Los Angeles Times - 07/08/02, page 14

The Muddle in The Middle

When Getting a Job Means More Then Finding a Mate

by Kathleen Fairweather

I never thought looking for a job would replace looking for a husband as my favorite pastime. But here I am, 43 years old and unemployed. Time magazine once reported that a woman over the age of 40 has a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than finding a husband. Note: This was before the age of terrorism. These days the odds have changed in favor of the terrorists.

That said, I have a better chance of being hit by terrorists, finding a husband and winning the lottery than I have of finding gainful employment. I mentioned this to a friend who told me to read some biographies of successful people. He reminded me that the middle was always the hardest part: the middle of the book and the middle of their lives. "Remember, Kathleen. You are in the second act of your life. That's where the challenge is set up for the big payoff in the third act. Conflict... Resolution."

Typical Hollywood: My life reduced to a three-act structure. I would find this reassuring if I didn't have such a lousy record of falling asleep during the second act, or even worse, leaving before the third act. So, my life is now one big second act. Or, the muddle in the middle.

So, here I am, unemployed. Maybe I should approach my job hunt like a husband hunt. Ask all my friends if they know of that special something -- instead of somebody. Tell them I'm looking for a nice job with security: A company who can commit and isn't just looking for a one-night temp. A boss who can love and cherish me. (I'll obey.) In sickness and health. (How about some health insurance?) For richer or poorer? (We'll reward you for hard work and a job well done -- even when times are tough.) Till death us do part. (You have a job with us until you retire!)

If a job is like a marriage then that explains why I'm unemployed and divorced: The odds are against me. Most marriages end in divorce and most jobs end in layoffs.

I read the classified ads like I used to read the personals. I circle the "hotties." Call Today! Dream Job! Top Commission! Earn As U Learn! Great Pay! Benefits! Earn Your Worth! I fantasize about the job opportunities that await my resume and application. Which reminds me: I need to write a new resume.

"There are some great books on resume writing," my friend tells me. (My friend, by the way has not changed jobs in 15 years and can't remember where his resume is -- much less how to write one.) "Just go to any bookstore. There are hundreds of 'em!" I remind him that I am now borrowing books instead of buying them. He tells me to go to Amazon.com, write down some titles and then check them out of the library. He speaks slowly and in a very loud voice. I remind him that I have lost my job -- not my hearing. He thinks I'm losing my sense of humor. I find that amusing.

I pull up the Amazon site and enter "Job Search." I find 304 books listed in this category. I return to the search page and enter the word "dating." There are 1,413 books listed. I'm not sure what to make of this. Perhaps more people want to find a mate than a job. When I was married, my mate was my job: Long hours for low pay and I got "fired" after 12 years of loyalty. (Actually, I was replaced by a younger "worker.")

I used to have a shelf full of dating books with titles such as 10 Steps to Mr. Right; If Love Is a Game, These Are the Rules; Power Dating; Love and Other Four-Letter Words.

My shelf is now full of books on career search and includes titles such as 10 Steps to the Perfect Job; Workers Are From Mars, Bosses Are From Uranus; Ready-Aim-Hire: Win the Work Search Game and Get the Job You Really Want.

What I really need is a book that combines job hunting and mate search. 10 Steps to a Job and a Husband; Get a Job and a Man Online; Work and Love and Other Four-Letter Words.

I find my books and bring them to the checkout counter. The librarian frowns and tells me I have $19.80 in overdue fines. I pretend I don't hear her and hand her my daughter's card.

I return home and spread my books out on the dining room table. Write Your Way to Job and Career Success! How can I resist? I run my hand over the titles and choose The No-Pain Resume Book. No pain, no gain was the mantra of my upbringing. This was disproved later by my ability to have lots of pain without any gain -- except when it came to dieting.

But I digress. I am now going to write my resume and flip through the pages to the chapter on proper resume format. I am overwhelmed by the many choices. Do I need the chronological, functional or combination resume? The chronological looks good: Work history organized historically by dates of employment. Unfortunately, with 20-plus years of experience to document I start to feel as though I am re-working War and Peace.

I move on to functional. What the heck is a functional resume? According to the manual it is, "The logical opposite of the chronological resume." I like this phrase -- it reminds me of my last fortune cookie and its scientific resonance is vaguely reassuring.

The functional resume de-emphasizes dates and focuses on experience. This could work. I can emphasize my experience and minimize my age. I already practice this on a daily basis.

I check out the "combination" resume, which "combines the best elements of the chronological and functional formats." I take this book very seriously and emerge four hours later with an eight-page resume. This seems a little long and I review the instructions again.

The author stresses that I "should always be honest without being stupid." This helps immensely and I trim six pages of excess stupidity. "Remember," she writes soothingly, "the purpose of the resume is to get an interview." I print out 50 copies, write a cover letter targeting each individual company, drop them at the post office and wait.

And wait. And wait some more. I check my answering machine religiously. I check my dial tone to see if it's still working. I check my bank balance. The result is the same: Zero. I send out 50 more. The rejections start to trickle in slowly and then build to a flood. "Thank you for your interest in our company.... We have received your resume along with 8,000 others. Should we pick yours out of the overwhelming pile, you will be invited to an interview along with hundreds of other applicants. Good luck in your job search."

The variations continue: "We have decided not to fill the position." "We have already filled the position." "We have reviewed your resume and will keep it in our files should a position become available." "We are only hiring temporary workers." And my personal favorite: "We are only hiring back employees we have laid off."

"Maybe you should tone down your resume," my friend says after reading it. "You look way too qualified. Dumb it down and see what happens."

This is a switch! In my 20s I padded my resume with experience that I didn't have, and now I have to fake inexperience? I take out all of the "action" verbs such as supervised, directed, developed, managed and created, and substitute typed, mailed, answered, scheduled, drove, walked -- as in the boss' dog. I send out 50 more and get my first interview for an "editorial assistant."

I plan my wardrobe carefully -- like I'm going on a first date. Something with style, but not too sexy, something that says I'm capable, but not easy. I pick out a skirt, blouse and jacket and then panic. I don't have any pantyhose. Does anybody wear pantyhose any more? My daughter tells me that bank robbers wear them over their heads so they won't be recognized during the getaway. I have a new respect for one-size fits all, beige, control top, reinforced toes.

I nix the pantyhose and pull on a pair of matching "career" pants and jacket and arrive at the interview 15 minutes early. "I'm here to see Mr. 'X'" I announce to the receptionist, who tells me to have a seat and fill out an application.

Mr. "X" enters the room and invites me into his office. He looks familiar. I've seen his face before. Maybe on MTV: He looks like one of the Backstreet Boys.

He offers me a chair and scans my resume as he tells me about the position. He's looking for a team player, someone who's not afraid to work 60 hours, or weekends, who knows where the nearest Krispy Kreme is, who is comfortable taking directions.

What he really means is, "You are old enough to be my mom and will end up trying to be the boss of me." He finishes the job description, picks up a Nerf ball and shoots it into a plastic basketball hoop, scores and asks me if I have any questions. I study his face and ask, "Are you by any chance related to John "X" from Santa Monica?

He nods and tells me John is his father and asks me if I know him. Know him? I dated him my freshman year in college -- we were engaged for two whole weeks! Admitting that I knew his dad before he was born would only confirm that I am a bona-fide geezer. "He's a friend of my father's," I lie.

He smiles for the first time and tells me his dad just moved back to town after divorcing his second wife.

I suppress an urge to dance on his desktop. So, John is divorced? Now, this is an interview with real potential. I shake his hand and coolly thank him for his time. If I can't work for him, I can hunt down his dad, marry him and become the little brat's step-mom. I can't wait to hear a 25-year old say, "You're not the boss of me!"

Kathleen Fairweather is a former magazine editor and freelance journalist.