Woman takes job hunt to the streets

Desperate times, desperate measures.

On the busy Seattle downtown sidewalks, some people avert their eyes ? perhaps hoping the bad times also don’t descend on them ? some give her a thumbs up, some even offer words of encouragement.

Simmjaze Sayles is the woman dressed in a nice office outfit with skirt and jacket, briefcase by her side containing a stack of resumes and wearing a sandwich board with a plasticized sign that headlines: "I WANT A JOB And Nothing Else."

She has been standing now with her board for a month, bundled up against the cold, umbrella at her side in case of rain. Not one bite.

She says she knows some might feel embarrassed at standing on the sidewalk with such a sign.

"I have no qualms about wearing this sign," says Sayles. "This sign is honest. I have a lot of experience. I am a hard worker."

Over the years, stories about work-hungry individuals resorting to wearing a sandwich board, or some similar stunt, have become part of the unemployment landscape.

But you gotta do what you gotta do, to somehow stand out from everybody else looking for a job, when you haven’t had a full-time job for 20 months and you’re scrambling to make the rent on your apartment.

Sayles will not allow herself to become depressed. "I have dreams and goals," she says.

"Hope, courage and confidence to be victorious. I know I’m going to get a job!"

On this particular morning of Christmas week, Sayles is standing where the corner businesses are a Chase Bank, Brooks Brothers, a jewelry store and a cafe/bakery.

She picks downtown spots that are busy and where potential employers might pass.

She avoids streets where the people with their cardboard "No money, no food" signs hang out, she says. She wants no part of that.

Sayles says some people have offered money. She won’t take it, she says.

Sayles is a proud person. She points to the second line on her sign. She wants a job "and nothing else."

On the sign, she lists her work attributes:

"Experience: 10-30 Years Customer Service, Telephone Surveys, Receptionist, Some Computer Skills. Email: simmjazesayles@aol.com. Will YOU Hire Me?"

Bryan Rush, a commercial real-estate broker, sees Sayles while he’s crossing Fifth Avenue.

What Sayles is doing, he says in admiration, "that’s a lot of effort."

No job, no prospects. "It could happen to a lot of people right now," says Rush.

There is a date on the calendar that is embedded in Sayles’ mind.

It is April 10, 2008.

That’s when her employer downsized, and after eight years of working for the same company, she lost her full-time customer service and telemarketing job.

These days, just as people remember what they were doing on the exact dates of particular historic occasions, they can add the date when they become another of the unemployed. This group now encompasses 10 to 17 percent of the labor force; the lower figure doesn’t include people who’ve simply given up looking for work after fruitless searches.

Sayles now has a log of literally several hundred places where she has applied for work.

She tried cold-calling, a skill she picked up in telemarketing in her former job that included market research. She called every marketing firm in the phone book.


She went through the phone listings, calling other businesses she thought might need someone with her skills.


It’s not that Sayles has been completely without work.

At the state unemployment office, she saw a leaflet from AARP Foundation WorkSearch, which helps people 55 and over find jobs. For sure, Sayles is in that age category.

The organization has gotten federal money to have older types work 18 hours a week at minimum wage at a nonprofit. Since May, Sayles has been a receptionist at the Northwest African American Museum.

Of course, most of her wages are deducted from her unemployment check, but it also means Sayles shows up at a workplace three times a week. She’s not at home alone.

At the AARP office in Seattle, they took a picture of Sayles and her sandwich board.

"She’s got moxie. I don’t know if I could do something like that," says Nora Norminton, the WorkSearch project director.

Sayles grew up in Seattle, went to Garfield High School, and through a couple of marriages has always worked.

She’s done everything from filing medical records at Harborview Medical Center to working on the Frango assembly line at the old Frederick & Nelson. This is the longest stretch of unemployment Sayles has ever had.

She remembered the first few weeks without a job.

"It’s very stressful, just stressful. You don’t sleep. You’re always worrying. How am I going to pay the rent?" she says. "I cannot be homeless. That’s my fear."

A little bit of hope shows up in the form of Carol Ann Davis, a financial adviser walking to work.

Davis says she deals a lot with people in their 50s who had worked at the same place for a couple of decades or more, "just this far away from retirement," and found themselves out in the street.

Davis tells Sayles she knows someone looking to hire people for customer service. Davis returns with a business card of the potential employer.

Davis tells Sayles, "I think you’re one classy lady."

Sayles repeats her mantra, "Hope, courage and confidence to be victorious."

(c) 2009, The Seattle Times. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.