Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Interim jobs: sometimes very short term, sometimes new careers


After my layoff and forced retirement from my information technology “career” at the end of 2001 (my job lasted 92 days after 9/11), I did drift quite a bit. For quite a while, the information technology job market tanked for those who had not specialized in exactly the hottest skills, that kept behaving like moving targets.

I started exploring the interim job market. In April, while in a gay bar on a Saturday night, I spotted an ad in a local magazine to call for contributions for a symphony orchestra. I called, and in a few days I was starting a new part-time job from 5-9 in the evenings, calling for contributions. It was not a high-pressure environment, and it became somewhat a world of its own. The non-profit euphemism for this is “development.” There is “new money” which pays a higher commission, and the best was “blue money,” which was new money on credit. Pledges were red money. At the end of the shift you turned in your leads (it was all paper). You got paid hourly and commissions. This did soften the landing. There was the stability of going to work again, with a short commute even, and the idea that there could be some hidden advancement. I also got complimentary concert tickets. State law allowed simultaneous unemployment collection, subject to some formulaic limits.

I stayed in this for fourteen months, so there was some stability. It worked out pretty well. The atmosphere was cordial enough. Some workers made negative comments (“You’re working in a phone bank; these are not bad people but it’s the only kind of job they can get.”) That’s pretty heavy.

By now I was hearing more talk about the nature of “retirement.” You didn’t stop working, but work slows down, becomes intermittent or sporadic, and is less pressured. You gravitate toward what you want to do. I see that I wrote about this in early 2006, here: “Jobs for the Recently Retired” Feb. 27, 2006.

I was also reading that job counselors recommended “interim jobs.” Just be practical, don’t expect too much.

Then TSA (the Transportation Security Adminsitration) came to town (in August 2002) and had an open house for airport screeners at a local hotel. You showed up at 7 AM with an application, and would have a day of “assessments.” You could get hired that day, subject to background checks. I butted out after confusion over the pay scales.

In early 2003, I got a contract writing a certification test in business ethics. That was interesting, and I thought it could lead to more freelance. I was still calling for the orchestra. I would check out other things. There was a gig with a bank that wanted to set up a life insurance pyramid game converting whole life to term. Makes sense, but manipulating people that way is not game for me.

I started looking at collection agencies. One turned me down as not assertive enough (there were three interviews), but another hired me on the spot. I worked two months for RMA, which is one of the reputable companies that actually trains people and follows the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act). Most of these operations are in the Midwest, where the time zones work well. I actually made goal both months, but had to move back east for family reasons.

Back here, I tried symphony subscription sales for a different company, but quit abruptly when people I called complained that we were acting illegally, calling later than allowed by law (9 PM). Again, the operation was all manual, with no computers. Subscriptions are hard to sell. I sold four in six weeks.

I would look at other things, even driving a taxi. One company called me out of the blue for a job as a “team leader” of “youths” going door-to-door or trolling shopping malls to sell excess restaurant meals or the like, with part of the proceeds to raise money for charities. A number of jobs still involve door-to-door.

We’ve all heard a lot about the tightening of telemarketing and calling. The public as a whole does not welcome sales calls of in person visits. The world is a different place than it was a half century ago when “home service” insurance agents were common, and cold-call selling (either by phone, in person, or Internet) has a bad reputation with many people. Yes, I don’t like the idea of a job that is the only kind of job someone can get. That sounds like a bad reflection. But, times did change on people.

In the spring of 2005, I got invited again to be considered for a life insurance agent. The company did want to find somebody with technical business knowledge, which twelve years of I.T. in a life and annuities company would provide. But I am not someone to go out and “recruit” and troll for leads. I don’t have the social connections, and I think that this sort of business is based on older models of social interaction that I don’t fit.

I covered the substitute teaching experience in the last blog. (Redux: Today, I went to Harpers Ferry, W Va, to take some pictures. A school field trip, to see the museums related to John Brown and the fight to abolish slavery just before the Civil War arrived from a nearby town in Maryland and descended upon the eatery. Everyone was well-behaved and interested in what they were seeing, from what I could overhear. I wish all classes had been like that in my experience. Teachers, this is a good report.)

There is indeed a tendency for knee-jerk reactions and to quit interim jobs suddenly when they can lead to “problems” or even to legal liabilities or exposures. With low pay, it seems that there is little money to lose. It’s a two-way street.

Of course, one can look at things one can do from home and earn surprising money (including blogging, look at Sept. 14 2006 in this blog, Business 2.0, "Blogging for Dollars"). There are other new opportunities with "homework" such as my blog article "Customer Service Agents Can Work from Home," Aug 13, 2007, here. Homework ("la tarea") sometimes turns into piecework -- but even that can work.

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