Updated: Sep 16
Back in the Day
I can remember when I first entered the workforce. I was 14 years old and applied to work at McDonald’s and Burger King. Back then, all you had to do was go to the place you wanted to work, fill out an application, and have working papers ready to give to the company. Remember those days? Memories—a time when things were so simple, and the job market wasn’t so competitive. We could find work much easier back then. Subsequently, McDonald’s didn’t hire me, but Burger King hired me. That was when my journey to earning my money began.
While in college, I worked in the work-study programs at both Raritan Valley Community College and Montclair State University. I worked for the President of RVCC Dr. S. Charles Irace and his assistant, Gladys Wehr. I loved working in the President’s Office. It was a great opportunity, and they both treated me very well. When I went to Montclair, I worked in the Sprague Library on campus and for Dr. Rosalyn Wilder at Encomium Arts Consultants, which was a senior improvisational dance troupe comprising six senior citizens who performed at senior centers throughout New Jersey.
While on summer breaks, I worked for employment agencies. I met a wonderful lady named Evelyn who found great office opportunities for me, and the pay was excellent! While temping, I worked in just about every industry that you could imagine.
I worked in office environments for market research, grocery, pharmaceutical, architecture, and household products. Those companies gave me a thorough understanding of what the working world might look like for a young Black woman. The opportunities paid me well, but I also experienced racism and mistreatment in the workforce. I’m glad I worked in these places for the experiences and the awareness I gained.
At 19, back in the summer of 1988, before starting my junior year at Montclair State University, I worked on a temporary assignment for Johnson and Johnson Personal Products. Because of the skill and professionalism that I showed while working there, the executive vice president wanted me to stay and become his permanent executive assistant.
Close to my last day, the EVP said to me, “Are you sure you want to go back to college? I would love to hire you to be my executive assistant. You are the best assistant I have ever had.” Although that was flattering for me to hear, especially at 19, I also heard my mom’s voice in my ear saying how important a college degree was. So, I told him I appreciated his kind words, but I had to return to college. At that point, I had already completed a two-year program and received my associate’s degree from RVCC, and my goal was to receive my bachelor’s degree from Montclair. Not only was it important for me to receive the degree for myself, but it was also important for me to receive it for my mom.
The Who-You-Know Factor
As my bachelor’s degree requirements ended, I thought about my career aspirations. I had a lot of work experience at that point but was not sure what company I wanted to work for after I graduated. Not only did I not know who I wanted to work for, but I wasn’t sure if I would take the same route of working for an employment agency vs. applying to a company directly. It was much easier working for an employment agency because the agency representative found the assignments for me. However, back then, I was leaning toward finding a permanent position, but finding it would not be easy.
Through the years, I’ve seen people receive positions because they knew someone who worked for the company to which they applied. I call this the Who-You-Know Factor. Finding the proper position often comes down to knowing someone who can get you in the door.
The position you’re trying to get may not be your first career choice, but you look at the opportunity as something you need to pay your bills and network to achieve the ideal position that you want. That’s life. That’s reality. The bottom line is we all have to make sure we have an income to take care of our households. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what you want to go for what you need.
Back in May 1991, when I graduated from Montclair, I looked for a permanent full-time job.
My best friend, Lorri, helped me to fulfill that mission. She mentioned that FedEx was hiring customer service agents, and we both applied for the positions. We were both hired and started the training program.
I went to college largely because I felt that a college degree to allow me opportunities that I may not get if I didn’t have the degree. Although I do not regret going to college for the degrees that I earned, I realized when FedEx hired me I didn’t need a college degree for the customer service agent position and would have to use my degrees for a position in the future.
I pursued other opportunities at FedEx, but nothing materialized. Sure, I received a promotion within my position from customer service agent to senior customer service agent, but I quickly found out that higher-level positions were not available for many years because individuals would stay in them until they retired. The employees knew the value of being at FedEx because the working environment was very positive, and the benefits were great. So, they stayed.
I will admit that FedEx gave me a great start in the workforce after college. That position served its purpose for me, but I didn’t want to wait around for 20 years for a great position to become available, so I left in 1994 to pursue other opportunities.
The College Degree Pay-Off
My next jobs were at Countrywide Funding and the Doubletree Hotel in executive-level assistant and secretarial positions. I applied for these positions the old-fashioned way–by finding the jobs listed in the newspaper. Back then, resumes and cover letters became expected to go with applications. After that, I got a position in higher education working for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), which is where I spent many years until UMDNJ merged with Rutgers University.
Getting a job at UMDNJ was a significant career move because it allowed me to seek other opportunities in a stable work environment that would provide several promotions and salary increases over the years. My college degrees benefited me from 1994 to 2018 until the administration changed for the worse. I ran into a situation that had me question my future and if I wanted to continue working for an entity where I felt mistreated and unwelcome. In 2021, I decided it was time for me to create my exit strategy and move on to other opportunities. Part one of this article speaks about my experience.
Finding New Opportunities Takes Work
Getting back into the workforce takes a lot of time and effort. If you’re like me, then you’ll agree that writing a cover letter is a painstaking, overwhelming process. The worst part of the process is knowing that most recruiters do not read them, which is frustrating. Picture this–You spend hours, and maybe even days, composing your cover letter. You check off all key points to include in the cover letter. You write the letter to the job description and add in attractive language only to be told that they found another candidate whose qualifications matched closer to the position. This is very frustrating!
Today, when recruiters receive your resume, they scan it through an applicant tracking system (ATS). The ATS is used to see if the resume closely matches the job based on the keywords within the job description. Companies use the ATS because they receive a lot of resumes; it helps to reduce the number of resumes for the human resources representative to review.
The job pool of today is so saturated because the pandemic and the Great Resignation have created a space where people have left their jobs for better opportunities. Others left their jobs because of mistreatment by their managers, not to mention the people who left because they would rather continue to work remotely if possible. And then, there are people like me who decided to take early retirement for all the reasons above.
In an article titled, “Is The ‘Great Resignation’ Actually A Mass Retirement,” 4.3 million Americans left their jobs in August 2021. I was one of those 4.3 million. The article also mentioned that out of the 4.3 million who left their jobs, 1.5 million opted for early retirement.
Interestingly enough, that demographic included that some of those early retirees launched a new business after leaving their jobs. That speaks to the dream pursuit of many people who put their dreams on hold and finally took the leap of faith to follow their dreams. So, getting back into the workforce takes on a whole new meaning if you are the one providing for yourself through your new venture.
Hinderances to Getting the Job of Your Dreams
Besides the ATS, employers are checking potential employees’ credit as a way of weeding out the job pool. Poor credit can remove prospective job candidates quickly. What’s worse is the disproportionate effect that poor credit has on people of color, particularly Black and Hispanic people, because of systemic injustices caused by catastrophic situations.
Although finding your dream job is an exciting prospect to ponder, it’s also very overwhelming. Finding employment includes an exorbitant amount of online searching with companies like www.indeed.com, www.ratracerebellion.com, www.ziprecruiter.com, www.linkedin.com, and www.flexjobs.com. These companies are popular for today’s job seekers because of their reputations and the mount of positions they advertise.
Depending on how you filter your settings, you can receive many job offers from these companies daily. Looking for a job is a lot of work. Because of the number of jobs available, the time to look through postings can be tiresome. Also, companies can afford to be very selective in their hiring process because of the number of resumes being received. The best thing to do is to be intentional about the jobs you are applying for and make sure your skill set matches as closely as possible to the jobs you’ve filtered. Also, you can prepare for an interview ahead of time by having a list of answers to some basic questions that an interviewer might ask you. Being prepared is best so you don’t feel disheveled during the interview.
What’s Old is New Again–No More Cover Letters?
While I pursue my next opportunity, I decided to go a route that is familiar to me, which is using an employment agency to find work. The opportunities that I am pursuing are full-time, in-office, hybrid, or 100% remote, and long-term temporary to permanent positions. By pursuing jobs this way, I can control my direction by taking opportunities that help me achieve my employment goals, attain a decent salary, and maintain a work-life balance because of the flexibility.
My direction is clear–I’m looking for long-term contracts that provide me with opportunities for possible permanent positions. Long-term temporary assignments allow both the employer and employee to decide if the position is right for them. Also, I have found working with an employment agency is less competitive than applying for jobs through the popular employment websites mentioned above.
Because the competition on popular employment websites is very high, sometimes you might not receive a response from the companies you apply to. Employment agencies are less competitive because they find their client's positions that are closer to where clients live because the agency offices are local. For me, the bonus to working for an employment agency is that creating cover letters is unnecessary to work for them.
From a Contract to a Consistent Opportunity
At this stage in my career aspirations, a long-term contract would be beneficial for me. Contracts for six months to a year or more would suffice. If the employer and I feel I am a good fit to become a permanent employee, I am open to that possibility. The difference in my thinking now compared to earlier in my career is that I feel more in control of my direction, which is an accomplished goal.
The writing, administrative, office management, and business skills I gained throughout the years have paid off tremendously because I understand how to run an office, write, communicate verbally, manage multiple projects, manage time, and many other skills. The degrees I earned were critical to my success, and I would not trade the direction I traveled for anything.
Currently, I am working in a long-term temporary position, which will not become a permanent opportunity for me. The employment agency in which I work has various roles available for me to pursue. When my current assignment is almost complete, I will explore other opportunities. Working for an employment agency again is a full-circle moment for me, and it takes me back to when I started working full-time in the late 80s.
At this special and divine time in my life, I’m making a choice to take matters into my own hands to balance my employment with my personal life. The goal is to find positions that allow me to be in a supportive role, which is where I find the most peace and will allow the freedom for proper work-life balance. I thank God for clarity and for opening doors to allow me to fulfill my destiny to ultimately live life my way on my own terms.
God Bless You with Good Health and Wellness,
Antoinette Shar’ron Johnson
Living Life On My Own Terms is a two-part series. Click here for part one!
Looking for merchandise with positive messaging, check out Inspirations by ASJ!
Is The ‘Great Resignation’ Actually A Mass Retirement? (forbes.com) by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox
Predicting How, When, Or If ‘the Great Resignation’ Will End by Edward Segal
Great Resignation Continues as 44% of Workers Seek a New Job by Greg Iacurci