How do I apply for a job, when the last time I did I was assaulted?
August 10, 2016 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I've been self-employed for a while now, and have generally moved from contract to contract to make ends meet. Nothing lucrative and as a result of some major health issues, I've accumulated some debt. A few months ago I began to offer a particular service that has garnered steady interest. I've got a solid plan to move it forward but in the meantime, I'm trying to find part-time work to support this effort. (Some triggery events below)

Except that I'm experiencing complete paralysis at the idea of going out and having to work for someone else. About 2 years ago, I was in talks to join an exciting company and during the interview I was offered cookies that ended up being laced with I'm assuming pot. It was an edgy start-up, so everything was very friendly and casual, and they loved that I was a friend of a friend. Judge me for this, but we toasted my coming on board with a drink. I did not however know that I was being drugged and I found myself suddenly very incoherent. I was then sexually assaulted by the CEO as he walked me out to say goodbye. Long story short I wasn't able to leave the house for a time after this happened. I've also been sexually assaulted at a previous job 10 years ago. At another job, years ago, I was slapped by a manager.

I'm normally a people pleaser and I'm usually the one called in to be diplomatic with angry customers because I'm capable of de-escalating situations with just about anyone. But I clearly can't protect myself. With my new venture, I can choose the location, clients and context and keep myself physically safe.

Now though, I've run out of savings, and I have no family to ask for money either. My last car insurance payment bounced and my phone is about to be cut off. I have no money for groceries or for prescriptions (I live in Canada). My housing is stable (though I haven't been able to pay rent for the last few months). (I was on OAS for a time last year through the health issues, but that was ended when I was able to make enough during a very short-term contract and I was overly honest about it).

I can't get past my brain screaming at how it doesn't matter if I lose my phone and everything else, if I can just hang in for a few more months, I'll be ok. Financially I'm not ok, but I feel as though I can't risk my safety again.

I also feel as though if this was a fear of a new relationship or school, I could find support and resources. I want to work to support myself through this new venture. I've even found some fantastic contracts and part-time jobs to apply to. I just can't get past the complete terror that I feel every time I open my resume or job application.

Any advice or suggestions for how to get past this before things get even worse?
posted by A hidden well to Work & Money (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Do you have any friends who wok somewhere you could join? Somewhere that you could have them be there with you, if not directly at the interview, then nearby in the office (or store or coffee shop or whatever the position is in) so you feel safer?
posted by xingcat at 8:05 AM on August 10, 2016

I have so many questions about the interview, but I'll hold off...

I think some therapy, if you haven't had it, could be a big help. That is a MAJORLY traumatic thing to go through, and with trauma sometimes you need a little bit of a boost to get you through it. I expect you're screaming at me through the screen saying "but how the hell would I PAY for it," but there is free support for survivors of assault; one good step would be to call the hotline at RAINN and tell them what you need.

But related to that - one of the questions I had about your attack two years ago was, did you press charges? Was any action brought against the guy? Or did you tell anyone? If you didn't, I would strongly consider it - or even just a statement to the police telling them what happened. That can be a powerful thing for you to do for yourself, even if it gets bogged down in weird legal red tape, because it could feel like a big step towards you taking back some of your own power. He did something to you where you weren't in control of the situation - telling someone what happened could feel like you taking that control back.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm so sorry for what happened to you. That is super fucked up.

Apply to temp agencies in your area--they're going to love you because you're not looking for full time work and your schedule is flexible. Assuming you have some basic skills, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding placements. So definitely send some emails and make some calls!

I LOVE working with temp agencies. I have a team of people who advocate on my behalf and do all the heavy lifting for me. They vet the companies beforehand, I have the option to leave at any time, I can give my recruiter honest feedback without worrying it will impact my role at the employing company, it's great.

Another thing I like about temp agencies is that I am TERRIBLE at actually applying to jobs. I spent my out-of-college years sending resume after resume and app after app into the void of the recession, and it was so demoralizing. It's hard for me to get it up to go through that again. But with a temp agency, once I get in the door with them, they do the job shopping for me, so what (to me) is the biggest hill just goes away completely.
posted by phunniemee at 8:09 AM on August 10, 2016 [14 favorites]

I'm sorry too. Go to your doctor and make a case for how badly you need to be referred to a therapist (don't minimize or sugar coat). You'll probably be put on a waiting list (which may not end up being that long a wait) and you should also be referred to any other local services for more immediate assessment. Make it your job now to get yourself help in coping with what's happened to you. If you're in Toronto, CAMH offers CBT classes to get you past that nasty paralysis of anxiety. Freelance work can be horribly isolating, so struggle to make sure you don't lose touch with friends. Hugs to you.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:45 AM on August 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I was on OAS for a time last year through the health issues, but that was ended when I was able to make enough during a very short-term contract and I was overly honest about it

I have never heard of OAS being available due to health issues, I am not sure if that was a mis-typed ODSP or CPP-d? Can you get back on the support programme so you have some money coming in? There is usually a gap between applying and getting the money, but generally provincial welfare programmes can usually get you cash in hand in 24 hours in a crisis. And you ARE in crisis and deserve OW or whatever the provincial programme is. I assume you are using trillium or some other provincial programme to help with the costs of the prescriptions (important for your health issue!) but your medical team may have access to samples or other programmes to reduce or eliminate the prescription costs.

Your issues with work/interviews are legitimate and they aren't something you can just power through. You are going to have to involve your medical team and find out what resources are available in your community and lok at thereapy, medication, mindfulness, exercise or any of the other solutions out there.

Part time work often sucks, and is poorly paid. If you can get general welfare and then transition to a more robust support programme, that will give you the type of support you need for your new venture - good luck!
posted by saucysault at 10:58 AM on August 10, 2016

Best answer: Unfortunately, I think the degree to which men treat women as nothing but sex objects significantly interferes with earning power for most women. This is just the ugliest, most overt form it can take. It is usually subtler. I am so sorry you are going through this.

I do freelance writing online. That goes a long way towards protecting me from facing garbage behavior by men on the job. Unfortunately, the service I work for does not have a Canadian division. But can you look for online freelance work of some sort?

This site says Canadian provinces have various bottle bills. At first glance, it looks like the deposit is generally a lot higher than in the US. Could you collect recyclables and turn them in for the deposit? It wouldn't likely be enough, but it is the only form of legitimate, quick cash I know of that is a business model and not a predatory model. Other forms of quick cash tend to be things like pawn shops, pay day loans, literally selling your own blood, etc. Getting some money coming in, even if it isn't really enough, can give you some breathing room.

If you know of a park or something where people routinely toss their empties in a particular spot, you may be able to clean it out for a one time quick infusion of cash for relatively little effort. I got about $20 out of a spot like that once and the deposit amount in California is only 5¢ and 10¢, substantially less than some of the Canadian bottle deposits.
posted by Michele in California at 11:34 AM on August 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Holy crap, what happened to you is awful and I'm so sorry.

I say this not to in any way imply that you were somehow at fault for what happened (you weren't), but men who have people to answer to are a lot less likely to commit violence against women in a business setting.

So, I would consider applying to larger entities/corporations and avoiding start-ups/mom & pops/etc. where the interviewer is less likely to have someone above them laying out and enforcing rules. In large organizations with competent HR departments, there are likely even written rules about when and how applicants can be alone with interviewers. Not to mention unprofessional stuff like pot brownies in an office (assuming that it wasn't the office of a marijuana edibles bakery or something, and either way, label that shit).

I'm normally a people pleaser and I'm usually the one called in to be diplomatic with angry customers because I'm capable of de-escalating situations with just about anyone.

I'm thinking mega retail (like The Bay, or even better something with a heavily female customer base that is likely to have a heavily female staff, like Le Chateau ), or upper scale corporate food service (The Second Cup, Starbucks), might work well with your skills, and your concerns.

Regardless of where you apply, you could think about what would make you feel safe in an interview situation. Start big and ridiculous (wearing a spiked chastity belt and a switchblade into a panel interview with a group of nuns who are chained to their desks) and work down from there. Maybe all you need is to know you won't be alone with an interviewer ever, or to know that there's someone you know in the lobby waiting for you. Give yourself permission to decline any interviews that can't meet your needs.

During the interview, don't be afraid to ask about the things that make you feel unsafe -- would you have to work closings/openings? Who else would be there? What is the general building security like? etc, etc, etc. Give yourself permission to turn down offers of jobs that will put you in positions where you don't feel safe.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:07 PM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Judge me for this, but we toasted my coming on board with a drink."

NO JUDGEMENT. Holy moly. This was NOT YOUR FAULT. I realize I'm just an internet stranger, but the victim is never at fault. Even if you had gotten fall-down drunk with these people. Which you didn't! Having a beer with people at a start-up is so normal that it doesn't even begin to fall into the realm of "behavior I should be careful about so I don't get into an unsafe situation."

That said, I also like phunniemee's idea of applying through temp agencies. That way there's someone who "has your back." Employers are going not going to be doing anything that could jeopardize their relationship with the temp agency.
posted by radioamy at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2016 [12 favorites]

I wish I could agree that an agency would provide you some protection but I think it's foolishly optimistic to count on that when your concern is about being assaulted by the person who signs the checks. Some agencies would, others wouldn't.

Because I think you need to hear it loud and often, I want to repeat what radioamy has said: the prior incident was in no way your fault just because you accepted cookies or a drink. It would not be your fault if you had eaten a whole plate of cookies and washed them down with a bottle of whiskey. You are not to blame.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:12 PM on August 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've worked at coffee and sandwich shops and booster juice, and all of those interviews were just in the middle of the cafe/eating area during business hours. Could you manage something like that? It won't feel remotely private, so the interview will be pretty low risk.

I guess there's no guarantee that you can't be sexually assaulted anywhere, but front-of-house food service and retail tend to be pretty heavily female dominated, and should help with your comfort. I second sparklemotion with The Bay, or maybe even Sears or something where the sales staff leans a little older and there's always a lot of people working. Spas might be another place to look if you can do admin work, as they are often female staffed and often mostly female clientele.
posted by euphoria066 at 1:39 PM on August 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a therapist in the US. If a client came to me with that narrative, I would work to help them understand that their likely PTSD was getting in the way of their being able to work, and we might explore whether applying for disability might make sense. I don't know if OAS is similar to a disability payment/insurance in the US, nor do I know if the system is the same in Canada, but I think it would be worth talking to a mental health professional and some sort of social-services/eligibility worker about how your past trauma is (totally understandably!) getting in the way of you working. Even if you have been freelancing, because it sounds like you're saying that freelancing is not enough to support you, and your symptoms are getting in the way of finding employment that would support you.
posted by lazuli at 8:52 PM on August 10, 2016

And I meant to add: Applying for such support would not mean that you could never support yourself, just that you need some help (financial, therapeutic, maybe psychiatric) right now.

I'm so sorry that happened to you. None of it is your fault, and your current wariness is completely normal and understandable.
posted by lazuli at 8:54 PM on August 10, 2016

(I'm assuming you're a woman.) Maybe it would help to focus your job search on women-owned businessess. I don't know how to say this in ways that won't sound icky, but you're just a lot less likely to get assaulted by a female CEO and if anything did happen within the company the odds are it would be taken seriously. Maybe also try to focus on charities devoted to women's rights or LGBT causes. (A certain amount of stereotyping may actually be useful for you here. If something is seen mostly as a "woman's job," odds are you really are going to mostly be working with women.) I'm not saying you should never work with straight men again, but right now you need to do what you can to feel safe while you're looking for work.

And please do whatever you can to see a therapist. You've suffered some terrible things and you could use some help.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:53 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I can't even begin to articulate how much I appreciate everyone's answers. I've marked a few of the practical answers as best, but really want everyone to know how much all of your replies have been helping me since posting the question.
posted by A hidden well at 6:11 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

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