From laid off, to branding himself: One man’s advice for the suddenly unemployed

Scott Carpenter, 29, lost his job at JK Harris when the company went bankrupt. (Bo Petersen/Staff)

MOUNT PLEASANT — The email came at 3 p.m. as Scott Carpenter vacationed in Costa Rica last January.

The company is closed for good, it said. Clear out by 4 p.m.

The company was the bankrupt tax representation firm JK Harris. Carpenter, 29, was a sales manager at its Charleston office. His average income was $80,000 per year.

Middle-class wage earners like Carpenter took the hardest hit in the 2008 recession and are making the fewest gains in the hit-and-miss recovery.

More and more, they are turning to options like second jobs or settling for smaller incomes.

Or they are caught fast in the rocks, like Carpenter.

He knew JK Harris was restructuring; he didn’t know it was collapsing.

He had a fashionable condo in Mount Pleasant and enjoyed a lifestyle of dining and entertainment in downtown Charleston.

But by the time he lost his job, the tax field had flooded. Finding another job wasn’t going to be easy.

So he took a different approach. He’s selling himself as a brand: promotes his salesmanship and electronic sales skills.

In the meantime he gets by doing occasional work in event sales and organizing. He volunteers for a variety of other events and makes the networking rounds — anything to keep his name out there.

“That’s the thing that’s gotten the most traction, not taking the traditional route and firing off resumes online all day,” he said. “Get out. Be creative. Stay positive. People don’t want to hear my sob story. They want to hear what I’m doing for myself.”

He’s gotten the most interest from something he didn’t do: rent a billboard.

“Just talking about the idea to companies gets more attention than I might have if I had done it,” he said. “People say, ‘Wait a minute. I think my boss will want to hear about this.’ ”

But he knows the odds are he won’t land a job paying what his old one did.

Meanwhile, if he wants to see a movie these days, it’s a $1 or $5 rental. His savings are exhausted.

“It’s just been a matter of budgeting, selling stuff online, yard sales. You look for deals, you look for specials,” he said.

“Everything is completely up in the air. You avoid the doctor, the dentist, because you never know when you are going to be able to pay for it.”

He’s worried about rising costs like food and fuel this winter, but “it’s been a concern pretty much since my savings ran out,” he said.

“The real fear of it is you never know where your next paycheck is coming from. No health benefits. There’s times when I can breathe a sigh of relief for a month, times when I wonder what I’m going to do tomorrow.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.