As I write this, I am fast approaching 29 months without full-time employment. While I am appreciative of the 30 hour a week job as City Clerk of a small bedroom community in the Twin Cities area, it IS PT and the pay is way below what I earned in my FT positions.

I do consider myself a failure at age 56 (on April 4) simply because I have not been hired for a FT position in planning, community development, or local government administration. I have secured less than 10 interviews in that time, and I believe that the reason I was interviewed on those occasions was not because the hiring authority was genuinely interested in what I could bring to their organizations. I was interviewed merely for EEO reasons. Trust me, I can tell when an interview panel is sincere and when they are faking it.

Why am I posting this on here? Two reasons. The first is catharsis. The second is to that for many of you who have escaped the wrath of this recession, your first responses almost always are throw away lines such as “we’re praying for you” or “I’m sorry to hear that” or “I’m kinda shocked that someone with your experience can’t find FT work.” Please refrain from no-cost platitudes. It may make you feel better, but it does nothing for me.

If compliments came with a price tag, how many would you give out. My guess is close to none. Instead of throwing away a meaningless statement, why not see whether people like me can genuinely help your organization. Also, if you know who you are going to hire before placing a “Help Wanted” ad, save yourself $$$ and skip the ad. Just hire the person. I will not apply for any jobs where the interim is a candidate. Why bother? I also will not apply for any jobs where there is an internal candidate. Again, why bother?

This 29 month interlude has convinced me that public sector employers are engaged in a race to the bottom, and prefer to hire those with as little (or no) experience as possible. And we wonder why our local governments are going to hell in a handbasket.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Adriel Hampton

The public sector hiring process is pretty broken – but that seems true almost across the board in this economy.

subroto mukerji

Hell, I know exactly how you feel. I am right there with you. I too am just holding on. All I can tell you is its a holding action. How long can you hold on till the situation turns around for you? Hold tight to every dollar, sell what you can Ebay and Craigslist and save like the dickens. Be ruthless with yourself. What can you do without to save additional money? Do you really need all that stuff? Make every weekend a garage sale.

There must be something you can do better than others. For me it was changing the oil in other people’s car. It was demeaning but it taught me to sell myself. I hate to say this but you have to sell yourself constantly and its not a pretty sight for the first 10 times. After a while you get used to it and it doesn’t hurt that much. Find something that people need in your community and then sell yourself to fulfill that need. If I can be so bold, learn a trade or a craft. In times like these, the computer is your only friend, it can teach you a trade faster than a school and a lot cheaper.

I wish I had something very profound and meaningful to say to you but this is the state of affairs for a lot of us in this generation. Entrepreneurism is not what we do but that’s what we need to do. All I can say is don’t let the bastards win, I certainly don’t intend to.

Hell, if you think local government is going to hell in a hand basket run for city council. If an inexperienced black guy can run for a president of the US why can’t you run for city council and change things? You can’t screw up any worse than him.

Victoria A. Runkle

I, too, wish I had something profound to say. I am certain you have an incredible wealth of experience where you could write a blog here on govloop about planning issues in this country. I am, at this moment, employed, and I am willing to move for a new opportunity, and am amazed at the number of times there is something “in the background” you don’t know about and have zero chance at a job. Something you have put enormous effort into to apply. I don’t have a clue how “to sell myself,” but I think that each of us has to figure this out. I, again, bet you have alot to offer to the community development world. Tell the world about your thoughts and talents.

Allison Merkley

I can only imagine the frustration your situation causes, however I do have some ideas of how to a) feel less like a “failure” and b) possibly network your way to a new FT position. These tips may not solve the problems that face the public sector, but they can help you push yourself to that next interivew or even better, the next job.

1) Mentor and volunteer with non-profits. This will often get you to meet new people, keep busy and up-to-date with key issues in your field, and allow you to feel like you are being productive in your professional area of choice.

2) Thing about re-branding yourself. You may have always done x, but it may not have the selling power it used to. Take out a thesaurus, look at some new ways of explaining your experiences and skills, and practice using them in a realisitic way. If you have taken any new community ed courses, certificates, etc utilize them into showing that despite lacking full-time work you are still a full-time professional.

3) Consider neighboring professional arenas. Maybe public sector community development is in the tanks right now, but are there other professional areas or industries that utilize people with your skill sets? Research how people have crafted those career opportunities and look at engaging in them further. You can also utilitze skills you’ve learned from hobbies, contacts, etc. to see if there are other burgeoning areas that may give you that full-time job you want in a new area. A perfect example of this: a salesman was out of a job. He only had worked in agriculture selling pesticides. However, many of his contacts in agriculture need other types of products. This lead him to a position in a fiberglass company that specializes in: livestock fencing. His contacts and skills along with his past contacts got him into a new industry that correlates strongly with his past experience.

4) Be willing to relocate. The Twin Cities is a great area, but there are often other local governments and economies in desperate need of people. Being willing to move to North Dakota, western MN, or other less-desirable places can often increase your chances of landing fulltime positions.

5) Don’t give up. It’s incredibly hard not to get discouraged, but keep dedicating time to applying. Get new people to look at your resume, keep looking at new search engines, call people up for coffee. Staying in the game, no matter how frustrating, is the only way to finding the next break.

Emi Whittle

I am sorry that expressions of support from other people hit a sour note with you – there are people who will read your post that genuinely do have empathy for your situation and would honestly help if there were a way to do so. I also find it highly unlikely that you are a failure in many facets of life, if any. I do hope you found some catharsis, yes it stinks and hopefully you can find something useful here (GovLoop) or somewhere soon. Maybe there are groups and folks and networks here that can help/inspire ideas/or at least help keep your spirit going! Already seems like there are some thoughts that could be useful below. I won’t say “best wishes” to you, but I am thinking it anyway!

Jen St.Martin

Good morning –

I do hope that you gain some catharsis – I work for a portion of the government that I know CAN’T help you out, so I’ll state that up front. I have been through this part of the roller coaster twice now – once when I was ‘laid off’ from a large commercial company – it took three years to find work- and once in my current company when I was unable to find a new project for 6 months.

You mention that you are working part-time – for me, that was not an option. I spent each day in my job hunting and worked regular business hours scouring sites, driving to anything free with other people that I could find, sending out resumes (which I did NOT pay to print) and figuring out ways to reinvent what I was doing to get to a point at which I could find a job. (What I do now is write and edit – it is NOT what my master’s degrees are in and only partially meets what I ever thought I’d be doing with my life.) At the end of the day, put the job hunt away and move to something else – making dinner with your family, etc.

You are never too old to go back to school. Go back. Go back and get some other traininging – maybe even related tangiently to what you want to do.

Go to those ‘interim’ job interviews anyway and glean what you can about the changing part of your chosen field. You pick that kind of thing up from what people say. Go to these interviews to ‘stay in shape’ – you have NO IDEA where these conversations will lead you. These are people who know other people – so they are your new network. You may be surprised.

Oh. Yes. Lower your expectations. I thought I’d get 50, but had to settle for 45. It’s the new way, so let the other stuff go.

Good luck to you. You aren’t a failure – but you need to be a reinvention.



John Amundson

You are working at the work you can find, you are trying to do what you can to improve your situation, and you are writing about your experiences. You Sir, are no failure.

Dannielle Blumenthal

I just want to applaud you for writing this courageous post. I do not see unemployment as failure. Failure is when you have a choice and choose badly. Even then you can always make a different choice.

If only we all had the ability to write through life’s challenges or express pain creatively.

Jennifer Snarski

One more tip:

6) Accept on-call work. Employers are looking to hire someone long before a position gets posted. On-call work positions you to be that internal candidate. It definitely takes a leap of faith to give up permanent part-time for a limited-duration project. But if your employer likes your work, they’ll find a way to keep you around after that project ends.

Tom Melancon

I have a few suggestions. The first is to go to the library and reserve Richard Bolles latest book “The Job-Hunters Survivial Guide: How to Find Hope and Rewarding Work, Even When ‘There Are No Jobs’.”

Second, find out if there is a Job Support network in your area, such as Pro-Net, you sound pretty discouraged and it helps to get feedback from others who are in the same boat.

Third, get some feedback on how you are coming across in interviews. The best free source I know of for this is Toastmasters. A group in your area will help you hoan your presentation skills. I’m not saying this is the problem, as I would have no way of knowing, but I once interviewed a gentlemen for a Finance Director position and he did a really weird unconcious thing about every ten seconds during the interview. (It is hard to describe, but it kind of looked like a snake flicking its tongue out). You could also have a friend with a video camera ask you interview questions to see how you come across to an employer.

Dale Richard Powers, MA, AICP

I am frankly shocked by the # of responses. What I have received is well-intentioned. However,I can see that just about all of you failed to read the next to last paragraph of my post. One of you commented to go to interviews where the interim person is also the candidate. The reason I don’t even apply for those jobs is simple – my experience is that the interview process is Kabuki theater. You can see it in the interview team’s level of interest and engagement in the interview. They are bored with it, and emanate an aura of “this is so much BS. Besides, EVERY time the interim has applied for the permanent position, he/she has gotten it. So really what’s the point?

On-call doesn’t exist in my line of work (city administration and planning). Sorry.

I do not appreciate links to other sites. I have a master’s degree in public administration; have taught state and local government at the collegiate level (no THEY AREN’T HIRING EITHER); and been on every possible side of local government. I KNOW ALL ABOUT THOSE LINKS…

Jen’s comment….sounds like someone who works for the federal government. Trust me – – I HAVE lowered my expectations. Yes, at 56 I AM too old to go backto school. Who in the sam hell is going to hire a 60 year old that just passed the bar exam? Think a little before you spout off with trite psychobabble.I have written several articles, and as long as someone doesn’t have to pay me for them they will take every word I write. Funny – most publications follow the “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free” approach. I guess I’m not a good enough writer to get paid for my words.

All of you….what I believe all of you missed was that I did not write the post to solicit sympathy, empathy, or words of encouragement that are easily dispensed because they do not come with strings.

What I need is simple – additional work. I am good at code enforcement – one of the best in the nation. Unfortunately, cities and counties don’t value good code enforcement. That’s why our communities look like Haiti. At least – that’s what I gather from the silence on the other end of my e-mail and telephone.

I’m also good at teaching how to take a volunteer organization that is in a state of apathetic malaise and bring it back to life, increase memberships, and become relevant again. Unfortunately, that skill is not wanted because most volunteer organizations are nothing more than fundraising arms for cliques – at least, that’s what I take from my phone not ringing off the hook offering to help.

Harvey Mackay once said “If you’re good at something that no one else likes to do….you’ll have a job for life.” Harvey, you are 1000% incorrect. I am Exhibit A of that.

Today, I interviewed for the position of housing and code enforcement officer for a St. Paul suburb. I came across as personable, someone that my potential colleagues could work with, someonme who takes direction but doesn’t need it, and someone that knows when to bring in other departments to resolve an issue. The interview team appeared to be “into” the interview, engaged with the patina of genuine interest in what I had to say. I could not possibly have interviewed better. There were no responses that I would have taken back.

I can state with a 90% degree of certainty that I will not get the job. How do I know that? Because I am 55 years old (56 next week), 6’6″ – 260 pounds and 70% bald. The person who would be my supervisor is in her mid 40s and I am guessing about 5’2 and 100 pounds. It has been my experience that supervisors with her set of characteristics do not hire people like me. They hire a 20-something woman that they can “mold” into a mini-me. I am holding a 10% chance that I am wrong – – but for me it is a mortgage bid. I am willing to make a mortgage payment for someone who tells me I am incorrect. Trust me – I have that one covered.

The job I have now, after the telephone screening interview I said to myself “Well, I’m not getting that one”. I could not have interviewed worse. Every question they asked, I responded “I have no experience in that” or “It’s been over 10 years since I did that work.”, etc. Why is it that positions that I am uniquely qualified for I don’t get; and jobs that I have no qualifications for I do get? Beats me.

In any event, for those of you who are in my situation, I hope you see a little bit of yourself in what I am writing. For those of you who have been gainfully employed throughout the past 4 years and have not felt the pain of the recession, your mere words of encoragement and pyschobabble are not desired. Actually give me a chance to help you and your organization. Hire me for the skills I can bring to your orgaqnization.

Again, read the next-to-last paragraph of my previous post and really THINK about what that means. Thanks!

Daniel Daughtry-Weiss

@jenstm: I know you mean well, but it is quite presumptuous to suggest that someone needs a “reinvention” when you don’t know them or their situation:

I know someone who was out of work with a PhD and more than 20 years experience. What turned things around for his job search was putting his FIRST work experience at the top of the resume. It just so happened that there was little or no market for what he had been doing more recently, and a huge need in the area where he first worked.

It is SO hard not to take the experience personally, but sometimes it is just dumb stuff that is a barrier. Keep expiramenting–

As to feeling of failure–I’m starting to think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is upside down! Find a way to enjoy and honor who you are (creatively, intellectually, relationally, spiritually) in new and different ways. Then if you starve (for whatever other needs you have), it is a tragedy, but at least you starve at peace. (My insight after reading About You, by Dick Staub.)

Dannielle Blumenthal

This is a refreshingly honest conversation.

The only thing I would add at this point is – attitude is everything. If you come into a situation expecting negativity, negativity ensues.

That doesn’t mean you should be unrealistically positive, but projecting a positive attitude is a must. It’s so easy to get dragged down…people don’t want to be around negativity at all. Even if you are right in being negative.

Unfair, maybe, but true.

Dale S. Brown

Someone suggested Richard Bolle’s latest books. Would you consider interviewing for information as a way of job search? That means that you network and ask questions that might lead to a full time job. You locate the people who have the power to hire you and visit them. And convince them that you are the one that can do the job. This means you get there before the competition. You look for needs you can uniquely handle. So far as I can tell, its the best way to get a job if you have a strike against you.

Dan Evers

Interesting exchanges, and – at least for me – valuable information.

I’ve been substantially unemployed since 7.09, so I can relate. By substantially, I mean that I’ve taken interim spots, jobs outside my field, casual labor, etc., while continuing my job search. Probably been on no less than 18 phone or in-person interviews. Leave each experience with “A year’s supply of Rice-A-Roni, and a home version of our game”. It stinks, but I decided a while back that complaining without direction/purpose was just dragging me further and further down.

This economy sucks. Public sector employers are cutting back, consolidating responsibilities, and delaying hiring decisions. No one will admit it, Dale, but people (and I am squarely in your cohort, as well as balding!) are not often the first option – too hard to re-train (or so the thinking goes), too close to retirement, health insurance premium risks, etc.

Life ain’t fair. It also ain’t changing. We can either suck it up, TRULY re-think how we view our experience and how it informs our humility/flexibility, or quit/start-over/punt.

Not glib, not particularly esoteric, but since you asked…

Good luck

Amanda Rhea

Just on a side note, as a hiring manager, I have found 40-50-somethings a better choice. They bring twenty years of experience and are more likely to stick around the 15 or twenty years until they retire. The 20-somethings bring much less experience and are gone in 5 and I have to start all over again.

Cheryl Wahlheim

I believe the flip side of Dale’s dilemna is my situation. My husband was laid off for over 14 months, for the 5th time in 10 years. I HAVE to keep working at my job, whether I am feeling under appreciated or not. I am not paid the same as the men in my same position and have been passed over for promotion based solely on my location. Since our program is based all over the country that seems lame. I understand Dale’s pain; our relationship almost didn’t survive, I was angry and he felt like a failure. He now works in another state and makes about $35,00 less than he did before. I agree with Amanda Rhea that 40s and 50s ages are great people to hire, we just have to convince them.