Wednesday, June 3, 2009

ART VS. LIFE: The Pink Slip Predators

Many a romantic evening started with drinks - so I've heard. But Wednesday night somebody tried pulling my pants down over happy hour.

Now that I'm in my sixth month of unemployment living a life free of sucking from the corporate teat - hey, my blog, my rationalization, alright? - I've become one of those people who are even wary when I do see a job posting. I think our club is called Anyone Who's Ever Been To Craigslist.

Still, the ad for something called a "Pink Slip Party" looked encouraging: drinks at Balboa Park while meeting with other job-hunters and possibly recruiters. Reviews from similar events on the east coast seemed positive enough, so I put the $5 entrance fee on the proverbial table and gambled for a shot at a regular paycheck. But I passed on the $10 appetizers - job-hunting with chicken wings in your mouth only works ... actually, I can't figure out when it would work.

I arrived with 40 resumes tucked neatly into two manila folders and myself fitted just as neatly into my black vest, slacks and shoes, topped off by a blue shirt and red tie. The second-story meeting room wasn't hard to find; I just followed the smell of desperation. At the door, the organizers asked me to wear a yellow plastic lei instead of the more complimentary orange option -- orange, you see, was reserved for the recruiters.

"Prettier than a bullseye," I remarked to another would-be employee-to-be in a white lei. Indeed, the agents in orange were instant targets, the prettiest girls (and boys) at the ball. (Not to be confused, of course, with the Prettiest Girl At Last Call. But I digress.)

At this point I should tell you that I hate "networking." Encounter somebody funny at a bar? No problem. Say hi to friends of friends at an actual party? All about it. But "selling myself" has never been enjoyable for me. So watching everybody else in the room jockey for position around the middle-managers in our midst made me queasy enough to circle the room a bit, eyeing nametags and deciding whether any of them were worth my "pitch," such as it was.

I was interrumpted from my spy games by a brunette in a long black cocktail dress. She almost looked too indie to be there.

"I'm just here looking for friends," Paulina* said, shaking my hand. "But my friend wanted me to keep an eye out for sharp people. Do you have a resume?"

Not a problem at all. I was about to whip one out - a resume, you sickos - when I asked her what said friend did. And the look in her eyes stopped my hand in mid-air. She went blank, saying, "I don't know." O RLY?, I thought. Putting the resume back in the folder, I asked for the name of the friend's company. She nodded no, same blank look. Finally, I asked if he had an e-mail. Still nothing.

I told her this was a little weird and backed away, resume safely in hand, and made for the patio, where I ducked behind a couple of smokers and called @soulcamp. Given my recent history with the opposite sex, I considered that I might have reacted out of paranoia, so I wanted a second opinion. 'Cause, you know, this girl was cute.

The way I figured it, if @soulcamp's cynical ass told my cynical ass, "Man, your ass is cynical," then I'd have a reason to re-assess the situation. Alas, he concurred with my assessment. Sorry, rom-com fans.

After resuming my semi-circles around the room, I noticed more job-seekers walking in than job-givers. In fact, I only counted 12 orange leis in the whole joint. In the center, I saw two of the recruiters standing at tables, as hopefuls arranged themselves in front of them out of self-immolation. This wasn't a mixer - it was 1930s Moscow, and the fight for the crumbs had begun.

I walked a little faster, making a note on the folder (more on that later) and feeling the pressure leave my shoulders; nobody was going to get anything substantial out of tonight, I realized. So, newly care-free, I passed my resume along to a few honest-to-goodness recruiters and tried to sneak into a local news crew's shot. After my last brief chat, I noticed somebody new standing to my left and sizing me up. Imagine Ronald Isley as a character from Office Space. Paulina appeared to my right.

"This is him," she announced, in introducing Tom*, before shuffling off. "I was just telling him about you." Like I did with her, I asked Tom about his company while reaching into the folder. An IT firm in Kearny Mesa, he said, a plausible answer: the area is mundane enough to house that kind of business. We parried for a couple of minutes on whether my more admin- and creative-based experience would work in that kind of field, and I finally handed over my resume. "Let me tell you if you're worth hiring," he said. I shrugged off his buffalo stance and asked for a card. Who was this guy?

Prepare for quotation overload: he handed me a card for "his other business" - no name attached, but saying you could "work from home and make $1000 - 3000 per week." What was this about? I asked. He tried to liken whatever this was to medical insurance when I cut him off and asked what employees did.

"If you come aboard with us," he said with a light tone of indignation, "you make money signing people up to memberships." I reached toward the small stack of resumes he had managed to con out of people tonight.

"I'm gonna go ahead and take that back," I said, handing back the card. "It's not gonna work out between us." I'm only disappointed I didn't throw in "It's not you, it's me," just to slide the dagger in deeper. The look of disappointment will have to be enough. I headed back toward the patio and ran into the only person I honest-to-goodness met the whole time: a copy editor for a local Filipino newspaper. "How are you doing?" she asked.

When I told her the truth, she looked at me like I was the only other person in on the joke - and maybe we were; behind us, people still flittered about, as desperate as anybody else stuck in a bar just before closing time. Time to cash out. I stopped at the check-in table and the two professionally cheery redheaded organizers were no doubt expecting profuse thanks; they'd probably gotten them in L.A. and Boston, right? Wrong.

"I hate to be a spoil-sport, but I'd like my five bucks back, please," I told them. I pointed at the note I made earlier before going on. "Of the five companies here, four were other staffing firms. I'm not asking for Fortune 500, but this was not what I signed up for." The younger one looked at me like I'd pissed in her appletini. The older one greeted another person while quietly handing my money behind her back to Young Red, who handed it back to me. I wished them good luck with their next effort before heading down the stairs, giddily. POWER - I CAN HAZ! On the way home, I took those $5 and re-invested it into a gallon of milk. Best $2.19 I ever drank.

* Names were changed, but not the actions

5 comments:

MeredithElaine said...

Holy crap, that is so funny b/c I saw that ad on Craigslist, and told my boss about it. I don't think anyone from my company went. Sounds like that was a smart decision on my part.

Alas, I have another networking event tonight. Luckily, it ends early so that I can spend some quality time at Gilly's.

Kevin L said...

Staffing firms aren't necessarily bad things, though. I got my current gig through KForce a few months ago, and I've already been converted to a real W-2 employee. (Also, I got a lot of juvenile humor out of the fact that the recruiter was named Jay Mansavage, which is the sort of name that ought to be in porn. Insert your own "staffing" joke here.)

I've never gotten an interview directly because of one of those cocktail mixer job fair things, but I have been recognized when I showed up at interviews that were arranged through Monster. The personal connection didn't get me the job, but at least it got me a more honest answer about why I was being rejected by that particular company.

Arturo said...

Kevin,

Oh, my problem wasn't with staffing firms; I go through them myself. My issue is that the organizers only delivered staffing firms to the party and charged people to meet them. I mean, I see all of those agencies for free on any regular job posting.

Erica said...

Well done getting your $5 back. Sounds like the predators weren't just the scuzzy resume grabbers...

GD said...

Aw thanks for the little shout out!