‘I have filled out resumes for about 380 to 390 positions’

By DW Gibson
June 14, 2012

Editor’s note: This week, Reuters Opinion is publishing five excerpts – one each day – from D.W. Gibson’s new book, Not Working, an oral history of the recession. Gibson spent months traveling across America talking to people who had been laid off.

Dominick Brocato is 58 and has lived in Kansas City his entire life. He was laid off in 2010. This is his story.

For the last 20 years, I’ve worked for D. Systems. In 2009, our existing chief operating officer had made the decision he was going to retire at the end of the year, so a new chief operating officer was brought in. He had different views towards how things should be run. We knew that in the operation that he came from, which was in Boston, he had had 12 layoffs in the last six years. So every six months, he had layoffs. But we felt confident, because our president had said we were never going to have a layoff. And we very much believed in what he had told us.

It was kept quiet somewhat, but I could tell that something was changing. I knew something was going on.

The company sent a letter out, probably about three weeks prior to the layoffs, saying that the company was going through a reorganizing and so forth, so, you know, at that point quite a few of us felt that we were part of that list again. You can tell, the way you’re communicated with and the lack of the communication.

My actual date was February 4th of 2010. It was a Thursday. They had started on that Monday, and they had said that if you survived until Friday, that you were safe with this first round of layoffs. And so I got my call at 9:30 a.m.

I was ready to get started and begin my new career, and so I started outplacement on Monday. They gave you a choice. They said you could wait 30 to 45 days to get your head straight and to do whatever you needed to be done, and at that point, I was very anxious to get the ball rolling. And I felt that I had enough skills that it was going to be fairly quick for me to find another position. I knew that now was time to start a new beginning, and I still try to have that feeling. But it’s hard after 17 months to keep realizing that maybe something will never happen.

In the outplacement meetings that I went to, you have classes on how to present yourself, your appearance, how not to look old and keeping up with the times, and I felt like I’ve always done that. I’m thinking I’m doing everything that I’m told to do, that I’m trained to do, but yet, for whatever reason, it’s not happening. And you still keep looking back at yourself, thinking, “Am I saying something wrong? Am I saying too much?” You keep trying to psychoanalyze everything to the point where you can drive yourself nuts.

I would say between April and August I probably had 45 to 50 different meetings that I would just initiate on my own, asking someone, “Can we just go have coffee, or just go to lunch?” So they’d get to know me and hopefully, if they remembered, they’d say, “Hey, Dominick, I met with him. He may be someone you want to talk to…”

I spent a lot of money doing that. The majority of people where I would say, “Can we just go to coffee?” I didn’t get a lot of response. If I’d say, “Hey, let’s go to lunch; I’ll buy lunch,” I got more takers. And that was O.K., if I thought it was going to work to my benefit. Sometimes I would say, “You pick the place.” I did that a few times, and after a $40 lunch I realized this isn’t going to happen anymore.

I would say, from an Internet standpoint, I have filled out and put in resumes for about 380 to 390 positions. Of that, I would say I have heard back from maybe 20 people, which again, that’s why they tell you in outplacement, “Don’t waste your time on the boards.” But after a while, you feel like that’s the only thing you have left to do. You kind of run out of people that you could keep asking to go to lunch or go to coffee.

Interview-wise, I would say I’ve gone on maybe 40 interviews over the last 17 months. A lot of the times that I’m aware of I’ve gotten close and gotten in the top three candidates, but for whatever reason, have lost out.

I learned, obviously, now, after 17 months, that it has not necessarily [been] easy to secure another position, and I think a lot of it had to do with my tenure with the company. In my mind, I thought that was a positive thing. I’ve learned that now, with the way the market is, that that’s not a positive thing. I’ve learned in some meetings I’ve been in that companies are asking that recruiters and headhunters not even present them people that are 50 or older. They are not interested in people that have been unemployed for six months or longer, because they feel something must be wrong with them, that they have not been able to secure a job in that time period, which again is so disappointing to me to even hear those words, and then they also have made requirements that if someone has been in their job for 15 or more years, they’re not interested in seeing them either, because they feel that they’re set in their ways, and they haven’t updated or learned new skills, so they would rather now have the individual that moves every two to three to five years. They feel that they are more valuable to them. So again, a lot of the things that we were brought up with – a lot of the ethical things that we thought were going to make us successful and that we did to show our dedication to a company – now is used against us. And obviously all those three things – being with the company for more than five years, being over 50, and being unemployed for more than six months – I have all three things against me, and as time goes on, I’m getting more concerned as to what’s going to happen, and am I ever going to be able to secure another position.

We’re having a new Trader Joe’s coming in, and when I found out that you have benefits even if you’re a part-time employee, I thought, “Okay. Let me try this.” Of course, I did. I called, and they said, “Well, you’re at the bottom of 800, so we’ll call you as soon as we go through the other 799 above you.” I thought, “Wow.” I don’t know what those next steps are going to be, and like I say, for someone who has always been in control and educated and so forth, you never imagine that these times are happening. But they are.

For the last two months, I’ve… I don’t want to say I’ve given up, but I’ve just kind of taken a break from all the stuff that I’ve done before, thinking I need to regroup. I need to get my head straight. I need to clear everything out. And so that’s what I’ve done for the last two months, but yet everyday you feel guilty: I should be doing this. I should be calling. But then you get to the point where you run out of people to call. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.

I have friends that keep telling me that I should try to apply for food stamps and so forth. I may get to that point, but right now…I can’t force myself to do that yet and I don’t know why. There’s just something about it. Even going to unemployment. It was very difficult for me. I remember the first time I went. I had come from a networking meeting, and I was dressed business casual, and this one woman saw me, and she immediately came up to me, and she goes, “What are you doing here?”

And I said, “Well, it’s my first day of… I have to fill out my continuation of benefits,” or whatever.

And she goes, “Let me help you do that.” She goes, “Because I see you don’t fit in here.”

I had a gold pen, and it was just gold – it wasn’t real gold – and she goes, “Put that away.” She goes, “You just use pencils here.”

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