Fourteen months ago I closed my retail store and re-entered the job market. After three months of applying for jobs I secured a part time position in a small boutique, only to be made redundant four months later when that boutique closed down also.
The job hunting scene is depressing at the moment for everyone, but especially for the retail sector as more small businesses close and even big international companies go into voluntary administration and announce mass closures of their Australian stores. I am fortunate that my partner is highly educated and holding a secure job which covers out home loan, business loan and various monthly expenses, but it leaves very little wiggle room.
1. "Have you tried getting a job? Are you applying for places?"
I was discussing my unemployment while helping out in my friends bistro kitchen when his other kitchen hand, a 50-year-old woman, asked where my ideal work places would be. I reeled off a few high end boutiques I’d consider dream retail jobs for me. “You know what you need to do…” she said, “apply for those places.”
It's lucky the bistro chef never allows me near anything sharp or I would have caused an accident, as it was I almost dropped the tray of dirty dishes I was carrying.
“I have applied for those places,” I said, trying to sound as calm as possible, “some more than once.”
Does she really think I sit around twiddling my thumbs waiting for a job to fall into my lap?
People who don’t need to work, or are past the age of looking for a job, usually are the ones who ask these questions. They don’t understand how fierce the job market is at the moment. One woman at the bistro also commented that there are “hundreds of jobs on Seek!” as if it was as simple as picking one and getting on with it. I had to explain to her that many positions are advertised more than once - often by the company and then by two or three recruitment agents.
Following that, many of the positions are above or outside my skill level. Typing ‘retail’ into seek.com will bring up regional manager positions which I’d need more experience for, jobs in hardware sales or specialty fields and a number of ‘work from home, earn money in your PJs' style jobs which everyone knows are scams. Filter down to the 20 or so current jobs I can actually apply for and you are guaranteed I have applied for them.
2. "Just hand your resume out to stores!"
Firstly, this may have worked 10 years ago when I was a teenager looking for a casual position and there were hundreds of jobs going. I will never get a management position this way, but since I am not above working casual or part-time, I decided to try this technique a month ago. I printed off 10 copies of my resume, a cover letter that covered the bases (when applying online I tailor my cover letter to the position).
I made myself up, put on comfortable heels and a ‘retail casual’ outfit that was generic enough to cover a broad range of shops.
I walked into my first store and asked if I could please hand my resume to the manager, she directed me to apply online and told me that resumes were not looked at in store. The next store also didn’t take the resume, telling me, “We’ve just hired people.”
The bored looking sales assistant in the next store took the resume, but I’d be surprised if the manager ever got it. I eventually handed out all but two of my copies. I got zero call backs.
3. "There are plenty of jobs in the country! Have you considered a labour job?"
Someone actually once told me there are plenty of ‘milking’ jobs to be had. A milking/shearing/fruit picking job might be good for a backpacker looking to fill three months but it is not going to cut the mustard for a 30-year-old with management experience. I have a partner, a house, two cats and various classes and social commitments to keep. Packing up and moving to the country for a job on a farm would be irresponsible.
Oh and did I mention I’m an ex-vegan? Farming practices make me uncomfortable - I eat meat now but I’m still an almond milk and 'buy ethical' kind of girl.
4. "Your standards are too high. Coles and Target are always hiring."
I worked at Coles when I was 15. Somehow returning 15 years later would feel like failure. I am looking for a job I can turn into a career not a ‘in the meantime’ or a ‘until I pop out kids’ job.
Don’t even bring up fast food places.
I have also applied for all the department stores and supermarkets within the last year in desperation. They didn’t get back to me.
Along those lines, the fast fashion and surf shop chains seem to be always hiring. I firmly believe the fast-fashion industry is killing the planet, cheaply produced clothing is awful and unsustainable. I was into recycle boutiques before TV shows told us to be into second hand clothes (my business was a designer consignment store).
Working for a brand that encourages you to use dresses like they are tissues would be like asking Al Gore to work for an oil and gas company. When I did it in my early retail days my soul would become so disheartened and destroyed as I saw the state of the delivery boxes from Bangladesh with cockroaches in the bottom.
5. "Get your barista/Responsible Service of Alcohol licence. There are always bartender jobs!"
Again, If I was super desperate I would consider this.When I was at university I did one shift in a bar and did not get the job. I wasn’t co-ordinated or fast enough. My 'resting bitch face' and general intolerance of sleazy men mean I am a terrible bar wench.
I also have zero experience in waitressing or any kind of food preparation, and as everyone knows, these days even entry level jobs want experience! I have managed to pick up a few shifts at a local bistro run by a friend. Entering the hospitality scene at 29 makes me so happy that I didn't have to do it when I was younger. As I scrape a child’s half eaten meal into the bin, put the dish in the sink and realise I’ve splashed my shoes in tomato sauce, I wonder why anyone would do this job if they were not desperate… and I work with people I know and like!
I also would like to maintain some stability in my life. Already with the bistro job I have, I start a shift not knowing what time I will finish - will I be working for three hours or nine? Will I be working one day next week or five? As someone with mental health issues who really thrives with structure, the uncertainty plays havoc with my routine.
6. "At least you can claim Centrelink and live off my taxes!"
I have never had a single cent from the government. The closest I have come is my $20,000 HECS debt. Not even in 2009 when Kevin Rudd decided to hand out a GFC stimulus to everyone was I eligible.
I’ve never actually checked to see if I am eligible - I’ve assumed my partner currently earns too much and decided not to jump through the various hoops set by the welfare system. Again, I know I am fortunate not to need to rely on this, if I had dependents or a disability I am aware my situation would be different.
7. "Why don’t you just open another shop? You’ve done it before."
Part of the reason I decided not to renew my shop's lease and close is that I felt the brick-and-mortar shop model was starting to fail and I wanted to quit before I went bankrupt. I did look at new locations for lease but none had the magical foot traffic to annual rent ratio that I needed.
I would have been forced to borrow more to fit out a new location and add to my already anxiety-inducing levels of debt. I do have an online store front, but it is slow going. Kudos to people who have managed to open and keep a store going in this economy, I really think they are masters of online marketing. Driving people to their locations in order to balance out the crazy rent landlords feel they can charge is a skill I do not have.
LISTEN: Is it time for the millennials to stop whinging and get a job, not another degree? (Post continues after audio...)
8. "You should go back to study. Get a skill."
How I wish I could. I have even looked at courses I would like to do. Unfortunately studying requires signing up for more debt. Or getting a part time job to cover costs, which takes me back to square one.
The times when I feel like studying is truly an option is usually in between semesters when it is impossible to sign up to TAFE. By the time applications open, I am in the final stages of signing up for a casual job (which inevitably falls though) or I realise our financial situation will not support such a selfish endeavour.
9. "You have so many interviews, why haven’t you had a job yet?"
“You’re such a good worker! Why hasn’t anyone hired you?”
“I thought you said you nailed that interview?”
Once again I point out how flooded the market is with people looking for jobs. Many of these people are also skilled, great workers. Some of these will have just a little bit more experience than I do. I missed out on a position recently, after three interviews, because an internal candidate had also applied. I have walked out of interviews feeling like there was nothing I could have done better - I looked the part, got along with the manager and regional manager, got called back for a second interview, knew more brand history then some of their existing employees and still missed out on the position.
I’ve called in on all my contacts in the industry. Despite what I say, when the depression of unemployment hits I know the problem isn’t me.
I try not to apply for jobs I know I am a bad fit for, although I have tried to mould myself to some out of desperation. The employer and I both know I’d be superb at the job, the only problem is that there is clearly another person who will be even better- or at least looks that way on paper.