Job-Seeking Blues – UPDATED

So my son Buster is home from school and seeking summer employment. Yesterday he made the rounds at local businesses, none of which were hiring. Since he’s a big fella who is willing to move heavy things around, he also checked out the bigbox stores. He came home rather disgusted.

“Everywhere I went, it was, ‘we only take online applications; apply online,’” he groused. “Half the time, they couldn’t even be bothered looking up. So, you clean up, wear decent clothes, walk in trying to project a positive attitude and you hit this wall of disinterest. There’s no Human Resource Department. There’s no one interested, just these cogs in the wheels telling you that your best shot is to enter a lottery to become a cog in the wheel.”

Regular readers know that Buster is one of those people born about 70 years too late, and he bemoaned the impersonal nature of the modern job-search, and the dearth of human connectedness. “You know, if there was a personnel department you could walk into, with other people, you get a chance to meet someone, fill out a form, chat a bit — you could make an impression! Someone might say, ‘hey, he’s got the build for moving things, or, hey, he’s got a good personality; he seems like he’ll mesh well,’ but no — there’s no opportunity to put yourself forward or stand out. There’s no opportunity to shine, a little.”

Individuality does seem to be undervalued, these days.

I reminded him that unemployment rates for people in his age group — and for all youngfolk looking for summer work — are sky-high. “There is something to what you say,” I agreed. “My first job, I walked into the personnel office, met someone, filled out a form, took a quick test, and had the chance to chat for a few minutes to the personnel manager, who called me later and hired me for the staggering wage of $2.10 per hour. It was all pretty painless.”

Seems there is no chance of that, now. Employers have more applicants than they need for $7.25 per hour jobs; they don’t have to put any effort into finding the ‘right’ person. They’re not even looking for a ‘person,’ they’re looking, as Buster noted, for cogs in the wheel.

“It’s not like the old days,”
he groused. “Now — unless you know someone who can get you in, someplace — you’re just condemned to the luck of the draw. It’s like it’s not even worth trying to stand out. You stand out, you get smacked down.”

He’s got the blues, clearly. Buster’s not liking how the world works in the 21st Century; he’s finding it offensive to the notion of human dignity.

So he’s put on his fedora and broken out the blues guitar. He’s channeling Leon Redbone out on the porch. I expect to hear a “Cog-in-the-wheels Blues” sometime soon.

Anyone need a jingle-writer?

Or, perhaps, a love song?*

*Buster’s own recording, from a couple of years ago.

UPDATE: Some post-depression-era photos, in color. Remarkable. Rockwellian!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Katherine

    What is even more scary, is if you look online it seems like all the big employers have pulled all their job requisitions off line. DH looked at Northrop, Disney and a few others. Except for really esoteric jobs, everything is listed as intern positions.

    We have an excess of human capital. What historically happens after we find ourselves with an excess of human capital?


  • dry valleys

    My commiserations to Buster, I found the four months I spent on welfare to be the most desolating of my entire life. Do you wonder why people do really grotty jobs? Because a lot of them know what the alternative is.

    Here’s a nice book that any jobless person or anyone who knows one, or who just doesn’t get his kicks from hating poor people, might like to read:

    I worked in a factory in my summers. Because I am working-class, I didn’t go in with the idea it was beneath me, though I certainly didn’t want to spend my working life in such a place (and if that strikes anyone as a bad attitude, why do you think it is that so many working-class parents strain themselves if not so that their children’s lives can be easier than their own?)

    I got my job by doing a practical test, I wasn’t actually interviewed at all. They then employed everyone who passed on a temporary contract, fired anyone who, after a month, wasn’t at the standard, and eventually employed some people, me being one of them. My view is actualy the exact opposite of Busters, I’m not very sociable in real life (though a lot of people do come to be friends and good acquaintances in time) and I’ve generally failed at interviews because I’ve never managed the art of glad-handing people.

    As I’ve had occasion to say before, the sole good point of this recession is that a person who can’t find work is no longer vilified. I never thought they were workshy or layabouts, there are a lot of areas in which it’s extremely hard to get a job. I also accept that people are unwilling to leave family and community support networks, so high unemployment in X can coexist with vacancies in Y without this being cause to berate unemployed residents of X.

    And I certainly advocate extending unemployment benefits. The old ideas about a luxury welfare lifestyle being a temptation unless we really make them suffer was always wrong, but now it is obvious to all but the blindest.

    [Buster has no problem getting dirty - his first job, at age 11, was working for a landscaper. I'm glad you finally found something, DV! - admin]

  • kelleyb

    Will ask St. Joseph to help him.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I suspect there is no real hiring going on—-and what little there is, isn’t happening over the Internet, I suspect that’s just a blind; “Yeah, yeah, just file your application on the Internet, and we’ll get back to you.” Uh-huh.

    I also think companies that don’t even want to meet prospective employees face to face, are in for a serious wake-up call, and a bit of a shock. The “Cogs” working in their machine might end up costing them more than they realize

    That’s no way to run a business.

  • Sissy Willis

    His music making is very soulful.

  • Will

    We have allowed a lot of jobs to be shipped to other countries. Business gets a cheaper products to market because they pay low wages and no benefits in other countries. The trade “balance” is way out of wack. Some other countries must be laughing at us.

  • Gayle Miller

    Furniture stores generally speaking are looking for big healthy fellows to help deliver furniture. Buster might check in with them. The fact that English is his first language might come in handy!

    AND I will pray to St. Joseph for him as well!

  • dry valleys

    It was 3 years ago that I went through my stint of unemployment. I know people who were out of work in the early 80s and early 90s recessions who still remember, and are more sympathetic towards the jobless today than people who have always worked.

    When you are talking about an excess of human capital, I fear this might become permanent. Technology and mechanisation will always destroy jobs (and create others), which is good in that most people are no longer subsistence agricultural labourers, but bad if some new way of working is not created.

    I honestly think something akin to the New Deal is called for to bring some kind of meaningful and useful work to people in depressed regions. You soon get onto politics rather than generally ruing the lot of the jobless.

  • Christine

    I have been a Human Resources Manager for 20 years and I have seen the difference as well. There are several factors involved with why hiring has changed.

    1. Lack of open positions – this goes without saying. But always remember that there are employees who have usually been laid off that will return when positions open.

    2. Lack of Human Resources Reps – If I were 20 years younger, knowing what I now know, I would not go into Human Resources. Besides the very stressful nature of the proffession, there are very few openings for entry level HR types because of all of the automation. When you have one HR manager for a business, with little to no help, you automate or outsource as much as possible.

    3. Automation – Hiring, for the most part, is now automated. When you apply on-line, the information you input regarding your knowledge, skills and experience are added to a searchable database that targets candidates who, on paper, fit the parameters of the position you have open. It is so difficult when you have thousands of applicants to look over each resume, especially if you are short-staffed. You may also be tested online about your propensity towards theft, and your ability to provide good customer service. These tests are not available in a paper and pen format, and nobody at the business would probably even know how to administer them.

    4. labor laws – there are many ways employees or potential employees can sue you because of your hiring processes. Sometimes these laws will allow for personal lawsuits against the managemnt team, including HR. Making the hiring process as uniform as possible helps lower the incidence of legal action.

    I really hope the best for your son. If he knew a little spanish, had some skills with interior as well as exterior plants and lived in CA, I could probably help him with an entry level position.

    In the meantime, I would recommend that he work as a volunteer at a local non-profit. He would keep busy, work for the good of society and make some great connections.

    [Thanks for the background, Christine! -admin]

  • Liz

    Thank you for this post. You actually seem to get it. I see a lot of bewildered older people – not all of them, and fewer than before but enough – looking at my generation and they’re seemingly unable to come to any conclusion other than we’re lazy.

    We get told to take any job and get our hands dirty – the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) assumption being that we’re too proud and lazy to scrub toilets. I have a cleaning job. I got it by luck after months of searching. I see so many people who can’t get the most menial jobs.

    We’re told to get out there and knock on doors, give out CVs, try harder dammit. That is so unbelievably insulting to all of us who do just that.

    I went to college with the thought that I might have to emigrate. I became more certain that I would have to as I completed my degree. I just have no idea where – relatives in other countries keep telling me there’s no work where they are.

  • Buster (or, Chris)

    Strange. My name is Buster…and I am unemployed.

  • Anne Marie

    What a great song! Thanks for sharing Buster’s great music.

  • Brian

    I listened to his song and he’s pretty good. Has he tried to do anything with his music? He could try to put together an album and get it up on iTunes or places like that (no need for a label nowadays).

    [Thanks. I think if the jobhunts prove fruitless he might think about it... -admin]

  • Heidi Saxton

    I second the “volunteer” suggestion. It’s amazing the people you meet — and the impression you can make — if you are willing to put the same effort and dedication into a volunteer slot, helping others, that you put into a “real” job. (My last volunteer gig netted part-time employment, and my church volunteer record has gone a long way toward positioning me for my “transitional” career.)

    Playing for churches can also be a good way to transition into a paid position. I got my first organist job at the age of 12 for a little country church. Thirty-five years later, I find resurrecting this skill has been personally gratifying and professional indispensable.

    St. Joseph, patron of workers, pray for us!

  • Victor

    Nothing like the love of a good mother to keep a son going.

    Hey! Pretty good song Buster.

    Maybe you’ve found a job after all! Go Figure! :)

    God Bless

  • gospace

    I work at a big box. Used to be, we, the lowly workers, could recommend friends and relatives to management, so they’d get at least a look-see.

    Now, all, repeat, ALL, applications are done online. Along with a qualifying test. When an opening occurs, the computer picks people from the list to be interviewed, based on whatever parameters it has been programmed with.

    Completely without any bias. And unassailable by EEOC enforcers. Which is why it is done that way. The system does not get the best workers- recommendations from people who are good workers does that.

    And with that, with a warning from the beginning that all, repeat, ALL job applicants will be drug tested before hireing, one out of every two asked to pee in a bottle either don’t, or fail the test.

    My son is 20 and trying to get a job. Can’t get his foot in the door at Wal-Mart- he has no retail experience. 5 of 5 times now, he’s been recommended by the first interviewer, and rejected for that same reason by the final decisionmaker.

    The job market is tight.

  • Lori

    My brother just got a job after months out on the market. Thanks for your prayers, Anchoress and others. I’ll pray for Buster too.

    This country is in need of a big shakeup. I don’t know what it’s going to take….

  • Jingle_Contest

    Ok Mom and Buster, enough of the down-in-the-mouth stuff. I’ve got an in for Buster, the baby face in the beard:

    Now, Buster, when you get the prize, remember me. ;D

    You can do this. You can win the Uke theme song contest.

    Cuz I said so, that’s why!

    Oh, and you were not born 70 years too late. I hate hearing that crud. You were born now to remind us to be more human, more personal and more caring.

    As of today I’m adopting you as my long distance baby brother…in a beard. Come west. We have tables to wait, songs to sing. Now get crackin’ on that theme song. The rest of us out in the peanut gallery are getting our popcorn ready.

    [Thank you for this! -admin]

  • K

    Starbucks? I worked there for three years – applications are still online (not sure of the process – they weren’t online when I was hired) but it’s a great place to work, good benefits – I’d recommend it to anyone. Good luck – Buster will be in my prayers!

  • anniebird

    Buster, my thought is moving company. There’s a company here in my state (MN…doesn’t help you, I know) that hires big strong young bucks to help out in the summer and fall…maybe there will be somebody smart enough to hire you as a mover this summer!

    Heaven knows, you’re popular with us, kid! Will pray for you too…

  • Mary

    Well, since I asked you to take my intention of employment to Rome, this is doubly relevant. . .

    I started work last week after more than eleven months unemployed.

    [Mary, I am so glad! I've heard from several folks who have gotten jobs since then! St. Philip Neri and St. Catherine of Siena do not fool around. Now I will have to go back there, to say Thank you! :-) -admin]

  • kenneth

    I echo Buster’s frustration. Two years ago, I took a voluntary buyout from the journalism profession which was collapsing by the day. I had been planning a major career change anyway – into pharmacy, which has required years of undergraduate science classes simply to apply to professional school. Despite a 15-year work history, stellar references, licensing and certification as a pharmacy technician, a near 4.0 GPA and nearly two years of highly exacting work in a molecular biology lab, I can’t even get my foot in the door in retail!

    The problem is of course our economy, but it is also what Buster alludes to: a completely impersonal HR system. The last time I did a serious job search in the mid-90s, even with a much thinner resume, I was getting at least one or two interviews every single week.

    The reason? Because at that time, it was almost all still paper and snail mail. Your cover letter and resume were always seen by at least one real human being, even if it was just a low level flunkie checking it over for qualifications. Someone always saw at least a snapshot of you as a working person and a human being. I always got at least a form letter for rejections.

    These days, nothing. That online application gets run through some magic algorithim and unless you have some unknowable perfect combination of keywords in the right frequency or whatever, it just goes into the ozone. Many of these online apps don’t even let you submit a cover letter. You have no way whatsoever to make an articulate case for yourself.

    With most of these retail store sites, I spend an hour taking some ludicrous personality test asking me things like whether I “always” like to be in big crowds! Nothing that probes whether I can reason or communicate or demonstrate any sense of professionalism whatsoever. The one time I did land an interview, it was a five minute thing with a pair of store managers, who asked me similar artificial HR personality test type questions. At no point was I interviewed by an actual pharmacist to see whether I knew anything about drugs or patient safety. Mull that one over next time you take home your month’s supply of medication….

    Fortunately, I have been able to build upon my academic connections to get a 10-week internship at a very good biology lab at a university. The upshot is that personal connections are the only thing that works these days. Applying as someone off the street holds as much promise as a lottery ticket.

  • Katherine

    I wanted to add one other thought. I had my first child in 2002 and left the work force to be a SAHM.

    DH lost his job of 25 years in April 2010. My children are in school now, so I thought if I had a going business in this environment I’d be looking to temp agencies for staffing. I made an appointment with Apple One, spiffed up the resume and went off with a song in my heart.

    I have a degree in business and years of experience, not just with MS Office, but as someone who has designed and delivered training of it in a corporate settling.

    They would not even give me an interview or a typing test. I had been out of the work force for more than two years, and they wouldn’t consider anyone in that situation.

    It’s not like I had been in jail, I was raising my children.

    Not interested.


  • Dan

    I just applied for an IT job at a place in Chicago called Mbira, which caters to instrument sales. They employ several dozen musicians to work phones, since they feel that “only another musician should be servicing their needs”. I don’t know if I will be hired, but if so, I will check out prospects for Buster. Pray for me, as I will be praying for him. b/t/w I love your columns and Max is a real hoot: tell him that. Also congratulate Max on his first Instalanche today !


  • AGGIE Mom

    My prayers are with you. My college girls were unemployed last summer with the same blues. Underemployed adults had taken the jobs they had held in previous summers. Thank the Lord, one has a YMCA day camp job this summer. *She says they are begging for male counselors BTW.* We’ll be PAYING tuition for the oldest to work in a clinical internship.
    Hope it all works out.

  • Brian

    An interesting tidbit on the job situation … I work at a software company and we posted a position for a technical support engineer with experience in our product (this was in MA). We got exactly one (1) resume submitted to us. We even went back to HR and asked for the resumes which didn’t make their cut and the response we got back was “we only got one resume”. We were absolutely shocked. We ended up interviewing in another state where we have an office and hired someone there.

  • http://Anchoress Anne

    Try working for a temporary agency…it worked for my jusband–he was hired permanent agter 3 mos.

  • Kris, in New England

    I work in a Fortune 100 insurance company. I am all-too-familiar with the online application process as we live (and all too frequently die, metaphorically speaking) by it.

    Our company encourages current employees to make personal recommendations to applicants. There is a bonus program for it and a place for the employee’s name to be used by the applicant during the online process.

    Employees will always know someone they can send a private e-mail to – the HR Recruiter, the Hiring Manager, etc… to ensure the personal recommendation is received loud and clear.

    I’ve done this several times for friends I’ve known and worked with for 10 years. Not slackers – that’s the whole point of the employee referral idea, you’re not going to stick your neck out for “just anyone”. These people were all highly qualified, experienced and professional. Assets to a company in every way.

    Only ONE of them actually got an interview. And he didn’t get the job. I never got an answer as to why either and in a few of the circumstances I actually WORK with the hiring managers.

    I’ve stopped making the referrals; what is the point. It’s embarrassing to me and it’s humiliating to my friends. Especially when I learn that the people hired for these various positions have half the experience and they are hired because they cost less.

    So even on the “inside” it’s grossly impersonal.

  • Jenny

    Is that Buster singing? Wow! He should move down here to Nashville. :) We have a decent job market and lots of places to sing. I’d come listen, anyway.

  • The Ranter

    You got me to thinking, with your addition of the photos, about how ‘we’ view the ages past:

  • TerryC

    Tell Buster that old school still works. My granddaughter got her first internship by going from business to business in an industrial park until somebody, so impressed with her efforts, opened a position for her.
    She got the HR job she has now by being so persistent in her job search efforts with the collage employment placement office that when a position opened up at university they hired her for it. (She was already working a dead end contract support job.)
    These things happened because she was persistent and because she “chatted a bit–made and impression.” It still works. She got her dream HR only at the end of last year, in the middle of this continuing recession. She also prayed. A lot.

  • fiestamom

    Buster is on the right track. Let’s hear it for old school! My teenage son wanted a job at the local grocery store. We asked the check out girl if they were hiring. She said you have to apply online, but to come back the day after you applied, and tell the manager you applied online. It worked for my son.

    Take heart, Buster, old school still works, even in the online age. I’ll take his intention to Adoration with me this weekend. I’ll pray to St. Joseph the *worker*.

  • Chris Jolma

    Hey there! I’m a regular reader — have been for years, and your blog is pretty much my only go-to source for news and commentary. I wish you had a station on the AM dial because it would make my life complete. Hah!

    If Buster wants to come to DC and work with me for the summer, I’m in desperate need for quality guys. We have about 50 5-star reviews on that you can see right now, and about 150 “filtered” 5-star reviews that take a little searching to find. However, manpower problems and shortages are threatening to take the last of my hair.

    Some quick background: I was laid off from a Washington (Alexandria, actually) non-profit in 2008. I’d been doing some moving/delivery jobs on the side because I was one of those rare guys in the area with a pickup truck. I started doing that after my wife became pregnant and had to quit her day job. So, when I was laid off, I had to get creative, and the result is a little business that I almost want to call “successful.” It’s

    I won’t go into all the philosophy behind it, but what makes this moving company different than others is the quality of guys who work with us. Originally, I looked for guys between professional careers, or who wanted to use their talents and skills in a sort of “free market laboratory.” It’s really hard to find quality guys who want to help build a company — that entrepreneurial spirit is rare indeed — but that’s who I’m ideally looking for: future executives.

    I’d love to tell you stories about the human resource problems I’ve been dealing with lately, but the short story is that I’m sick of the thieves and half-wits who promise to be the best guys I’ve ever hired, and then fail to show up to jobs AT ALL. So, I’m back to the original model — professional, clean-cut guys who generate great reviews, get big tips, and consider this little company a real career option. I also pay far too well.

    So let me know if Buster is interested or have him call me. My contact information is on the website. That is, of course, if he can show up on time and work hard. ;-)


  • Chris Jolma

    I read all the other comments in this thread and see an interesting, recurring problem — the lack of the “personal touch.” Well, that’s not a problem here. Even if I could hire an HR person, I’d still want to talk to everyone applying. Two interviews is now the minimum. I’ve been burned too many times by guys and their promises — even when those guys and been vouched for by my best guys.

    It’s insane. 10 percent unemployment? Really? I wouldn’t know it by the way guys treat this company. I can’t prove it, but I suspect that people are merely poking around MTB just to say they’re “applying for jobs,” only to collect unemployment.

    Additional note to my first post: I forgot that Buster would need a place to stay down here. In a pinch, we could probably put him up. But, there’s a large Catholic community in Northern Virginia, and there are a number of groups that put out notices for roommates and such. Plus, I think my Operations Manager has an opening in his group home. Except for him, they’re all Anglicans, so take that into account. Lol..

  • Kristen

    Wow! I downloaded the song, have it playing again as I type. He should put a CD together…I bet he knows how to burn them. I’d buy a few.
    I feel like a thief listening to something I would have bought, and I tell you, I don’t buy CD’s any more. This is exceptional.

    And that’s not because I have three sons…

    My prayers for a job for Buster.

  • tomas

    has he tried UPS and/or FEDEX
    again it will probably be online but they are usaully always
    on the lookout for workers