And couldn’t I, in six months, have completed a full draft of that travel memoir I’m always talking about writing?

I’ve felt guilty about all of the above, and also about spending my days at home, warm and cozy and wearing jeans, while my sweet husband spends his days driving around the South Shore of Boston, seeing clients for therapy, often not getting home until seven or eight o’clock. I’ve felt guilty about not doing more to help him provide for the two of us. I’ve wondered if I were going about this job search the “right” way, if there is a right way. And I’ve felt especially guilty because I’ve actually enjoyed my unemployment.

I didn’t enjoy the financial strain, of course – which has grown worse as we’ve needed to pay for heating oil and slightly higher bills in the winter. Nor did I enjoy the loneliness, the feelings of cabin fever and isolation when the weather grew frigid and I began spending nearly all of my days inside. When the weather was nicer, I could find more excuses to spend afternoons downtown, poking around the shelves at the Brattle or browsing the clothes racks at Second Time Around, or sitting on Boston Common, book and camera and journal in hand. But since winter hit for real, it’s been pretty lonesome around here, despite my love of solitude and the connections available online.

But I have enjoyed some parts of my time off. For one thing, I didn’t have to rush right into an office when we moved here in August; I had time to unpack, to hang pictures, to arrange our apartment and explore our neighborhood. I’ve spent happy hours browsing at the libraries in Quincy and many sun-soaked afternoons on Boston Common. I’ve gotten to know the heart of Boston, which for me lies in the two green spaces in its center, the bustling Beacon Hill area just north of them, and the narrow streets east of the Common filled with some of my favorite Boston spots.

For another, I’ve had time to write – which I craved in Abilene, particularly when my job at ACU grew crazy and deadline-filled. I’ve kept writing for ACU, written dozens of articles for Halogen, blogged more regularly than perhaps ever before, and written some secret things I hope I’ll get to share with you one day. I’ve had lots of time to sit at this table, daydreaming, dressed comfortably and never lacking in sleep or good food or time to do whatever I pleased. Time like this is a gift to a writer, and I’ve tried to appreciate it and use it well, instead of squandering it in useless pursuits or spoiling it by obsessing about money. (Not, I might add, always successfully.)

But most of all I’ve enjoyed the freedom of this time – the complete liberty to structure my days however I want, even if that has included a little too much sleeping in and a bit too much “wasted” time. I’ve loved being in control of the hours of my days, although I’ve spent the vast majority of those hours alone. I’ve hardly had anywhere to be at a certain time for months, except church and a few outings with friends. It’s reminded me so much of my life in Oxford, where my only obligations were classes, church, working for ACU-Oxford and volunteering at Oxfam. I’ve had lots of time – however heavy it’s hung on my hands sometimes – to just be.

Starting this week, all that will change. I’ll get up with my alarm clock, to shower and dress and head downtown to Emerson College, where I’ll spend my days writing and organizing content for the college’s website. I will have co-workers, an office, a lunch break, a commute, and many fewer hours to myself. (And much more money in the bank than I’ve had.) I expect to enjoy most of these things, or learn to adapt to them – though I know there’ll be an adjustment period. Mostly, I’m thrilled to have found a job I think I’ll love, at a place I already admire. (And when the weather turns warm, I can go eat my lunches on Boston Common – happy thought!)

Have any of you ever struggled with guilt during unemployment/a career break/graduate school/another instance of downtime in your life? How did you handle it? I’d love to hear your stories.

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Tales from Temp-land

Following in the footsteps of my friends Annie and Juliette, I’ve spent three days this week working in an office as a “Temptress” (Annie’s term, which is so much sassier than plain “temp,” don’t you think?).

Actually, I was supposed to spend the whole week there, and next week too. But after I got through all the projects they had for me, and politely but firmly turned down their offer of a longer-term job (building and editing corporate PowerPoint presentations), I got to call it quits yesterday. So, once again, I am free – no more hour-long commute through highway construction to Waltham; no more blue-and-gray cubicle; no more solitary lunches at my desk, and awkward small talk with people who aren’t really my co-workers.

Of course, this means I am also again broke/out of work/back to sending out resumes. But you know what? I much prefer this reality to that one.

I’m realizing again (as if I didn’t already know) that I was not cut out to work in corporate America. I loved working at ACU because of the people, and also because I believe in the mission of the place. I believe in the power of higher education to broaden people’s horizons and change their lives. I believe in the place that gave me an English degree, my first semester in Oxford, lots of dear friends and so many new ways of thinking. On the other hand, I don’t possess an ounce of passion about supply-chain dynamics and office restructuring and editing 150-page documents (I kid you not) of corporate-speak.

So it’s back to the freelance life, back to running errands in Quincy and taking breaks to wander around Boston (while the weather holds) and sending out resumes for jobs I would actually enjoy. And I feel like a kid set free from school – only instead of “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks,” it’s “No more commuting, no more cubicle, no more sad reheated desk lunches!” (I know that doesn’t rhyme, but does anything rhyme with “cubicle”?)

Don’t mistake me: I’m grateful for the opportunity to make a little money and a few connections, and I hope I land some more assignments through the temp agency I’ve signed up with. But I’m also grateful for a few more free days, and the chance to keep pursuing my writing dreams, exploring my new city and making my “one wild and precious life” just that.

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Happy almost-September, everyone! The mornings are actually classifiable as “cool” now; when I leave the house at 7:45, I can drive to campus with my windows down and even shiver slightly in the breeze. I’ve been watching a lot of sunrises since I began my new job – Tim and Julie’s house has tons of front windows, and the light just floods in when the sun rises.

I can’t believe I’ve spent a whole week in my new job (without any major crises or problems – yet). 🙂 I have my own office – with a window that looks out into a tree! – and a large bulletin board that is already half full of schedules and reminders, and two lovely lamps that add ambient light. Glenn (my boss) keeps a supply of M&Ms (which he calls “stress pills”) in his office, adjacent to mine, and Carlene (across the hall) has a large candy dish shaped like a frog, which holds yummy soft peppermints. So we’re well-stocked for sugar, which is good, because on weeks like this, we need it.

My first three days on the job were fairly calm – either the faculty or I, or both, were in meetings much of the time, and very few students came in with questions or problems. We’re off and running now, however, and I’ve spent much of my week directing traffic, answering students’ and graduate assistants’ and faculty members’ questions, and sending student workers to make copies of various documents. (This job requires a LOT of delegating.)

On my first day I received FOUR bouquets – one from Dad, one from Julie, one from Jeremiah, and one from Betsy. And on Monday, John and Evelyn Willis sent me more flowers, with a card that says, “We appreciate you!” Bless every one of their hearts. I’m so glad to have people who love me. 🙂

Speaking of love, Glenn tells me every day how glad he is that I’m working in this office, and Carlene (who handles most of the student traffic) is a sweetheart, and my student workers (some of whom are my age) are all very sweet and helpful. And everyone over in the dean’s office, across the way, has been so good to me when I have questions. I’m slowly settling into this role. Lots I don’t know yet, but it will come. For now, I think I’ll steal another handful of dark chocolate M&Ms.

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This is my last post from my little eMac in my little corner office in Creative Services. Tomorrow I move on to the larger and much more chaotic realm of the Bible department…away from this small outpost of ACU (we’re technically across the street from campus) that has been my office home for more than a year and a half. It’s been new, different, exciting, confusing, dull and absolutely out of control at various times…but gradually I’ve carved out a niche for myself over here. I was the first student proofreader they hired, and I dare say I’ve helped shape what the job will be in the future. And I also can say I have done the job well.

Today at a good-bye lunch, for me and for two of our designers who were also leaving, Ron presented us with plaques detailing things the office crew likes about all of us. Apparently my co-workers appreciate my extensive vocabulary, my “ability to remain calm and focused in the midst of any deadline,” my stories about family trips, my “minor in ACU historical trivia,” the “speed with which I can turn a grammatical disaster into smooth-as-silk copy,” and, of course, my “good taste in fellow workers.” 🙂 So, in return, I’d like to present a few things I like about them:

-Celia’s laugh, which can be heard all over the office when she really thinks something’s funny

-Ron’s incredible eye for detail, which has shamed me, impressed me and sharpened me time and time again

-Peggy’s caring (but never nosy) inquiries into all the student workers’ lives…we’re like a set of surrogate grandchildren to her. Oh, and the Rice Krispie Treats she makes us for birthdays. Yummmmm.

-Amber Lee’s sweet spirit and her constant “bless yous!” when I sneeze

-Greg’s jokes at jobs meetings and the laugh lines that crinkle around his eyes

-Ken’s rooster-crow cell phone ring, and his jokes at jobs meetings

-Paul’s sense of humor, which is as crazy as his curly black hair

-The well-stocked candy dish on the front desk

-Multicolored Sharpies in all sizes

-The chance to work on amaaaazing publications such as four issues of ACU Today, The ACU Century, and Dr. John’s Perpetual Calendar

-Time to blog, balance my checkbook, send novella-length emails to lots of those I love, chat to Val on Gmail for hours, and generally amuse myself when I wasn’t working 🙂

-The chance to learn SO MUCH, not just about editing, but about people and office work and relationships and life, from the amazing people I worked with. So I raise my glass of free bottled water for the last time. Here’s to you, CS. What an amazing student/summer job you were. I’ll see you on the other side…of campus, that is. 🙂 Thanks again. And call me if those commas get too unruly!

Lots of love,

Katie (a grateful proofreader, who has ink-stained fingers and lots of love in her heart)

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EDIT: I tried to post this post on Friday, but the Macs at work wouldn’t let me post. So I’m posting this post now…all right, all right. Anyway, a flashback from Friday:

This is the first “normal” workday I’ve had all week. Strange to say that on a Friday. I’m sitting in my office, iTunes playing on the computer, shivering in the draught from the air conditioning vent above, busily compiling a MASSIVE database of ACU Today stories, from the present to its origins…somewhere in the seventies. Similar to my very first assignment at Creative Services, when I filled in literally hundreds of holes in the database for Dr. John’s Perpetual Calendar. I spent a lot more time in the file room then than I’m doing now, though.

Last week, work was my life. I spent 35 hours at the office, frantically proofing, marking changes, updating files, writing copy, checking facts, and generally trying to make Ron’s life easier during the last-minute rush for this issue of ACU Today. You’d think we’d have a better system for this by now…but the last week before deadline is always the craziest.

This week, however, my life has interrupted my work…I’ve spent as little as 45 minutes in a day this week at the office. Monday brought a funeral at Highland and then a lovely lunch with the Lifeteam ladies (and Ethan). Tuesday was moving day for Bethany (see previous post), and I spent most of the afternoon running errands. I was here early on Wednesday morning – but left town at 3:00 for our blogger rendezvous at Humphrey Pete’s in Early, Texas. (See Beverly’s blog for a summary of that supper…http://bevmann.blogspot.com.)

Yesterday I came to work at 10:30, then took a lunch that lasted nearly three hours as Bethany and I cleaned out the fridge and freezer and finished loading her car while also loading mine. She walked around our house one last time, and we let ourselves out and she locked the door. She followed me to Betsy’s to help me unload stuff, and then she left one last time. I told her, “This isn’t goodbye…it’s ‘See you in two weeks,'” which is true, but at the same time it’s also the end of an era. She’s the best roommate I’ve ever had. I will miss her.

Last night was another moving adventure as Calvin and Lorin helped me haul the rest of my stuff out…a few sticks of furniture, a TV and stereo, some clothes, and not much else. I am now installed in Betsy’s house for the summer, with new roommates Leigh Anne and Sarah. Crazy transition times. But it’s nice to be in a place where I can buy groceries again.

Maybe next week will bring a happier balance between life and work. The pendulum has certainly been swinging…it’s about time to settle down for a little while.

Back to work…I’ve got at least 25 years to go before the end of this monster is in sight. (That’s at least 75 issues, for you uninitiated…probably more.) Happy Friday! And happy Memorial Day weekend!

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job angst

Another day spent dealing with the monsters called job angst and creeping, crawling, dread-filled worry about the future. I have been to no less than two dozen (probably many more) job boards and publishing house Web sites today. I have scrolled through job listings till my eyes began to glaze over. I have applied for six jobs in four different cities. And I got a very polite email from St. Aldate’s Church, Oxford, the site of my dream internship next year, informing me that they can only cover a quarter of my tuition. Do they honestly EXPECT recent (like last week) college graduates to have 1500 pounds (not dollars!) of their own, in addition to covering half their own food and all their own incidental expenses? Give me a break!

That being said, as I keep trying to remind myself, I do have the summer to fret about it…I mean, work in Abilene, not pay rent, immerse myself in community at Highland, and figure out what I’m doing next. When the lease on my little house is up, I will pack my capri pants, coffee mugs, Kathleen Norris and Joanne Harris books (among others), scrapbooking paraphernalia and beloved old journals, and move three blocks east to another safe place. Not my house, not a permanent home, but a place where I’m welcome. A place where I can relax (at least after work) and try to “contemplate my future,” as Scott keeps telling me to do. I really hope it doesn’t involve moving to a random big city without a job. I’d be fine moving somewhere random WITH a job…but steady income of some kind is a must. Not just a plus.

I do miss my beloved Abilene family, aka the ladies of House 9 and others of my Oxford beloved, who are sallying forth to new jobs, internships and adventures. My circle is slowly closing…Betsy and Jeremiah leave this week, Bethany leaves next week. But it will be a good summer…sunny and literary and somewhat peaceful. If I can keep the blanket of paranoia from suffocating me.

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