Friday, August 12, 2011

From the Trenches: The Unemployment Office and Finding Direction.

Getting a letter from the Department of Employment Security is never fun. They don't write you ever to tell you “Everything's going fine, just checking in,” or “Surprise! You have a job now!” Usually, every envelope from that office contains a week's worth of stress and anxiety. Frequently, the letters themselves are sufficiently panic-inducing, as they seem to be cobbled together automatically by a computer cut and pasting various sections that seem relevant onto a single page, even if the various sections contradict one another. If you need information, the letters direct you to call your local office for more information. This is a bad joke told by someone with a particularly dark sense of humor. For my local office, at least, you'll navigate an automated menu, sit on hold for 15 minutes, hear the phone ring, and then get a voicemail box after 5 rings. This is, of course, assuming the system doesn't just hang up on you mid-call.

I think I'd be happier waiting in lines like this if there were coffee and donuts, and if men still wore cool hats.

Recently, I got one of these letters. It was filled with scary sounding words and cryptic phrases. I'm the sort of person who can puzzle out most legal documents, I've had to decipher written communication from people with terrible penmanship, a limited grasp of language, even mental and cognitive deficiencies which make effective written communication difficult. I pride myself on being able to discern the meaning of all these esoteric and confusing pages of text. The letter I got made no sense. In one sentence it states that it has been found that I haven't worked since August of last year. Further down, it shows my earnings from wages for 4th Quarter 2010 and 1st Quarter 2011. It tells me I am not eligible for benefits, further down it says that a new benefit claim has been automatically filed on my behalf, and yet further it tells me how much I can receive, but only if I contact the local office RIGHT AWAY.

Any hope of assistance online or via phone is foolishness, so I have to prepare to physically go down to the local office. I've been down there once before when a clerical error told the State that I'd never worked at my last job, so I was dreading the process. The office is crowded, dirty, filled with people who are stressed out, worried and confused. Not a single person in that building, staff included, seems pleased to be there. The atmosphere is one of desperation, shame, sadness, a resignation to the idea that things are bad and don't seem to be improving any time soon. I was prepared for a long wait, a confusing time explaining what is going on without really understanding it myself, and possibly wondering where any money is coming from in a few weeks. I looked around the office, saw all the other people there, many seemed vaguely uncomfortable, as though they felt guilty at anyone, even someone else going through a rough patch, seeing them there.

Not a fun door. Even less fun than the DMV, but it beats starving.

I am pleased to report that this particular story had a good resolution for me. The wait was shorter than I'd feared (meaning I overpaid for parking) and I explained my situation to one of the most competent and friendly people I've ever met dealing with this agency. Several moments on the computer, and I was told: “You're all set.” My eyes bulged from their sockets in surprise. “There will be a wait week where no benefits will be paid, but after that, you'll receive more.” Turns out, the cryptic letter was based on something called a benefits year, where the government has to recalculate benefits based on a more recent period of wages. If you made more in the more recent period (as I had,) you've paid more into the system, so they have to pay more out to match. I left the office with the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders.

In the time I've been out of work, I've applied for hundreds of positions. I've tried every field I've had experience in, every related field I could think of, and had friends and family keeping an eye out and an ear to the ground. I've tried to get in to new fields such as private investigation, process serving and warrants. I've written in for jobs I knew I wasn't qualified for, and others I knew I was overqualified for. The only up-side to the complete lack of response has been that I haven't had to waste a ton of expensive fuel to run the car out and about. My diverse set of experiences and skills in some cases works against me, and I've been searching for that one position that uses all of them and I think I may have found it, but getting this job will be the most difficult thing I've ever attempted.

With a background in improvisational acting, convention management, employee supervision and training and crisis intervention, it seems like there isn't a single job that could possibly use all those skills. I've also taken between one and three years training in the following languages: Spanish, Japanese, German, French and Russian. I can barely speak a word of any of them having not used them in nearly a decade, but I pick up foreign tongues quickly. I wish I'd thought of this sooner. Yesterday, I registered for the exam for the US State Department's Foreign Service Office – Public Diplomacy Division. I am going to start the process to become a diplomat for the United States. I've read a lot about the qualities they look for in a candidate, and they describe me nearly to the letter.

I don't think I can count decades playing this game as "relevant experience,"
but damned if I won't use skills practiced whilst playing.

I have no illusions about how difficult this will be. This is going to be the ultimate test of everything I think I'm good at, and that is scary. I will not be surprised if even after weeks of preparation that I find that I'm not ready. Jobs in the Foreign Service tend to attract a lot of people just like me, well-read in a lot of areas, fairly bright and personable, with a wide range of skills and talents. The competition for a spot isn't against a pack of directionless young folks looking for their first job, some of the people I'll be up against will have degrees in political science, sociology or economics. I fully expect to be smeared on my limited proficiency with the languages I've studied. I need to brush up on US policy, economics, current events, terms and practices concerning media... I've read some sample test questions and tips on surviving essays and oral interviews, and what I've seen terrifies me.

However, even if I don't make it the first time around, this is what I want to do. This might answer a part of the question I've posed to myself from the first day I started this blog back in February. “What do I want to be?” "What's Next?"  It took me almost six months to figure it out, now I have just under two more to prepare for my first opportunity to make the cut. If I could coast through completely on by verbal and written communication skills (which are decent,) it wouldn't be so scary. That's not enough. I have to review all my training materials for Verbal Judo, which is the program that got me through working with troubled kids and generating voluntary compliance with words. I have a LOT of reading and studying to do. Best get to it.
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Sarah said...

I just want to tell you 'good luck'. We're all counting on you.

Jay said...

wow, seems like things are looking up for you, nice! :D

Alpha said...

Good luck, bro.

Porky said...

Very cool. I thought about it myself once. I wish you the very best.

A Beer for the Shower said...

Congrats on the great results and good luck!

The moment I saw this title I cringed. As an unemployed fellow myself, I can relate. Our helpline is awful. They don't have 'hold.' Either you get through, or you get a busy signal. So, like all the other people in the state all calling at the same time, you dial, hear a busy tone, hang up. Dial, hear a busy tone, hang up... repeat for, well, last time it took me 2 and a half hours.

Zombie Ad said...

Good luck sir.

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