Unemploymania #2: On Experience
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
A guy is without a job. Constantly searching and prodding and looking around, he has had variable success finding something to do. He sends in applications, sometimes unsolicited, and invariably with crossed fingers. Sometimes this is a process robotic – cover letter, resume, malaise. His employed and retired loved ones look onward from the outside, offering advice and support and the periodic observation that “You are doing your best.”
And, typically, you are. Embedded within each and every submitted application is the sincere hope that your credentials will be greeted with with awe and applause. Potential employers will see your years of work at your small liberal arts school and say, “Hey – now here’s a guy we want bussing our tables.”
Not surprisingly, this isn’t what happens.
Here’s what does happen. Not too long ago I was at an open call for a small restaurant and biergarten in Williamsburg. This was more an act of curiosity than desperation, as I never been to an open call and figured it couldn’t hurt to try. (Correction: It could hurt to try. You know how many people die in open call-related accidents each year? Tons.) I had my eye on one of the advertised barback positions. Barbacking seemed safe. I would wash some dishes, clean some tables, slice some garnishes. I couldn’t imagine a more pleasant profession.
Standing at the entrance, a few things were immediately obvious. One, when I entered and fifteen people turned to look at me, it was clear that I should have gotten there earlier. Two, when I looked at these people, noticing the seasoned and lithely curved spines of the women and assured composure of the men, I knew I didn’t have much of a chance. These were professionals. I was just a guy with a misguided sense of adventure.
Again, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
I stayed, passing the time by diverting my nervousness into observation. 90s R&B oozed through the bar’s speakers, barely audible to me, but loud enough to encourage subtle movement on the parts of some of the people in the room. One guy bobed his head, discretely and ostensibly despite himself. A women did the same, tapping her hand on the bar, gold bracelets jangling. Tennis played in Spanish on two televisions simultaneously. A line of soccer ball-patterned flags hung on the wall above a framed picture of Colonge. I didn’t get this place.
Almost an hour later, as I found my name being called and felt my legs carrying me over to a smiling man in khaki pants, I reckoned I had made a mistake. This was confrimed somewhat during the ensuring (and brief) interview:
Bill, the interviewer: [After a spell of glancing over my resume] Well I notice that you don’t seem to have much restaurant experience.
Me: Oh, yeah…well I do have some – it’s just not on that resume. I actually brought the wrong one. You ever hear of [former place of employment]?
Bill: No, I haven’t.
Me: [Vain, half-assed attempt to convince him that I was at all qualified to work at this place.]
Bill: But that was only seasonal. One summer?
Bill: Look, I’m not going to waste my time or yours. We are really looking for someone with more experience. I can’t offer you a job.
Bill: And you might want to take this. [He slides my resume towards me.]
The point is, this is how things work. And it’s funny in a way because it confirms a central catch-22 of finding a job: You have to have experience to get experience. Figuring out how to navigate this conundrum is one of the more difficult portions of getting a job anywhere – even in regards to something as supposedly simple as cleaning tables and being a team player. It’s not easy…but then again, few things worth doing are.
But you’ve heard that one before.