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Unemployable in America
PART 2: Farewell, Land of Cronyism and Incompetence
When one’s psyche has been wounded, the victim seeks out various methods of healing. These methods run the
gamut, from psychiatric counseling to group therapy to secular activities like prayer. All methods involve plenty of
introspection in an attempt to “make sense of the past,” i.e., “where did I go wrong” and “if only I didn’t do
this/that/other.” In my own attempt to make sense of these past few years, I have chosen writing as my method of
therapy in the hopes of promoting the healing process. Perhaps by sharing my healing stage with the world, others
can learn from my experiences – and possibly avoid ever needing therapy in the first place!
Twenty years ago, my first design instructor told my class, “When you turn 40, you can forget about working in this
field.” It was the following year that a colleague shared with me the observation that I picked a horrible place to
attempt to forge my career, stating that Boston is a city of “incompetence and cronyism.” I really hoped I could
prove both of these statements wrong. But, after searching for work for nearly three years (and searching for a
permanent job for ten years), with over one thousand rejected job applications, I am forced to conclude that both
were 100% correct.
I have already written about the bad career choice I made in pursuing graphic design in Part 1. I am now going to
share the details of my other major lapse in judgment, which was to attempt to make a life for myself in New
England, and Stinkassachusetts in particular. Hopefully, I will convince folks out there to not make the same bad
decisions I made, for it is my sincere belief that this place ruined my life.
I grew up near Pittsburgh. It was during a family vacation to Maine in 1982 that I fell in love with quintessential New
England – the pretty coastal towns, the history and colonial architecture, etc. Stinkassachusetts also was riding high
on the “Massachusetts Miracle” with nearly 0% unemployment, and as I was suffering from a case of PTSD from
witnessing the horrible unemployment that befell my hometown when the steel mills closed, moving here only
made sense, which I did immediately after graduating college in 1989. As I look back, it’s now clear as day that it was
a bad decision from the start.
Almost immediately, I knew something was wrong. With a BS in business administration and a few years of basic
office experience from temporary work, the best job I could ever get in those early years was that of secretary; “you
have to start at the bottom and work your way up,” I was told by every recruiter and hiring manager. So I took a
secretarial job at a bank in Providence followed by another at a hospital in Boston, each time hoping these would
have “advancement opportunities,” but neither offered this. Little did I know, once you enter the “female ghetto of
administrative work,” you never escape (http://www.indeed.com/forum/job/Administrative‐Assistant/Escaping‐
Female‐Ghetto‐that‐is‐Administrative‐Work/t135354). In 1996, I took a job at Tufts University, again thinking a
change of environment would lead to more “stimulating” work. Instead, I was typing my boss’s kids’ homework. I
decided that I did not want to do secretarial work for the rest of my life. As I already mentioned in Part 1, I had
foolishly bought into the garbage belief being fed to me by everyone around me that you need to be “happy and
fulfilled” in your job, i.e., “do what you love to do!” (what a crock!). So, I made the very foolish decision to return to
school for graphic design (Northeastern was offering a part‐time evening certificate program).
I now realize this was the second biggest mistake of my life (second to moving to New England). I still vividly recall
my first design instructor giving my class that “when you turn 40” comment. Of course, all of us scoffed at that,
because none of us are EVER going to turn 40! And, if we do, it’ll be different for us!
While I attended these courses, I still foolishly attempted to find a basic office job, one that offered a bit more than
typing somebody’s kids’ homework. In January 1997 I signed on with MGH’s internal temporary pool, thinking that
certainly my recent hospital/academic experience combined with my college degree, my computer proficiency
(which I observed many office professionals still struggling to achieve) and my typing speed of over 130WPM would
certainly lead to opportunities in such a large hospital (viewing the job board on any day revealed dozens of
administrative openings that I was capable of doing blindfolded). But over several months of floating around in low‐
level clerical spots (one job had me doing nothing but shredding all day), the most interviews I could land was two. I
shared this observation with more than one person ‐‐ how does a woman with direct medical office experience
(scheduling, grants/manuscripts, medical terminology), a college degree and a typing speed of over 130WPM not
qualify for more than two interviews in a place this massive? Everyone agreed this was insane, but one person said
something very harsh that continues to haunt me...
“This is a city full of cronyism and incompetence.”
I did not want to believe that. So instead I concluded this “cronyism and incompetence” factor was isolated to MGH.
I walked away from them and decided to concentrate on my “exciting new design career.”
I began to find design‐related work over the next two years via temporary agencies. And then I landed my first
permanent design job at Brigham & Womens. But that ended six weeks later when the boss called me into her office
to tell me my position had been eliminated due to budget cuts and to pack my things and leave. !!!!!!
To say this event shocked me is an understatement (and twenty years later it still infuriates me). Getting laid off was
what happened to the steel mill workers of my Rust Belt hometown back in the 1980s. Getting laid off was NOT
supposed to happen to us kids of those mill workers who witnessed our local economy collapse and made the effort
to “do things differently” and went to college ("and you won't end up like your parents!").
I should have taken this as a warning sign right then and there (oh, hindsight, why are you so bloody perfect),
packed my things and moved. But, I’m a loyal (translation: foolish) person. I continued to blame myself for being so
professionally unsuccessful. And I did not want to admit that I had just wasted nearly a decade here – I was
dedicated to “making this relationship work.”
Over the next ten years the job outlook here really didn’t improve, marked mostly by more temp/contract gigs. I had
one brief permanent job but the pay was so low there was no way I’d be able to pay my mortgage (which was less
than average rent around here), hence I continued to try to “find something better.” But something better never
came along. And then the “dot com crash” recession in 2003 hit, and I had to take a temporary typing job that paid
$12/hour, the same rate I earned as a secretary ten years earlier. But, eventually the design gigs returned – all
temp/contract/freelance. And through 2008 I gradually accrued a decent portfolio while I continued to apply for one
permanent design job after another, but I rarely ever landed an interview. I kept saying it must be because I still
don’t have enough experience. Yeah, that must be it! Meanwhile, an occasional nationwide job search would reveal
design jobs everywhere but here – even my hometown had more! I found this baffling; wasn’t this supposed to be a
hub of art and culture and technology? Where are the jobs?
In September 2008 I landed a contract gig at Fidelity Investments. I foolishly said to myself, “I’ve finally arrived in
this city! Surely this gig will go permanent and I’ll never need to look for work again.” Three years later, I was still a
contractor. Sigh. And by December 2011 the project for which I had been hired was winding down; gradually the
people I worked with (almost all contractors) were disappearing, so I could see that this job was going to end soon.
Since the media was reporting that the recession had “ended” and because I now had significant experience
combined with a big‐name client, certainly there was no excuse for any company to ignore my job application, right?
And, sure enough, one hour after posting my resume on Dice I was bombarded with calls from recruiters. So, I
walked away from yet another Boston institution with zero opportunities.
What came next was yet another contract gig working from home with a company based in Texas. It was initially
full‐time and helped me get through 2012, but by 2013 this had begun to wind down, first to part time, then to
barely a few hours each week. Meanwhile, I continued to receive one rejection email after another for every nearly
job I applied for (and the few interviews I did get were a complete waste of time). But I now have 16 years of
experience...what the hell is going on here? Again, I wouldn’t blame my adopted state but instead blamed it on the
recession which clearly had NOT ended. By June 2013, with my savings running low, I made the difficult decision to
put aside finding a design job and began applying for every/any job I was capable of performing...administrative
assistant, secretary, data entry typist, mail clerk, delivery driver (if I had to pinpoint at what time exactly did I
officially “die” inside, this was it)...basically, I was going back in time to the jobs I did when I first moved here 25
years ago. In one eight‐week period alone I applied for 150 jobs ‐‐ with no response from any. And once again I
refused to accept I was just in the wrong state. Things will pick up here soon, they have to!
My contract gig officially ended in October 2013. This was followed by a humiliating experience as an entry‐level
temporary data entry job at Sallie Mae for a whopping $14/hour. For this awesome "opportunity" they not only
made me take a drug test, but they demanded my TAX RETURNS from the previous year! Since when do companies
have the right to demand such invasive personal (and IRRELEVANT) information from a potential ‐‐ and temporary ‐‐
I’d like to cut right here for a minute to talk about hourly wages. My very first job was in the summer of 1986. I had
just completed my first year of college and had no work experience. I signed up with a temp agency in downtown
Pittsburgh who found me work as a typist the very next day. My hourly rate was $5/hour ‐‐ higher than the
minimum wage at the time. Adjusted for inflation, today that translates to $10.85. Recall that, in 1992, with college
complete and a few years of work experience, I landed that medical secretary job ‐‐ that paid $12/hour; adjusted for
inflation, today that equals $20.35.
That awesome $14/hour gig ended in January 2014 (I'd also like to share that they made us show up for work on
NEW YEAR'S DAY...what warm memories I will retain of that holiday season!). I’ve been unemployed ever since (and
because I’ve been a contract/temporary worker all these years I have never been able to collect unemployment).
My lowest point was back in March 2014 when I applied for a minimum wage shelf stocker job at Target in Plainville.
I landed an interview because I did not provide any work history. The interview I had with the twenty‐year‐old girl
was downright laughable, and I got the rejection email almost immediately.
This job paid minimum wage of $8/hour – in other words, a salary closer to what I earned in 1986.
The final *final* straw came a month later when I saw “the perfect job” posted by a company called Simplivity in
Westborough. I spent half an hour crafting my cover letter (making sure it had every relevant keyword) and applied
via their Jobvite application. This was a Tuesday night at 9:00. At 10:00 am the next morning I received the rejection
email. After getting over the shock, I checked two things: the tracking stats for my online portfolio, and my LinkedIn
page; I had provided both of these links in my cover letter – when you’re hiring a designer, reviewing their portfolio
is more important than the resume; my LinkedIn page was also relevant here as it has some nice recommendations
written about my skills. Well, neither my portfolio nor my LinkedIn page had A SINGLE VISITOR. (Funny thing, this job
reappeared three months later, http://www.simplyhired.com/job/graphic‐designer‐job/simplivity/h2vqtibgdr?cid=
naspwmduferejmdsvswyoslpcwowoasq...then again in August...then again in early September...and again on
September 22, https://www.linkedin.com/jobs2/view/20705400...and then again one week later,
It was time for me to accept the reality of my situation; I was in a sick abusive relationship, and I had to get out. So I
immediately began applying for jobs nationwide. But, unfortunately, just like a battered wife who realizes she’s not
young or attractive anymore and who’s learned to limp from broken bones that were never attended to properly, I
am now left with a huge gap on my resume, and whilst there are so many professional roles for which I’d be a great
fit, roles to where my skills would easily transfer and be a great asset, it is that gap combined with my massive old
age of 47 that have rendered me permanently unemployable in 21st century America.
I put my condo on the market in June 2014 and began to prepare to move into my mom’s basement in neighboring
Rhode Island (sadly, she had sold our home in Pittsburgh and moved to RI to be close to me, unaware of just how
bad things were going to get here). I then spent the summer giving away all my lifelong accumulated possessions for
free on Craigslist (because nobody wants to pay for anything today). My condo sold almost immediately and in
October I moved into my mom’s basement in RI.
And, with that, my sad relationship with Stinkassachusetts came to an end.
I find myself reflecting on the many, many bad experiences I’ve had here these past 20 years, and I laugh at just how
foolish I really was for “trying to make this relationship work.”
For example, I remember applying for a simple PPT production job back in 1998. I was invited for an interview ‐‐ I
don’t recall the company name but I do remember the hiring mgr’s name was Amanda). After acing the “test” (the
hiring mgr shared that I was the only one who had!) we chatted and hit it off well so she brought me back to meet
“the team.” I tried to be friendly, making a Simpsons joke (“Amanda Hugandkiss”), and foolishly thought I’d get an
offer. I was shocked and devastated to see the job reappear in the Boston Globe help wanted section the very next
day. I emailed the HR rep asking what happened, and his response was “something about lack of chemistry.” The
only thing that I could think of was I was wearing a very nice dress from Neiman Marcus (of course, I got it from
Filene’s Basement for $90, but they didn’t know that), while they were wearing Birkenstocks and sweatshirts. Yeah,
lack of chemistry.
And there were so many times I attempted to forge professional relationships with companies and hiring managers
via those many temp gigs I took on through The Creative Group and Professional Staffing Group. There was a gig in
early 2000 with Analog Devices, mostly PageMaker layout work but also doing technical illustrations. I did the job,
did it well, had the assignment extended many times and got plenty of positive feedback from TCG telling me to
“keep doing a great job”…then one day the work dried up, and I’m guessing these bozos didn’t have the guts to tell
TCG they just didn’t need me anymore…end of day Friday I come home to a message on my machine from TCG
telling me not to go in on Monday. Spoke to my rep who says they were accusing me of “lots of eye rolling and bad
attitude.” Fifteen years later this one still blows my mind. I certainly hope karma is kicking every one of these clowns
in the ass, not one of whom ever cracked a single smile during my time there.
I remember when PSG placed me with Cramer Productions back in 2003 (my first return to design gigs following the
typing stint). My work was so good they extended the job for several months; my designs were even posted on their
display board. But, it led to nothing – no permanent offer, no long‐term relationship. And imagine how hurt and
angry I was to see them advertise the same job a few months later (and my PSG recruiter could not get a reason
I then landed the role of designing Staples’ corporate PPT template, also in 2003, again thru PSG – I did it and I did it
well. Again, it led to absolutely nothing.
There was the time PSG sent me to Cambridge Systematics for a brief PPT gig…well, I hurt their wittle feewings by
sharing my observations that their PPT designs sucked (seriously, we’re talking clipart‐level garbage here!)…that first
day ended with a call from PSG telling me the client doesn’t want me back.
And I remember shortly after completing that Cramer gig that PSG called me with a gig at some dinky company
called the Parthenon Group, saying I had to take a PPT test first, then they’d “think about” whether they wanted me.
I spent three hours at this company taking their little test while I observed the office floozies in the background chit‐
chatting the entire time, something about one of them was getting married and they wanted to have a buffet but
her mom didn’t approve but oh mom people can mingle it’ll be fun and we’re going on a honeymoon cruise to
Greece ‐‐ didn’t see anyone perform a single ounce of work. Oh, and I didn’t get the gig because one of said floozies
remembered me from a temp gig at another company and she “didn’t like me.”
You know what, I don’t like you, either. I don’t like any of you rotten people in this miserable horrible unfriendly
I could go on and on.
So, what kept me going through all this? What motivated me to continue taking this abuse? Well, it was the
occasional awesome client that kept me motivated to not give up. And I did indeed get some wonderful clients
muddled in between these nightmarish encounters, who appreciated me, loved my work and told me I was “the
best damned designer” they had ever worked with. I’d estimate the ratio of nice clients to jerks was about 1:5. So,
don’t anyone dare tell me my problems these past 20 years are entirely due to my being a bad designer.
No, I did not deserve to be treated like this. Nobody does.
From the comments section of the "Ask the Headhunter" blog...
So, good‐riddance, Stinkassachusetts. I wasted the best years of my life on you and will remain forever baffled by
why you hated me so much from the start. Not once did you provide me with a single decent opportunity, not once
did you make me feel welcome here no matter how much I defended you to those who said your inhabitants were
rude and unfriendly or that you were rampant with “cronyism and incompetence.” I am now done with being told
that I am worthless ‐‐ for a good while I actually believed that ‐‐ and I will now spend the rest of my life completely
wiping you from my memory while trying to reclaim my confidence and self‐respect. I just hope it’s not too late and
I will get the chance to enjoy just one successful career before I die. (I can already look forward to dying alone and
childless courtesy of your equally horrid dating scene.*) And wherever this path leads me, I will make it my mission
to warn every college‐bound kid I meet along the way to avoid two things like the Ebola virus: the field of graphic
design, and the state of Stinkassachusetts.
*Be sure to check out “House Hunters,” s38e10, “Change of Scenery to Chicago,” in which a single middle‐aged
Boston woman gets fed up with the horrible Boston dating scene. The last scene of the show has her saying, “The
dating scene in Chicago definitely blows Boston out of the water. Over the last four months, I've been out on several
dates with seven different guys. And compared to Boston, I did two dates in two years, so it's definitely a step in the