a brooklyn job hunt

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So yesterday was an interesting day. It was certainly not a normal day for me.

After getting dressed and finding myself some breakfast, I slathered on sunscreen, packed up my stack of resumes, gave Kevin a big smooch, and headed out the door. I was looking forward to the afternoon. At worst, I’d have a lovely walk through sunny Brooklyn on a day I’d otherwise be inside staring at a computer. And at best, I’d find a million dollars in an envelope on a park bench. Or a new job. Whichever.

Since I’m not eleven, I can vividly remember a time when there was no internet. Although I wasn’t part of the work force at the time, I remember knowing that you found a job by looking through a newspaper, asking a friend to refer you, or walking into the place where you wanted to work. But I didn’t enter the work force until the internet was a big part of the world. So with the exception of a few odd jobs I landed through word of mouth or friend referrals, I’ve usually found work by searching for it online, as I’m sure is the case for most people my age and in my socio-economic class. That’s why it felt incredibly foreign to be walking around in the outside world yesterday, expecting to say not to just one person, but hopefully to dozens, “Are you hiring?”

I did what I often do in potentially intimidating situations like this. I just imagined that this was something I did all the time, and something that I felt really confident doing it. Luckily, that method worked and the I’m A Big Weirdo feeling went away pretty early on.

When I left the apartment, I first walked to the nearby grade school. I had this daydream that I’d find some non-teacher work there, anything they had available, maybe even a lunch lady job (!). I’d have to get up early to work at the school, sure, but I’d be done every day by 3pm. And my commute would be the 46 steps to and from to my front door. But when I got to the school, I found it was closed. It is summer, after all.

So my first attempt didn’t work out. I decided, however, not to let the circumstances of the day impact my mood too much one way or the other. I knew I wasn’t embarking on this experience with unrealistic expectations of finding a job, nailing the interview, being offered the position, and walking home with my first paycheck in my pocket. I knew it was going to be a afternoon filled with unknowns and there was no right or wrong way to do it. So I let that be my guide. I reminded myself that I was likely to get hot, tired of walking around in the summer sun, hungry, maybe even lonely. So whenever I felt one of those things, I just dealt with it. I sat down, or found some water, or checked my email on my blackberry.

I’m making it sound like I was on an eight month jungle safari, right?

Ten or twelve years ago, walking around my neighborhood on a hot summer day asking for jobs would have been my idea of human torture. And if I found myself doing so, it would have almost certainly been inflicted upon me by my mother, who would have, for one annoying reason or another, insisted I leave the house and not come back for X number of hours or until I had a job, which ever came first. (Had she ever done that, which she didn’t, I probably would have parked my butt on a curb somewhere and waited for the sun to go down before coming home and claiming that I’d dropped a bunch of resumes off and I should have a job in a matter of hours.)

Anyway, after the lunch lady dream was dashed, I kept walking. My immediate neighborhood isn’t necessarily the kind of place I’d expect to find a job. It’s mostly hair salons, take-out restaurants, and 99 cent stores. I’m certainly not above working in any of those places, but I was hoping for something that would pay a reasonable hourly rate. I didn’t think I’d find that at “De Bamboo Express.” So I walked for a quite a while, stopping once at a dentist’s office (“No, I’m sorry. We’re not hiring.”) and once at a coffee shop (“No, but you can leave a resume.”) and I eventually found myself outside my immediate neighborhood and into one nearby. I ended up the Brooklyn Library for a few minutes. I used their restroom AND dropped off a resume. Two birds.

Then I stopped for ice cream and a sit-down. And after I finished my sweet treat, I was ready to go again. I ended up walking up and down all kinds of streets that I’ve often driven down or walked by, but never really explored. I popped into every shop or establishment that seemed appropriate and I was gaining more confidence after each attempt. “Hi. I was wondering if you guys are hiring?” It was a question that seemed to first surprise most people, but it was also met with a certain level of respect, and then kindness. I probably would have felt the same if I were in their shoes. I imagined myself sitting at my current job, looking up to find a girl like me standing in the lobby with a folder tucked under her arm. I would have thought, “This girl is walking around in the heat, pounding the pavement to find a job. She’s just walked right in here and bravely asked me if we’re hiring. I would never do that. She must really need a job. And she must be brave.”

It was sort of fun to dream up what these people might think of me – that I’d been laid off, been out of work for weeks or months, had a family to support, that I was broke, that I’d been competing for jobs on the internet for so long, without any progress, that I’d gotten fed up and decided to strike out on my own. I can only assume that’s what I would have thought about me if I were them. It was funny to remind myself that none of that stuff is true, that I was choosing to do this – that I have a job with a decent salary and health insurance, a job that I had to take a vacation day from in order to walk around asking people for another job, that I’m not broke, that I haven’t been laid off, that I’m just looking to change my circumstances. It was a much different situation than I’ve been in before when on this kind of hunt. In fact, this might be one of the first times in my life I’m actually looking for a new job because I want to, not because I have to. It’s fun. Almost like shoe shopping. Almost.

I walked into dozens of places. Some I left resumes, some I didn’t. If didn’t feel good about the place, I wasn’t going to waste my time asking if they wanted me to work there. That would defeat the purpose. I stopped in a bunch of cafes, some stores, a couple yoga studios and office buildings. I avoided traditional restaurants, having had absolutely no restaurant experience whatsoever in my entire life. I didn’t think my chances were good at a restaurant, I didn’t really want to lie about my experience and I didn’t know the first thing to say if I were to be asked questions about waiting tables or serving food. I’m sure I could make something up, but I was worried it would seem obvious that I was lying (and that I was terrified.).

Many places gave me their cards, directed me to email addresses to send a resume to, or websites to visit to check on their hiring status (ironic). A bunch of places said they’d just gone through a round of hiring, but it couldn’t hurt to submit my resume so they could have it on file. Near the end of my journey, I was finally able to fill out an application at a coffee shop in Park Slope that I’ve always liked. My resume, overflowing with administrative and receptionist positions, probably didn’t look too appealing to whomever reviewed the application later that evening. I hadn’t even considered changing it around to put the focus on my customer service experience, to mention my food handlers license, or to write a nice, cheery objective, like, “I hope to work as a counter person at a friendly Brooklyn café.” I felt silly handing my office worker resume to these trendy café servers, but I did it. And the act of doing it matters for something, I’m sure.

Once I’d hit the three-hour mark, it was time to head home. Surprisingly, I wasn’t terribly tired or hungry. Years of living in New York City builds one’s endurance for hot days where lots of walking is involved. But I did have an appointment to get to (An interview I conducted for this blog – to be posted soon!) and I didn’t want to be late.

When I got home, Kevin greeted me with lots of kisses and hugs and “I’m so proud of you!”s. That was reward enough for my full afternoon. While I sat on the couch and stared off into space, I thought about the business cards I collected from the different bakeries and cafes, the variety of people I’d met, the Brooklyn daytime culture I’d gotten to experience, and how genuinely nice every single person I spoke to was. No one was rude to me when I asked if they were hiring, no one was short with me, or even indifferent. They were all employees who’d been, in one way or another, standing my shoes at some point, and they were all more than happy to spend a few seconds of their time answering my questions and making sure I didn’t feel stupid for asking.

I learned that I need to have a more appropriate resume if I expect to get a non-office job without having any non-office experience. I learned that it’s awesome to be walking around outside on a beautiful, warm weekday. And I was reminded that I can be outgoing when I decide to be.

I’m not sure what’s in store for me in terms of getting a job in Brooklyn. I’m keeping an eye out for opportunities online and I think I might pop back into a few places here and there when I get a chance (with the right sort of resume, of course). Most importantly, and this was really the goal to begin with, I know that the very act of doing what I did yesterday was valuable for me as I continue to create momentum and build connections. Those will all come together someday to construct that magical bridge, which I know will appear when I least expect it, to lead me out of this desk job. It’s not a bad job. I just want something different for my life.

(Oh and by the way, to throw a little humble pie in here, coming back to work this morning to sit in a comfortable chair, at a place where I know the rules and parameters, and can expect my paycheck at the end of the week? It wasn’t so bad.)

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