April 30th marked one year of unemployment (or underemployment, depending on how you look at it) for yours truly. It has been a year of perpetual struggle, of peaks and valleys, and above all pondering the direction of my life and whether I've made the right career choice. Typically when I write my blog, I try to shy away from my personal problems. I focus upon current events, sports, and music not only as a pleasant distraction, but also to keep my skills sharp. It was my intent to share my story after I had found steady employment again, but my anxiety and frustration could no longer let me supress my viewpoint for much longer.
It all started in mid-January, 2010. I had been the traffic assistant at the station for nearly two years, and as the result of budget cuts, I had also been the receptionist for about 14 months. I was initially hired to be part-time, five hours a day, 25 hours a week. It was on this average January weekday that my boss and our business manager/HR director sat me down to explain that my position was finally being expanded to full-time. However, because the company was an equal-opportunity employer, I had to reapply for my own job. A job listing was posted on a prominent industry web site for anyone to apply.
When I was first hired by Salem in May 2008, I sighed with relief. Upon graduating from college, I had submitted my resume and audio samples (both DJ airchecks and production) to nearly forty radio clusters --few stations are by themselves nowadays, it all depends on who owns them-- and they were only my second interview. After two wonderfully informative sitdowns, I was hired. Though traffic wasn't my first choice and my prior credentials were minimal, I was glad to be back in the radio industry. My first two weeks at the office were predominately spent training; though I felt like got off to a slow start, by the first month I had found my rhythm and developed a great rapport with my direct superior, the traffic manager. Every day was a new challenge, and even though it was tricky meeting daily deadlines I always made a conscious effort. The workload was heavy, but manageable. I was convinced that I had a future with this company... or so I thought.
In my first six months there was a signifigant regime change in our branch. The HR director that was partially responsible for bringing me aboard retired on account of her near-crippling arthritis. Her chosen replacement was for all intents and purposes her complete opposite; where the previous director was a self-deprecating mother figure, the new one was a deadly serious, business-oriented pragmatist. On top of that, where I was on friendly terms with HR director #1, her replacement made absolutely no attempt to get acquainted with anyone besides her boss and the other station management. Worse yet, director #2 had repeatedly called me out for mistakes at the front desk that were relatively minor and easily rectified. With time, it became quite clear that she didn't particularly like me, and that I would have to make an exorbatant effort to save my job.
As requested, I e-mailed my updated resume and references to the HR director, and we arranged to have my interview on the morning of Monday, February 8th. I spent the night before mentally preparing myself for the sitdown, partially out of determination but also out of shear nerve. As the sitting traffic assistant/receptionist, I was the first of six or seven candidates to walk into the conference room. Human resources asked the questions and my boss sat sliently, taking notes. The interview itself went okay; though I felt like I was stumped by a question or two, I felt confident regardless. After the interview, the HR director stated that she'd make a decision within two weeks. And two weeks later... nothing happened.
In my extended time of waiting, I wasn't sure what to assume. Was the decision taking longer than usual, or was I a dead man walking? After the 14-day "deadline" had passed, I reluctantly started glancing at radio jobs online. To my astonishment, our HR director had reposted the same job opening from the month before. I came to work pretending as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and though I put on a brave face and a focused effort on my work, on the inside I was panicking. Even though I trusted my boss, I was too nervous to ask about the re-posting or the second round of interviews. Knowing of my duress, my co-workers would walk past the front desk and ask how I was doing; their moral support was fleeting, but noble in the attempt.
By late April, my worst fears were all but confirmed. Rumors were beginning to swirl around the office, and I gave my best non-answer to their prying questions. During the third and fourth cattle calls, the HR director conducted the conferences herself, without my boss' input. One candidate that walked in had garnered a second interview, a sit-in with the general manager that I'd never had. My boss would occasionally go into the HR director's office to vent, and one day during that week she was in the business manager's office for a longer period of time than usual. Glancing past the window, I could tell my boss was tearing up and that the HR director was being her usual hardheaded self.
On April 30th, I was asked to step into the HR office. As I sat next to the traffic director, I learned my fate: the search had come down to two candidates, the aforementioned ringer and myself, and they went with the new guy. Her words were polite, but her eyes had a certain resignation, a strangely gleeful glimmer. The director even tried to smirk, but my boss' repressed tears came from a more honest emotion. There was so much I wanted to say; I had an irresistable urge to call this cipher out for being secretive, elusive, and above all dishonest. Instead I clenched my teeth, cleaned out my desk, and tried to look professional and graceful in my departure.
In my HR director's eyes I was a borderline-incompetant milquetoast, and her cold smile and sudden, abrupt attempt at compassion couldn't hide the fact that she had been gunning after me. Altogether, this HR director made me sit on my hands for 3 1/2 months, Was I fired, forced out, or replaced? I'd like to think I was a combination of the three. As I drove home, I was overwhelmed by a singular emptiness. Even though this was the first time I'd ever been sacked --an experience that everyone will eventually go through-- I still felt screwed over. Part of me is still convinced that human resources overrode any feedback that my boss would've had in this whole process, and that she'd further consolidated her power in the office. In short, I had no leverage, and all my energies were for naught.
In the meantime, I've been trying to give myself a clean slate, not out of willingness but because of necessity. Attempts to reconnect with former co-workers at Salem have been ignored or rebuffed. As such, I don't think anyone in my old office is aware of the existence of this blog. I've had text conversations with my ex-boss, but they've been short and stilted. I'd also found out through the grapevine that my position was redefined in that the receptionist reported to the HR director and not the traffic director. Apparently, he also assumed a different set of responsibilites, which meant my former boss was (is?) now doing the work of two people. Concurrently, I've been intermittently temping and substitute teaching, but mostly I've been ekeing out a living on unemployment benefits.
I have written this blog entry for the sake of catharsis, and not to attack, vilify, or exact revenge. I was very tempted to call out the offending party by name, but that would be industry suicide. For the last 12 1/2 months, I've been penting up my rage and alienation to the extent that I had release my demons the only way I can. Counting high school, I had played the radio game for eleven years, and now I'm further away from my dream job than I've ever been. I've had one radio-related interview in the past year, but nothing came out of it. On one hand, I've been thinking outside the box and pooling my skills into a variety of other possibilities; on the other hand, I don't want to give up on a dream I've been building on for so long. Blind optimism is what keeps me going. Inexorably, I feel like a burden has been lifted off my back, and that I'm ready to clear whatever future hurdles come my way.