Symantha’s Story: The Long Road Back to the Classroom

By LIFT on June 18, 2014

Categories: Our Work, Real Stories

Symantha laughed as she told me about her first experience in the workforce. “I lied on my application because I wanted to work so bad… You had to be 16 or 17, but I was only 13!” Since starting her first job as a nursing assistant at a VA hospital, Symantha’s career has spanned many disciplines – she worked as a Medical Office Clerk at Olympia College, as a Training Counselor and Activity Assistant at Golfview Developmental Center, and finally found her calling in Chicago Public Schools as a Teaching Assistant. Having been an active member of the workforce for over 30 years, the last place Symantha expected to find herself was unemployed.

Following an administrative oversight, Symantha lost her job with Chicago Public Schools. Like thousands of others, Symantha now faced the grueling job search process. Even with an impressive background – she has a Master’s degree and decades of work experience – Symantha was stuck. “There’s nothing like spending eight or nine months trying to look for work,” Symantha said, reflecting on the many months she’s spent sending cover letters and resumes, attending job fairs, and interviewing for promising positions.

For people aged 45-55, the job search lasts for 26 weeks, on average. Long periods of unemployment is one of the ways in which the job search looks vastly different than it did when Symantha got her first job at age thirteen. Now, internet access and computer literacy are a must. Even with these skills, the large pool of candidates vying for jobs means offers often come down to connections, good timing, and luck.

Symantha was determined to get back into the workforce – it felt too unnatural to be out of it. She admits, “To be unemployed this long [makes me feel] like a fish out of water.” Symantha knew receiving extra support through this long process would be vital, “I needed someone who would push me.” After hearing about LIFT from a staff member at one of LIFT’s partner organizations, Symantha made an appointment. “I had been trying to do job applications on my own. I came [to LIFT] for some help and support as I was looking for jobs.”

Since working with LIFT, Symantha has worked extensively with two advocates – Sarah and Kelly. Remembering her first meeting with Sarah, Symantha remarks “She came right in and knew exactly what to do.” Together, Sarah helped Symantha update her resumé, making sure it was tailored to each job to which she applied. “I hadn’t needed to use a resumé in almost 40 years. Sarah really helped me clean up my resumé and took time to make sure my cover letters were updated.”

Since working with Sarah and Kelly, Symantha has started the appeals process to contest her termination with CPS and is continuing the search for a position in the social service or education fields. Recently, Symantha turned her focus to perfecting her interviewing skills. She and Kelly have discussed the power and importance of mock interviews.

Even with all the progress she is making at LIFT, Symantha understands that applying for work is a full time job. That’s why Symantha diligently networks and makes connections outside of LIFT that will hopefully lead to job opportunities. She even hits the pavement when her calls go unanswered. “[Symantha] is really outgoing and enthusiastic. She is good about reaching out to employers and calling them to follow up,” notes Kelly, “she is willing to stop by if they are hard to reach over the phone in order to talk to someone in person.”

In the end, Symantha hopes her continued dedication and perseverance will lead her back to the classroom.  She vows, “My plan is to retire after 30+ years with CPS.”

UPDATE: As of July 3, 2014, we are happy to say that Symantha recently landed a job as a Social Services Case Manager. Go, Symantha!