I never thought I would ever say it, but FML.
March 14, 2011 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Financially desperate. Apparently unemployable. Emotionally despondent. Everything feels completely hopeless. Now what?

Before being laid off, I was a top notch [linux|windows|other] sysadmin with a long (18 years) and promising career.

I've now been unemployed for just over 2 years. It's been a struggle to keep my skills up to date and relevant, but I've been doing it. I just had what must be my 20th job rejection after interviewing in the last year alone (and in this one, I went 4 rounds of interviews. They decided not to go with me because one of my references said that I occasionally needed to be prompted back on track. That was a dealbreaker.) I've even been trying for short term contract positions, but it's a no go. I haven't even been able to land small, independent consulting work in months. It feels like my career, which I love, is over.

My skills are not transferable to other fields. I never finished college (because I got a job offer at IBM during my first year of school. Wound up dropping out because tech work was so much fun) and that seems to be counting against me as well.

I even made application to all of my local grocery stores and fast food restaurants, but I'm told that none of them are hiring.

Unemployment ran out back in October. My savings are completely depleted. I've got almost everything of value that I own up on craigslist, and getting buyers is like pulling teeth. Big family issues going on, so borrowing is not an option. My landlord let me put off March rent for a couple of weeks in hopes I would land a job, but it's just not happening, so I have to move at the end of the month. The thought of losing my home, my one safe place in the universe, is really wrecking me.

Unless I suddenly develop a source of income in the next week, I have to stop jobhunting and pack up my apartment and leave.

What do I do now?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (31 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Public assistance. You'll likely qualify for rental assistance as well as financial assistance. Here's the lookup to find the office closest to you.

Also, you mention contract and consulting, but have you looked at temp agencies? Not just in your field, but doing anything?

Finally, can you take on a roommate? Sharing your home with someone else is better than losing it all together.
posted by anastasiav at 12:02 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I understand that your skills aren't really transferable to other fields, but still, have you tried temp agencies like Kelley, or Worksource, or something similar? True, I'd be very surprised if you landed a sysadmin job through such a path, and much of the work available there is manual labor or clerical/filing type stuff, but something is better than nothing, especially with unemployment now gone.

I don't know what kind of area you live in, but is there like a downtown business district you can walk through? We will occasionally get people asking if there's anything we need done: Windows washed, vacuum the store, clean the bathrooms, cut down boxes and put the cardboard in the bin, assemble furniture... Sure, we're not hiring, but often if I can even remotely justify it I'll put 'em to work for a few hours or a day, to try to help them out. I'm in a very small town that is a pretty close-knit community though, so YMMV.

But still, a lot of businesses are at least sympathetic, even if they're not hiring full- or part-time positions. Explain that while you understand if they're not hiring, if there's anything they need done for a few hours or a day or two, you'd love the opportunity to work for them. Bonus: You'll probably be paid as casual labor (aka, just cash or a check).

Have you considered freelancing? A lot of small business don't have an IT department, and while some have "The IT Guy" that they use, a lot don't even know who to call. True, it's a bit late to go there, but who knows?

Above all, be honest and completely open with your landlord. We're seeing a lot of customers still having trouble paying their bills (or at least, us) on time. As long as they keep me informed and are willing to send me something, I really am willing to work with them. It's the customers that won't even return my calls that get handed to collections and I take what I can get.

Really, no landlord wants to evict you. Especially in this market, it could be months before they fill the now-vacant apartment. Were I the landlord, I'd rather work with you, put you on half-rent or something until you get your footing again and are able to gradually pay back the difference. But just keep him in the loop, let him know how hard you are trying, and see if anything can be worked out. Don't just give up! He might surprise you with abundant grace.

Here's hoping things get better soon.
posted by xedrik at 12:05 PM on March 14, 2011

Don't panic.

To continue your job, you'll need shelter, food, a nice set of clothes and a way to clean them, a shower, and a computer and a way to print out resumes and coverletters, and an address and a phone. Everything else is irrevelent.

1. Quick ways to raise cash -- these are desperate measures, but it sounds like you've reached desperation. Consider becoming a normal volunteer in a medical study, selling blood platlets, selling sperm, pawning some of the things you have for sale on craigslist.

2. Shelter: Loaning money is out. Okay. But are there friends or family you could stay with? Make a list of people who might be willing to let you couch surf or use a spare bedroom. Absent that, are there any cheap temporary motels that you could afford for a week or two?

3. Food -- you can get this from a food bank and you should also qualify for food stamps. Don't be proud about this. Just go find out about where you can get food and how to qualify for food stamps. When you get your new job, you can begin donating to the food bank.

4. Address and phone -- make sure you have a place where you get mail. Either a PO Box or a trusted friend. Do what you can to make sure you have a phone number where you can receive phone calls from future employers. Either keep your cell phone or have the calls routed to a trusted friend.
posted by bananafish at 12:11 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, there are always posts on Craigslist like this "help with my home network" one. There is cash to be made fixing people's home computer setups.
posted by anastasiav at 12:12 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It would help if you could tell us how you are making these applications and getting these interviews. Perhaps we could pinpoint something you haven't tried yet.

If you could get just one temp gig, you could at least use that as a starting point to sniff around for contacts. Once, I did a temp admin job, and I noticed their web pages were out of date so I offered to edit them. I had to have a phone conversation with the company that developed the pages, and a few weeks later I called them up and they remembered talking to me. We opened negotiations and got very close to making a deal, but I was offered something else first.

That's just an example, of course.
posted by tel3path at 12:13 PM on March 14, 2011

Yeah check out the gigs secition of Craigslist...sometimes they also have manual labor jobs listed that you could do for some quick cash.
posted by bananafish at 12:18 PM on March 14, 2011

In addition to the suggestions you've received so far, I will add: keep trying to find work, obviously, but if you know who gave you that reference, remove them from your list! I wonder how many of the other 20 interviews you had were scuttled by this person's comments.
posted by kindall at 12:24 PM on March 14, 2011 [19 favorites]

I just sent you MeFiMail, and will say that these are all good suggestions, if you haven't already tried them.
posted by xenophile at 12:29 PM on March 14, 2011

As far as places you might have more luck finding a job at: It's spring, and any place with a garden center is going to be hiring temp labor for the season right now. Think Lowes, Home Depot, etc. These people do 90% of their hiring in late Feb. - March. Similarly, lawn and garden and landscaping services are going to be looking to do most of their hiring right now. Unfortunately that's not going to help you within the upcoming week, of course, but as far as relatively unskilled labor goes you might have better luck there than at the grocery stores.
posted by frobozz at 1:21 PM on March 14, 2011

frobozz: "any place with a garden center is going to be hiring temp labor for the season right now. ... Unfortunately that's not going to help you within the upcoming week, "

But maybe if you can land a promise of a job starting in the spring, your landlord will let you stay on for a little while longer?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:43 PM on March 14, 2011

www.Freelancer.com is a good place to pick up freelance work of all kinds. They've literally thousands of jobs in all kinds of computer fields.
posted by Fen at 1:46 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm sure you've already tried these, but...

Waiting tables gives you cash daily. Try diners and chains like TGI Fridays.

Your area has lots of college students. Print up flyers offering to help students by tutoring for some of their IT classes, proofreading their papers, and so on.

Are there any 55+ or retirement communities around? Flyers at the front office or near the mail room, offering to help with any of their computer problems, setting up email and Facebook accounts, and so on.

You might also broaden your job search. Must you live in your city/state, or would you also be willing to look in other cities and states?

It feels like my career, which I love, is over.
So, I needed a sprinkler system installed in my lawn, and called a guy who came highly recommended. I talked with him a few minutes while he put in the timer, asking him how he got started. He'd finished a degree in computer science, and had a great job for many years at a large computer manufacturer near Austin. He was laid off, and finding it hard to find work, so he borrowed a lawn mower from someone and started mowing lawns. He had bills to pay, and there's no shame in doing honest work.

Then he bought two mowers and found someone to work with him. After expanding his business to about 20 employees, he sold it off because he realized that he really liked installing sprinkler systems (something he'd done some of with his lawn service). He now employs several people, sets his own hours, and he said he'd never go back to his old line of work... and he told me he makes more money, to boot. Sometimes surprising and good things come out of tough circumstances.
posted by Houstonian at 1:52 PM on March 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

1. Make sure that you're talking to people about your situation, and about whatever else is on your mind. You may feel like a therapist is beyond your reach, but you do have to be wary of depression. So, the best free weapon you have against that is communication. Rely on your best friends for this - they'll be there when you need them.

2. I know that this is only tangential, but I seriously think that if a comment from this one "reference" lost you a job that you otherwise would have gotten, you really, REALLY need to take that guy to court and clean him out. A lawyer will at least be willing to listen to a claim like this, and let you know how feasible it is to win. And, any good lawyer will work on contingency for this, so you won't have to pay for it.

3. Start a blog about what you know. Use blogger or some other easy and free platform. Drop some knowledge, give tech advice, and talk about current stuff that's happening in the tech world. Once you get a good slug of articles out there, it will be an awesome thing to point to during interviews, and might just put you over the top for a job.

4. Consider mobility. If you're going to be leaving that apartment anyway, look into what cities seem to show evidence of a better job market for admins. Maybe NY/NJ or DC/MD/VA has a more promising pool of openings than the Boston area? It's marginally easier to do if it's just you, and you don't have a family to uproot.

Good luck, man. I'm pulling for you.
posted by Citrus at 2:02 PM on March 14, 2011

Kelly has a division just for IT workers. KellyIT.com. I've had a full time job with them for almost 3 years.

And I didn't apply for this job. On advice from a friend, I posted my resume online on careerbuilder and monster.com, and they contacted me. I highly reccommend you do the same.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:19 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seriously, look up some of these Craigslist computer gigs. I paid someone to scan a bunch of stuff for me, clean up the OCR text and name the files something recognizable. It probably took him a day of work and was about $300. I was happy and recommended him to someone else.

Set up Mac wirelessly to LCD - $500
Linux Admin person
all-around computer know-how for Cambridge Start-up


Put up your own website, use clear and error-free English to explain what you can do, and link from your own Craigslist ads.

Are you handy? Put up an ad for putting together Ikea furniture. Seriously. New parents, new people to the area - they don't have time to deal with all of that. If you put up a nice photo of yourself, a link to a decent website, and write back to people promptly, you can get about $20 an hour.

You're not alone, this is happening to so, so many people.

I assume you've tried the temp-work route too? And called them back, often?
posted by barnone at 2:58 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just a thought (after reading an earlier post), but do you like animals and can you have them in your house? If so, maybe you could put an ad on craigslist for pet sitting and/or boarding? I know the professionals who do this these days have all sorts of certifications and such but I don't know if those are legally required and I'm sure there would be people who would be fine with paying you to bring their pup over for the day to be played with and walked a few times.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:51 PM on March 14, 2011

There are some great answers above and they've addressed issues that I don't think I can add much to.

However, I can think of just one more thing, and that is after you've taken care of the immediate needs (food, rent, etc.), perhaps you can consider technical writing/technical documentation. Most positions require degrees in writing/journalism/some other communications area, but to many employers you have a leg up on the competition because of your technical background. You can try looking at job boards or freelancing.

Best of luck to you.
posted by methroach at 4:12 PM on March 14, 2011

Robert Half International does IT people placement. They have several offices in the Boston-y area (Burlington, downtown Boston, etc.). If you aren't already talking to them, do so! There are a bunch of other headhunters, too.

Also, you don't mention what level of work you're looking for. If you have been sticking with upper end IT positions, apply to call center/help desk jobs. Maybe dumb down your resume a smidge. Once you get back in the game, maybe something better will pop up.

I have a friend in almost exactly your position (IT, Boston area, no degree) and he's had a really hard time finding jobs. But he's found a few contractor positions and right now the job market seems a bit better than it was as he's got a contract job and had a second interview on a perm job.

Other stuff: Food stamps: you qualify. Think about just letting the apartment go. Maybe couch surfing for a while is a good thing, rather than a negative one. Fresh start, no monthly outgo hanging over your head. For really short term cash, try the Craigslist "gigs" section. I love the idea of the flyers at the retirement communities, too, that someone suggested. My aunt has a guy that comes in and does exactly that (she's in Bridgewater). Your skills are probably more relevant and transferable than you think. Go to every temp company in your area and take their office tests. Maybe get some filing/receptionist/admin position. You are computer literate, and surprisingly that's STILL valuable, even now.

Another thought slightly more long-term: file a FAFSA and go to college. Get some new skills. Student loans will get you through (altho they'll suck on the other end).

I know it seems hopeless right now. Change is almost always hard. I wish you luck and hope it works out soon.
posted by clone boulevard at 4:17 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out the City of Boston Career Center online.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:26 PM on March 14, 2011

You've been networking your butt off, right?

Do you have credit cards? Get them to give you the lowest APR they can, and then take out a cash advance on it -- a big one. Live off that, and deal with the debt later. Check out debtorboards for some advice on this sort of thing.

Good luck! This really sucks to have to go through.
posted by rosa at 4:31 PM on March 14, 2011

Do: Remove the person who gave you a questionable reference from your resume. Don't ever use him/her again.

Don't: Sue him/her, as Citrus suggests. IANYL, but that's a losing proposition, especially as references are a professional courtesy.
posted by yellowcandy at 4:58 PM on March 14, 2011

This may sound like a terrible last resort, but look into local shelters if you can no longer afford a place of your own, and if moving in with a family member or friend is not an option. I have known people who've had to do this. If you would be able to keep your most valued items in storage or at someone's house until digging yourself out of this, you might find your priorities in life end up shifting, and you might end up feeling more open-minded about all the possibilities that are out there. I am only suggesting this because you say you need money this week, and even if you qualify for public assistance, it might take longer than a week to start coming in.

You've had your career for 18 years. You sound like you think you're totally useless for anything else, that it isn't even worth trying because your skills don't apply to anything else. I disagree with you. You've got great computer skills. You may end up with a job that you never thought you'd be doing, but so much opportunity lies between being a sysadmin and flipping burgers.
posted by wondermouse at 7:21 PM on March 14, 2011

One tip I learned from a workshop last year that might help with your references is to visit with them and go over the script of what you'd like them to mention about you. "He's task oriented, works well in teams or alone, etc." Encourage them to emphasize your positive qualities and to steer away from the negative ones. "He's had a lot of experience with Linux" instead of "he isn't too familiar with Macs" for example.

A bit of guidance on your part can prevent the references from disclosing irrelevant information about you, I hope.

Good luck.
posted by dragonplayer at 8:40 PM on March 14, 2011

It sucks and I don't know if I could do it myself, but just stop paying rent and let the landlord evict you. It's a process of a few months at minimum, and usually quite a few months at that in MA. If you get a job in that time period, you can either still move out if he wants you to, or pay him back if he's amenable to that.

Section 8 (the rental assistance people speak of) has a very long wait list with families and handicapped/elderly at the top, but by all means apply because it can't hurt.

Food stamps. I just got the unemployment cut-off letter myself and it came with a brochure on how to apply for those benefits, but I just found a job. I'm on WIC however because my income is lower than my unemployment was - if you need an extra gallon of milk or giant box of cheerios or dozen eggs, send me MeFi mail. Seriously! I'm Boston-y too!
posted by kpht at 8:51 PM on March 14, 2011

Citrus: "you really, REALLY need to take that guy to court and clean him out. A lawyer will at least be willing to listen to a claim like this, and let you know how feasible it is to win. And, any good lawyer will work on contingency for this, so you won't have to pay for it."

NONONO DON'T DO THAT!!! Whoever wrote that did it a reference that YOU used. Sue them for what? Being honest? And then you forwarding that information to a prospective employer? Why did you ask them for a reference if you didn't want them to give one?

I wish you luck, but don't go over to the dark side. And don't kill yourself. There's a lot more to life for you. Reread that post by the guy who loves installing sprinkler systems. He might have been you a few years ago.
posted by davoid at 9:26 PM on March 14, 2011

You may want to really think about who can or cant refer you. In my case, I only put down those people who I know think really highly of me and would know better than to say anything bad in regards to me. I would also recommend the following:

1) Foot stamps.
2) Move into a room or with family that can help you out for a while.
3) Get your resume checked out by a professional (I am having mine being done over)
4) Start networking, join up with other people that have jobs and hang out with them something is bound to turn up.
5) Get yourself a part-time job doing ANYTHING, it may be starbucks, maybe waiting, but you have to get something to get you going and also allows you to interview.

Goo luck, I feel your pain and for some reason or another really identify with your plight.
posted by The1andonly at 6:25 AM on March 15, 2011

During the dot-com bust in 2001, I was you, except I was a programmer instead of a sysadmin. In hindsight there are a lot of things I would've done differently, but I can't argue with where I ended up.

RIGHT NOW you need to apply with temp agencies, restaurants, absolutely anything to get you back on your feet. No honest job is beneath you. If the job is legal, take it and do it to the best of your ability.

After the 2001 collapse I worked as a secretary, then waited tables because the money was better. I did that full-time for a year or two when my door opened. An old acquaintance offered me a job at the parts counter of a motorcycle shop (I'm a bike nut.) I took it and reduced my hours at the restaurant. A few years later I was well-known and well-respected in the [motorcycle brand] community. Using that knowledge and training, I've gone on to open my own shop.

I loved programming and wouldn't have gotten out of it voluntarily (not then, at least.) When my last dot-com folded and all the jobs went away, I couldn't have imagined the path my life has taken since. It was no fun at all, losing my car and condo, but it really has turned out all right. Don't give in to desperation.
posted by workerant at 9:35 AM on March 15, 2011

I sent you a MeMail.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:41 AM on March 15, 2011

I'll just say this for now: Mefites are wonderful people who are amazing at diminishing hopelessness.

That's right. And you're one of us, which means you're wonderful too. Don't forget it.

Rooting for you, man. Also, there's space in my basement if you need to stow stuff for a while.
posted by Sublimity at 10:51 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I want to clarify about the reference thing. Modern corporate references are for one purpose, and one purpose only: To prove that you're not lying about the work experience on your resume. It is NOT a forum for rendering opinions on an employee's performance.

Any former company should provide ONLY the following in a reference: Your dates of employment, and the last title that you held there. That's it, and most companies will only do this. In some cases, companies will be willing to release your last compensation level, but they shouldn't. It's really wacky that a reference you gave had anything to say about your performance, and it's even stranger that the company you interviewed for listened to it, and used it in their decision.

The reasons for this is that it's generally in the best interest of a company that their former employees are happy with moving on, and that they are sensitive to the legal liability of having a negative effect on someone's ability to find employment.

As for suing: Very large corporations have lost these cases. This isn't a "long shot". There is very strong precedent in case law already. You still have to *prove* your allegation, but you need a real live lawyer to tell you what your chances are. If you're not comfortable with the *idea* of litigating, that's fine. A lot of mefites are anti-lawsuit. I understand the sentiment.

I only said what I did there because someone really shot you in the ass, and did so improperly and in a way that would have been avoided if this person followed the common accepted practices of HR. It feels like they went out of their way to harm you.

I'll leave it at this for now. Let's keep the rest of the thread positive - maybe further arguing can be moved to MetaTalk.
posted by Citrus at 8:17 AM on March 18, 2011

I must disagree with Citrus. References are individuals, former managers and co-workers, not the companies they work for. In fact, the company they work for now may not be the company they worked for when you worked with them. You give these people's names out out because they will do much more than verify your dates of employment, they will describe you in glowing terms that will compel any company to make you an offer. Turning around and suing them, personally, after they did you the favor of giving you a reference would not only be a dick move, it could make others reluctant to give you references in the future once word got around. You could win, but could you collect, and are the possible repercussions worth it?

Now, it was a less-than-stellar (read "bad") reference. Most likely whoever gave you the reference that kept you from getting this job didn't realize what they were doing. Possibly they thought they were making their praise sound more realistic by throwing in a couple of minor flaws, or else they were asked point-blank about your flaws and came up with something they thought would be considered minor. Still, dropping someone who didn't seem to understand the point of giving a reference is totally justified. Also, feel free not to reciprocate if they ask you to give them a reference.

A prospective new employer will also call your previous employers, who, yes, will probably only verify dates of employment. Your new employer will probably not even talk to your former manager, just an HR drone. These people are not your references.
posted by kindall at 6:57 AM on March 22, 2011

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