Creativity Magazine

#043 — Databased Hausfrau Trapped in Online Application Purgatory

By Legosneggos @LegosnEggos

*Photo credit to OurLadyofEternalLaundry.wordpress.com

So I sent in an application to my kids’ school district this past week to get emergency/alternative certification as a teacher.  I don’t even know if I am right material for a teacher (though I love being a parent), but it is the next logical step in my professional evolution.  Working for a school district as the mother of three school-aged children sounds like the logical solution, right?  You’re out when they’re out, they don’t live hours of each day alone at home. It is clear that the someone in my area who has that job has to die before I’ll get the job because she, like me, is smart and would not leave that job for her life because she also probably has three youngsters at home and needs those great hours.

There are a lot of us mothers around, who need the work but need it in the window of our kids’ school day.  And so the wait begins… and so begins the tale of the formerly self-employed middle-aged female divorcee with dependents who is valiantly struggling to re-enter the workforce.  It is a tale that will have a happy ending, even if someone has to die for it.

Just to get an interview or even just a call is nearly impossible.  Jobs in the school district are competitive and, as much as I hate to say it, highly political and based on the intricacies and sort of Sunday church networking.  I’m just not a networker, and that is deadly to one’s professional life in these days.  To me, it still feels like using people when I have nothing to offer in return, so I don’t do it.  I would prefer the old-fashioned way of getting interviews — job qualifications and being the best applicant.

The thing is that I’ve never stopped professionally working.  I’ve always earned income and paid taxes.  I’ve worked from home the whole of these 14 years for corporate offices and medical practices — albeit remotely/off-site and without health insurance benefits — and I’ve done well…for a married woman working from home.  Some years have been better than others, especially the earlier ones, but I’ve consistently helped support my family.  I haven’t been only raising children and doing housework at home, but I’ve also been a businesswoman with a home office (well, it’s situated between the kitchen and livingroom, but still…), invoicing clients and drumming up new ones, but this doesn’t seem to translate into my employment applications.   I’ve averaged several nights a month over all these years staying up all night working (after working the day, too) in order to help make ends meet, but recruiters cannot see that.  When recruiters see “self-employed,” they think, “Oh, I get it — Tupperware parties and telemarketing.”  Nope, dead wrong.  I refer to HR recruiters’ faulty logic as The Great Assumption — thinking a stay-at-home parent cannot possibly be serious about her home-based business past using the income for spending on mani/pedis, lawn service, and vacations.  Come on, I helped us subsist here!

For this reason — The Great Assumption — the recent change in my status to single woman has thrown me for a loop even though I’ve also been a working woman throughout my entire marriage.  The difference between before he left and now is that I need my own healthcare benefits (and financial independence, of course).  So I’m still working but need to work more hours and out of the house now in order to secure those benefits.

I am dumbfounded to find that I am what is still commonly referred to as a “displaced homemaker.”  (Being PC, most now say with their lips “displaced worker” but we all know they think “displaced housewife” when it is a formerly married woman.)  What is really frustrating is that, even though I don’t technically qualify as a displaced homemaker (keep in mind there’s nothing wrong with being one, though), HR recruiters see me as one at first glance, which is all I can get.

It sounds so pathetic, right?  ”Displaced homemaker” sounds like an aged hausfrau in a faded calico apron and rollers, smelling of onions and browning beef, standing in the middle of a busy road, holding her luggage and looking around as though she just fell off the back of a truck?  That is the picture that I am sure recruiters see, but it is not who I am.  It is not who any middle-aged woman is who has served as the chief economist and strong glue that has served to permanently bond her family and the home together.

That’s going to be my new moniker at home from now on — Krazy Glue – because this job search is making me insane.  And I’m finding in being single now that no bond is permanent. Whom was I kidding? <chuckle, snort, hand wave to the side>

I’m wondering as a newly single woman what in the hell to do with my professional life.  I’ve had my own business in transcription for years now and have kind and fantastic references if a recruiter would only read them and CALL.  I’ve stayed busy enough, but, hey, I’m on my own today and have to face the truth — it’s clearly time to move forward and get some insurance and benefits like a big girl.  I mean, our generation may achieve a lifespan of 100 years (if the diabesity doesn’t kill most of us), so I’m not even quite halfway used up!  That’s a lot of years’ salary to earn.  (By the way, I stopped the sugared sodas this year so that diabesity does not get me; just thought I’d share.)

Still, job searching in this economy sucks for a middle-aged woman re-entering the office-based workforce.  It sucks soooo baaaaad.  Every day is the reminder that you’re not the college-degreed potential employee they’re looking for (meaning 22 to 35 years old) and you will not be hearing from anyone; a cheery automated email is your best bet.  You never really knew how you secured all those jobs so easily when you were younger — you thought at the time that it was that new navy suit and smart pumps– but you realize now that it was your adorable naivete and others’ excitement to watch it melt off in a stressful and insulting job and — oh, yeah — your once willingness to take any salary — ANY salary — and accept being the coffee maker and drip wiper-upper.  I definitely served my time there and kept a great attitude about it because I was going somewhere. 

Excuse me while I grab a tissue…

BUT you don’t get the opportunity to tell them that, though you are wise, you are still willing to do those things in an office IF YOU CAN JUST GET THE FREAKING JOB and make them fall in love with your efficiency and poise.  Once your age is spotted (I know I’m sensitive because I noticed the words “age” and “spot” placed too closely in those words) on an application, they assume you’ve got a superior attitude and will refuse menial tasks that a fresh-out-of-the-box college graduate will not.  (They’re wrong.)

I guess the first realization of this new HR world was when I was floored to find that no one — and I mean NO ONE — in the HR world uses the phone anymore or even preliminarily meets with applicants because there are thousands ( OK, I could be exaggerating…but maybe not) of online applicants out for the same job at all times; it is understandably impossible.  So that means that your online application that took upwards of 20 minutes to complete and the recruiter’s 5-second perusal (which is basically checking age) and quick dismissal are as far as you will ever get in the interview process.  Did I mention that I have become lightning fast at completing online applications and composing cover letters to attach to them?  I am!

Did you know that feedback is outdated?  Neither did I!

So I realize now in this applicant purgatory that I have been databased — that’s right, I’ve made it a verb now.  ”Databased” means that, as a middle-aged applicant in the world of online applications, you and your information are stuck in a house of mirrors for at  least a year, most probably never to hear anything but, ironically, because they have your information, an assurance that you COULD hear something (but you know you won’t).  You have secured a promise from an emailing automaton (no, not a recruiter, silly) that your information has been received and is locked in the system (meaning not to do anything further because it’s hopeless) and awaiting discovery once the timing and the job are right, which means never because you cannot reverse aging.  Personally, I think I would fare better wearing a tight sweater and waiting at a malt shop (do they still have those?) to be discovered by a Hollywood producer…even at this age.

But I’ve achieved “databased” status in many HR offices throughout the area at this point.  I consider it an achievement indeed because I have logged many, many hours online in applying for jobs that I’ve begun to suspect don’t even exist; I think these HR people just love building databases and comparing them in size with other HR recruiters at lunchtime in the park.  ”Well, I have this one who is 46 — get it, 46 — who wants a job after being home 14 years.” Cue explosive and convulsive laughter among young professionals in their Jimmy ChoosWho am I kidding?  No one takes lunch anymore!  Still, I just adore spreading my personal information around town like this.  I feel like a jobless whore at this point…which leaves me feeling cheapened by the whole experience.

To be fair, though, if I were an HR recruiter in today’s job market, then I would be the same way.  I’ve worked a lowly HR job before in Houston, and I remember the steady stream of applicants who applied for a single job.  I remember trying in vain to keep them hopeful, and the ones who returned incessantly to the office to inquire if they would be hired.  It was stressful and calloused one a bit.  That was back when applications were accepted off the street and in writing, and sometimes testing was even given the same day, and you were contacted to interview if you even remotely satisfied the qualifications.  There were only a few websites back then, but it was before people were directed to complete online applications.  Back then, with enough charm and persistence (both of which I had in ample supply), you could eventually get a recruiter on the phone.  But tenacity doesn’t cut it anymore, and it can be disheartening.

So, again, landing an office job in this economy as a middle-aged “housewife” after 14 years is akin to a personal hell.  And I’m starting to think the key to succeeding is — who woulda thunk? — exactly the attitude that I have taught my kids, which is (in my own words), “I don’t want you getting an expensive college degree only to push paper in middle management your whole life.  You need to do what you love for a living.  I want you to create your own opportunities in life.  Be your own boss if you can, but if you can’t, then serve the time working for someone else while doing what you love on the side until you can support yourself.  Please find a way to support yourself.”

Hence, this colorful blog o’mine and the Amazon ads.  We’ll see how this goes. People don’t seem to be buying it yet, but one never knows…  But I really don’t see how it works.  I think I need to start asking celebrities to do weird things to raise money for charities and get a following with my genuine quirkiness.  (Yes, I love dooce and The Bloggess, too.)

Wow, it is so much easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk.  And the whole damn problem is the health insurance benefits…because I need the insurance to make sure I can at least stand on my own.  And when I finally get my hands on a full-time job with benefits, I’m going to kick its @$$.

Any experiences out there from other middle-aged “displaced homemakers” who had to re-enter the job market after your marriage failed? Or from bloggers who support themselves through their blogs without selling their souls to advertising?  I’d certainly be interested to read what has worked for you.  Tell me how do you DO it!

 

P.S.  Sorry for the incredible length of this post.  Just remember this is my diary as well as a blog, so it is rambling, repetitive, and ruminating with a faint peppering of curse words.  You can imagine how voluminous I was like as a teenager.  A succinct Doogie Howser I was/am not.

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