An Employment Epistle

Dear R.,

It has only been six weeks since that napkin-crumpling, tear-stained breakfast with you at the Z-7 Diner, but it feels like years have passed. My job was on tenterhooks; I needed to find a new one or soon join the swelling ranks of the unemployed. Murmurs of a double dip recession were getting louder. I had so many questions and too little time. What do you do with a gastronomy degree anyway? Why is it that the sustainable, “socially responsible” organizations are the ones offering only unpaid internships? How do I land a new apartment lease in the highly competitive NYC real estate market if I can’t demonstrate an income? I am a fighter, yes, but this city is one who fights back. And I was determined to go down in a Viking pyre of glory.

So I started reaching out for help. I talked to old friends’ drinking buddies, lingered to chat with the cheesemonger, shook hands at conferences. I cyberstalked people whose jobs I wanted in ten years and wheedled them into grabbing coffee with me. I emailed you on a whim because—I don’t know—it seemed like you’d made some valuable mistakes before, and you weren’t hesitant to talk about them.

Most of all, I talked to myself. I said that I wanted to write. You asked one innocent yet oh-so-probing question that morning that stuck with me: why should anyone read what I have to say? How do I gain credibility as a writer? After all, you don’t have to bill yourself as a writer to be one. Dan Barber’s platform is his role as chef-owner of Blue Hill; Marion Nestle is a professor at NYU. I let that one marinate, as I searched for roles that would give me a soapbox.

Along the way, I made some incredibly naive mistakes. There was the time I asked a teacher if he would serve as a reference for me. He flatly turned me down. After all, I’d written a publicly critical blog post about the university that he served. There was the time I got rejected for an interview with a publicity agency. Though they were impressed by my cover letter, after Googling me, they’d stumbled across the aforementioned blog post and decided I was too risky a prospect—what if I decided to “write an angry tirade” about them? It turns out that being a writer with opinions is perceived as a threat. For the first time, people were paying attention to what I had to say, and I didn’t want them to.

Things happen in stochastic ways. Maddening weeks went by, as I sent out dozens of resumes into a void of silence. I kept rewriting my cover letter. I applied for unpaid internships and jobs that I was overqualified for. They never replied. I considered going back to economics research. Finally, I sent in an application to work as a sales representative at W&T Seafood, a second generation seafood distributor in Brooklyn. When I met the manager, we hit it off with the immediate chemistry that children born of immigrant entrepreneurs share.

She thought I was smart and would fit into the company handily. The problem was, I wasn’t all that interested in sales. I did, however, have other talents that could be harnessed. W&T was looking to expand some of its PR and marketing initiatives, projects that I was eager to tackle. Would they hire me for a position that didn’t exist yet? We gave it a few days of thought and one updated job description later, I was officially on board as the business development and communications guru.

So there you have it. Kids, the surefire way to get a job is to interview at a company, confess that you’d rather do something else, and then work with them to come up with the perfect position for you. I now have a new role as the voice of W&T, a vehicle that allows me to write with expertise on sustainable seafood. I’ve learned how to negotiate a salary and how to identify companies I wouldn’t be a good fit for. I’m 3 for 3 with jobs that allow me to bike to work and don’t require dressing up. I feel like a winner.

This euphoria won’t last. But I felt the need to capture it—right now at 6 am—to bottle it for the next time I’m in a panic. It’s a potent homebrew of optimism built on proactive perseverance.

Feel free to take a sip when you need it.

Thanks again,

10 thoughts on “An Employment Epistle

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I had no doubt you were going to find a job in which you could not only fit well, but also bring new ideas and skills to make that position the perfect fit for you at the moment. It seems harder than ever at the moment though, and you are surely a winner for getting what you got. Good job! Lookig forward to read your new stories soon.
    Never look back, nevermind the University article, it was the right thing to do at the time. Just look fwd, you are a talented, motivated, resourceful person and you’ll always find a way, always.

    1. Thanks! It’s definitely easier said than done, and I feel pretty lucky, but there are definitely good jobs out there. So I’m sharing this story as a source of inspiration for everyone out there who is struggling in their search—keep fighting!

  2. C., I know we haven’t talked in a couple months, but I didn’t realize you were searching for a new job. Congrats on successful networking, and I call dibs on sashimi quality tuna the next time I see you. 🙂

  3. Crystal,

    Congratulations on your new opportunity. Through honesty, hard work and being true to your heart you’ve found a place where your passions align with your employer’s business strategy. A place where you truly can have a positive impact in a company while doing work you can be proud of is really great. That makes going to work each day fun.

    After spending hundreds of hours culling the web for UNISG Student Blogs and reading mostly reviews of the food on Stage, I found your blog – specifically because you are a writer with an opinion. As to companies afraid to hire you because you have an opinion and express it, not good places to work. Writers I know who have and express opinions include Anthony Bourdain, Mark Bittman and Carlo Petrini, good company to keep.

    Your post was the most insightful, honest and adult assessment of the UNISG Masters program that exists – pointing out the elephant in the room….it’s not perfect, you have to take personal responsibility to get all you can from the program and that you need and end game for an internship that will fit with your post graduation plans. The same can be said for living your life to the fullest.

    After reading your post I traveled to Pollenzo in September better informed. I toured the facilities, met with Masters staff, faculty and students, sat in on lectures and after all that, still made application for the March 2012 program.

    Thanks and Ciao.

    1. Hi Peter,

      Thanks for the kind words; it means a lot to me that people find my post informative and insightful. I have found that many people, like you, subsequently ask more questions, travel to the campus, and send in an application with greater confidence and more informed expectations. That is the best result I could ask for. Meanwhile, my new job is fantastic, the best I’ve had so far. It’s taught me to be confident in myself—always easier said than done—and to stick to my guns.

      Let me know if you’re ever in NYC and want to grab a coffee. Best of luck with the application—in bocca al lupo!


  4. Great post,.I dont think you were naive, I want to hear the real deal on stuff like that course. Whenever I read something like this – I go hooray – finally a honest assessment of something or some course that is, perhaps, dubious or worse, terribly flawed.

    Getting a decent job is hard and sometime flukey – Im glad you found something. BTW, what are you doing with a temp sensor, LCD and mosfet? (PS. that my area — but I wouldnt bother with the arduino, Im making something similar)

    1. Thanks, I’m glad it worked out too. I’ve been sitting on an arduino and figured I could use it for a sousvide cooler or coffee urn. I started reading other people’s documentation the other day, and there’s definitely more than one way to cook a steak. Are you doing something similar?

  5. I’m not the type of person who, in one sitting, reads through months of a stranger’s blog posts. I don’t know what just happened.

    I found your blog a little over a year ago when I was researching WWOOFing. In anticipation of my trip (I leave in two weeks), I decided to “research” by rereading everything I could find about WWOOFing in Italy. Somehow, I stumbled onto a post about cheese farmers and UNISG, and it was a slippery slope. Like so many people, I’ve been dreaming of going to UNISG since I heard about it 5 years ago; but, I had reservations, suspecting the program might be lacking in organization and academic rigor. Thank you for ALL of your posts. Like everyone else who has commented, I’m still considering UNISG and I really appreciate your honesty. I feel much better prepared to visit the school and meet with the staff next month.

    You are such a talented writer! Whatever you are doing now, I genuinely hope you are happy. Thank you!

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words; I’m glad this blog can be a gateway to lost productivity and inspired dreams. 😛 Best of luck with your decision on UNISG! I’d love to hear more about how the school is doing these days, and trust that everyone is abuzz with excitement over the upcoming Terra Madre convention.

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