Two years ago, I moved to Portland without a job. I know, I'm sorry — everyone does it. At least I didn't come from California, OK? I came from West Africa via Seattle.
And don't worry: I'm trying hard to fit in. It's hard to keep up with the local per-capita consumption of Stumptown coffee and Bridgeport ale, but I'm doing my best. More importantly, I'm self-employed, I pay my fair share of Oregon taxes, and I'm not competing for anyone else's job here.
Which is a very good thing, because I really have no idea how I'd get a job in this town if I wanted one. Earlier this year I heard the story of 300 applicants lining up to compete for an $11-an-hour receptionist job. Three hundred applicants! Most of them were qualified or over-qualified for the job, and many were college graduates.
Yes, it sucks. Really. And I wish it would change, but wishing does not cause anything to be different.
So here's some free advice, which I'd be the first to say might be worth less than the proverbial $0.02. If you're out there trying to find a job, feel free to do what everyone else does. After all, someone has to be the one person selected out of the three hundred. Then you'll have the best $11-an-hour receptionist job ever! Congratulations.
But if that's the best case scenario, I think you should reconsider. If mass-emailing doesn't work out, and @mayorsamadams doesn't offer you a job, try this plan instead. You have nothing to lose, right?
1. Stop sending out mass resumes. You've probably suspected that no one reads them anyway, and you're right.
2. Keep using Craigslist to find the world's best leather sofa, but stay away from the help wanted section. Just give it up, because it's not going to work.
3. If you need money now, look around your house and start selling things. There is an amazing site called eBay.com (I know! So cool!) where you can list your items and other people will pay real money for them.
4. Figure out what you would do if there were zero hope of ever getting a "real job" again. You may think to yourself: Self, what do you know about business? But there's good news: many of the people running real companies don't know much about business either, so you're in good company, and you don't have to lose millions of other people's dollars to be in the club.
5. You can either sell a product or perform a service. To perform a service, think of something very specific you can do to help people. Set up a super-simple web site or blog using Wordpress.org, and open a PayPal account if you don't already have one. Offer to help people solve a specific problem, and tell them they can pay what they think is fair. Later, you can get more serious about pricing — for now, the goal is to get started in 24 hours. Why wait?
6. If you'd rather start with a product-based business, see #3 and ask yourself, "What else could I sell?" You can either a) make things and sell them, or b) buy things and resell them. Sell them on the aforementioned eBay, on etsy (if you make it), on the same Craigslist you used to peruse for jobs, and on a cheap-ass website you make to get started. Again, waiting won't help. Getting started now might help, so why not try?
7. Note that at no point should you spend money when starting your side biz. Or if you must, spend less than $100. You don't need an MBA, you don't need venture capital, and you certainly don't need any more debt.
The most important point is: you cannot wait for someone else to solve this problem for you. You have to take matters into your own hands.
Leave that receptionist job you didn't really want to someone else.
Go out and create your own job, like lots of other people are doing, right here in Portland, Oregon.
This has been a public service announcement from your friendly East Side commentator, currently on tour throughout the U.S. and appearing at Powell's on Thursday, December 16th. Send fan mail and complaints to @chrisguillebeau.