NYC Job Search Craziness (Part 1)

I went to an interview yesterday. A job interview. My first one in May and one of my first ones of this season. Actually I have been on a constant, enduring, never-ending job search since I came to this lovely place. I remember my crazy first 6 weeks here and the time it took me to sort out less than a handful of (unserious) interviews until I decided to go be a waitress for a while. This lasted for 2 months – waitressing really sucks in New York! After this episode I have been on a long, long, long search for that one lucky spot that will end all of my problems in my life, and leave me with a feeling of eternal happiness and satisfaction….
Well, a job that would get rid of my financial problems, let me live out my creativity, not bore me to death, and not make me work unfair overtime hours would be a good start for now. I haven’t found what I am looking for – yet. The New York City job market is just chaotic, over-flooded with cheap labor, and competitive to a degree that will swallow all your credentials and school degrees if someone else shows up who is willing to do the same job for much less than you could ever afford to haggle down to. And, believe me, it appears that these mysterious phantoms show up just at the right time.
But, to be fair, most of the issues I have seen when being on job interviews can be led back to the actual employers and also the companies that are looking for new employees. I have never seen so many scams and dubious job opportunities than in this city. It did add up to my out-of-failure-you-learn mental image and I feel I have become enriched in the experience of being scammers’ best ping pong ball ever.

I had this time in August and September, before I luckily ended up at my current work, when I literally send out 20 resumes or more each and every day, went on interviews two or three times a day, and even got invited to a second or third round… which I readily declined on most of the occasions. Most of the times I really felt like turning around and just running out of the office, but I put a smile on my face, made it through the tedious process, and now I can share some of the best stories with you! I knew it would pay off eventually!

This one time, I made the acquaintance with a company that was looking for administrative assistants and/or sales people. I thought I’d give it a shot, sent them my resume, and ended up being called in for a so-called interviewing opportunity scheduled the same week. As soon as I popped my head in, I was surrounded by 20 other fellow job seekers, who were eagerly filling out a standard application form in the same room. Boy, did I feel stupid! But I also felt that if I never went through this, I wouldn’t have experienced real American competition. A young man slightly younger than I (and still a college student, I suspected) handed me the same form and I sat next to an expectant-looking girl in a suit who was fervently scribbling down her answers. The form seemed like one of those ordinary ask-question-give-answer-ones and definitely nothing that would get to know me better. After answering some questions about my personality and giving the standard information of high school and college degree (pah, way to go Europe!), I waited for another 20 minutes to pass and until everyone seemed to have finished. The forms were collected and brought to a room right next to ours. After some time a man – an entrepreneur I was guessing – showed up at the door and called two people into his office. One was a tall and competitive-looking Asian guy, the other was a 17-year-old high school student. Both of them were never seen again, so we figured they didn’t meet the company’s “criteria.”

knife set

Then the entrepreneur came back into the room, introduced himself as one of the owners of this outstanding business, and told us that the young guy handing out the forms was the manager of one of his offices. We got a demonstration of how great their business was (it was a firm selling cutlery, specializing on knives for the most part), how far they had progressed within coming into existence (They had supposedly been around for 50 years! Wow, why do Americans think this is a long time? Maybe I should have told them to go compete with our 150-year-old standard businesses we have in Germany!), and how many locations they were able to open up due to their growth due to their outstanding success, of course. I have to admit that the demonstration and speech were both very professional and I was impressed at how many candidates they won over just because of their social skills. Then the older man left us with the college student who knew how to present himself well in front of our gullible group and who was giving us the gist of our future work: Selling cutlery and especially a kit of knives by knocking on random peoples’ doors and doing a demonstration. This method would insure ultimate success because if we were to win these random people over (given the fact they would let a stranger with a kit of knives enter their house), they would refer us to at least ten other people who again would refer us to a list of people and so on and so an. The harder we worked the more people we could meet and the more commission we could earn. Splendid idea! And how to determine which peoples’ doors we knock on? Well, it would depend on where we live and we could go practice in this area. I was residing in a pretty ghetto and not too safe area Brooklyn’s back then; one of those Haitian neighborhoods that scowl at white “intruders” and don’t make you feel good when walking their streets as a stranger. Just imagining the situation of me trying to sell some poor Haitian families quality knives in a socially disadvantaged area really made me laugh!
Then I looked around, noticed that I was the only white person left (there had been another white guy present who had made his way out by pretending he was looking for the bathroom), and formulated an excuse that made me get out of that place as soon as possible. Needless to say that during the entire demonstration no word was mentioned about simple administrative help, but that’s just how they get you lured into their net.

Another time I was invited to a group interview consisting of five candidates and an enthusiastic manager of a well-known insurance company. The interviewer was pretty much alright, but this was my first encounter with those wicked first round/second round interviews they pull off on you. I was the only female next to four male candidates, who just couldn’t formulate their answers right or were anything but convincing in their self-presentation. This was for a job selling insurance over the phone (I know I am good at telemarketing but this is not what I came to New York for) and the manager assured us that our salary would be mainly based on our performance, meaning we could determine our own income without having to deal with asking for pay raises every once in a while. Mhm, doesn’t that just sound like…too good to be true? Well, I ditched this job offer, too, even though the guy invited me for a second round interview only one hour after I left this dubious group situation.

(continued in Part 2)

NYC Job Search Craziness (Part 2)

(continued from Part 1)

There was one point in time during which I had this chaotic week crammed full with 6 interviews – sometimes even two a day. It was nearly as crazy as it sounds. Some were funny, such as when I was invited into the office which seemed to employ exclusively overweight people and where the interviewer was asking me questions so fast I could barely keep up and eventually mocked her by responding in an overly slow manner (I’m guessing she was on a time limit to bring in the next goose). Some were icky, such as when I entered the room which smelled like cat piss and which would have been the place I would have worked at (heck no!). Some were just tedious, some were discouraging, and some were not too much fun.

Many thoughts were rushing through my head after such scam interviews, and the main thoughts were: “Why did I come to New York, what happened to the dreams I wanted to pursue, why is it just so hard to make it over here?” I keep hearing from many people that I came at a bad time, and that it will take a while for the economy to improve. But aside from this I do know people who have found a decent job, who were able to pursue their dream, who have made it here in their own little way. So why does it seem so hard for especially me?! No answers to this…
I thought it would be of advantage to speak two languages fluently, to have experienced both Germany and the States as a home, to be acquainted to both cultures. It seems like New York makes it unbelievably difficult to make this your advantage, your one light you can sway around your head, and to become noticed. Every time you offer your skills, talents, and education, someone finds a point against you. Be it your lack of work history, be it your lack of work history in New York (This is a biggie over here! If you don’t have New York job experience on your resume, you are in a hole you have to dig yourself out first!), or be it the salary issue. This is another point which really aggravates me: So many people are willing to work on minimum wage or beneath even though they could earn well over $18/h. And so many companies offer you a salary you would have laughed upon under different circumstances but now… well, you’re willing to suppress your anger and consider this kind opportunity.

I do have to admit, though, that most of these dubious job offers I found were on…tada… craigslist! Not the most serious platform on the job market, I know. But hey, I even went to interviews for jobs I found on monster and careerbuilder and was not blown away by what they had to offer, either. But in the end I found something the first day of October; I still work there, and I am once again on a job search.

By the way, the interview yesterday was okay. It was for a proofreader position at a translation agency. They invited me to come in for a couple of tests, which were supposed to take less than an hour but which took up one and a half hours of my time. The interviewer was barely interested in my personality and went straight to the testing center. At first I thought they were trying to use my German language skills to get something out of me, maybe a free translation, but, in hindsight, it might have been their usual testing procedure. Either way, I am not too interested in their position anyhow, because it would have not been on a full-time basis and they would have only needed me for a three-month-employment. However, I might have held a door open by emphasizing that if they were to need a translator, I would be willing to chip in whenever they were in the midst of a project. We will see how this goes; I think the interviewer was quite fond of me.

It took me a while to get used to the prospect of either falling for every unserious advertisement out there or to come up with a concept of how to differentiate between serious and false offers. So, to come to an end, I have included a list of things you might want to watch out for when job searching and which might help when you are looking for decent work. It is geared especially towards craigslist, but can also be used with monster, careerbuilder, and other sites.

This is what some words and symbols mean:

Located in Times Square = biggest scam ever
Located in Midtown = probably a temp agency posting stuff like this every day to fulfill their weekly head hunter quota
Looking for recent college grads to fill in numerous amounts of admin positions= see the above point
Pay dependent upon experience = you will start out with the bare minimum, around 10 bucks an hour (sometimes it falls below – I have seen job offers advertising work for crushing $8 (!!!) per hour); and by the way, the expression “pay will accumulate with experience” means about the same thing
Temp-to-perm job = you will be employed for one or two months and then they will substitute you with another candidate; or: they will start you off hourly and then you will have a hard time asking for an annual salary with benefits
No pay raise for another year = we are too cheap to pay you what you are worth and therefore our work mentality sucks
Great benefit package included = you might have a few benefits but for most of the services you will have to pay a high share out of your own pocket; also, most benefits are only available to you after 3 to 6 months or even longer
Salesperson job based on commission = the percentage of what you see on your bank account compared to what you actually sell might be as low as 5 per cent – not very promising, huh?
Job in New Jersey not far from New York = great, now you have to deal with paying taxes for two states, if you reside in New York. Don’t do it if it doesn’t pay you more than enough!
Assist your superior with meaningful tasks and being used to fast-paced environments = you will be doing your supervisor’s job, be paid less than him, and probably scoop in lots of overtime
Occasional overtime might be the case = 12-hour-days or more are the norm, leaving you with 8 actual hours paid per day