White Collar Reset: A crazy idea ... or is it?
That's why I recently came up with a solution to my own pixel of the unemployment picture that I don't think any other jobless 47-year-old suburban New Jersey magazine editor with two mortgages has considered before: I'm weighing an offer to go to work for a new media start-up. As an unpaid intern.
The company is StyleCaster, and it could be the perfect place to really press the restart button in front of several million AOL weekly visitors. Headquartered in the Radio Wave Building in New York City's Flatiron District, the business was founded in 2007 by Ari Goldberg, 27, who last worked as a VP at Lebron James's branding firm LRMR (Goldberg's mentor and James's boss, Cleveland Caveliers owner Dan Gilbert, provided the $4 million for the enterprise). Of the 56 other people who work in the converted loft, exactly one is over 30 (she's 31), and quite a few are interns, or "JTM's," for "Junior Team Members," as they prefer to call us.
The company is at the forefront of "individual optimization" technology. Before a couple of weeks ago, I didn't have the slightest idea what that meant (I have a hard enough time downloading apps onto my iPhone), although I had a sinking suspicion that it was bound to finish off what what's left of my old industry. At my internship interview, Goldberg called up the beta site, and explained how subscribers can register for a program that causes a photograph of a model to materialize on their home screens each morning and pirouette around in outfits tailored to their personal tastes and the weather outside. I didn't tell him that I found the effect vaguely unsettling, like the scene in Minority Report where the billboards address the Tom Cruise character by name, but then I wasn't there to provide social commentary. I was there to shave a quarter-century off my skill set and find a job!
Afterwards, Goldberg led me through the office so everyone could meet me. I waved to my potential-fellow JTMs, a roomful of college-age women huddled over four rows of computers. Then he introduced me to the woman I'd be reporting to, an online search and social-networking whiz named Rachel Siegel, or "Siegs." (Everyone at StyleCaster gets a nickname). "I think we'll start you off in business development," Goldberg explained. Among other things, it seems this would entail sinking or swimming in advertising sales, cold calling 23-year-old media buyers, parrying their questions about the relative strength of the site's CPMs, CPAs and CPCs. ("Don't worry," assured Siegs, "I have a whole binder explaining.") What should make this part of my JTMship especially interesting is that these deals tend to close only after many drinks in downtown clubs. The kind where you need to show your ID to prove that you're under 30. (I guess that's what realfakeid.com is for.)
It's taken a lot to get to this point. As I might have mentioned, after the magazine that I edited closed its doors in early February, I tried the more conventional route to getting myself re-situated. I solicited investors about buying the pub out of bankruptcy. I talked to headhunters and redid my resume and sent out hundreds of unanswered emails. As the weeks have stretched into months, though, and we cashed out my wife's 401(k), I've come to two conclusions about my predicament: 1) like many of the 6.8 million jobs that have vaporized in this recession, the ones in my old industry aren't coming back any time soon, maybe not ever; and 2) the companies in the fastest-growing industry most closely related to mine that do have plenty of jobs available are never going to hire someone in their 40s unless that person does something borderline-insane to convince them otherwise.
One advantage of working for a company like StyleCaster is that the room for advancement practically interpolates to infinity. Before we parted and he sent me home to sleep on my options until after Labor Day, Goldberg pointed out that Siegs herself was a JTM just a few weeks ago. Assuming I kick ass and my baldness and bifocals don't, you know, skeeve out the other JTMs too much, there's no reason that they wouldn't extend me the same opportunity. "We don't discriminate," Goldberg said. Granted, like some of the other junior senior staff, I'd probably need to have my parents supplement my income for a while, and may have to move my family into an apartment with three other roommates, but I figure that would still put me ahead of where I am now.
What do you think: should I do it?