There is nothing more daunting than applying for work. Honestly I can think of a million things I would rather do that leave me with the same feelings of inadequacy and defeat than sending out my resume in hopes that someone will want to pronounce my name, give me a call and more importantly give me a chance. I’ve been laid off for far too long, sent out innumerable applications and resumes, and heard nothing. Not a peep. Not even so much as a “thanks for trying but no dice.”
I hate trying to sell myself. I was actually going to write that I hate talking about myself (which I do for the most part) but seeing as this is a blog entirely about me and my experiences and opinions and such, that sounds like a fib. I’m not good at listing my good qualities or why I would be a good fit in a role because self deprecation comes more naturally than self praise. I do know some of my strengths, but I also am painfully aware of all my weaknesses so it’s difficult for me to state the qualities that make me a good candidate instead of apologizing for the things I’m lacking. If I was asked to make a cover letter for any of my best friends, I could gush about them for pages and run out of space before I ran out of words. In fact, when I was fresh out of high school I wrote my best friend’s entrance essay for university because she has the same trouble I do with being objective about her strengths and why she should be accepted. I’m a decent writer so the essay was pretty solid, and I got to sit and write from my perspective about how her raw talent was on par with some well trained and experienced students/alumni so just imagine what could come of harnessing and perfecting and expanding on those natural inclinations. How she has the ability to work in any medium and produce beautiful work, how she has a passion for her decided career path and would be an asset to their institution based on her talent, drive and ambition alone. She got into that school, her portfolio was amazing and no one who looked at it could argue otherwise. For a little while I helped her with her writing for courses but eventually she got confident with her writing skills and didn’t need my help any longer.
Unfortunately I can’t sit down and write about myself in the same way. I know cover letters are important and most recruiters will discard an application regardless of credentials if a cover letter is lacking particular key words or content. I know these things. But I can’t write a decent cover letter for myself to save my soul. I know that I’m mechanically inclined. I’m a really fast learner and I do well with theoretical knowledge as well as practical applications. I’m interested in my trade (most of the time) and want to learn as much as I can about it, but it’s a very broad trade so there will never be any way possible to get good at all the areas it qualifies me to work in. Actually, millwrights are referred to as “jack of all trades, master of none” because we literally are expected to know pieces of all the other trades but don’t have any real focus on one over the others. That’s not to say that some millwrights aren’t specialists. If we’re lucky enough to get a position that allows us to master a main area like turbines or pumps or rotating equipment, then we can use that as our guide to the lines of work we want to apply to and would be a frontrunner as an applicant. But for most of us, jobs are unreliable and you take what you can get when you can get it. Could be a shutdown for a canola oil company which is focusing on annual maintenance of all their main machinery which gives a quick overview of a bunch of parts and pieces. That lasts 2 weeks so afterwards you never set foot in another plant like it unless you decide that maintenance in that setting is what you really enjoy and want to dedicate years of your life to. Could be working at the shitty Shipyards doing ship repair on ferries and tankers and other ships coming through and routine maintenance on the old frigates, which I can assure you doesn’t give you any real sense of confidence in any area of your trade because it’s always changing. I got really really good at crawling into tight spaces, changing out engine mounts, packing valves, and beyond that I honestly got to work on bits and pieces randomly but I wasn’t the go to for anything. We had one guy who was the best at SONAR so every time it came up on the job specs he was the one they’d put on. We’d get to help him as apprentices but it was an unspoken rule that he was the guy who did the job.
So I guess the lack of confidence comes from never having had a job that taught me how to be really good at some aspect of our trade. I went to school for diesel engine repair. I love engines. I love taking them apart and know what goes where and how to check for signs of wear and when they need to be replaced. Unfortunately I didn’t land my dream job in an engine shop or working for a company dealing solely in engines out of college. My first post college job was in truck and transport at one of the local waste management companies. I got hired on because they needed a grease bitch basically, and my boss wasn’t a fan of women in trades but it looked good on paper having a girl in the shop. So I went out and got my Class 3 endorsement right away, was promised to be indentured as an apprentice and that my road test would be scheduled by them before the permit expired. Needless to say, buddy was a massive prick and had no problem with me driving the trucks in our yard but had no intention of actually booking my road test or helping me set it up at all. I spent 3 months greasing garbage trucks. Before you roll your eyes and say “everyone starts at the bottom, you have to work your way up, stop whining” I am NOT complaining about that on its own. I have no disillusions about what needs to be done maintenance wise on trucks and anyone who knows me knows I have no problem getting greasy/dirty/oily etc. But when you spent a small fortune going to college and worked your ass off to graduate with honours all while working 2 jobs in a town you’ve basically been in solitary confinement in for the sake of a better future in a career you find interesting and potentially rewarding, it fucking SUCKS to be let down at your first attempt in the real world because some disgruntled old twat doesn’t think women should work in trades and wants to teach one a lesson. I changed one hydraulic fitting and one shock in my several months there. And that was only because one of the guys took pity on me after an especially brutal week of greasing compost trucks in 40 degree weather with maggots falling into my face and hair and not being able to rid myself of the ever present stench of rotting food. I was paid minimum wage, while the apprentice who actually got registered (yes he was a guy, how did you know?) and got work lists for proper repairs and maintenance beyond greasing was being paid 5$ an hour more. He started a week before me. When I continued to ask about when I would be a registered apprentice and when I would be doing my air brakes practical, I was brushed off with a myriad of excuses. I finally got so sick of feeling like less than nothing at a job I clearly wasn’t welcome on and I threw in the towel. When I took my resignation to the smug little shit, stating it wasn’t the job I had been hired for and that I couldn’t see myself greasing trucks for the rest of my days, he laughed and told me “That’s why we don’t hire women. You don’t understand that it’s a dirty job and you want to work in a man’s world without actually pulling your weight.” Funny, because I was tasked with doing the job that none of the men wanted. And they happily lumped it on my plate because I was eager to impress and prove that I would do the grunt work and do it well, and eventually be accepted into the boys club and actually be allowed to learn how to do the job I was hired on for. I left with as much grace as I could muster, cried the whole car ride home because it sucks being instantly judged and dismissed on the basis of gender.
I didn’t stand a chance at that job, but I’m glad for it now. It helped me develop a nice thick skin, and showed me that it doesn’t matter what you do if someone doesn’t want you. You can’t change people’s minds when they’re determined to dislike you, and no amount of hard work will change someone’s opinion of you if they don’t choose to see it. I had applied at several places after graduating, and most of them would call when they received my resume but as soon as they heard my voice they would politely make excuses. “Ah, yes Miss Ross we did state in our return email that you were a great candidate and that we wished to speak to you about prospective employment but unfortunately circumstances have changed and we regret to inform you that we’re pursuing other candidates.” Really? Cause your email yesterday said that I was an extremely strong candidate, you were very interested in speaking with me about a position available as early as next week should the preemployment tests pass. And funnily enough as soon as you hear my voice in an octave you didn’t expect, you fumble through hasty excuses and “wish me luck with the job search but you’re not what we’re looking for.” I even had one place tell me that a woman in the workplace would serve as more of a distraction and it wasn’t in their best interest to bring me in regardless of my enthusiasm and references. Being a woman working in a man’s world sucks sometimes.
But I applied at the Halifax Shipyards, was called in for an interview and hired on as the first female engine fitter they’d had since WW2. It was an amazing feeling to be brought on because of my qualifications, experience and gender. They were huge on “work place diversity”, and for whatever other faults they may have in my opinion, they took a chance on me when no one else was willing. That job didn’t wind up having anything to do with engines, I haven’t worked on an engine since my OJT and I missed an amazing opportunity to work with a wicked engine rep last year, foolishly thinking the oil prices would rise and I would be gainfully employed for a while to come. I spent 4 years at the yard, made friends I will keep for life, and still stay in touch with some of those coworkers because they’re spectacular human beings and cheer for me from a distance as much as I cheer for them. My old supervisor is actually one of my main references, Larry you’re good shit and I miss you and your passouts 😉
Now I’m back to feeling like that annoyingly self conscious little girl fresh out of college. Trying to assure potential employers that I may not have a ton of experience in one particular area, but I’ve got experience with a bunch of different job scopes and I’m a fast learner and determined, ambitious and charismatic so I feel I can adapt well into any working environment. I’ve actually debated getting my best friend Brit to write up a cover letter for me because I honestly can’t think of anything to sell myself with at this point. Everyone wants red seals with years of post apprenticeship experience. And it makes me laugh because even if I had gotten my red seal 6 years ago, most likely I’ve never worked on their equipment and it would be a learning curve for any new employee past the rudimentary basics of any job and most new employees would be adapting to the new work and learning new things. I’ve got very few contacts in the oil field, but I genuinely love working away. I love the lifestyle, the family you make in a situation that most people don’t like or wouldn’t want to do. You miss birthdays and holidays and day to day activities with people you love because you want to fast track your future and provide a life to those you care for that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. I love the long days and interesting work, helping other trades when we have nothing to do ourselves. I love learning about new systems and how things work, and that general feeling of accomplishment when you sign off a completion with the client. I love that I appreciate what I miss at home so much more, sleeping in my own bed is a treat after 2 weeks in camp. I love the freedom that comes with putting in 2 weeks of work and being rewarded with one whole week to myself. I just like being a FIFO worker, regardless of how hard it can be in some ways. I’ve been trying to get on with companies who have work in the oil field because I like working in the oil field. I know that when my EI runs out, if I haven’t gotten a job I’ll have to apply at a mill (which honestly makes my heart hurt a little because it’s not interesting to me and I don’t want to waste any of my life just floating by on a job that isn’t for me. I don’t want to waste an opportunity for someone else who is actually interested in the work and would be happy to show up every day.) I wasted the last year at the shipyard being so sad and disinterested and unhappy to go to work every day. It was unfulfilling and I knew it was time to leave because I couldn’t bring myself to give any of my personality or enthusiasm to the job anymore. I don’t put effort in to things I don’t care about, one of my many character flaws, but I just can’t bullshit anything in life. If I don’t feel it, I can’t fake it. I would much rather spend my time happy and engaged which reflects in my work, instead of being seen as mediocre because I can’t be bothered to care. It’s so much easier to take the sneers and rude remarks and judgements of people who don’t think you belong when you are passionate and enjoy your work. It’s harder to ignore the hate when you aren’t really into it yourself.
I’m hoping that some of my experience and credentials will land me another gig in the oil field sooner than later. I want to bring what I know to a job, learn new things, be challenged and feel pride in my job and in my workplace. Industrial mechanics have such a diverse training range, our blocks consist of bits and pieces of everything and we all try to latch on to the areas that interest us the most. That’s the beauty of our trade isn’t it? That’s the most appealing part of it in my mind; the fact that it’s so multifaceted that if I ever get bored of one area I can seamlessly transition into the next because we are jacks of all and masters of none. It’s expected that we have an eclectic pool of experience to draw from. I’m remaining optimistic that someone will give me a shot in the field I want and know I’d be good in before my EI runs out (which is perilously soon actually) and if not, I’ll suck it up and apply for a job that I don’t want and likely won’t excel in because of the lack of interest on my behalf, and keep sending out resumes with “Kevin” in brackets to prod recruiters to give me a call and give me a job PUH LEEZE. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for me 🙂 In the meantime, I’m gonna keep sending applications and emails and try to come up with a good cover letter and sell myself. If anyone has any tips for this, or the best things to present when looking for a job in trades out west holla at your girl cause I need all the help I can get lol.