Category Archives: Jobhunting


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Last week I went to happy hour with a co-worker. Insert one too many
and lots of blabbing. After the usual b****ing about colleagues and
even more about our boss, I confided in her my plan to quit next year,
as soon as my husband gets a full-time teaching job. I though it was
clear that what I was saying was not for repetition. In fact, she
assured me of her confidentiality. Today my boss came around and
started talking about how he “Understands I am planning to leave….”
and “What are we going to do after you go?” etc etc etc etc etc. I
wanted to wring her neck but had to expend my energy assuring my
boss that whatever he thought he’d heard wasn’t true. But I am a bad
liar and had a red face and shaky voice. What do I do now?


Dear Betrayed:

You have several goals, the most important of which is to calm your
boss’s anxieties. No matter how often and well you sing the loyalty
oath, his suspicions have been aroused. But your actions as well as
your words should allay his worst fears. They will help position you to
stay as long as you need to, which might be longer than you want to,
given what’s happening to teaching jobs. Make a point of showing him
progress on big projects, taking on longer-run responsibilities and
generally being gung ho, efficient, pleasant, and supportive. No one
can chide an employee who’s both productive and says all the right

As for your co-worker, a little casual shunning is in order. You do not
want to feed the flames of gossip by any form of confrontation, as in
How could you have told boss what you thought I said when we were
drinking(%^!!?!! Even if you deny your plans, you’re creating a Lady
Macbeth moment by protesting too much. Let the incident pass
without comment. Let her stew in her guilt, if she has any. Resist
complaining about her to other colleagues and from confiding your
plans in them, drunk or sober. Hum your way through your short-timer
days and do everything you can to help your husband find a teaching

Ready Now

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’m a single mom of a high school senior. I just got back from my grad
school reunion and connected with lots of folks whose careers are
much more interesting and influential than mine. Also with my sense
of “exile” from the state in which I was born, raised, and did all my
schooling. We moved away for my ex’s job and stayed out of inertia
and because I had a decent-paying teaching job. But now I’m ready
for change and even my son wants to move back. But I feel very far
away in time and space from the future I want to create. When is too
soon to start looking, given my son’s senior year?
Ready Now

Dear Ready Now:
Ready now? Start now! First of all, subscribe to every online job-
posting list in your field. Ditto to the local newspapers in any town in
which you’d want to live. Network with all your alum friends. Also
introduce yourself to the Human Resources managers in any school
district or institution of higher learning where you might be qualified to
teach, or even hold an administrative job. Research all the private
schools in the area. Those steps should give you access to current and
future jobs. And re-write your resume, with particular emphasis on
your local roots. Consider getting an extra cell with the local area
code, the where you pay only for minutes used. It’s small but might
get you a call where being a perceived out-of- towner might not.


Apply for any job that appears in which you’d sincerely be interested.
But apply only for jobs you’d really want if you had to start tomorrow.
You’re a long time from needing to relocate. But it’s a great time to
explore and get folks to see who you are. Let your resume introduce
you to them. Your biggest problem would be an actual offer for a
position for which you could not negotiate a temporary deferment or a
substantial amount of telecommuting. If you had that dilemma of
riches, you and your son would need to have a very serous family
conference. Either he’d agree to relocate with you and disrupt his
senior year. Or you’d agree to a temporary separation, assuming                                  there’s a relative or close family friend with whom he could live for the
duration of high school. Think long run, take this on as a year-long
project, and trust the timing to work itself out.

Ready for Change

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’m 49 years old and ready to change my life. I’ve been working in
public school systems ever since I got an MA and then a PhD, first in
the classroom and then in grant writing and program evaluation. My
son’s about to be a senior in high school. We just got back from
extended travel abroad. I realized when I got home that after he goes
to college I want to move away and start a new life. There’s two years
left in the grant I administer, but while I was traveling my job got cut
to .8 FTE. Whom should I tell, and when should I tell them, that I
won’t be returning next year? Right now they’re piling on more work
(for less pay!!) because of other positions totally cut. I need my time
to find consulting to support us this year and to pay for transitions. I
share an office with my assistant and am part of a professional group
of women I trust. We’re all in the same boat about work, but they’re
married and settled. I know now is too soon but when is fair and right.
Ready for Change

Dear Ready for Change:
Tell no one now. Tell no one, not even your very very very best friend
until the day you are ready to have everyone know. News like you’re
delivering has impacts on everyone who hears it. You go from being
“one of us” to someone who’s betraying and abandoning the group. No
matter that they’ve cut your salary and FTE. Once you’re perceived as
a disloyal outsider you’ll be first on the expendable list for the next
round of cuts.

Best is to keep your job search and consulting activities away from
work, or at least conducted through a separate email account. Turn
your screen so your assistant cannot see it. But know that anything
you do on the work computer belongs to the school district and is fair
game to be read. If you’re asked to do extra, say you’re trying to earn
money to compensate for your diminished FTE. Also to plan because
your son’s headed off for college next year. These statements have the
benefit of truth so you can avow them sincerely. Sing the loyalty oath                             with great commitment and vigor until the day you’re ready to give

Newbie Job Hunter

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’m fresh home after traveling for nine months, a year after graduating
college with a marketable:not! History and Women’s Studies major.
My mother generously said I can live with her until I find work. I
worked for her last summer, helping in her law office and doing home
interviews for foster children and custodial parents. My only other work
experience is a volunteer stint at a mediation center, and working
weekends at a farmers’ market food booth. I started at 16 as a fry
cook and am now crew chief. But I want an office job, preferably one
that will interest me, challenge me, and pay me enough to feed and
house me somewhere other than my mom’s. How can I compete in
this job market?
Newbie Job Hunter

Dear Newbie:
Get the newbie label out of your head. You’ve been working since 16.
To many employers that’s a huge advantage. More folks than you
think might be willing to hire a recent grad instead of a long-in- the-
tooth experienced worker, who’s available but desperately looking for
something they’re overqualified for, and who might leave them sooner
if a better gig becomes available. Yes many employers will assume
they can hire someone new to the job market more cheaply. But it’s
big plusses to hire a worker who’s been honed by a different employer,
who knows the difference between copier toner and yesterday’s coffee,
and who’s demonstrated “progressively responsible experience” in a
fast pressure situation.

Sell your work ethic, your versatility, and the fact that you will do
virtually anything to please your prospective boss. Organize your
resume to sell your skills. Make sure that in the roughly 5-10 seconds
you have to make a good impression, that you do so. Sorry, that’s the
sad truth. One typo or grammatical error is what stands between you
and the “don’t bother” pile. Have a clear, bold, left justified font that
sells experience, education, and computer skills. In your cover letter
stress that you’re happily back in your hometown, ready to settle
down, and that your goal is to make everyone in the office glad that
they chose you for the job. Write me again if you get an interview. You
may feel like a butt-kisser, but better being seen as a suck-up than
too young and brash.


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve worked at my company for two years. I also worked here ten
years before a two-year stint with competitor in another city. I came
back because I missed the people, hated telecommuting, and to work
for a star rainmaker who pays huge bonuses. Now the rainmaker is
leaving the company to start a firm of his own. He’s taking some of his
long-term people, and told me that if everything works out right he
bring me in later. In the short run, the company where I have been
working will keep me with reduced hours; everyone is being very nice
and saying they will keep me as long as they can. I feel like a traitor to
them and like a pawn in the hands of the rainmaker. I’m truly torn
about telling the truth that he wants me later but need to earn a wage
from someone to support my family. Wheat role does honesty play in
any of this?

Dear Shafted:
Sorry to sound like an old cynic, but honesty is rarely what makes
businesses ac. And businesses rarely act in the best interests of
anyone except themselves. There may be benevolent bosses or caring
mentors, but the institutions themselves exist in large measure to do
one thing, make money, and unless you really have a champion, I
suspect you are slated for a landing zone with the guy who’s leaving,
and worse, expected to be demonstrably grateful that he’s offering you
work. If you need money to support your family, he’s your best short-
run bet. Though if you get a Do you want to come home again? Call,
you can decide later.

The rainmaker who is leaving has undoubtedly committed some
omissions of information to your current bosses as he prepared to
start his new firm. He clearly had discussions with his more long-term
colleagues, the ones whom he’s planning to take with him sooner than
he’s planning on taking you. Paste on your smile and take the
paycheck you can. The truth is that you may end up working for
neither of these folks. Polish up your resume and start shopping for a
place you truly want to be.

At the Brink

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I am 55 years old and unemployed since the first of the year. My line of work is in
the office/clerical field and I have not found a job in all this time. I have asked
former co-workers, friends, agencies, family and no one wants to help or assist
me. I have little in the bank and unemployment is not enough to pay bills, bus
pass, food, clothing, etc. I own a condo and do not want to have to move from
there. What can you do to assist me in finding a job?
At the Brink

Dear At the Brink:
You’ve started by doing all the right things. Each of us has a network
of allies and possible helpers that’s much broader than we might think
on any given day. The ones you listed are a good start. If you have
really tapped that entire network and no one wants to help you, that’s
a very different statement from, they’ve all said they would try but
nothing’s panned out yet. So let’s act as though you were starting
from scratch.

Write a simple one-page resume. At age 55 you probably have many
jobs that might also reveal your age (yes anti-elder bias is sadly true),
so better to organize it by skill set: office adminstration, personnel
supervision, customer relations, knowledge of software, whatever’s
true and sells. At the top, put your objective: A position in the
[geography] area that will benefit from my experience, reliability,
trustworthiness. Send that resume to everyone you know, the list
above and more. Ask them to forward it to everyone they know with a
simple note: The recession is taking its toll on my friend’s finances.
She will take any job, as long as it is legal. Please help me help her.
Finder’s fee in kugel, blintzes, and our everlasting gratitude. Ask the
temple if you can put an “ad” in the newsletter: Experienced worker
seeks job (with a first-person version of the text above). Apply for
every job you see that’s hiring. Work at this 40 hours a week. Your job
is to find a job.


Go to your credit union and get an equity line of credit on your condo.
They’ll base it primarily on the amount of your home that you own.
Apply for every government program for which you are eligible: food
stamps, help for elderly workers, etc. Between some credit and                      unemployment you should be able to squeak through until this breaks.

Good luck.


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My eldest son is 32. He has very mild Asbergers. In fact when he was
young people didn’t even call it Asbergers. He’s sort of like the genius
programmer in the new movie about Facebook. But instead of talking a
mile a minute, David takes a long time to decide what he wants to say,
avoids a lot of eye contact, and is as uncomfortable with people as he
is happy with computers. He’s decided he wants to become an M.D (so
I can say “My son the doctor!”) and then go into medical research. His
test scores were through the roof (top 1% of current applicants) but
his undergrad GPA was damaged seriously by his first year. He later
took a few years off, then finished his BA (3.5 GPA at University of
Chicago, not chopped liver), and has been a computer programmer
ever since. He’s just gotten invited to interviews at two of his top
schools. But I am afraid he’ll freeze up and they won’t take him. How
can I boost his confidence?

Dear Worried:
First of all, start believing in him. If you communicate your fears
instead of your pride, you’ll undercut his self-confidence, which is
probably, and understandably, already fragile. Anyone who goes
through life being “different,” even in “easier than Asbergers” ways
like being extra short, tall, heftier, smarter, or clumsier, is very aware
of their own self-perceived flaws, and the effect those traits have on
others. Instead of reinforcing nervous tension, help him get ready.


Start with answers to predictable questions. Write them out and
rehearse them with him. Low GPA: I coasted through high school and
needed to learn study habits. People skills: I’m more comfortable with
technology, and my goal is research. Older than average: I’ve lived in
the world of working adults and have learned about real life. Why this
school: The excellence of the faculty, or student teacher ratio, or
because I’ve always wanted to live in City X. If he’s on medication,
make sure he doesn’t do anything to alter his body chemistry. Tell him                                to go for a brisk walk, listen to inspirational music, have a backup
interview outfit in case he spills anything, arrive early, and meditate
for 10 minutes before he goes in. A good hello, firm handshake, and a
good-bye line of I really hope you’ll accept me into your school. should
all help him navigate these rapids.


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
Four years ago I took a job about three pay grades below what I am
worth, what I had made in the past, and what I was looking for. I did
it to get into an organization that I thought would be good for my
career, with the hope that once I was an internal candidate I would
have a leg up on future openings. You know what’s happened in the
world of work. Though my salary is 10% higher, none of the other
goals have been met. Now there’s an opening two pay grades higher
at the rival organization. I applied within 48 hours after it had been
posted. They called the next day and I have an interview set in two
weeks. Do I tell my boss now and try to negotiate something better?
Or do I see if I get the other job and negotiate then? Other than pay
and prestige, I prefer where I am, and the rival org is 45 minutes
further each way.

Dear Pigeonholed:
Two very important points. Any time you are employed and send out a
resume, you must include in your cover letter the sentence: This is a
confidential work search. Please do not contact current employer
without notifying me. There’s never any guarantee that the request
will be honored, but if they’re the kind of folks who wouldn’t tell you
then you are probably better off not working for them. Second, their
responsiveness may speak to your qualifications. But in this case you
are an outsider, and there may be a perfect internal candidate in the
rival organization; you may be just the shill they need to meet legal

Send an email to the hiring contact with suggestion number one
above. The go to the interview. If you feel that you’re being used as a
straw candidate, talk to your boss and ask if there’s any give in your
current salary. Try to play the loyalty card at the same time (a nice
piece of acting) in a way that doesn’t get you tossed out the door. Say
you wanted to see what you were worth in the market. If you feel that
you have a chance at the rival job, wait until they call you back, and                            decide after the second interview. Then ask if your current employer
would match the salary and terms of the other job. Win win is much
better than lose lose. But the truth is most organizations pay what
they can get away with, not always what the employee is worth.

Tired of Patience

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I was denied a raise because I was told the company is in severe
financial straits. However, they just hired a high-priced consultant for
a non-essential part of the business. I feel that they’re underpaying
me because they know I won’t leave due to the recession. Please
Tired of Patience

Dear Tired:
I’ll tell you what to do, but you’re not going to like it. You’re going to
find ways to learn to be more patient than you feel, because there’s
millions of folks standing in unemployment lines who’d probably
commit misdemeanors to get an interview for your job. I know it’s
harsh and not what you want to hear, but being employed, even in a
company with severe fiscal problems, is better than being
unemployed, even if that seems like a small possibility.


For the record,
“severe financial straits” doesn’t sound like the odds are very small.
Have you considered the fact that management may merely be telling
employees the consultants are for a non-essential part of the business,
when in fact they’re really doing a fiscal check-up, or even laying
groundwork or actual plans for imminent layoffs or closure? That’s not
a small possibility either. Some firms are transparent and disclosing to
line staff when they’re in trouble. But the majority of executives
insulate employees from what’s really going on. They do so exactly to
prevent mass hysteria or a stampede for the exits. While I’d definitely
counsel protecting yourself from the worst, at least you would get
unemployment if they closed the doors.

What you can do is brush off your resume and update it. You can
search the job postings and get a feel for who is hiring for what kind of
work you’d be qualified for. You can even send out confidential search
letters to see if you get any bites. If you do, and if you get offered a
job, that’s a clue that you have choices. If you don’t, it’ll help with the
patience training. The good news: things are getting better, albeit
slowly. Press for the raise if you can risk the downside, or if you can
afford up to a year of unemployment while you look for a new job.


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My best friend is in her late 40’s, an English major decades ago, and
recently got a master’s/teaching certificate to teach Spanish, English
as a second language, and to work with low-level students. She has
been very involved in the immigrant community and has lived for long
periods in Spanish-speaking countries. She’s an amazing teacher, good
with troubled students, and looks good for her age. She keeps coming
in second for jobs. She’s never lacked for substitute work and every
principal at every school where she’s worked has said, I wish you
worked here. But whenever there’s a real opening she is passed over.
I think she doesn’t present or sell herself well. She just missed job
number four. Do I commiserate with her complaining or tell her what I
really think?

Dear Friend:
Most best friendships have what I call a whining clause. That allows
either party to complain about work, spouse, kids/relatives, or other
friends with impunity, with two provisos. One: what’s said in the
friendship stays in the friendship. Two: either friend has the right to
ask, not tell, the other what she perceives about a situation, though
only after the complainer has vented interminably long and has started
to repeat herself at least three times (five is better). The second is
important because people generally cannot hear or think about a
situation differently until they’re a little sick of hearing themselves say
the same things ad nauseum.

Best is not to tell her what you think but to ask questions that will
elicit the same insights and observations from her. Things like, Did you
tell them about your years in X, or your volunteer hours in y? It’s
hard. In part because you’ll have been patient for what will seem like
an eternity and you’ll just want to say, Listen up. But the more she
can own the thoughts, the more likely they are to stick. Also, once you
have integrated this technique into your communications, she’ll learn                                    and start using it on you. The good news is that it should strengthen
your friendship. So be brave and help her.

Worn Down

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve been unemployed for a long time and am feeling discouraged and
desperate for a paycheck. I have a job interview next week, but how
can I possibly project optimism and confidence with my current
Worn Down

Dear Worn Down:
What you’re going to need is a combination of optimism, energy, and
self-esteem. There’s lots of ways to create the right octane for your
tank, not least of which will be saying your prayers and a good shot of
high-quality caffeine the morning of your interview. But the most
important ingredient to this re-energizing recipe will be for you to
remember how good you are at what you do. And to do so in a way
that will allow your confidence and competence to shine through like a
bright light, in a way that will interest and inspire your interviewers.
Just like dating, there’s very little that’s an unattractive as
desperation. You’re going to need to overcome any residual sense of
despair that’s set in and turn it around convincingly.

Start by freshening up your wardrobe. If you can afford a new scarf or
new tie, do that. If not, wash and press your interview outfit. Shine
your shoes. Wear your lucky sox or earrings. Practice the answers to
the most common questions: Why are you the best person for us to
pick? What are your greatest strengths, weaknesses, and
accomplishments? What do you want to be doing a year, three, five
years from now? Why this job in this firm?
Come in with questions of your own: What’s the history of this
position? Why is it being filled now? Short- and longer-run
expectations of the new hire? Training and mentoring? Room for
growth? Their biggest hopes and concerns? Your goal, and what you
should say explicitly, is to be perceived as someone as interested as
they are in finding a good long-term fit, in finding a place that will
benefit from your skills and experience, and that will inspire both and
the employer to maximize chances to do good work and mutually
profit. If you practice that kind of prep and self-talk, your sense of the
future will maximize itself and the weariness and doldrums will
dissipate. Good luck. It’s going to break right for you soon.


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’ve been in my job for three years. Upsides: My boss will never fire me; I make
good money; I have freedom about my hours; I like what I do; my boss pays for
massages, my gas, and gave me a 55” TV as a bonus. Downsides: It’s a
manufacturing company and revenues are down 60%; I work 60+ hours a week; I
have no health benefits; there’s lots of stress and multitasking after the layoffs
we’ve made. Yesterday Dave (who has cancer and is bipolar) told me he’s
thinking of closing the shop.


Today I looked at the classifieds and saw a posting
at the local utility, where’s there’s almost never turnover, for a job I could do in
my sleep. Normal hours, good bennies, even a chance they’d pay for school.
Last info: My husband is getting his teaching credentials and in a year, two most,
I get to go back to school and he supports us. If I get laid off I get unemployment
all summer. If I get the job I am trading grinds. Is applyin g deserting a needy
friend? Should I wait?


Dear Tempted:
Until the day you walk out the door for a new job you are deserting no one.
Remember, this is the guy who, at least half the time, is thinking of unemploying
you and the remainder of your colleagues. So it’s a two-way street on the
abandonment side of the coin. Assuming he’s serious you’ll need to know your
options in the job market anyhow, and one application does not ensure a
successful transition.

Apply. Apply because it’s a rare opportunity. Apply because it’ll give you some
info about how your resume plays in the market. Apply because a decent 40-
hours-a- week with benefits will seem like a vacation after your current gig. And
apply because if you do get an interview it will give you a chance to practice.
Also, having a job will allow you to negotiate hard if you do get the job. Worry
about what to do if they offer.