The Unemployed: Chris Johnson

Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed

persons has increased by 7.6 million to 15.1 million. In Minnesota last month, 4,000 people gave up their quest for work. The unemployment rate isn’t a number. It’s individuals with life stories to tell. Here’s one.


In the three years since Chris Johnson of White Bear Lake has held a “permanent” full-time job, she’s encountered the reality of today’s hiring process. “Human Resources is neither humane, nor resourceful,” she told me today. “I can have some empathy. Those people are deluged with stuff. It’s a numbers game.”

But for today’s job hunters, they rarely get to meet the people. “It’s a black hole,” she says. Companies tell prospective employees they have to apply for jobs online. “You go through this vortex that just asks questions. It asks if I have a college degree but there’s nowhere to indicate I’m only 8 credits short.” Maybe you’ll hear back from a company, but probably not.

When a person doesn’t get a job via this system, “there’s no way to follow up or do a post mortem,” she says. It makes it difficult to find out what to change when the next prospective job comes along.

Johnson lost her job as a volunteer and event manager (she jokes that she was a “pledge goddess”) for Twin Cities Public Television in 2006. She helped coordinate membership drives. She’s looking for work in marketing, community relations and has been focusing recently on event management and voice-over work.

“I thought I’d have a job by the end of the year (2006),” she says. “I keep hearing, ‘You’ve got a great resume.’ I’ve followed the rules — networking, researching, calling, answering ads — but nothing seems to click. I can’t crack the system”

She’s had part-time and temporary work since then; “enough to keep the wolf away from the door.” But she’s hardly an example of the destitution that often comes from long-term unemployment. “I live quite frugally and had saved/invested some money over the years.” But she’s got two mortgages on her White Bear Lake home, and one on a house in Little Marais that she rehabbed with her aging father (an experience she wouldn’t trade for a job). She’s been dipping into her retirement savings to get by, she gets a couple hundred dollars a week in unemployment, and her health care plan is a simple one. “I pray,” she says.

She describes a litany of failed job interviews, including “the 20-something in pointed high heels” who icily looked her over when she showed up for an interview after a warm exchange over the phone. She’s 52 and, apparently, sounds younger over the phone.

She says she overwhelmed a young man in a recent interview. “I don’t think he expected to be interviewing his mother,” she said, acknowledging “there is a bias” against the older work applicant.

“I like to think the universe is going to give me what I need,” she says, then amends that statement to point out that so far, it has. “After three years, I suppose I should be living in a cardboard box, but the sun came out today, there’s food on the table, and I’m finding a way to put gas in the car.”

Unemployment, she points out, has allowed her to spend more time with her aging parents — now both in their 90s.

She’s noticed an increase in job postings in the places she looks, but the technology required for job searching these days doesn’t lend itself to high productivity. “I’m on LinkedIn, but I still don’t really know what LinkedIn is,” she says, “and I’m impatient.” She says Twitter, for example, requires one to waste a lot of time in order to — maybe — make a connection that can lead to employment. “If I put in this effort, I want to see the result. I’m not seeing the result,” she says.

Her advice for people who will soon be in her position? “Don’t panic,” she says. “Cry, scream, get it out of your system. Feel it. Live it. Put one foot in front of the other and if something doesn’t work, try something else.”

“It’s a crapshoot,” she says.

(See more in this series. If you’d like to share your story, contact me.)

Check out the map below to read what people in MPR’s Public Insight Network are telling us about the job climate around them. You can find other stories in this series here.

  • BJ

    Are you planning a followup with these folks in 3-6 months?

  • Hey, I used to work with her! Silly me, I gave up my cushy TPT job voluntarily. Now I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re applying for some of the same jobs. I want to hear all the off-the-record gossip.

    Good luck Chris Johnson.

  • Bob Collins

    I generally try to stay in touch with all of them in one fashion or another. Each will have two posts. One now, and one when they get employed again.

  • Bonnie

    Good luck Chris, miss you on TPT.

  • Cinda

    Thank you, Chris Johnson, for being willing to share your experience. I can relate to nearly all of it, but haven’t been on the job hunt as long as you. It disturbs me how online forms don’t allow for the human or personal reality, don’t have open-ended questions, and rarely have the options that would describe my past experience accurately. It boxes up people rather than truly reveals their potential for a job. No one will ever match the parameters perfectly.

    As for the age question, I do hope that someone has been teaching the young HR professionals what the law is regarding all the types of discrimination and that making any kind of negative expression at the sight of someone older might not be a very good idea. I also hope that older potential employees can be valued for their experience and knowledge, not seen only as being older.

    Good luck, Chris Johnson and everyone else who’s looking for a real permanent job out there!

  • HR Recruiter

    Based on my own horrible job search experience when I was laid off for 6 months, I am on a personal mission to improve the candidate experience at my new organization.

    I could talk about this all day, but most importantly – I want to recommend a job search webinar series called “Be Your Own Headhunter”. It is put on my a local Recruiter we all look to as an industry leader. He is very laid back, and will directly tell you how it works, what is exciting to recruiters, what is annoying to recruiters, and give you advice on how to find a real person when applying for jobs. Watch for the November webinar schedule here:

    One last thing: No one wants to be a part of a snobby company culture. If ‘heels’ was truly judging you on your age or even clothing brand, that probably isn’t a place you want to work anyway.

    Yes, we are all aware of and take the law seriously. Don’t worry about that!

    I hope your luck in your job search turns around, and fast.



    Recruiter on a Mission

  • hopi

    Loss of healthcare coverage is the real bitch in this situation. Migration to Canada requires that you complete those 8 credits and have a bigger score on their point system. Must get my college student ward read this so that he completes his education and gets a degree…. and not drop out in the middle.