Job search puts spin on college grad’s experience

Posted Sept. 13, 2009, at 5:27 p.m.

Lobstering is not the kind of job that sounds good on a resume. I learned this when I tried to explain the only full-time job I had held to a peer adviser at college. She was probably 18 — four years my junior — and she chewed a piece of bubble gum. “Well, I was a sternman on a lobster boat, the captain’s helper. I went to haul every morning at 4:30, before sunup” I explained. “The days were long — about 10 or 11 hours. I baited and picked traps and did rope work. I carried a knife in my belt in case my legs got tangled in the 30-fathom warps. Crabs bit my fingers; I spent all day filling bags full of salty dead fish — herring’s the stuff. It’s what lobsters love to eat.”

She stared back at me, bewildered. As a junior in college I was an oddity: I had never had a part-time internship, volunteered at community organizations or even thought of putting together a resume. Immediately after graduating high school I had taken my first full-time job; it was as a sternman. For five months I worked on a lobster boat. I enjoyed this work; it was challenging, grueling at times, but rewarding.

However this was not translating well into resume-speak. This poor 18-year-old student employee at “Career Counseling” — who I’m sure had a stunning resume of her own, the kind that would take your breath away — did her best to re-imagine my job as a sternman as a time of “interfacing,” of “creating inventories” and of “networking.” At the end of our half-hour session, she handed me my newly created resume. It was now my turn to look bewildered; I hardly recognized the job on paper.

Then, after four years of a liberal arts education, in the aftermath of a global financial meltdown, I graduated from college. After a month of searching for work at home in Maine all I seemed to hear were mumblings and grumblings about the economy and how “tight things are.” I spoke with three different captains of lobster boats but for three different reasons was turned down. One captain was worried that the price of lobster was too low to take on any help. One captain had just returned from rehab where, he told me, he had been to “get his brain fixed.” The third captain had wanted to give me a job, but already had a nephew working for him. I was preparing myself for a summer of unemployment and beginning to fear the student loan payments that were due not too far down the road.

But one night I got a call from a lobsterman who had heard I was looking for work. “Have you been before?” he asked. “Can you bait a pocket? Haul a trap?” There was no mention of my resume, which today is stored on a battered USB memory-stick in my room. “Yeah, I’ve been before. I fished for a season a few years ago,” I told him. “Well, all right.” he said, “I’ll give you a call next week.” I had a job.

Sam Kestenbaum graduated from Wheaton College in May. He lives and works in Deer Isle.

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