Dear Joyce: I am in the middle of a crisis, which has been created by my current employer. I have a bachelor's degree in electronics engineering technology from DeVry Institute of Technology. A company hired me straight out of school three years ago at an initial salary of twice what I now earn after a series of pay cuts. I accepted the cuts because the company is in deep financial trouble.
Promise after promise has been broken. As the company's only engineering specialist, I literally have kept the business alive amid endless employee shuffling, hiring and firing.
As a result of the salary cuts, I'm in trouble with my student loans and am charged up to the limit on my credit cards. My teeth and car need repair, which I am unable to pay for. On top of everything else, my employer's maneuvering has caused me trouble with the IRS.
My employer has completely wrecked my life. I have been deceived, conned, manipulated and lied to. Sometimes my paychecks have bounced, sometimes they have been missing altogether.
I know the obvious answer but I have been sending out resumes along with cover letters for 13 months, as well as contacting several agencies. Zero results.
The fair market value for my experience is around $36,000 but I'm only getting $15,000. How do I handle this disparity with a prospective employer? How much can I say about the true history of my employment? C.P.
Dear C.P.: In your job hunting, you could say you were a chump for hanging in too long and that your employer is a deadbeat creep. But that's not a useful idea.
Turn it around and look at your history from a noble perspective. Focus your response on the theme of loyalty. "Failure makes me uncomfortable. I tend to support people I believe in, sometimes for too long a time. Bulldog loyalty may be my greatest weakness."
As for the incredible shrinking paycheck, the truth is your best response. Otherwise, you'll be embarrassed if you're asked for a copy of last year's W-2 form. "Because I was so committed to my employer's success, I did everything possible to help the company succeed, including working at a vastly discounted rate. But finally the bills become overwhelming and that's why I now need to make the change to a position that pays market rate."
As for clearing up your debts, write a certified letter to each lender stating your circumstances and intent to pay as soon as possible. Visit an IRS office and ask for advice.
Spend every waking minute away from work looking for another job. Many job-search books are available free in public libraries.
Finally, go back to your school, the DeVry Institute, which like other well-regarded proprietary institutions has a stake in their graduates' employment status. I've spoken with school officials about you and they stand ready to provide counseling and placement assistance. Nobody can guarantee a job to another, but the school's placement people are going to do their best to help you. Let me know how it turns out.