It's 10 o'clock in the morning, and already I am dressed for success.
I've put on a freshly ironed white-collared shirt, a slick gray suit with jacket and pants, a "Bobcat" blue tie and black dress shoes. My hair is combed, my face is closely shaved and my cologne is applied in full force.
Am I prepping for a date? Nope, I'm dressing up for a job interview.
Many people in Merced County -- from the students at the UC to the residents of Planada to those living in Los Banos and everywhere in between -- have gone through a similar process. We all want a job with the accompanying paycheck, and we're willing to clean up our acts to get it.
Merced County has been one of the hardest-hit areas of the nation in this recession. Unemployment is a staggering 17.4 percent, according to the state Employment Development Department. This places Merced third among California counties with the highest unemployment rates, beating both the statewide rate, 12.4 percent, and the nationwide rate, 9.5 percent.
These figures mean that, of those reading this newspaper, roughly one out of every five of you have put on your best clothes and put your best foot forward in an effort to find a job.
The key is putting that foot forward, and then the next one. We need to actively seek out any possible job.
Despite the high statistics that would say otherwise, there are jobs in the area -- you have to ask for them if you're going to have a chance to get one.
Before I went in for my latest interview, I had gone to restaurants and clothing stores asking if they were hiring.
In fact, one of my first opportunities came from an open interview I had at a local fast-food restaurant that I only knew about because I asked the person at the counter if they were hiring.
UC Merced students have built-in opportunities. The UC itself offers work-study programs and various other jobs on campus for deserving students. Many of these jobs go to students who are most in need of financial assistance.
To get one of these positions, students don't even necessarily need to clean up, since the process is taken care of electronically with acceptance or rejection usually the first response. Those who can't demonstrate a need or who don't live on campus -- like yours truly -- have to look for other openings.
Many opportunities can be found with professors, who often know of specific jobs or paid internships. Getting one of those jobs or internships also takes preparation.
First, have a resume. It's important to record all your information, including job experience, on paper and bring it with you. When I interviewed at one fast-food restaurant that had attracted dozens of applicants, I was told I was the only one who brought a resume. They appreciated it enough to call me back for another interview.
Next, be on time.
My sister goes to UC Berkeley, where they tell time differently. They start everything 10 minutes late -- "Berkeley Time," they call it.
However, out here in the Valley, we know what time it is. It's time to go work, if someone will give us the chance, and that means being punctual to any appointment with an employer.
Finally, it does pay to dress and look like you really do want a job. Going in with a full-blown designer suit, though, is a bit much for a burger-flipping job.
A look that always scores high with employers would be business casual -- for both guys and gals -- which means clean, pressed clothes, good grooming and a nice, firm handshake.
Hopefully, they'll be shaking your hand and giving you a date to start your new job.
William Dunbar, from Modesto, is an undeclared major at UC Merced and hopes to be successful someday in his future profession.