Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Looking for Work in San Kafka or The Guardian at the Gate Might be a Bimbo

So, being a victim of the last eight years of our version of the Free(fall) Market Economy, I've had to hit the bricks and look for work. The last several years I've worked as a writer and so forth, but since those types of creative jobs have taken particular blows during this crash, I've had to fall back on my previous career - which was in management in a social service field.

Well...the social services has never paid much, but, like writing, it's something you do because a) you love it, and b) you're good at it. When I left the field several years ago, I did so with a pristine reputation, the respect of my colleagues and administrators, and a boatload of experience and training.

I fell out of the field during my transition from one time zone to another and fell into writing. At this point, I'm not falling. But to avoid plunging, I was seeking work back in that field in which I have much to offer. I guessed that here in progressive California, there would be a smooth, easy-to-access system full of conscientious social workers, searching for experienced employees.

*Falls over laughing.*

Um...no. Not so much. No, what I found is not that at all. I don't have the strength in my fingers to list all the odd and terrible things that have occurred from searching for a job in my field out here, but I must share some of the experiences I got from only company - in only one day, for one position.

(And must I point out that I have changed pretty much all the details in this - because I still might end up working for these yahoos?)

I found this agency online. They had several programs in several towns - and, ostensibly, several positions open. We shall call them Agency, Inc. I read their site, looked over their information, and did a bit of research on my own. Their reputation was pretty good - not the best in the area, but better than average. I printed out their multi-page application and looked over their list of available positions. None available were quite what I needed, so I chose the closest one (a management type) and wrote down the company's address.

The application, of course, was similar to those filled out be people wanting to make fries at McDonald's. Full of tiny little two-tone boxes and asking me what classes I took in high school. Good Christ, I'm 40. I'm lucky I remember what high school I attended, let alone what I took. Normally, when faced with this usual batch of entry-level stupidity, I would write in the cute little boxes and lines, "See attached resume." That's what you're supposed to do. That's what anyone with a resume is taught to do.

Not here. Agency, Inc.'s application (and most of the other social-services applications I've seen out here on the Left Coast) read: You must fill this out completely, even if you are attaching a resume. Because, you know, nothing says efficiency like having me write my qualifications in a 1 1/2 square-inch box. For the "Duties and Responsibilities" portion of one of the relevant past positions, I had room to write, "I oversaw all aspects of management of a 4-bedroom group home, including hiring, firing, budgeting, and everything else." That was it. That was all the room they left for me to sell myself. If you're asking if I wasn't impressed, you're right. Thank God I had a resume attached that they may or may not read.

On Monday morning, I dressed for success, took my resume and application, and drove 'a couple dozen miles' north to Agency Inc.'s location on Red Tape Road - as I was supposed to do. I made my way to their receptionist's desk and found this particular Guardian at the Gate - who had a nameplate that said she was an Executive Assistant. She had that hard-mouth look that said that no amount of charm was going to work on her, but the blasted blood vessels on the nose that said a bottle of good gin might do the trick. Anyone seen Barfly? Picture Faye Dunaway at her worst. The EA looked a bit like that, just not quite as hot. She had the look of a woman who had slept her way to a position 20 years ago, and had used blackmail to keep it since then.

She glanced over my application, dismissed my resume with the same glance, and then told me I'd have to drive north to San Kafka (really, anyone that doesn't get that this isn't a real place name should just stop reading now) and turn it in to their office there. San Kafka is about 70-odd miles north of where I live, and I asked why. She said that's where the Management-Like Position* applications were taken.

After some dithering, she finally was able to explain that the only Management-Like Position available was up in San Kafka, and if I wanted a Management-Like Position, I'd have to drive to San Kafka and apply for that one position. I told her I really couldn't travel 150 miles round-trip daily (and didn't mention - "not on what you're offering"), but said I was hoping they would take my resume and application. Perhaps another position closer would come open, or they would have a Lesser Position** open that I could fill.

Oh, but no, she said. My application was only good for that one position. Well, following their online instructions, I had written in one tiny little box on the top page of the application the name of the position I was seeking: Management-Like Position. She said she couldn't accept the application because I had already filled that out; it must go to San Kafka.

I thought a minute. (Actually I thought a second; I calmed down a minute.) I then asked if it would be a problem to cross it out and write another title. No, she said. They would throw away any application with crossed-out marks. Why? Because it looked unprofessional, and that I hadn't put any effort in it.

Allow me to reiterate that I brought my professional resume and they wanted me to fill in a McApplication to work. Again I refrained from violence and asked her if she could print me out a copy of Page One of the application. I'd be dee-lighted to fix 'my' error here.

No. They wouldn't do it. It was a paper-saving measure. If I wanted to turn in the application, I'd need to go home, print out the new page, find the new Lesser Position that was hiring at the moment, and take it to whatever address they told me to.

I thanked her, and that's exactly what I did. Another few dozen miles on the car in Cali traffic. I printed it out, found a Lesser position, and found the new address. I filled out Page One, including all the tiny little McBoxes, and headed back north - this time to San Diego proper.

I found the address and the main door. I went through a tangle of hallways until I find their reception desk - in the center of the office. A blonde surfer-bimbo-looking chick was at the desk. I told her I was dropping off a resume/application.

"Cool!" (Seriously.)

When I told her what the position was for, she said I'd need to go back outside and go another door, to another reception desk, to drop it off. Apparently they had two offices there, working for the same company, but only the other receptionist desk was worthy of holding my paperwork. I wandered out through the maze, back outside, found the other door, and wandered back inside a new maze of halls and desks - to another reception office, also in the center of a warren of cubicles. This receptionist had the librarian-bimbo look going on - glasses on her nose, tight sweater, the works. I told her I was dropping off my resume/application.

"Do you have an appointment?" Well, no. I was just following instructions and dropping off.

"If you want to talk to Dick, you'll need an appointment." (Yeah, his name wasn't Dick. Go figure.) I wasn't planning on talking to Dick.

"You were just going to leave that?" Yes, like the online instructions said to do.

"Would you like to talk to Dick?" Certainly, can I have an appointment?

She called Dick and said (and this is a quote): "There's a guy here who's dropping off an application that wants to see you. He doesn't have an appointment."

Thanks so much. I remind her that I also have a resume and didn't know I'd be seeing Dick. She ignores me and picks up my application. She looks at the job title, and then reads it to him: Lesser Position. She nods, says "okay", and hangs up.

"He's too busy to see you right now."

This is the moment that I thought I might not get away without SWAT intervention. Through not-quite-gritted teeth, I said, "But if I was looking for a Management-Like Position, he would have seen me, right?"

"Oh, yeah! He's real busy right now!" Really?

"Yeah! We need a whole lot of help right now!"

It took me about ten seconds to avoid laughing enough to squeak out, "You don't say."

"Yeah! Do you wanna leave that, or do you wanna wait and talk to him another day?" I think I'll just leave it.

"Okay! Oh, hey! Have you filled out the rest of the application?" No. She hands me another packet of paperwork that wasn't online: background checks and the like. More pages for that than were for the application itself (but they couldn't print out a spare page to save me 50 miles of driving). I told her I'd be happy to fill it out at home and come back tomorrow. Would Dick be around tomorrow?

"No. He's only here a couple days a week. He really works out of the Red Tape Road office. You know, we do have a Management-Like Position in San Kafka."


*In Maine, I worked as a Program Manager - nice and simple. The word manager is used in about 49 of 50 states to demonstrate the concept of, "one who manages." In Cali, they don't seem to use that term in Social Services. They call it Lead, or Specialist, or other ridiculous terms. I suppose that comes from living in a state where children's soccer teams are told that both teams won; it's just one team won with more points.

** "It's just like a Management-Like Position, but just with less money and you can't people what to do!"
On Wednesday, I spent seven hours driving around greater San Diego, going in and out of different social service agencies, putting my face on display, and doing what, in any other state, would involve me dropping off my resume to say "hi."
Not in Cali. All day, whenever I went inside these places and introduced myself - or told them I had appointments, which I did in many cases, they handed me a clipboard and asked me to fill out one of those damn applications.
I did it every time. The last two stops were different. I saved the last visit for my follow-up to see Dick at Agency, Inc. I'd been instructed to come back on Wednesday afternoon. It seemed a good time to do so.
My second-to-last stop was at one small agency. I went inside, explained that I had an appointment with the HR manager, and was escorted to her office. I introduced myself, handed her my resume, and she looked it over. I asked if I needed to fill out an application. She looked up at me, cocked an eyebrow, and said:
"You brought a resume. Why on Earth should you have to fill out an application?"
I nearly told her I loved her. We had a pleasant interview. She didn't have an open position, but slid my resume (not my application) to the top of the pile and said I may very well hear from her. That felt good.
But that goodwill was lost, when upon my return to Agency Inc., I wandered back to the bimbo receptionist, handed her the resume, background check, McJobAp, and said it was nice to see her again. She nodded like a bobblehead and then informed me that Dick had chosen to spend the day working at the Red Tape Road office all day. Even though they had requested that I come in to that office on that day to talk to that Dick, he couldn't be bothered to even let me know.
I left the packet of paperwork, felt a measure of relief at no longer having it, and raced on human legs out of the nest of cockroaches.


  1. Wow. The South is looked down on by the rest of the country as a bunch of half-wits and this is what the height of the "Progressive" mindset can produce? Irony, your name is California. Oh and good luck with that budget. Idiots. Not you though, if anything I figure your being there can only help things. That is if they can stop beating sticks together and digging up grubs long enough to listen to you.

  2. Irony tends to be lost in Cali. Sarcasm is the best that most of them can hope for. I've updated this just for you.

  3. I'm honored for the update. Could you use a baseball bat in place of the sarcasm? Brings to mind something you once told me: "Louisville...Slugger" Last thing they will ever see.

    "Ah. It's like that, killin" ~Mr. Moon