Job Searching and the Almighty Dollar

It’s raining today. God, I love the rain. You don’t see it much in Orange County.

* * * * *

Quick note: Please check out Homeless Tales, the brainchild of Matt Barnes from the UK. I spent several hours last night browsing through the stories that compile his Street Voices Project, and I was fascinated by the work of the various contributers. Matt and his writers are doing their utmost to raise awareness of this social issue, and to put faces to the various homeless out there, no matter their circumstances. I have a huge amount of respect for their work and send out my kudos to them. If you haven’t already been, please check out Homeless Tales!

* * * * *

Once your most basic needs (shelter, food, and water) have been met, your mind will naturally turn to money – the most important long-term solution to get you out of this.

I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of panhandling. Many homeless people out there are mentally ill/addicts and feel this is their only recourse. I am not judging those individuals. They are humans as well and deserving of compassion and assistance – medical and rehabilitory assistance in addition to food and shelter. However, I have always worked and I am fully capable of continuing to work. I will not panhandle or beg for money. There are many less fortunate homeless people who do not have the advantages I have, who cannot/do not know how to care for themselves, and who need those contributions more than I do. If you are homeless and reading this blog, that means you have figured out how to access a computer – so chances are pretty high that you are self-reliant and have at least some rudimentary skills that qualify you to find yourself money without panhandling.

First of all, sell any assets that you will not need or that do not have irreplaceable sentimental value (i.e., your grandmother’s wedding ring). If you have a laptop and phone and vehicle, obviously those are things that will come in useful to you. Items like furniture, decor, TV, stereo, etc. are not necessary and can be easily replaced once you are back on your feet. Only you can decide what you are willing to give up, but you will find that material belongings count for very little when you need to buy food and gasoline, or come up with enough money to put down a rental deposit so you can get off of the street. I have built up a collection of fine vintage clothing for several years – guess what’s happening to that? I’m eBaying it off, piece by piece.

As an immediate/temporary solution, you may be able to apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI), State Disability Insurance (SDI), Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), State Supplementary Payments (SSP) or welfare/food stamps. This guy I mentioned in a previous post has listed the various ins and outs of applying for these programs, including various rules and loopholes. There’s nothing I can say here on those topics that he hasn’t already, so visit his site and review your available options.

If you are not disabled in any way and are physically and mentally capable of working – find a job. Yes, the economy is in the toilet right now. Salaries have been slashed by about 20% on average. But there are jobs out there, even if competition is stiff for some of the higher-paying ones. If you are educated and formerly held a prestigious position – get over it. You may not be able to find something comparable to your last job right now. You may need to wait for the economy to right itself. Do not be too proud to take a lower-paying or less glamorous job in the interim. I did very well for myself in my former life and got every single job I ever interviewed for, but guess what? Right now I’m homeless, and although I have sent out hundreds of applications, the fish aren’t biting. This means that I need to be willing to take anything that comes along (unless it pays less than my UI, in which case I would be shooting myself in the foot – you can’t file for UI and work at the same time).

If you can find under-the-table work here and there, that is awesome. You are paid in cash and there is no record going to the IRS, so they can’t tax you. This means that you can collect some supplemental income and still file for UI, if that is applicable to your situation. Many small business owners will pay under-the-table.

Search on Craigslist.org, Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, and any other job board you can find. If you have a professional-looking photo of yourself in business attire, attach it to every cover letter you e-mail out. Try to stand out from the sea of nameless, faceless applicants. Distinguish yourself. When hiring managers can put a face to the name, they are more likely to think of you as a person, and remember you when it comes down to weeding through the candidates and deciding who to bring in for interviews.

If you have never had a job, or are super-young and have no previous job experience, search for “entry-level” jobs. These are jobs that require no formal training. Apply at grocery stores, restaurants, retail chains; hell, apply to be the person in the oversized chicken suit outside of Chick-Fil-A! Apply to be the person in the Chuck-E suit at Chuck-E-Cheese. For many of these jobs, you don’t have to apply online – walk right into an establishment and ask to speak to the manager. You may have the front desk person/receptionist/hostess ask you what this is regarding. Don’t tell them up front that it’s regarding applying for a job, they’ll just try to re-route you, or hand you an application to fill out. You want the manager to actually meet you so that you get a chance to make an impression. If they tell you the manager is not available and try to hand you an application to get rid of you, ask to make an appointment to speak to the manager directly. Make sure that every time you visit the establishment, you are clean and well-dressed. Make sure your interview suit/dress is modest, in fashion, and unwrinkled. Do whatever you have to, just find a job and save as much of each paycheck as you can.

At no point during a job search should you tell anyone that you are homeless. It may be tempting to milk your circumstances for sympathy, but DON’T. It will rarely work. The vast majority of society has built-in prejudices against the homeless. If you look like a bum, people will treat you like a bum. If you don’t look like you a bum, are well-dressed/qualified/articulate, but tell people you are homeless, they are still likely to treat you like a bum. Do not appeal to your interviewer in this manner. Never appear desperate. Project confidence and prepare for every interview hours or even days in advance. Find the company’s website and read up on their mission statement, their philosophy, their history, and then drop nuggets of that into your responses to interview questions, so that hiring managers will know you have done your research on the company, will fit in well, and really want to work there.

That is the most important thing in an interview – you may be the most qualified person on the planet, but if you aren’t particularly interested in the job or the company, they will hire someone less qualified who is. This may be a job you are just taking until you can get something better when the economy improves, but they don’t need to know that. As far as an interviewer is concerned, this is your dream job and you will stay here until retirement, OK? You can always change your mind after you get the job and something better comes along. That is not illegal. But you need somet
hing right now, so stretch the truth if you must. Lie a little and say that you see yourself working your way up from a cashier at McDonalds to management at their corporate office. Stress your loyalty to your employer. This doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever. You just need a job right now, do whatever you must to get it.

While job searching, look for other means to come up with extra money. You can sell belongings, as I’ve already noted. Or take a particular talent and start an e-business with it. I run a modest resumé-writing business on the side populated with friends and clients who have no idea that I am homeless. Set yourself up a webpage at Starbucks or the public library, and put your talents to good use. Promote yourself on Craigslist, Twitter, MySpace, or any one of hundreds of online resources. Invest in some cheap flyers and post them on college boards, community boards, Starbucks boards, anywhere you can. Market yourself.

Look into mystery shopping, or marketing companies who will pay you to stand around and promote their products. I did this a couple of years ago for extra cash on the side. I was one of those people who stood behind a table at Costco and handed out free samples on the weekends. You can laugh, but do you know how much I made doing that? $25/hour.

If you are a female in your 20s and you have no moral objection, you may want to look into donating your eggs (a lot of college students do it). You don’t need to be a supermodel astrophysicist to do this (I certainly can’t claim to be one, I’m just a spunky, cute-ish kid with a good head on her shoulders and a fair amount of common sense)! Many prospective parents out there are just looking for a donor who is physically reminiscent of them, and isn’t a carrier for any major diseases or disabilities. I went to check out this opportunity today. I found an agency who is putting me in their database; if I am chosen as a donor, my first-time fee will be $5,500, plus all medical expenses. Keep in mind, if you pursue this option, it pays well for a reason. Sperm donors only get about $75 a pop because their donation process is quick, easy, painless, and pleasurable. For women, you EARN that money. It is a roughly 2-month long process involving self-injected hormones, monitoring appointments, psychological evaluations, and possible side effects. Take all of this into consideration before you make the decision. Personally, I have found that people have the remarkable ability to do things that they never thought they’d be able to do in dire circumstances. I never thought that I’d be able to ransack through a blood-and-brain-splattered suicide scene either, but I ended up having to do just that when my biological father shot himself in January, because my other family members were too queasy to do it, and someone had to. Take a hard look at yourself and decide what you are willing/able to do and where you draw your boundaries, and then stick to them.

There are opportunities to earn money honestly if you search for them. So many people out there are throwing their hands up in the air and blaming the sucky economy for not being able to find work. Don’t be proud. Do what you must. Consider every alternative. You’re homeless and jobless, do you really have anything better to do? Your job is to find a job.