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In this economic downturn, no work should be beneath you

Friends Julie Evans, left, and Ginger Eldridge have lived through boom and bust times in the accounting and finance field. In this latest downturn, both have taken temporary jobs through Accountemps, a national employee placement firm with an office in Spokane. They are pictured here at Discovery School in Spokane, where Eldridge is working part time as a business manager. (Dan Pelle)
Friends Julie Evans, left, and Ginger Eldridge have lived through boom and bust times in the accounting and finance field. In this latest downturn, both have taken temporary jobs through Accountemps, a national employee placement firm with an office in Spokane. They are pictured here at Discovery School in Spokane, where Eldridge is working part time as a business manager. (Dan Pelle)

In October 2007, Julie Evans, a Spokane finance professional, landed her dream job with a building-materials company.

She worked as a controller, and took on information technology duties as well.

A year later, the economy crumbled. Two years later, the company sold out to a large corporation. Evans saw her coveted information technology work assigned elsewhere.

With all of the changes, the position was no longer a good fit, and she left the job in March 2010.

Evans took time off but is back to work now in a temporary job, doing finance tasks for a service company in Spokane.

She found the job through Accountemps, a placement agency for accounting professionals.

In boom times, workers with Evans’ education and experience could afford to be what some call “job snobs.” Not take work “beneath” them. Negotiate for higher pay, classier titles, perkier perks.

Not anymore.

In this jobless recovery, experienced professionals who are finding work are those willing to take jobs they once would have snubbed.

“I know this isn’t permanent,” Evans, 48, says of her work situation. “But I’ve become a better person because of it.

“The biggest benefit has been not working crazy hours. I’ve lost almost 25 pounds. And I’ve created two websites, one for business and one for fun.”

Last summer, Evans knew exactly whom to call when she was ready to get back into the Inland Northwest workforce: Dianne La Valley, division director of Accountemps.

La Valley, 47, tells it like it is to job candidates who come to Accountemps, a division of Robert Half International.

The San Diego native started working at 9, cleaning a hair salon. At 15, she added work at a pizza joint. Facebook friends remember La Valley as the classmate who held down two jobs in middle school.

She’s frustrated with parents who don’t insist their high-schoolers find summer jobs. The teens miss out on the important lesson that no work is beneath you, La Valley says – invaluable when they grow into adult workers riding out a recession.

“Being in your dream job is one thing, bringing in income is another thing,” she says. “When people say, ‘I don’t know what to do, I’m unemployed,’ I’m like, ‘Wash cars, wash dogs, clean houses, do yard work, volunteer, network.’

“I can make a list a mile long of what people can do.”

Even during the worst of the recent downturn, Accountemps found work for women and men skilled in the finance profession. No dog-washing required.

But La Valley had reality-check chats with a few accounting professionals who insisted they’d never settle for skimpier titles or paychecks.

She told them: “Get over yourself. You can have something or you can have nothing. Make the choice. Come down 10 notches.

“It’s not going to be this way forever, but this is the way it is now.”

Lewis Schrawyer, 62, is a lawyer. He’s come down a few notches professionally. He’s not complaining.

Since 1981, when he got his law degree from the University of Puget Sound, Schrawyer has held challenging jobs.

He worked as a law clerk for the Washington Court of Appeals and then as an attorney for Spokane County. In 1996, he took a job in Stevens County as a deputy prosecuting attorney.

In the mid-2000s, he worked for the Spokane Tribe of Indians until losing that job in November 2009 due to the economic downturn.

Schrawyer sent out 43 resumes. He got two interviews.

Finally, through a friend, John Troberg, senior deputy prosecutor for Clallam County, Schrawyer was hired as a deputy prosecutor.

He and his wife downsized, selling off most of their belongings, and moved from Spokane, a city they loved, to Sequim, Wash., population 5,830.

“I took a significant pay cut,” he says.

His job was advertised for someone with minimal experience, not someone who had worked three decades as a lawyer. It was nearly identical to the job he held in 1984, when he was a Spokane County deputy prosecutor.

But Schrawyer is grateful, not grumpy.

He likes his boss, his co-workers and the respect shown his office by law enforcement. And the medical benefits are essential for his wife, who battled cancer and now lives with an immune system disorder.

Since taking the job in January 2010, Schrawyer has received a raise and more responsibilities.

“I could have sat out there and (waited) to be paid the same amount as before, and have the same level of prestige,” he said. “It wasn’t going to happen.

“I just thought, ‘I need to hunker down.’ The only thing to do was take shelter in a job.”

One recent Friday, Evans met up for lunch with her close friend, Ginger Eldridge, 52.

Eldridge, despite not having a college degree, landed great jobs in finance throughout the country’s boom years.

She worked for a Norwegian bank based in Seattle in the 1980s. She was wooed away in 1998 to a dot.com startup that matched rich investors with creative entrepreneurs.

After a move to Spokane in 2003, she had no trouble finding work in finance. Her Seattle experience looked like gold on her resume.

Then the recession hit. Eldridge lost her job, took a year off, then also found work through Accountemps. She’s now in a temporary position as business manager at the Discovery School in Spokane, and she loves it.

“I’d never been in a nonprofit,” she says. “This gave me the opportunity.”

Despite their professional satisfaction now, Eldridge and Evans are worried about the long-term implications of an economy where employers have all the power.

Talented young workers are settling for very low wages, they point out, which will make it harder for them to catch up financially in the future.

And loyal, long-term employees – who have endured relentless pay cuts – will likely walk away from their companies when things improve.

“When you are giving 120 percent and the pay is less, it’s hard,” Eldridge points out.

Both feel optimistic they’ll see another boom. In the meantime, they advise other professionals to jettison job snobbery and consider all job opportunities, including temp work.

“When you stay at home and see only the four walls, you start thinking of all the bad things that happened,” Evans says.

“Get out of the four walls and do something.”



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