Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Brain drain + cultural climates + getting hired + househusbandry

Flock of Beards by Brooke Weeber

I wish I could say that deciding to move was easy.  But, as my note to a friend earlier this week implied, it was not.  (Note summary: I would stay longer for Game of Thrones-ing, but it's probably best I can't, since I might start crying and refuse to leaaaaaaaaaaave.)*  But what I wanted to hit on was actually the other problems that have cropped up since moving.  Namely, the apparent brain drain in the area where we moved that seems to be making my husband Patrick have a particularly hard time.  We moved from Richmond-the-Portland-of-the-South to a much smaller city that is not (as RVA is) a super tattooed thirty-something hipster city.  Roanoke was voted the Best Retirement City.*  The only mopeds I see are the ones I assume people have out of financial necessity, rather than Cool Factor.  Virginia Tech is not that far away, but it seems graduates flee the area as a whole, and's how it boils down:

  • There's not a huge pool of college grads seeking jobs (much less a guy working on a graduate degree like he is), which is both good and bad; good in that there's less competition, but bad in that the competition there is, is for way fewer jobs.
  • My husband's adorable beardy-tattooed self suddenly stands out way more, and in an area that's less populated with these types, it's not the good kind of standing out; it's the "gets interviews, but no offers" types.  Even a local pizza delivery place has a policy about not hiring people with facial hair.
  • The jobs that are available are either radically low-wage/low-skill so that even when he's interviewed, it seems he's too educated for them to think he'll stick around. 

The longer his unemployment continues (he's trying hard, make no mistake) the worse I feel, since after all, this was all my idea in the first place (which we then made a joint decision about, and so really it's not something I can take all the blame for, etc etc).  But it feels pretty bad when your husband who loves his beard and long hair (he was once offered money by MTV to cut it when they came to VCU -- he refused, even as they offered more and more)...sigh saying he hates to think he'll have to change his appearance to get the offers that always seem right on the tip of every employer's tongue.  I think it sucks particularly hard because it's never been a problem before -- and while the pizza delivery place shakes their heads, Patrick's dad who worked for the Pentagon had/has long hair, making the stipulation bite all the more.

Then there's the social stigma of me being the "breadwinner" while my husband cooks and cleans and takes care of the dogs.  That was the thing that upset him the most about leaving his job: the fact that he'd feel judged for something that he did *because he's a good partner*.  For us, it makes sense for him to take on some of the chores that before we shared equally, and it is kind of kick-ass to get home each night to a delicious homemade pot pie, or a new soup recipe he's trying out.  But it's kind of weird and I try to thank him all. the. time. for doing the chores I always particularly hated tackling, because even though I know I'm the only one working and it makes sense if he's home for him to do still feels unfair of me, anti-egalitarian, sometimes.  Like I'm being the 50's dad or something.  It also means I have a lot riding on *me* to keep us afloat and okay -- I was the "head" breadwinner before, but more than ever now I'm truly the one it all depends on right now.  It feels...empowering, but I'd also very much like for my husband to join the earning side again.  ;)

I know complaining isn't really that interesting to read when there aren't any solutions to the problem to relay.  We're lucky this was self-imposed (though we often gripe that it'd be great if this were an opportunity for him to be a stay-at-home parent or something that most people don't get the financial chance to take, but that's a small gripe indeed).  We're lucky he has a solid resume.  We're lucky he's gotten about ten interviews so far (even though none have led to offers).  It has to happen eventually, right?  *bites nails* 

I guess my main point is: damn, it sucks to leave a college city full of hipsters for a non-college city when you very obviously stand out (pointy beard, long wavy hair) because people make these snap judgements (for him, I'm sure it's "pot head" -- even though he doesn't smoke anything, at all, I'm not even kidding I know he looks like he time-warped here from Seattle in the 90's but it's TRUE).  Is this a sudden "hey conforming is great, you should do it, hipsters!" post?  I don't know yet.  I guess we'll see what happens.  I'm optimistic that eventually he'll find people who don't look at him and say "lazy grunge hippie" -- he's smart and has a solid work history (dude was sick a grand total of 4 times in 5 years at his last job) and he's NICE, dangit.  I'm sure this is just one of those "be patient" situations.  I guess it doesn't help that I want him to be happy in whatever job he gets too.  A lot to hope for these days, I know!

I guess the lesson here could be, for now: don't underestimate the cultural climate and its impact on job-searching, in addition to the general economy when you're thinking of moving there with someone else who may arrive needing a job.  

Roanoke: please start a beardy smart  Or something.

So, dear reader, here's a question: what have YOU done to stand out when applying online for things?  Or in person?  How about in a semi-rural or small city situation where maybe you were unusual in some way?

*I truly believe that once we're settled here a bit more, living in a place that is a bit bigger so we're less cramped, and in general just feeling more at-home, that we will be happy here.  But it's a cultural adjustment.

*Not that I could just go back.  Other people live in the house I own.  And then neither of us would be employed.  So, not happening.  Also, I love my job.  The whole "not dreading going into work/coming home griping and pissed off" situation rocks hard-freaking-core.

Related reading (aka, what I have on hold at the library, one of the few househusbandry books I found immediately that didn't sound insulting):  One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Polyamory, Househusbandry,Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love -- Rebecca Walker


  1. So, you're saying that you were conforming hipsters back in the city and looked just like everyone else? And now you truly are hipsters in a smaller location and that's scary? ;)

    Welp, it looks like you and your hubby are just going to have to set examples of how great you two are and how not-pot-headed he is! Sounds like networking is in order. Have you two considered joining anything? A bee society, or beer enthusiasts, or starting something on your own?

    Since I know your hubby has a fantastic personality, it sounds more like the right employers haven't found him yet. As dopey as it is to hope for people that know an intelligent librarian when they meet one, instead of making assumptions due to a plethora of hair...

  2. Oof, that's a tough spot to be in. My first instinct is "Be yourself! You'll find the right workspace!" but alas, I've been in the throes of unemployment and I know that's not always the easy answer.

    I agree with joining things, or finding volunteer opportunities that are in line with his values. Volunteer work was how I found my first couple jobs when I made a cross-country move. And by volunteering with a local co-op, I immediately started to get to know a lot of people in the business of community and sustainability (my degree field), whom I'm still connected to.

    If it makes him feel any better, my mom's manfriend lives outside Roanoke (somewhere in the mountains) and has found a lot of success at Chipotle, quickly rising to management levels, and he has very long hair and a couple tattoos. That's probably not your husband's chosen career field, but chin up!

  3. I don't really have any advice (or else I would be employed) but I totally totally get you (or your husband). It's been now 3 years and a half. We never imagined it would be so hard / apparently impossible for me to find a job, after all, Holland is full of animals. Full. And agriculture is one of the main activities in the country. When I came I had to internships lined up, 2 months at a small animal clinic, followed by 6 months at an experimental farm within an animal nutrition company, none of which lead to jobs.
    My diploma is European and fully recognized, I speak several languages, I have an additional Biology degree on top of my Veterinary Medicine title... There are SO many things I could do aside from the obvious clinical work (Public Health, Pharmaceutical Industry, Food Technology, Research, working with NGOs, teaching Science at high-schools....). I have applied to all of those fields and yet, nothing. I have my Dutch as a 2nd language diploma, we send and send application letters in perfect Dutch, sometimes even checked by my husband's dad who used to get those letters as he was a manager at an engineering company....
    I have volunteered / interned in research at a University lab (9 months), and at a clinic again, for a short while.
    Very recently I was told by a placement agency that right now even for -wait for it- customer care positions employers are very picky and there are very few of those. And I am fluent in 4 languages, 2 of which, if you do not count Chinese, are the most spoken / important in the World.
    So, no, I have no idea how to stand out (except I have also been told that I am overqualified.... ) though for other positions I do not have the necessary experience.
    It is crazy driving and completely messes up with your self-esteem, self-perception, perspective of success... makes you question everything you were taught and wonder what you did wrong.
    But no... it's not us. It really is not us, it's this economy. And The Netherlands is supposedly not doing that bad , it really is not (when you compare to Spain, Greece, Portugal....). There are jobs. There is just an awful lot of competition as well.
    All I can say is maybe networking / volunteering can help (though in my experience people love the free labor but it does not necessarily always lead to jobs) and looking into starting a business, developing a passion, something he could do and market.
    I really wish I had the answers. But I send you hugs and hope.