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How did you find your job? Part 1 of 5: Valerie Fontana

Valerie Fontana was laid off in September 2008, shortly after moving from San Diego to Boston to take a job at Placetailor, a design/build firm. After two years of being unemployed, she was hired as an intern-architect/designer in June by Carr, Lynch & Sandell, an architecture and urban-design firm in Central Square. The BSA recently caught up with Fontana on lessons learned from her job search.

How did you find your job?

I am a BSA success story! My employer actually found me on the BSA Building Industry Classified.

In my five years out of college, I’ve seen cycles of unemployment and been laid off three times. So this last time, it didn’t seem like such a big deal at first. I had always found new jobs within six months. I thought, That’s OK, I’ll be a waitress for a bit, and, for a short while, I was so happy to have a clock-in/clock-out job. That enthusiasm only lasted five months for me. And, unfortunately, this time the market had changed dramatically, and I stayed unemployed for two years.

I had recently reposted my resume to the Building Industry Classified under several different categories, when Carr, Lynch & Sandell contacted me and said they were looking to fill a position immediately. Only a week passed from the time I first heard from them to the time I started working there. And thank God! I was at my wit’s end at that point and just praying, Please let something happen.

The BSA classifieds have proved really useful to me. I found an internship with The Green Roundtable/Nexus there. And another potential employer had contacted me back in January after finding me on the Building Industry Classified. I was so shocked. I thought posting my resume was just a formality but that I might as well try everything. But when I asked that hiring manager how she found me, she said she just typed in what she was looking for in terms of experience and education, and my resume showed up in the first 20 entries. I didn’t end up getting that job, which was for temporary work, but I was blown away by getting an opportunity to interview.

Did you ever think about leaving the field?

At a certain point in my unemployment, I was even going for office administrator jobs in architecture/design firms in hopes of staying “close” to the industry, but nothing was being offered. I thought maybe architecture isn’t the thing for me, so what else can I do? Truth be told, I was willing to do anything, but I couldn’t picture what that would be. There was some wasted energy considering things that never felt right. I looked into signing up for the Peace Corps and going back to school. Ultimately, whether you decide to leave the field or not is a matter of listening to your intuition and not losing your vision.

How did you give yourself an edge over the competition?

What I needed was a place where I could give my energy and feel productive and appreciated. Volunteering at Nexus and as an event planner for Common Boston’s Common Build competition gave me that, and, without it, I would have sunk lower.

If you can maintain integrity while doing whatever you are doing to get by during unemployment, the transition to your next job—and even the interview process—will be that much easier. You’ll feel more comfortable discussing your abilities and your character, and you will come off as a lot more believable.

I actually received that first email from my employer during the weekend of Common Build. I was on such a high from how well the competition had come together. I think riding that good vibe the next day got me my job. I walked my resume in the door in addition to sending it electronically. And instead of getting anxious, thinking this potential job means my life, I was able to confidently and enthusiastically talk about something very positive that I was involved in.

What resources do unemployed architects need that the BSA isn’t currently providing?

Offering more volunteer opportunities and design competitions might help keep people purposely busy and connected to what they love to do.

What advice would you offer job seekers?

Be as gentle and compassionate to yourself as possible, and try to see the larger picture. With the amount of people looking for employment, it’s a numbers game, and the search takes a long time. I certainly had my moments, and I think it helped to let myself be negative for a little bit when I needed to let that out. But I relied on community and my faith to pull me through. Staying active doing the things you love also really helps.

I’d also say don’t be afraid to go ahead and follow your gut. Try something that may sound a little crazy, just as long as you don’t stay stuck. At one point, I sublet my apartment and reduced my expenses, then traveled around Italy, staying with people I knew. It burned off a few months of the depressing search process, and, once there, in a country for which I feel a deep love and connection, I started to feel a little better and gained some clarity. While I was in Italy, I found a tourist guidebook that needed some content. I didn’t get paid very much, but I was able to go around with a purpose, researching restaurants and nightlife places. That gave me the confidence to believe I could write and that I could do that, if necessary, when I got home, too.


Genevieve Rajewski is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers science, nature, animal issues, travel, food and passionate people for acclaimed publications such as Smithsonian, Washington Post Magazine, Wired.com and The Boston Globe. Her website is genevieverajewski.com.