From My Perspective – The job hunt continues

Several weeks ago I wrote about some of my initial experiences in job hunting now that I am a “degree holding graduate.” The job hunt continues, and there have been a few developments, both positive and negative, and all highly educational.

While writing that article, I was still debating my options, one of which was remaining at my Addictions Help Line employment. Before the article was published, however, I made the rather abrupt decision to quit. The negative atmosphere and lack of management support had become intolerable; but the final straw was when they changed my shift without consultation to permanent nights for the whole summer, then reposted the complete shift rotation with only a week’s notice, in violation of our union agreement. Because so many had quit already, there were no longer any fellow employees to make shift mutual trades with, so I was left with three months of shifts no one else wanted or would trade! I considered grieving the matter with the union, but had concerns that doing so would probably make working conditions even more intolerable. In addition, since the Alberta government has passed a bill requiring all health care employees to be represented by the same union, we were in transition with union representation. Although we were with the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), we were advised that we now had to choose between CUPE and AUPE. The vote had already occurred mid-July, but we had heard nothing about the results. After attempting unsuccessfully to contact IUOE about the matter, I came to the conclusion that to all intents and purposes we really had no effective employee union I could go to, and decided my only option was to quit.

The moment I put in my notice I felt a huge sense of freedom, and realized just how discouraging the job had become. I immediately went to the Government of Canada employment insurance website to determine my eligibility for unemployment. According to my understanding of the rules, if an employee is forced to quit because of difficult or harmful employment conditions, they can apply for EI as long as the reasons for quitting are detailed and considered valid. The whole process of applying online was quite complex and time-consuming, with all kinds of options that would take you off into another window in an attempt to cover every contingency. It was complicated by the fact that I’m still in university full-time, and the online program didn’t understand how to fit distance learning into being ready and available for work every day. Although I answered all the questions to the best of my ability, I had to follow it up by mailing a detailed report to “fill in the blanks.” I expected to find new employment before I’d have to worry about EI benefits, but the way the EI system is set up, if you wait too long before applying, you can lose your eligibility – so I wanted to be on the safe side.

Finding new employment, however, has been a challenge of its own. I had already been actively monitoring all the options even before graduation, and once I had my degree in hand, started sending in applications. As the weeks went by, and after I had written what felt like my hundredth cover letter, I was starting to get really tired of the whole process. There seemed to be lots of jobs that fit my experience and qualifications – I would read the job description and think, “wow, I’d love to do this, it would be a great job, just right for me!” – but I wasn’t getting any responses. This was particularly discouraging in the case of Alberta government jobs, and after I had applied for one government position after another that I thought I was perfect for, I began to wonder if all these jobs are automatically filled with internal applicants, and only advertised to meet union agreements. Or perhaps there are huge numbers of more highly qualified job seekers out there? Maybe I was doing something wrong?

Finally I got a call back for my first interview – with the Elizabeth Fry Society, an organization that helps women who have had difficulties with the law or been incarcerated. The position involved counselling and assisting women in this situation to be integrated back into society, helping with employment and other matters. I did my research in advance, to ensure I knew as much about the organization as possible, and tried to be calm and cool at the interview.

Employment interviews are an education in themselves. I was interviewed by three people over the course of an hour, and the questions were detailed. A lot of them presented hypothetical situations that I needed to respond to, or were geared towards determining my attitude and opinions of women’s issues. By the end of the hour, I knew a lot more about the organization (and about some of my own attitudes!). I came to the conclusion that, as interesting and challenging as the position seemed, it might not be a good fit for me, so I was relieved when I received a call a few days later advising me that although I was a strong candidate, another applicant had been successful.

It was an encouraging experience, nonetheless, and it gave me renewed hope. I sent in more applications, including several temporary employment agencies. I realized that part of the problem with many of the jobs was that the competitions remained open for a fairly long period of time, even up to a month. This meant that many of the jobs I had applied for weeks previously were still open and not even in the interview stage, so I reminded myself to be patient. I also realized, from a comment made at the interview, that potential employers might have been put off by my stating on my application that I was entering the Master of Counselling program at AU in January. Many people don’t understand that the flexible distance learning model allows students to work full time while attending university, leading them to think I was unavailable after January.

It also didn’t help that two of my daughters were also job searching – one who had graduated with an honours BSc in chemistry, and my youngest, who had graduated from high school. Who was the first one to be successful? You guessed it – my youngest! She immediately found work through a temp agency with a pharmaceutical company, and after several weeks of temporary employment, they offered her a permanent position at a wage comparable to what I had been earning in my employment with Capital Health! Her sister and I were pleased for her, but somewhat chagrined that we, with our expensive university degrees, were as yet unemployed. This was compounded when my youngest daughter told me about her boss. She had been telling me what a great job he has, how he runs this huge pharmaceutical company and goes golfing every afternoon. My response was that he must have an MBA or the equivalent. Imagine my surprise when she advised me that the position she had been offered was the same one her boss had started with and subsequently worked his way to the top – with a grade ten education!

Finally my patience began to pay off, as the phone started to ring with more interviews. One of the strangest was a position with Alberta learning. I was told that I met their qualifications, but that I needed to first come and take a three hour test. The test would simulate the nature of the job itself, and would include a “deductive reasoning” question. If I passed the test I would be called for an interview. I really debated this one, particularly when I had to pay $8.00 to park downtown while taking the test. But I figured it would be good experience so I went through with it. Another candidate and myself were sent into a conference room and told that we had until 11:45 to complete the task, which involved using a complex set of criteria to determine funding allocations for high school programs, along with one of those reasoning “logic” questions that places six people in a boat with eight seats and asks you to deduce who is sitting where. The other candidate commented that it felt like being back in the exam room at university, and I agreed. I apparently passed the test, because I did get called for an interview, but never heard anything further about the job after that.

Several weeks ago, I was invited to an interview with a non-profit organization that works with dysfunctional families, in situations where the well-being of the children in the home is in question. The position involves working with these families to improve their parenting skills. The interview itself was extremely interesting, with questions that gave all kinds of difficult social and family situations, asking how I would solve them. It felt very much like one of my psychology exams, and the whole interview was educational and challenging. The two persons interviewing me kept saying that I was giving great answers, but then they started skipping questions. Although they said they would give me two scenarios, they suddenly decided only to give me one. I had felt like the interview was going well, but this seemed like a bad sign – maybe they had heard enough and decided I was not suitable for the position so no more questions needed to be asked?

At the end of the interview, I discovered that the reverse was true. They had, in fact, decided that I was perfect for the position and wanted to hire me – so no more questions needed to be asked! The position has many positives, and seems like it is exactly what I’ve trained for throughout the course of my degree. The work environment appears very supportive and positive. There are, however, some drawbacks, so I’ve had to give the matter serious thought. One requirement that I’ve really had to wrap my head around is that I would need to carry a pager and be on call for clients 24 hours a day – a fairly heavy responsibility that would affect every aspect of my lifestyle. I’ve also just received notice that I’ve been accepted into the Masters of Counselling program, so I need to weigh the time commitment carefully.

In some ways, as difficult as the job hunt part is, having found the “perfect” job can be a bit overwhelming too. My daughter commented that for her, it feels strange to move outside the protective cocoon of the university, to leave the familiar stress of coursework and exams, and the familiarity of work in the university laboratory, for the stresses of an unknown workplace. Holding a university degree brings a higher level of responsibility, and I find myself wondering whether I will be able to live up to my own expectations, and able to meet the challenges of moving into a new, “professional” position. I’ve always had confidence in my own abilities to do whatever job I set my mind to. As strange as it may seem, now that I have a piece of paper that certifies that I’m supposed to have these abilities, I’m feeling just a tad intimidated by myself!

It’s an interesting emotion, and not particularly logical, so I’m sure it will pass soon. Only time will tell if I will be successful at the profession I’ve worked to achieve with my degree, and I know I face a very steep learning curve. At last, however, I’m experiencing the feeling that my university degree is opening doors of opportunity – and it’s very satisfying.

“A college degree is not a sign that one is a finished product but an indication a person is prepared for life.”
— Reverend Edward A. Malloy, Monk’s Reflections