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Internet rejection forces job seeker to try it the old way

Russell Jacoby, right, shakes hands with Pinellas Park Walmart assistant manager Mumtaz Ahmed after handing him a resume.

JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times

Russell Jacoby, right, shakes hands with Pinellas Park Walmart assistant manager Mumtaz Ahmed after handing him a resume.

PINELLAS PARK — Russell Jacoby walked into the giant Walmart here on U.S. 19 wearing a necktie and dark slacks and went straight to customer service and asked to see a manager.

He waited at the end of the desk and put his hands in his pockets and then took his right hand out and touched it to the top of his black daybook and held it there to keep it from shaking.

An assistant manager approached.

"Hi," Jacoby said, extending his hand, "I'm Russell Jacoby …"

• • •

Jacoby is 48. He lost his house in Clearwater in a fire two years ago in May and his job as an area manager for a delivery company seven months after that. He has two kids, 11 and 12, and a wife who worked for a title company until she got laid off, too.

On an average day, Jacoby said, he gets maybe 30 to 40 job alerts e-mailed to him from dozens of Web sites — CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, Indeed.com, CareersInGrocery.com, iretail.com — and he applies for maybe half of those jobs.

He gets an automated response very rarely.

He gets a personal response almost never.

"I can't talk to anybody face to face, so they don't hear the expressions in my voice or my passion for work," he said.

"I want them to see a person."

This almost always comes up in interviews for the St. Petersburg Times' ongoing Help Wanted project.

Searching for a job is humbling, dispiriting and isolating. The Internet can be a helpful tool, but it also exacerbates all those emotions, according to Jacoby and others around the Tampa Bay area who are looking for work in this historically difficult time.

Electronic resumes usually are not read by people looking for credentials but by computers scanning for keywords. That makes it hard for the potential employees — five to six of them for every opening — because they're looking for something to hold on to and the Internet feels more like Teflon.

Used to be, you sat across from someone at a table or a desk, or at least went somewhere to pick up and fill out an application with pen and ink.

Not anymore.

"Now," said Skip Holmes, 53, an out-of-work graphic designer from Oldsmar, "it's don't contact us, go online, fill out an application. You never know where that goes."

"I have a theory that it goes into the great database in the sky, never to be seen," said Tom Boyer, 62, of St. Pete Beach, who used to day trade and has done some substitute teaching.

He later forwarded an e-mail he had gotten from TheTeam@CyberCoders.com. The e-mail from the career service site came with a message of "Welcome Aboard!" coupled with a vaguely maritime theme — some sort of rescue boat, Boyer thought, in this unsettling sea of unemployment. He was in no mood for cartoon logos and elementary school metaphors.

"The Team!" he wrote in a note to the Times. "There is no 'team,' just a bunch of interacting programs that are triggered by responses."

For Jacoby, after a year and a half with no job, desperation looks like this: His family of four lives with his mother-in-law in Largo. His $270 a week in unemployment is about to run out. His kids feel the strain and so does his marriage. And he obsesses over what bullet points on his resume might lead to a handshake with a human being.

You have to do something, said Alison Doyle, the job search expert for About.com, "that will get you noticed."

"By a person," she added.

• • •

So Jacoby decided to go door to door, with a new stack of resumes, actually printed on paper. Dollar General, Family Dollar, Target, Walmart.

"I don't know what else to do," he said.

An on-the-spot rejection, he thought, might in some strange way feel less empty than another nonresponse on the Internet.

Jacoby stood in front of the assistant manager at the Walmart.

"Anything," Jacoby said. "Just to work my way up to prove my worth.

"I want a job. I want to work."

The assistant manager asked him if he had applied on Walmart.com.

Yes.

The assistant manager asked him if he had applied at the in-store kiosk.

Yes.

"Okay," said the assistant manager, Mumtaz Ahmed, who looked Jacoby in the eye and listened to him when he spoke. "Give me a name and a phone number."

"Can I give you a resume?" Jacoby asked.

Ahmed said yes and took the resume.

"I will personally give it to the person who's in charge," Ahmed said.

The word personally seemed to jump out of the sentence and hang hopefully in the air.

"Thank you," Jacoby said. "Thank you so much."

• • •

Jacoby left Walmart and drove toward Publix and on the way pointed out the places he had applied online. CVS, Walgreens, 7-Eleven, Sunoco, Circle K. Manager, shelf stocker, overnights.

"Anything," he said again.

Some of the time he hears a rote you're not what we're looking for right now. Most of the time he hears nothing.

He parked at Publix and walked in with his tie and his slacks and his daybook with his resumes and went straight to customer service and asked to see a manager.

Part of the Publix slogan was written on the desk in big block letters. WE WILL NEVER KNOWINGLY DISAPPOINT YOU.

A manager approached.

"Hi," Jacoby said, extending his hand, "I'm Russell Jacoby …"

The manager eyed him warily, shook his hand stiffly and told him he had to apply online.

Times correspondent David Gardner and news researcher Will Short Gorham contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

To read other stories in the Help Wanted series and follow Russell Jacoby's job search, go to links.tampabay.com.

Internet rejection forces job seeker to try it the old way 03/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 2:29pm]
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