Riding Shotgun: From There to Here
and the Shit in Between

Finding a job.

First, an apology: It’s been many moons (well, more than one) since my column has graced this esteemed site. I’ve apologized to Chris (the editative monk). Shortly after he makes mention in print that I’m always reliable for a column or two when he’s running short, I present him with a two-month long drought. Sorry, sorry, sorry. So sorry.

But I had my reasons, and that’s what this column is going to be about, unless in mid-monologue I decide to switch topics to transvestitism in the 90s or why Joe Rogan should have his nuts bit off by a baby crocodile, in which case, I’ll save the explanation for next time.

The short answer to why I haven’t contributed to Crunchable in so long is I’ve been busy. The slightly longer answer is: I’ve been busy, asshole. And the much longer, but far too vague answer is: I’ve been going through some major life changes and have been too busy trying to remember where my shoes are that the idea of lining up my synapses in order to pound out a column left me grinding my teeth and pissing myself and on others in stress-induced hallucinations.

The very concise, accurate answer (though I think I like the preceding one the best) is: new job, new city, new apartment. Now shut the fuck up so I can figure out which train to get on.

For those of you that have read my previous columns, you might remember a little ditty from last year wherein I talked about the art of writing and why it’s so Grand-Champion-Jeopardy hard to find a decent job if you’re a wordsmith. There are a lot of us out there.

I know this in two ways. First, from the e-mails I received from other aspiring writers (of story, song, and hate-mail) saying they liked the column and related to the problem and wondered whether I had any advice for them on how to go about breaking into the writers’ market. To some of them I replied politely, saying that I was glad they liked the column and hoped they would become regular readers of the site. To others, I wrote nothing. And to none at all did I give advice. If I had advice to give, I’d be following it myself, and fuck the lot of you.

And secondly, from the amount of competition I’ve had to face in the last few months. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve made mention in previous columns that I have, for two-and-a-half years prior to the beginning of May, worked at a small paper in a small town in a small county in rural Maryland as a reporter/copy editor. It was my first real job. I got it with no professional writing experience whatsoever. And in return, I received that experience and a nominal (read this as very, very small) salary, which allowed me to survive from paycheck to paycheck.

After a year, I had fallen into a nice routine. After a year and a month, I was bored. After two years, I was ugly, stinking bored and ready to bolt. So, I went a huntin’. I started last summer. Sort of. Kinda.

I didn’t really understand or appreciate what hardcore job hunting meant, so I just kinda looked around at what was available across the Bay in our nation’s capital, seeing if anything wonderfully amazingly perfect popped out at me from the occasional employment posting site. By September, I got a little more serious, I actually applied for a few jobs, had a few replies, a single interview, was turned down, became discouraged, and went back to the kinda, sorta, maybe looking around attitude of a few months before.

Between September and March, my attitude hardened. I had realized in my time spent searching that, while there were lots of jobs for writers, few of them seemed interesting, and there would inevitably be several hundred people applying for each. To make a long story a tad less long, between September and March I sent out about 25 applications/resumes. I got no nibbles. And at the end of March, I was kicked out of my apartment.

No, it wasn’t for anything like that. I had been renting on a month-to-month since October, because I was job hunting and didn’t want to be tied down with a long-term lease. Well, my landlords were actively trying to sell the house where I lived, and in February did so. Thus, I had to leave. And because no apartment complex in a small town works on a month-to-month, and I still didn’t want to sign up for another year, I moved in with my parents who lived an hour away.

Oh, I know. Believe me, I know exactly how that sounds.

I love my parents dearly, but I hadn’t spent more than two weeks with them since I went to college seven years ago, and I wasn’t too keen on being stuck there for much longer than that. Faced with socially regressing back to a blubbering, pimple-laden, high school state, I sent out as many resumes during the last few weeks of March and the first few of April as I had the entire year previous. Ready to accept any position that involved me getting a byline and not having to gut fish, desperation was beginning to sink in.

And then, a blessed reprieve.

I applied for a staff correspondent position at a monthly magazine in D.C. Two days after I mailed my resume, I got a call from the editor. The next day, I was writing a mock story. The next day, I had an interview for the following week. The week after that two weeks since I sent in my resume, I had the job. Voila.

It’s been a month. My co-workers at the small town paper were genuinely sorry to see me leave. I think my desk still sits empty, although they’ve got a college intern for the summer to take up the slack. I got a cake and a card and hugs on the way out of town. For the most part, I slipped out of town quietly. I had only a week’s notice before taking the new job, and so most of the people I knew had no notice at all. I sent out an email to everyone whose email address I could remember to tell them of the move, cleaned out my desk, and fled as fast as four wheels and four cylinders could carry me.

I’m living with my girlfriend now as I search for a new apartment. She and her roommate have been kind enough to take me in during the excruciating process. I’m narrowing it down though, and by the time this column runs, I should be all moved in to a not-too-ghetto apartment complex somewhere in the D.C. metro region.

The job is going wonderfully. I’m learning PageMaker, the process of layout, the inner workings of D.C. (a column will be coming on this forthwith), and am even now sitting in my very own office (it has a window and a door, a gosh-darn, honest-to-goodness door) typing these words out.

And for all of those folks (writers and sorts) who are in the a huntin’ process, here’s the advice that I couldn’t give six months ago.

Be persistent. Its a necessary quality. Don’t be afraid to send out applications in mass quantities. Since only one out of ten or so will lead to anything, and a smaller percentage of that will result in acceptance, bend the math to your favor by giving yourself as many chances as possible.

Know where to look. There’s no reason you can’t do everything on the Web, but you still have to know which sites to go to. Job sites like Monster and Hotjobs will only get you so far, usually nowhere. If you’re looking for a job in a city, check the major papers. Most list their classifieds online. The Washington Post, for example, has a massive job postings section.

Also, check out local colleges and universities. They post openings on their web sites, and are occasionally looking for grammar-minded folk for their development/press/public relations office.

And dont forget non-profits. They infest D.C. like well-meaning vermin and there are a few sites dedicated solely to jobs involved with them — Idealist.org is one of them.

Be qualified. If you’re not, then get qualified. So you’ve never had a professional writing job in your life. That’s okay. That’s what internships and small weeklies are for. There’s a boatload of places willing to hire the thousands of fresh-faced, idealistic writers that colleges discharge every spring like processed corn chips from a colon. The pay is shit and the work is usually the literary equivalent of putting spindles in boxes, but it’s a start. Start out as a copy editor, and in a year, you can find yourself an assistant editor or a reporter or unemployed and homeless, whatever suits you.

If you’re whittling away the seconds, languishing in a crap writing job while you wait for something better, take the time to bulk up your resume. Learn PageMaker or Quark or any of the other programs or skills you see listed as Necessary Qualities in want ads. Make yourself as employable as possible by making the other candidates look like schmucks.

And now I gotta go. Theres a one-bedroom, garden apartment and a lot of unpacking with my name on it.

Article © 2003 by Steve Spotswood