The Employment Index: Week Two

I pass the test.

(See last week’s Employment Index for background on this project.)

Week two and I’ve already diverged from my original intent.  I was busy the first two days of the week so I wasn’t able to devote as much time to my job search as I wanted to.  But on Wednesday, I submitted 7 applications.  So, in addition to the 3 additional ones I submitted last Saturday, that makes 10 online applications since the last unemployment index post.  I also made two networking connections.  

So, why so little activity this week?  Well, as it turns out, I went a little outside my search territory on Wednesday and submitted an application in a different industry.  About 3 hours later, I got a call from that company.  They were very positive (I’m trying not to get my hopes up) and asked me to come in for an assessment test in several different areas.  That had me sweating bullets.  I was really worried that I was going to have to do heavy math and the last time I had to take a derivative of anything was back in the late 80s.  That’s what server clusters and scientific software are for.  They do the work so you don’t have to.  Oh sure, you have to know the equations and relationships but the heavy lifting is done by silicon.  Anyway, I freaked myself out unnecessarily.  Most of the stuff I reviewed wasn’t on the test and there were sections of the test that I would have needed much more time to learn because it was outside the scope of anything I’ve ever done.  

I passed it anyway.  The HR person said I got a score of “awesome!”.  Whew.  She says I should be scheduled for interviews next week and will know by the end of the week if I can rejoin the middle class.  I’m trying not to make plans because even though I give good interview, I’m getting to be very superstitious about these things.  The universe can be random and weird.  But the thought of having a full time job with benefits and a decent salary has driven the thought of useless application churning right out of my mind for the moment.  I will pick it up again on Monday.  

Some other notes:

One of my networking contacts was an old friend from the Pittsburgh area.  She’s a little older than me.  She and her husband were also tossed out of the middle class during the recession.  They had a hard time making ends meet for about 4 years until they moved back to Pittsburgh.  She’s a little bitter about the fact that older baby-boomers are retiring comfortably while she and her husband can’t buy a house and will probably never retire.  

She told me that their luck turned in a single day.  In both cases for her husband and herself, they applied online and heard back from their current employers within minutes to hours.  

That makes me wonder if there’s a sweet spot for submitting an online application.  It could be that HR reps or hiring managers scan the resumes online at certain times of the day.  It could also be the case that the sooner you apply to a posting, the better your chances.  

The other thing I noticed is that there is one company that I apply to frequently that everyone I know says is low hanging fruit but for some peculiar reason, I can’t get a response.  Not even a nibble.  It’s ridiculous.  It might have something to do with their online application system.  It reformats my resume every time I submit to it.  It also asks if I’ve been out of work for a period of more than 30 days during my entire working career.  Come on, who hasn’t been out of work for more than 30 days in the last 6 years?  Is that a realistic question?  Some of the best people I know, the hardest workers, the smartest people, have been out of work for more than 30 days.  Not their fault, especially if they were located in NJ when their turn came.  I used to go to meetings where everyone was looking for a job.  When sites are closing all around you and the competition is high and jobs are few, you tend to spend more time out of work than you intended. It’s just that random universal thing.  But it does suggest that there is a  level of prejudice against the unemployed that may be impossible to overcome if the criteria is set at how many days of unemployment a candidate has faced.  

Total applications this week (end 09/06/2014): 10 

Total applications since the beginning of this project: 35

Total number of calls for interviews: 1 

                           Temp agency: 1

                           Direct position: 0

Total number of assessments taken: 1; Number passed: 1

Total number networking contacts: 2

How you know the End is Nigh

We’ve been living with out of control capitalism, now in New Accelerated Format, for almost five years now.  It’s a quickened version of what’s been happening over the last 30 years.  Ever since Reagan, the media has bamboozled the public into giving the rich whatever they damn well please with the expectation that the rich will let us keep our jobs.  The evidence has shown that this does not work but you’ll have to read Krugman for the wonky stuff and teensy (or completely absent) labels on the x and y axises of his graphs.  I guess economists don’t need labels and units but it drives this chemist crazy.

I’m not here to talk about all the overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing that has been going on since 1980, or the massive layoffs that have probably permanently impoverished my generation or the fact that all of this has happened with the complicity of an older generation of seniors who thought the whole world revolved around what happened between women’s legs.  No, I am here to talk about the end times.

In this case, it will be the period of time when the strip miners of Wall Street have taken the top off the mountain almost completely and there is very little wealth left to extract and more and more middle class people are waking up to discover that “we wuz robbed” and there’s just no THERE, there anymore.  Where will the excess gobs of cash come from then?  I mean, after the obscenely rich have cornered all of the disposable income, and then some, in their underground lairs surrounded by their faceless, nameless goons in cold and modern chic livery, do they sit around with their heads in their hands weeping like Alexander that there is no more money in the world to conquer?

Heck no!

NOW, they get in on the payday loan scam.  It’s fricking brilliant!

Major banks have quickly become behind-the-scenes allies of Internet-based payday lenders that offer short-term loans with interest rates sometimes exceeding 500 percent.

Subrina Baptiste of Brooklyn says JPMorgan Chase allowed payday lenders to seize child-support funds in her account.

With 15 states banning payday loans, a growing number of the lenders have set up online operations in more hospitable states or far-flung locales like Belize, Malta and the West Indies to more easily evade statewide caps on interest rates.

While the banks, which include giants like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, do not make the loans, they are a critical link for the lenders, enabling the lenders to withdraw payments automatically from borrowers’ bank accounts, even in states where the loans are banned entirely. In some cases, the banks allow lenders to tap checking accounts even after the customers have begged them to stop the withdrawals.

What are the chances that Barack Obama will look up from scheming with his 25 year old male senior advisors to “help” the Congress “win” in 2014 by focussing all of their PR efforts on a couple of distracting issues instead of fixing the problem of chronic unemployment and gross exploitation of average Americans, or directly challenging the Republicans with muscular Liberalism, and actually develop some sense of outrage that is strong enough to prod his justice department to actually, you know, DO something to the banks besides taking them to the back bedroom, closing the door and instructing them to wail loudly as he smacks the bed with his belt?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

By next year, when we’re all on Obamacare (sorry, Democrats, you’re going to have to own this one in an election year.  Hope you’re ready, but all indications are that you are not.) and trying to pay all of our bills on time, with a heaping side of gigantic health insurance thrown in for good measure, there will be an increasing number of us vulnerable to the siren song of the payday loan.  “Borrow now against your paycheck, pay 500% interest later!”  What could be more natural?

The big banks are investing in it heavily, wouldn’t you know.  So, this has to be one of the signs of the end.  Now that the MBAs have skillfully evolved the work place every two seconds in accordance to their bonus shortened attention span, AND severely crippled productivity by putting all the burden of getting things done on the shoulders of a few, and because they have so completely decoupled the cause and effect relationship of work with positive reinforcement, given the fruits of labor to the shareholders, closed the pension funds, and divested themselves of all responsibility to the people who, you know, WORK,  now that they’ve scraped every last penny out of every last bank account, it is now time to reserve all incoming pennies for their own purposes too.

All our monies are belong to them.

And then what?

I’m not sure but I suspect it ain’t going to be pretty.

Sacrificial offerings and pleasing aromas

Update: Novartis announced today that it is eliminating 2000 jobs.  1000 of those jobs will come from the US.  700 positions will be added in China and India.  It sounds like a lot of IT jobs will be moved, but the way things are going lately, it’s probably just the start of things to come.  Says a financial analyst:

“Job cuts are happening [note the verb conjugation indicating present, not past, tense] in almost all large pharma companies,” said Tim Race, an analyst at Deutsche Bank AG in London. “It’s a consequence of squeezing prices, squeezing profitability. Pharma companies are reacting to maximize profitability, which is something they should be doing anyway.” He recommends buying Novartis shares.

Yes, and when the profits are all gone, you can dump Novartis shares and all of the rest of your pharma sector shares and move on to the next big thing. After the research is gone, there won’t be any more profits to be made.  Well, it’s only medicine.  Let’s see that makes Amgen, Merck, Abbott and now Novartis.  Who’s next?  Anyone want to take a guess?  We haven’t heard from Glaxo Smith Kline for awhile…

Update 2:  I was pointed to this Scientific American blog post about how scientists are joining the occupy movement so clearly, I am not alone.  As one of the people in the accompanying video says, it doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, we don’t fund science in this country anymore.  Too true.  Well, there’s just no immediate profit in it.  Just ask any Wall Street analyst.  If you can’t get your research to pay off in the next quarter, what good are you??  If you are a labrat going to an occupy event, wear your labcoat and goggles so we can recognize each other.

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I think the Republicans’ game plan is obvious now, wouldn’t you agree?  The idea is to starve the nation of jobs, keep everyone in a constant state of anxiety and make sure that the government does little if anything to put the country on its feet.  I’m looking at my first COBRA payment and it is not pretty.  No, not at all.

The strategy is to make Obama look so weak (as if he needed any additional help), that the country will turn against Democrats next year and make Obama a one-term president.  And you know what, Republicans?  I am ok with that.  Making Obama a one term president would probably be the best thing to happen to this country, but I’ll get to that in a sec.

In the meantime, those of us in the middle class will continue to make sacrifices.  I’m going to go off on a tangent here.  In NJ, we have some of the highest salaries in the nation and also the highest cost of living.  The amount of federal taxes we paid was also among the highest.  This year, I will have paid more in taxes than it would take to keep a family of four above the poverty level.  So, I’d like the Glenn Beck viewers to STFU about how lazy and parasitical unemployed people are.  In the last year of work, my group worked our asses off and still didn’t have enough time in the day to get it all done.  And we still suffered layoffs.  It didn’t make any difference to the tax collector.  This is a heads up to all of the currently employed Republicans who think they have jobs because of their virtuous behavior: you will have to pay taxes on your severance and unemployment benefits.  No, no, don’t feel shame about accepting unemployment.  Think of it as you paying yourself.  For however long it takes.  And it looks like it’s going to take a long time.

You will never be safe, never secure again.  You should start thinking of your job as temporary.  Do not make vacation plans, do not buy a house unless you can pay for it cash.  Do not get sick.  Do not have children that you expect to raise for 18 years.  Do not buy a new car.  Buy hand-me-down cars from family members who you know maintained them well.  Never leave your parents’ house. Get comfy in your childhood bedroom.  Do not get married to a person who doesn’t have health insurance and at least 6 months salary in the bank.  Do not get old.

Your job is to work at whatever job you can get for as long as they will keep you and to pay taxes so that big banks and military contractors can squander it away.

This is not the American Dream, this is the Republican Dream.  No, I don’t know why they want to do this with their country.  I think they just get a taste for power, for being in the group with the most money, and they find it easy to adopt the values of that ascendent group and they don’t know when to stop.  It’s time to stop.  This year I pay taxes; next year, I wont.  The unemployment situation is also starting to have an effect on Main Street.  Lowes is closing some stores in the Northeast.  The economy is just not picking up.  That will affect 1,950 jobs.  Around my area, several major grocery stores have packed up and left, along with some specialty stores like Linen’s and Things.  Now we have brand new strip malls with big boxy stores that are either empty or newly occupied by holiday decoration stores and dollar stores.  In the mall, Bloomingdale’s closes at 8pm.  And this is not Nebraska.  This is central NJ, about 36 miles from New York City.  Suburban poverty is increasing here.  (This article was hard to read because one of the suburbs mentioned in it was where my grandparents lived and where I graduated from High School.  It used to be so well cared for.)

And here’s something new for the chemists who were laid off.  ChemJobber is running something called The Layoff Project.  If you are/were a chemist/researcher who was laid off (and what chemist out there hasn’t been laid off in the past couple of years?), head on over to The Layoff Project and share your experience, what to do, not to do, and whether you decided to bag research altogether.  Here’s a heads up for the corporate people who “separated” us: the outplacement firms you signed us up with?  Not very helpful for a researcher.  They are geared to help *business* people find new jobs.  They have virtually no idea how to help scientists. That’s why there is such an emphasis on “marketing plans” and “networking”.  For a labrat, it’s completely impractical, if not impossible, to just bop on over to your target company’s hiring manager and discuss your marketing plan for half an hour.  For one thing, in most lab settings, it’s harder to get on campus than it is to get into Fort Knox.  For every layer of security, there is an opportunity for the guy with the jobs to cancel your appointment.  For another, chemists loathe anything business related because a.) we know that business people have no idea what the f%^& they’re doing or we would still have jobs and b.) business people are the ones who fired us.  And don’t tell us we need to sell ourselves.  Our field requires us to be in the lab.  That’s what we do.  The researchers who “sell” themselves are not in the lab, are they?  No, they’re busily wheeling, dealing and deliberately making their lab working coworkers look bad.  But when you hire the ones who are professional salesmen, then you have hired a salesman.  How they will do in a lab or in a position where they actually have to do the analysis is a different question.  So, please, HR people, make the outplacement people get with the program or just give us the money you would have spent on them.  I’ve gotten better advice from my state’s Department of Labor that has been diligently setting up seminars and collaborations with local biotechs and has a pretty good online resume builder and jobs database.

Obama’s jobs bill is looking more and more like a strategy to make the Republicans look bad.  For many of us in this country, we have no problem identifying Republicans as the culprit for the last 30 years.  Now, the Democrats are starting to join them but it’s still the Republicans who are driving this race to the bottom.  I don’t know whether any of this will sink into the brains of the people who watch Glenn Beck.  They won’t get it until it happens to them personally.  But whatever the game is, I’ve just become sick of games.  Really guys, I’m tuning you out.  First it was TV and radio, now I’m getting tired of reading about the horse race and the strategy in the rest of the media.  And the more media outlets I shut down, the less chance you will have to influence me directly.

But I do have one suggestion that I think would have a profound impact on the election next year.  I think Obama should make the greatest sacrifice and offer not to run again.  If he sincerely wants to do the right thing for the country, I don’t think there is a better way to do it.  And I’m not just saying this because he was a completely unscrupulous, unDemocratic bastard in 2008.  I’m saying this because he does not have the political skills to go up against the Republicans.  Four more years of inertia is not what the country needs or wants.  The White House pollsters and political operatives should start paying attention to the Occupy movement instead of just moving their mouths and making supplicating noises to it.  Four more years of Obama for many of us is just unthinkable right now.  It makes me want to not vote next year.  I will be so angry at the Democrats for forcing me to make another unpleasant decision that I might just punish the rest of the field for not standing up for the 99% who need a different political environment.  And no, I don’t think Obama is going to get any better in his second term.

If Obama doesn’t run, well, that just zaps the mojo out of the Republicans, doesn’t it?  I mean, isn’t that their whole reason for being this election season?  To get rid of Obama?  And that means they will have to work extra hard to make sure that all of his (half-assed, inadequate) initiatives fail, even the ones that will (presumably) help people.  That’s their goal.  But if you take Obama out of the picture, then all of the attention for the failure can be concentrated on the people who actually have the power to pass legislation, right?  What better way to expose the real movers and shakers in Congress from both parties.  Right now, Obama is a smokescreen that gives a lot of self-interested politicians cover for pleasing the rich and well connected.  Clear away the smoke and let’s expose them.

Who would be a replacement for Obama?  There are obvious answers but if the obvious don’t seize the moment, I’m sure we can find other vigorous candidates to defend New Deal policies that are necessary to pull us out of this slump.  And there’s no shame on Obama’s part.  He goes out as a hero for finally having the guts to do the right thing and call the Republicans’ bluff.  It says nothing about him as the first African-American president.  I mean, who cares at this point?  Is his family history really that important when people are losing their houses?  If he decides not to run, he leaves the bankers’ money kind of useless.  They could give it to Republicans but they would just be joining themselves to a very unpopular party.

Well, we know that the DNC will tut-tut any such suggestion.  Obama is their guy and they are going to stick with him regardless of what voters want because that’s just the kind of Democratic party they are.  No, don’t thank them.  They are doing it for YOU.  Going with Obama is safe.  It means no unpleasant disagreements within the party.  No distasteful primary battles or dinner party conversations about values and party platforms and all of that unseeeeemly stuff.

Hokay, suit yourselves.  It must be nice to have the confidence that you can shove another four years down our throats and we’ll just accept it because the alternative is sooooo much worse.  But as Daniel Kahneman wrote a few days ago in the NYTimes in Don’t Blink! The Hazards of Confidence, what you don’t know or don’t want to look at can come back to bite you:

We often interact with professionals who exercise their judgment with evident confidence, sometimes priding themselves on the power of their intuition. In a world rife with illusions of validity and skill, can we trust them? How do we distinguish the justified confidence of experts from the sincere overconfidence of professionals who do not know they are out of their depth? We can believe an expert who admits uncertainty but cannot take expressions of high confidence at face value. As I first learned on the obstacle field, people come up with coherent stories and confident predictions even when they know little or nothing. Overconfidence arises because people are often blind to their own blindness.

True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes. You are probably an expert in guessing your spouse’s mood from one word on the telephone; chess players find a strong move in a single glance at a complex position; and true legends of instant diagnoses are common among physicians. To know whether you can trust a particular intuitive judgment, there are two questions you should ask: Is the environment in which the judgment is made sufficiently regular to enable predictions from the available evidence? The answer is yes for diagnosticians, no for stock pickers. Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes. Anesthesiologists have a better chance to develop intuitions than radiologists do. Many of the professionals we encounter easily pass both tests, and their off-the-cuff judgments deserve to be taken seriously. In general, however, you should not take assertive and confident people at their own evaluation unless you have independent reason to believe that they know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, this advice is difficult to follow: overconfident professionals sincerely believe they have expertise, act as experts and look like experts. You will have to struggle to remind yourself that they may be in the grip of an illusion.

And as we learned from Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men, Obama has a habit of surrounding himself with arrogant, overconfident men who turn out to be wrong over and over again.  I’d go big, Barry, and make the sacrifice.

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