Finding a Job: Writing Your Resume

Among the worries upper most in my mind during the early months of my separation was putting together a decent resume. Oh, I’d dabbled at working and I had a resume of sorts, starting with a job I held in High School. But I cringed whenever I read it. Sales girl, EKG Technician, Lab Tech, Book Store Receptionist, File Clerk, self employed artist, VISTA Volunteer, and community relations specialist. None of these jobs shared a common thread, and none led to a promotion or a position with a real future.

How could I find a job based on such a messy, sloppy work record?

I turned to a friend to help me out. She was one of the premier Marketing Professors at the University of Virginia, so that helped tremendously, and she advised me to position myself through my abilities and skills. She also advised me to toss out the chronological sequence of my job history, especially those minor sales girl and file clerk jobs.

I reworked my resume according to her suggestions and edits, not questioning her expertise and trusting that she knew what she was doing. Lo and behold, by June 30 I was offered a serious job. My friend had been right. My new resume not only looked professional, it demonstrated who I was as a worker and responsible person, emphasizing my quest for lifelong learning, and downplaying the silly jobs I’d held over the years.

The best resumes, of course, are those that are densely packed with jobs and qualifications that progress ever onward and upward, which mine is now starting to resemble. In fact, I am now hard pressed to put everything I’ve done and can do in two short pages. I revisit my resume every six months, making changes and additions. It’s part of my Plan B to be prepared (just in case.)

If you do not have a good marketing professor waiting in the wings to help you, and if you are too upset at present to think straight, here are some wonderful sites that will help point you in the right direction. You might want to ask the boss of a friend to review your new resume before you send it out. Oh, and I worked up several versions of my resume, some aimed at nonprofits, and others aimed at corporations. As Shakespeare said (or something to that effect), "The audience is the thing!"
By sheer coincidence, The Modern Woman's Divorce Guide is covering the job hunting topic on one of its posts as well. Good minds think alike!


Finding a job with benefits at the tender age of 50

I'll admit it: I had it cushy for 26 years. Oh, don't think I didn't carry my weight or that I slacked off, but I lived the life of a fairy princess for a long time.

Sure Bob and I struggled in the early years. 75% of our combined income went to paying the mortgage and bills to our first house. Then, when we returned to school in our late twenties, we couldn't sell the dang thing. For a year we had to pay the mortgage to that place plus the rent to our walk up apartment in Boston. That was tough. But I still recall those years as being heady and fun and interesting.

And then we came across a fork in the road: Should "we" place 100% of our combined efforts into Bob's career with its promise of financial rewards and a way out of debt? Or should I continue to pursue my interest in art and art history? It was a no-brainer, and I redoubled my efforts to support my husband as he went to graduate school full time. I recall driving him to the library every day during the time that he wrote his dissertation, and editing and proofing one variation of the document after another.

In year 20 of our marriage the financial rewards began to outweigh our debts, and I must say I enjoyed spending money and traveling, which we did all through the 90's. We were not rich, but we wanted for nothing.

I pursued a career as an artist, making a modest income and learning an incredible amount about marketing myself and making contacts. I also volunteered in a local literacy organization. My small role in the organization kept expanding, from tutor to trainer to recruiter to community relations specialist to VISTA Volunteer. In order to keep up with the staff and their needs, I learned valuable computer skills. I also made a ton of contacts in my community.

At the time my marriage dissolved, I no longer worked with the organization. Bob wanted me on hand to travel (we traveled about 2 months per year), and my frequent absences were affecting the quality of my work. However, I still volunteered for the organization, creating their newsletters and publicity flyers.

The day Bob left I called a colleague at that organization, and landed an 8 hour per week position right away. I then called all the contacts I'd made over the years, letting them know I was looking for a full time job.

I found one position through a newspaper ad, and was offered the job. This was such a boost to my ego, that I almost accepted the position. But then I did the math. First, the salary was quite low, and second, the job came with no benefits. Regretfully I turned the job down, saying that by accepting it I would be unable to afford my house. Then I sat back, wondering if I would regret my decision.

A month later a friend told me about a consulting position at a nearby university, one that was funded through June 30th. She and I discussed it and it sounded like the ideal situation for me. But then nothing happened. Another month passed by, and my friend said she was "still on it." I believed her, but I also knew that she was an incredibly busy person and that helping me out was not her number one priority. I was working two jobs by then, one in a frame shop, which kept me as busy as I wanted to be up to 20 hours per week.

So, six weeks after learning about the job, I called the person in charge of the project and asked her if she was still looking for someone. Oh, yes, she said, adding that she'd been wondering why I hadn't called. As it turns out, a certain pot of money was set aside for this position, and I was told to ask for the most ridiculous amount per hour.
"$19 per hour? "I ventured.
"More," she said.
And so I went up until she was satisfied that I would use the full amount that had been allocated for this project by the end of the fiscal year. The one glitch was that the job did not come with benefits and would end in three months.

At the first staff meeting, I realized that I had teed off my friend and her boss in a major way by leapfrogging over them. Uh, oh, I thought, but then relaxed. My life was in chaos and theirs' wasn't. So I determined to do the best I could and prove to them that I was worth the hire.

I soon realized that three months was too much time for so little work, so I found ways to make myself useful, creating a database of past and present trainers, some publicity materials, realigning some statewide territories so they made more sense when we went out in the field, and teaching support staff crucial desktop publishing skills. In other words, I found gaps that needed to be filled and made myself indispensable in general.

When June arrived, my boss asked me if I would consider a permanent position with them, one with benefits. Would I? I tried not to leap into her arms to hug her, but she could tell from the joy on my face that she had lifted a huge worry. As for my friend and her boss, they forgave me for taking charge of my own situation and leapfrogging over them. My work had relieved their loads and they couldn't argue with the results.

So, here I am at 58, just embarking on a career, rubbing elbows with people half my age, and working on statewide projects that affect hundreds of organizations. It hasn't been easy for me. I needed to take a lot of work home at first just to learn the "business." And I've taken a lot of classes and workshops since.

These are some of lessons you might take away from my slipshod approach to life:

  1. Do not depend on the actions of others. Yes your friends and acquaintances might have your welfare in mind, but their sense of timing is not as urgent as yours.

  2. Don't accept a job just because it is offered. Ask yourself: Is this situation good enough for me and my needs? If I take this job, will I close the door on something better?

  3. Once you land a position you love, make yourself indispensable. Make them want you more than you need them. Easier said than done? Yeah, but worth the rewards.

  4. Not divorced and happily married? Keep yourself employable any way. You never know what life will hand you and when you'll need to go it alone. Too many women my age were left stranded because they did not align their hobbies or volunteer jobs with employable skills. You might say I was lucky in that regard. Then again, I am a firm believer that, barring a natural catastrophe, you create your own luck.

This is the one time that you really can't rely on the advice of others. You know what situation works best for you. Only you know what working conditions will make you happy. For some, having financial security is the strongest pull. For me, the benefits were extremely important, as I have asthma and need frequent medical care. In addition, I needed to be given a great amount of independence, which is exactly what I got. I am making much less than my young nephew, who is just four years out of college, but I thank my lucky stars that I found the job I did.


Time to Move On

Eight months after my separation it felt as if time had stood still. I still cried daily, felt an enormous amount of stress, and had seen no benefit in seeing a therapist once a week. I was exhausted from working two jobs (I had quit my third one during the summer) and maintaining my house. It was all becoming too much for me.

At my mother's urging, I went to a divorce support group at a nearby church. Six of us attended, two new people and four veterans. As the hour progressed, I sat there thinking, "What am I doing here?" One woman was in such crisis that she was bawling, literally unable to hold herself together. Others had been divorced for years, yet were still rehashing the same old stuff.

When it was my turn, I told my little tale of woe. Then five of us tried to help the bawler, whose situation was uncannily similar to mine, except that she'd been married for about six years. Her husband had left the same month that Bob left, seemingly out of the blue. Frankly, she was young and able bodied, and as far as I could tell, had her whole life in front of her.

She refused to listen to us when we suggested she get therapy (she had yet to see a counselor.) All she could say to my suggestions was, "But, but, but, but...." At the end of this short session, two people approached me saying they hoped I would join the group. Join? No way! These people had demonstrated that no matter how painful my life felt at the time, I was actually doing ok.

I don't know what happened to the bawler. Sure, I felt sympathy for her as she was feeling real pain, but I had a hard enough time coping with my own situation. As for the other four women? Hopefully, they were able to help that young bawler, because I believe that's what support groups are all about. Perhaps this was all that poor young woman could afford.

As for me, I had turned a corner. I felt stronger, knowing that I was moving through the stages of disbelief, anger, and grief at the right pace. For the first time I realized that my therapy sessions were working. Not only was this a real eye opener, it lay the foundation for some tough, but helpful counseling sessions in the next few months.

Illustration from http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/s/support_group.asp

Jumping in feet first

All right, I admit it. I’ve been sounding like a supercilious, know-it-all model of perfection, talking about making my own luck, creating a plan B, and setting certain standards for myself. The reality is that I’m winging through life like the rest of us. The one thing that I have gained since my divorce is distance and perspective. It has been six years, after all, since my marriage dissolved.

I remember feeling starved for the affections of a man a few months after our separation. I’d been ½ of a couple for so long that I didn’t know how to be single. Six months after Bob left I was feeling at my lowest. My family urged me to attend a conference that I wanted to back out of, telling me the change would do me good. I drove to the conference, which was 240 miles away, crying the entire distance. Once I got there, I had no time to think about my situation. There were so many workshops to choose from, activities to attend, and people to meet, that I found relief from the constant stress I was feeling.

On the second night I attended a social gathering, which included a Karaoke Bar. I joined a small group, singing back up to a really good singer. We had such fun, and I began to laugh and truly enjoy myself. Before I knew it, the night was over. There were only three people remaining in the room: me, another woman, and a man. I walked up to them and said how sad I was to see things end. The three of us began to talk, but it was late and I needed my rest. Reluctantly I said I had to leave.

The woman said something to the man, who turned to me and said he would escort me to my room (it was dark and we had to walk outside.) That’s when I took my first good look at him, and thought him strangely handsome. I say strangely, because in every way possible he looked different from Bob.

Like a gentleman he escorted me back to my room, answering my questions, and posing a few of his own. At the door he kissed me, my first kiss from another man in over 29 years. It was electric and surprising, surprising, because I was convinced that no one would ever replace Bob. When I saw him the following day, I handed him my business card.

Two days after the conference I received a note from this man, a sweet little missive stating how much he enjoyed meeting me and hoping he’d see me again. He wrote down his number, and said he would call me soon. We both took a long time to get things started, as he’d been hurt tremendously by his ex. However, we kept in touch, meeting for lunch or dinner once a month, and talking by phone every other week. When my divorce became final, we began seeing each other steadily.

I knew about rebound relationships, and I was quite cautious about my relationship with "N." In fact, it WAS a rebound relationship and it was doomed from the start, since our expectations of each other were unrealistic. However, he healed me in many ways, and I know I healed him. We were two hurting creatures when we met, distrustful of the opposite sex in general, but we were always good and kind to each other. We had a wonderful, fun filled relationship for four years and then it ended. Though the break up was painful, we are still good and loving friends.

So, in addition to viewing yourself as someone who is in control of your life, also try to keep your mind open to all possibilities. Don’t hide behind a thick wall. From the most unexpected source and when you least expect it, something wonderful will come your way. Don’t dismiss a new person or possibility right away because this is not what you wanted or expected.

A good friend of mine dismisses all options that don't fit her preconceived plans. She is a sad person with few friends, and very little hope for her future or situation. Yet from my perspective I see a woman with a beautiful home, two wonderful sons, and more talent in her little finger than most people ever hope to have. What is wrong with this picture?

Another friend of mine told me that she always dated a new man three times. If after the third date, things hadn’t gelled, then she broke things off. Usually, there were no hard feelings, as they'd had no time to bond. I like her philosophy. It means that she is keeping her options open and willing to give others a second chance. She's a younger woman and, needless to say, I think she'll go far in life.

Image from http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/d/dinner_date_gifts.asp


Making your own luck

Making your own luck: What does this phrase mean? I'm no expert, but I have noticed an interesting pattern among my friends and acquaintances over the years. People who view themselves as victims, who create drama, and who expect the worst, seem to have no luck.

People who are in charge of their lives, who have a plan B, whose world does not whirl out of kilter because of a setback, and who are open to many possibilities, seem to create their own luck.

It's all a matter of attitude, isn't it? Either you view life as a challenge to be tackled head on, or you allow yourself to be controlled by others.

During my divorce, I could have chosen to view myself as a victim. Hey, plenty of other things have gone wrong in my life, but most people who meet me wouldn't get that impression. They see a lively, humorous, go-getter, and someone who loves to solve problems. They think my life has been a piece of cake, and compared to some others (the Lost Boys of the Sudan, for example) it has. But I have experienced many sad losses, some of them quite major and life altering. Haven't we all?

When Bob left, I could have crawled into a hole and just died, that's how awful I felt, but I knew that the only way to survive divorce was to just keep on plowing through and make the best of each day. Of course I had set backs. I am not super woman. But I also felt an unfamiliar surge of power as I faced my husband squarely, not backing down on some areas of extreme importance to me.

My advice to you? Stop allowing your ex or your ex-to-be to play with your emotions. Take charge of your life and review all the options you have. Even if they are slim, you are in control of your attitude towards the situation. Don't react to unreasonable behavior. Just turn around and walk away.

If you have children it is even more important that you take the high road. As a child of divorce, believe me when I say, they will thank you for your good judgment (and their good luck) some day.


To Keep or Not to Keep … Your House

A few months after my separation, I went to a conference. I struck up a conversation with a single divorced mother of one teen-aged boy. We began comparing our situations. She’d been divorced for four years, and I was going through divorce.

I told her I wanted to stay in my house, that I loved it and that I didn’t want to be punished for my husband’s desire to dismantle our life together. I’ll never forget that woman's advice: "Sell your house. It will become a millstone." She regretted staying in hers, she said, saying that on her teacher’s salary she could not afford its upkeep and that it was slowly rotting inside and out.

However, she and I came from different circumstances. As an administrator, I earned more than she did, for one. I do not have a child who is getting ready for college. And, most importantly, I own my house free and clear.

Even so it has been a struggle maintaining the house and finding painters, electricians, and plumbers as the need arises. My lifestyle altered drastically when Bob left, and I live on a fourth of the combined income we once enjoyed. I simply don’t have the skills to do more than minor repairs, and though I am handy with a paint brush, I don’t have much spare time to physically work on my house. My family urges me to move, saying a condo suits my needs much better, but I am not a condo type of girl.

I live within walking distance of the river and revel in the beauty of my house’s physical setting, the woods that surround me, the wildlife, and my quiet street. I live conveniently close to work and shopping. And my house is a bargain. I would be hard pressed to find a nice condo that costs less.

So, for the time being I’ll stay in my house. I have opened two of my bedrooms to Sudanese students-Lost Boys of the Sudan-who needed shelter and an affordable place to live. All I ask is that they pay a maintenance fee to cover their cost of heating, air conditioning, water, cable, phone, etc. Now my home is filled with life, and there's always someone to watch my dog when I work long hours or to help me with heavy work in the yard.

Each of us has to make decisions based on our individual circumstances. For that one woman, selling her house made sense. As you can see from this photo of my back yard, I'd be crazy to leave my tiny 1/2 acre paradise. Can you believe it is located a mere twenty minutes from downtown, and that's during rush hour. I think I’ll stay put for a few more years. I'm lucky, I realize, very lucky, but then, I'm also a firm believer that you make your own luck.

More on this topic later.


On Finding a Lawyer

I mentioned before that Bob said he would stop going to therapy if I saw a lawyer. Even in my shocked state I knew this edict was wrong.

I'm no dummy. Of course I saw a lawyer! He was Richmond’s best divorce lawyer, as he had been voted by a local magazine for three years in a row. His demeanor was cold, and his mind was cool and cut to the chase. I watched him calculate how many assets Bob and I had, and then dismiss me.

However, in one short hour he gave me advice that would guide me for months. I took notes. I listened. I paid his exhorbitant fee. And I left his office feeling empty and bereft. He had told me there was no hope for saving my marriage.

This is what I learned after shelling out $400:

  • Do not diddle with another man.
  • Get your spouse to commit to a settlement fast while he is still feeling guilty.
  • Demand 50% of your shared assets, nothing less.
  • Find a job, or get a degree, or both. You are on your own.
  • Do not stir or roil the situation. Take the high road and keep your mouth shut.
The worst time to find a lawyer is when you are going through a crisis. You are grieving and feeling raw, and all of a sudden you discover you’ve got to make a thousand life-changing decisions. In order to go through this horrific period, you’ll need to depend on the advice of family, friends, and acquaintances. At the risk of repeating myself: CHOOSE your support group wisely. Identify the sanest, smartest people you know and ask them who they would contact. Don’t depend on one opinion, but poll a number of friends. Then make an appointment with several lawyers.

Remember to shop around. I interviewed (yes, interviewed) three lawyers. I never found one I liked, so I opted for arbitration between me, Bob, and our two counselors. The end result? The lawyer who reviewed my final settlement said: "You did better than most."

I remember feeling insulted when he said that, and here was my reply: "I know my worth. After 26 years of shared goals and responsibilities, 50% is what I expect. Nothing more. Nothing less."

More on this topic later.


Learning to be fabulously single

Being alone gets easier. Take my word for it. Three years ago I never thought I would reach this level of contentment. The restlessness is gone. The yearning to be someone's mate has receded. I am who I am, I like who I've become, I feel strong at my job and career, and I like spending the rare occasion alone in my cozy home.

Seven years ago I railed and ranted against being single. I yearned for those couples nights out at a restaurant or at parties. Each time I found myself alone at an event, I would secretly cry. Then, one day early this summer I realized that my fight against my single state was over. I was ... content, and at times deliriously happy.

I've had a serious relationship since my divorce. It lasted four years, and I experienced some of the happiest moments of my life while I was with this wonderful person. He too was smarting from a failed marriage when we met, and I like to think we healed each other. I am still friends with this man, because his friendship is worth keeping. We agreed on everything but one minor point: To stay together.

These days I hang around with my three girlfriends. We call ourselves the four divas. We're planning a trip to the beach in March to just hang around, shop, and eat fabulous seafood. We always meet for cocktails on Friday night to decompress after a long week of work. What a nice way to start the weekend! And we are so outrageous in our conversation, so fabulously middle aged, and so confident in our own skins, that I revel in our Diva-ness.

Edina and Patsy, those two lushes and druggies from Absolutely Fabulous, that outrageous British Series from the early 90's, have no clue how wonderful a sober female relationship can be. Or how divine it feels to be able to stand on your own two feet without drugs or alcohol or alimony, pay your way through your own talents, and make your own decisions. My life right now? I'm very content and often happy. And if a man should enter my life at any point? Gravy!