Saturday, April 3, 2010

Temp.... sigh.

A couple weeks ago I met with a woman at an agency that specializes in finding temp, temp-to-perm, and permanent job placement opportunities for nonprofit professionals. I had recently been rejected for the fourth time by the same prospective employer, and was running out of ideas. I haven't kept track of how many resumes I've sent out, and I'd have to stop and think about how many interviews I've been on - somewhere in the range of ten to twelve, but I keep not getting hired. Its staggering; twice I haven't been hired for jobs that I had really good networking connections to, with former colleagues submitting glowing recommendations on my behalf, and none of the other jobs I've interviewed for have been offered to me either. I even took the aptitude test to work for the U.S. Census, and haven't heard from them. Aside from a growing number of hours spent babysitting, I seem to be unable to secure employment on my own. Coincidentally, I just received a notice from the Illinois Department of Employment Security stating that my unemployment benefits are almost exhausted, although my case will be reviewed for an extension. If that weren't enough of a sign that its time to change my approach to employment, I've slowly become disinterested in all my volunteer gigs. What used to be fun diversions and a way to connect with the community has over time become inconvenient or boring.

The agency called me early last week to discuss a possible placement - 3 days a week in the development department at the Chicago Chidren's Museum, would I be interested? I said sure, send them my resume, secretly hoping that like all the other prospective employers I've come into contact with in the past year, they wouldn't want me. The museum is located on Navy Pier, which is possibly the biggest tourist trap in Chicago, and unless I drive it takes me two buses and a train to get there. My contact at the agency called me the next day as I was finishing a babysitting gig to say that the museum wanted me to start the next day.

I haven't temped in 12 years. The last time I worked as a temp I had very few marketable skills, and as a result got assignments at the very bottom rung of the temp ladder. Some placements were tolerable, but some were just awful. I wrote about the experience in a long-defunct zine called Temp Slave, and one of my stories made it into the book The Best of Temp Slave, which includes a blurb from the king of work stories himself, Studs Terkel, a fact that I will be eternally proud of:

"The temps, in their own words, let us know what it is all about. Let's not kid ourselves. Temp is a euphemism for day laborer. George and Lennie are no longer merely ranch hands. They work in law firms, banks, insurance companies and in your own workplace."
--Studs Terkel

I've always felt a special connection to Studs; we share the same birthday (different years, but still!), and like Studs I was born on the East Coast and then made my way west to the City of the Big Shoulders. As thrilling as it was to have my name included in a book that got a blurb from Chicago's most celebrated storyteller, temping is a world I was eager to leave and never planned on returning to.

I was glad that the job was only 3 days a week, at this point I'm virtually feral where office life is concerned and I wasn't sure if I could handle the transition. Given the right situation I could very well run and hide from my new office mates, spitting and hissing at them if I feel cornered, and scavenging the remains of their lunches when their backs are turned. As it turned out, it wasn't that bad. The offices are one floor above the museum floor in a kind of loft, and all day the sounds of kids running and playing fill the air. At one point on my first day some staff members descended the office stairs with instruments in hand and enticed the kids into participating in a karaoke session; I sorted correspondence into donor files to the sounds of chestnuts like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Happy Birthday. For temp work, its not bad: my supervisor is really nice, trusts me to do my work without looking over my shoulder, and nobody gets very dressed up for work. If it weren't for the commute and the tourist zone, it would be the ideal temp job.

Until next time,



j.cro said...

When I first read the title of this post for some reason I thought you were going to write about tempé, the meat substitute. Boy was I wrong!

Congrats on finding some kind of employment, even if it's not your ideal - you never know what may happen but at least you have a little income and something to do three days a week.

I read your Jewish Easter post from last year and laughed quite a bit. I also smiled at the thought of a cosmic connection.

Bon chance!!!

JP said...

Thanks J.Cro!