by Regan McMahon
I knew I’d been out of work too long when friends at social gatherings stopped saying, “How’s the job hunting going?” and started asking. “What’s your backup plan?”
I didn’t intend to need a backup plan. When I took a buyout from the struggling newspaper where I’d been an editor, feature writer and book critic for many years, my plan was to get a job as an editor or writer. There wasn’t really a backup plan.
At my goodbye party I told people I wasn’t worried, because I’d done so many things, including being a supervisor, production editor, page designer and copy editor. But I added, “If worse comes to worst, I can always go back to being a high school French teacher,” which is what I was before I became a journalist.
Then partway through the summer, I started to think maybe it was time for a backup plan. I’d only done two kinds of work before becoming a journalist: waiting tables and teaching. I wasn’t about to go back to being a waitress, but maybe I could rekindle my love of teaching.
I renewed my teaching credential and looked into signing up to do substitute teaching in the district where I’d subbed when I was fresh out of graduate school. I hadn’t been a classroom teacher in years, but I have taught journalism seminars, workshops and one college class, and over the summer I was a guest speaker at two college journalism classes. And I spoke to many school and parent groups after my parenting book about youth sports came out in 2007. It was too late in the year to apply for a full-time job, but I could at least sub while I continued to job hunt.
Then it occurred to me to offer my services to my daughter’s high school as a special resource teacher. There were people like that at her K-8 school—someone who came in and just taught math or reading but was not a full-time faculty member. I figured they might have some use for a professional journalist, so I dashed off an email to the school president suggesting he might use me as a writing coach or to teach a journalism class.
He responded right away—quite a shock after the deafening silence that followed my many electronic job applications. We set up a time to chat, and when we did, he told me that he doesn’t need a resource teacher, but he could use my help spiffing up the school’s website and writing stories for the school’s e-newsletter and various publications that go out to alumni and donors. It’s just freelance—like all the work I’ve gotten since leaving the paper. But maybe there’s a chance it could turn into a real job.
After so many discouraging months of getting nowhere in my job search, there’s finally a ray of hope, all because I made a pitch for a job that didn’t exist. Maybe you could call it networking, because I used my connection as a parent at the school to get my foot in the door. Maybe it’s a case of good timing because I sent my email at a time when the president was realizing he needed some marketing help from someone who had writing skills. Whatever the case, I’m happy to apply my talents to a cause I believe in: a very good school. And who knows? Maybe it will lead to something full time.
Read the previous installment: Job Search: The Trouble with Networking .
Regan McMahon is the author of Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy over Youth Sports .