Job-hunting during recession

(continued from Here’s why freelance didn’t work for me: my struggle to find a job in the recession)

Jumping through hoops to  get a job... ANY job... Img src: dryastoast.com
Jumping through hoops to get a job… ANY job… Img src: dryastoast.com

In my experience, freelancing was a dud. Maybe it works if you have tons of patience to browse all the ads, if you have time to cover the requirements for application (free work!) and if you are ready to do the job for a humble pay. I thought that wages would be higher and I thought that if I work for foreign clients, the pay rate would make me a fortune by Bulgarian standards.

So pay was low, and the projects weren’t really inspiring – being a virtual assistant and working around the US clock, writing homework for а spoiled brat, or producing spammy content for some shady website wasn’t exactly the kind of freelance I wanted. How’s that even *freelance*? That’s just mundane work. I decided that my time would be better spent if I worked on something more… tangible.

I’m not saying the idea of freelance doesn’t work; I’m just saying it didn’t work in my situation back then. It’s one thing to build your freelance path when you feel financially secure – like when you have a good job – and totally different when you’re unemployed and out of money. Freelancing, much like building a business, doesn’t happen overnight. It demands a big investment of time, money, and effort. I had to find a job first, and soon.

And what do you know – I was just turning off the computer when my phone rang. My fiancée actually FROZE when I excitedly said “Unknown number!” and picked up. “I have a job interview tomorrow!!”, I yelled out.

* * *

My future husband was behind the wheel, driving me to my interview. I could see the reflection of my jacket, on a hanger at the back of the car, swinging slightly.

While he was looking for a parking space, I was thinking about the interview. I had to get a job as soon as possible. We had used up the tiny savings we had in our joint account, and also the bigger heap of money in my account. There wasn’t much left, and the more my balance approached to zero, the more I was starting to freak out.

“Don’t just take any job at all costs,” he told me. “Take your time. Even if you don’t work for a few months, we’ll be fine.”

“No, we won’t be fine,” I said.
“Why not? We have food on the table. We have a roof over our heads. It will be tight, but we’ll be okay.”
“That’s not us being ‘okay’, that’s us just ‘getting by’. For us to be okay, we need to be making progress: saving up.”
“We’ll get there. It just might be a few months while you find a job you like.”
“But if I wait that long, we won’t be able to have the wedding this year. Or a baby next year. And what about bigger things like buying land for passive income or being free from our jobs? And you know I want us to buy a house – I don’t want us to live in a flat until we get sixty.”

He sighed. “You know how much I want to have our wedding this year. But if it doesn’t happen, we’ll do it next year. Big deal.” He paused while parking the car and turned off the engine. Then he turned towards me, one hand on the wheel, one hand on my thie. “Don’t take this job at any cost. If you don’t like their offer, say no. We’ll be fine.”

I smiled. “They haven’t offered me the job yet.”
He smiled back. “They will.”

I got out of the car, put my jacket on, and crossed the street. Waiting for the owner to meet me for my interview, I thought about my possible courses of action. I needed a job bad enough to lower my standards and compromise to some extent. How far? I wasn’t sure. I just knew I wouldn’t jump on any offer.

The business owner, interviewing me for a sales position, was a young and pleasant man. The office was not so pleasant – two small flats joined together, with boxes of carton lying around, and a bunch of computers lined up by the wall. It seemed a little messy. “Hey – I said to myself, – lower standards, remember?” The office wasn’t great, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker, either.

As the interview progressed, two things became obvious:
1) they really wanted to hire me;
2) even with my new “lower” standards, their offer was unacceptable.

Working hours were 8:30-18:30 with a 1-hour break for lunch, so that’s nine working hours a day instead of eight, and no overtime pay. I brought the issue up, and the owner said “Yeah but you get two breaks a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.” I seriously doubted those breaks would be thirty minutes each to make up for the extra hour. I didn’t say anything.

We also had to work Saturdays 8:30-13:30 (no lunch break). On Monday, we had to come in at 8:00 instead of 8:30 (another extra half hour) for a “weekly meeting”. The company offered the minimum of social and health benefits so half my salary was going to be under the table.

Too bad.

The team was young and everyone seemed nice. The owner seemed nice. The work itself was interesting and with a lot of freedom in decision making. This was the bright side, but it wasn’t bright enough to offset the long hours and being paid under the table. Hours were too long.

So I countered: I told them I can only work until 17:30. They were concerned about how the rest of the team would feel about this – me getting special treatment – but eventually they agreed, with no cut in the initial pay they had offered. Saturdays were still on and they wanted me to start ASAP.

I countered again and said I needed 10 days (I wanted to buy myself some time and hopefully get a call from another company before I start here). They agreed. We shook hands.

Normally, I wouldn’t even consider a job offer with such conditions. But during my job search, I had realized that most employers were expecting that you work overtime for no extra pay. Saturdays. Sundays. Staying late or coming in early. That seemed to be the new normal. No one seemed to care that this was not only NOT normal, but also ILLEGAL.

Well, at least now I’d start bringing some money home and we could slowly replenish our drained accounts.

(Read next part: How to get a good job in the recession: start any job, then keep looking)

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5 thoughts on “Job-hunting during recession”

  1. The supervisor that yelled at me seems overall to be a very angry, unhappy woman. It was really stupid. I was talking to a coworker and she yelled at me for talking too loud, which I really wasn’t. Then she yelled at me for filling out some paperwork wrong, which wasn’t all my fault because there was an error on it from their end. I asked my dh if he has ever been yelled at at a job and the only time he has was in the Navy, but that is expected. I don’t know if I’ll stay at this job or not. It’s not a great job, it’s market research and I’m only doing it until I can find something better.

  2. Hi Rya,
    Thanks for the article. I was recently reading one on ways to recession proof your career. These articles are great particularly as we have not yet returned to the pre-recession economic status.

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