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Honesty, Ambition, Rejection: A Challenge for Employers

Here, have an “Interview Selfie” of myself being as professional as possible:

Ignoring the Evangelion poster. And the crowd of Transformers. Do focus on the degree uptop.

Ignoring the Evangelion poster. And the crowd of Transformers. Do focus on the degree uptop.

I had a pair of interviews today for school placements. They’re the first time I’ve gone job hunting in about a year, thanks to my second burst of schooling, and it had me thinking of a few things. Like it or not, I’m an old hat at this process, having spent something like two years with “looking for jobs/shooting resumes out/going to interviews” as a part-time job, a common artifact of the modern quarter-life crisis (aside: check the recent title change up top). Sometimes, I really feel like we’re missing an essential element in these interviews: Honesty goals, ambitions, and rejection.

I need to tack those quantifiers regarding honesty onto it lest I lead you to believe I mean exaggerating or fabricating qualifications. My principle reason not to do that is that it will only come back to bite me later when it turns out I can’t do something I’ve advertised. I’m speaking of honesty and transparency about the process, both from the applicant and the company.

Admittedly, I’m far better off now than I once was when it comes to resumes and interview. I know now that I was doing certain things horribly wrong, thanks to my “professional practise” classes, or “how to do all those little things regarding employment that everyone should really know.” Nonetheless, even during my initial hunt, there were certain idiosyncrasies that made me wax philosophical.

For instance, you’re not supposed to say “please hire me. The job market is terrible, and I need the work.” Somehow, that translates into desperation, which is a negative thing.

But why is that negative, exactly? Should the impression not be that it instead means “I’m willing to work hard and do what needs to be done because I am extremely aware of my tenuous grip on employment?” Surely an employee who shows such signs would be more dedicated, and more devout. But, that level of honesty is, for some reason, not permitted by the social contract.

This flows both ways, and I feel sometimes like I’d appreciate honesty from an employer regarding their process, as well as turning a prospective employee down. I don’t particularly mind being refused for something on general principle. Desperation or not, that’s how life goes. However, it would all be so much easier if I was just straight up informed that I’d been turned down. In my early Professional Job Hunter days, I’d let things sit for weeks at a time, thinking I’d get a call or an email back. Nowadays, I know that I should have followed up myself, but even then, a lot of places went out of their way to erect barriers prevention that, and I was forced to guess.

It was a hard lesson learning that, by default, you must assume you didn’t get the interview, or the job, simply because they’re probably not going to contact you to tell you that. There were a few exceptions, and I appreciated them dearly, inasmuch as one can appreciate a rejection.

That’s my challenge to employers, then. Or rather, as much of a challenge as a tiny blog in a dark corner of the internet can send. Let your applicants know that it’s not happening, so that they can be released to search for the next job. And if you receive 5,000 applications, surely you can at least put together a form response. Perhaps some people would take umbrage to that, but I would not. Rather, I’d feel free to move onto the next thing.

Really, I think that’s the problem with modern job hunting (speaking, again, as some sort of semi-professional). There isn’t a dedicated set of forms and rules. I think in the middle of a recession, where untold masses of people my age are scrambling and hunting, some obvious set of conventions could save both employers and job hunters time and worry. Well, mostly job hunters. With employers, it’s a buyers market.

Of course, it’s worth noting that previously, I was attempting (poorly) to break into a profession that was shrinking at an alarming rate, stopping only to scoop the absolute top percentile of applicants. Perhaps this time around, things will go better.

Dreams, Pragmatism, and the Media: An Unintended Trap

I’d intended to lighten things up for a time, but something’s come to my attention that I feel the need to discuss. If you recall from my last post, I discussed the life path a lot of people my age chose, and how it unintentionally cause major problems down the road, getting a “higher education” leaving us without job skills, holding the first to be more important than the second, not giving a thought to how things will work out. Bear in mind the following is all opinion. I may be entirely wrong. Maybe in a few years, I’ll recant this position.

The problem is that we didn’t make this post-secondary decision on our own. We were taught that, and now we’re reaping the consequences. Take a look at this comic, an animated form of a lecture by Alan Watts. it’s what triggered this rant:

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Sounds pretty good, right? It should also sound familiar to you. It’s the same sort of theme we saw in a lot of media aimed at kids. I’m pretty sure a lot of the Disney canon consists of this same message. We all know the familiar story. You don’t want to follow in the footsteps of your family, or your social class. You have ideals, you have dreams, and those are important. Anyone that says otherwise is a soulless oppressor, or possibly horribly misguided, and is trying to make you give up your dreams, and your special unique talents. Perhaps, if the young dreamer sticks to their guns, they can show their oppressors the error of their ways. Either way, all they have to do is chase that dragon, things will work out, one way or another. The thing is, it’s entirely wrong, possibly damaging, and the opposite viewpoint is one we now reflexively dislike, as we associate it with those misguided antagonists in that fiction we loved.

I think the big problem is that fundamental assumption that we’re supposed to follow these dreams of ours, do these things we enjoy, and forget the money. What are we, soulless? Draw your art, ride your horses, write your articles, make your videos, and damn anyone that says you’re wasting your time. The problem lies in the whole “ignore the money” part. “What if money was no object?” that cartoon asks. Well, it sort of is. It is, and pretending it isn’t, turning a blind eye to it, not worrying about those bills you’re going to have to pay one day, that’s a ruinous mantra.

We’re told time and time again, money doesn’t buy happiness, it’s not about the money, money is the root of all evil, et cetera, et cetera. It’s true money doesn’t buy happiness. What it does buy is security, stability, and life. Knowing what you like, and pursuing your dreams is good and all, but you need to be able to function in society as a grown person at the same time. And that doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning those interests that some would scoff at (I talked about that at length here,) it means being able to live unassisted on your own. It’s hard to follow your dreams if you can’t feed, clothe, and shelter yourself. These things will not magically appear. You need to make them happen, and to make them happen, you need cash. We need to step back and accept the fact that some sort of income is necessary in order to live, and it’s not going to come to us automatically. And if you’re not making it appear, then someone else is, and you’re living off the dimes that they’re earning.

The reason the philosophy preached in that cartoon potentially damaging is because it ignores this basic fact. That, and it leaves out the fact that we like do not always equal things we can do for money, that one won’t automatically lead into the other. Maybe you’ll become the best at what you do through slavish dedication, and get money that way. But to count on it is to ignore the present, and ignore some other, very real, non-optional needs.

Take a look at that dream. Can you realistically expect to make money off it soon, as in in the next few years, instead of some hazy future where you’ve mastered that skill? If not, then that doesn’t mean you have to abandon it. It merely means that you’ll need to do something else to earn income, and work on that dream of yours when you’re not out earning your living. I suppose that’s the other false dichotomy that the media presented us: That the two are mutually exclusive, that deciding earning a living is important means your interests and dreams have to die. They really don’t.

So, here’s my own philosophy, what I’d wish modern media would teach a new generation: Follow your interests, but get paid. If your interest won’t pay you, find something, anything that will, and work on that interest in your spare time. Maybe, if you stick with it, and if you have and/or grow the talent, you can leave that other career and take your interest on full-time. If not, you’ve got a roof under your head, food under the table, and something you like to fill your spare time. If that seems a bit unfair, consider that a realistic perspective won’t turn you into a starving artist, merely a really busy one.

Epilogue: And if you are in one of those situation where you can’t support yourself, that’s hardly uncommon for modern youth, thanks to the world we inherited. The best thing, I think, is to simply recognize this fact, and try to worm your way out of it, and not simply be content to freeload for all eternity.

Bleak Week Finale: The Student’s Lawsuit

Potential readers: If you know anything about the legal system, I’d like to pose a question to you during this article, as I’ll freely admit I’m fairly ignorant of how it works.

That Cracked article I linked in my first post was also linked to another two part article about hipsters and modern society. I’ll link it at the end of this. While it’s not the main focus of the two-part piece, it does have some interesting things to say about the role of post-secondary education in the modern world.

Now, this ties into something that’s dogged both me and a lot of my friends as we collectively flail about in our mid-twenties, trying to get a career going. Basically, a lot of us wonder whether or not to bite the bullet and return to school for something else, something more specific, something more marketable. Certainly, there’s the argument that a fresh graduate is more desirable and relevant than someone who’s been on the hunt for years on end, and now that we’re no longer wide-eyed idealists (more on that later), we can pick something that’s useful and employable, and once again become metaphorical fresh meat of the leaner, healthier variety.

But for every thought that runs that way, there’s a thought that runs the opposite direction. Does it matter if we go back to school? Are we better just networking and fostering contacts and content on our own? Will we wind up where we are now four years down the line, only significantly poorer? I’ve saved some cash up. Do I want to risk losing that pile on a gambit that may not refill it? The biggest issue here is the question of whether or not a post-secondary education will do what it’s supposed to.

Hold on, though.

Didn’t we go to school to learn the relevant skills? Who was it that let us go to these schools, and what did they promise us? I feel like we were promised the ability to take on the world, and yet so many of us didn’t get that, or were inadequately prepared for The Real World.

So, here’s my hypothetical. What if an enterprising student, fed up with the way things were going, were to launch a lawsuit? Imagine a scenario where that student sues their college or university, demanding at the very least their tuition back, on the grounds that their school did not hold up their end of the bargain. The student feels like they were guaranteed marketable skills, and yet they apparently don’t have any, and weren’t adequately prepared. Basically, it’s a lawsuit over a perceived breach of contract. My question to anyone in the legal area would be if there’s any merit to this, and how it would go down if someone attempted it in real life.

Now, I’ve voiced this scenario to a friend before, and an interesting discussion was generated, specifically about how it raises the issue of what, exactly, college and university are about: Job skills, or “higher education?”

Well, what is higher education, exactly? And why do we want it? And if it doesn’t pay the bills, what use is it? It’s easy to be idealistic when you’re young, and shrug that last statement off as soulless and cynical. The thing is, when you’re young, you tend to form an unspoken assumption that things will just work out on their own, career-wise and money-wise. After all, your educational life has been automated until this point, why won’t your post-educational life feel similar?

When we’re young, we’re naive enough to assume it’s okay to have higher education instead of job skills, or hold the misconception that they equate the same thing, or that they’re not important. This seems to have been a recurring theme in a lot of the media around me in my formative years, and I worry about the inadvertent damage created by it. However, I’ll save that for another entry, as that’s another, much more cynical cultural tangent I could go on related to this, and I’m sure you’re tired of the morbid nature of a lot of these posts.

Anyways, my point, again, is whether or not this could be done, and if it would have a legal leg to stand on. Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to attempt it myself. Certainly, posting about it on here would be about the dumbest move possible. For me, it’s just an amusing hypothetical.

Epilogue: While I’m here, why not return your degree and demand the money back, the way someone would return a purchase to almost any retail outlet? That’d perhaps be a far more amusing scenario, but one less likely to work in the real world. Besides, I’d like to think that even the most cynical of us wouldn’t dare part with their degree or diploma. After all, some credit is better than none.

Anyway, here’s that other article I talked about, part one of a series. It’s another interesting read.

Bleak Week, Part 1: Disposable Youth

Disclaimer: Before I begin, this is not a slight or an attack on any company that’s been gracious enough to employ or intern me, or considered it. I’ve had the privilege of working for many great organizations, plenty of whom have treated me well. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

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Disposable Youth is what I call people my age, and what we seem to have become. Now, I’m going to try and avoid going into the causes. There’s roughly a million and one theories as to why, ranging from “the economy,” to more elaborate implosions of western culture, like in that article I linked in my original post. As an aside, the Toronto Star recently did an excellent series on modern underemployed youth. It’s worth a read.

But I digress. The fact is that I’m not sure of the cause, and I suspect deep down, no one else is, either. There’s been plenty of articles and statistics on employment, on stress, on all those things, but no one’s really talking about what it feels like on the ground level for someone such as myself.

The sentiment I feel from where I sit is that if you’re an employer, things are super, because it’s a buyer’s market right now. From where they are, they have a mob of eager young men and women starving for meaningful employment. And out of that group, a large chunk have broken down and downgraded from “meaningful employment” to “something to make bank, at least.”

The problem is that because I can feel that sentiment radiating out from the corporate world, it lends itself to a feeling of disposability. Of course companies would focus more on contract work with employees they can release as soon as possible, not needing to make them permanent, or provide them with benefits and rights they can utilize. Of course they’d give their employees minimum wage, and no benefits. And if you’re applying to a company, of course they’d keep you in the dark about your status, not tipping you off that you’re wasting your time, that they won’t bother letting you know you didn’t get in, hiding behind walls of “no phone calls, please” and “only those selected will be contacted,” walls we don’t dare breach for fear of souring what little chance we have.

Why do I think they feel that they can do this? Because, if you have a problem, well, there’s a giant lineup of similarly underemployed 20-somethings behind you. Why do they need to maintain these standards, when they don’t have to worry about attracting and keeping employees? There’s a massive horde out there just waiting, all they have to do is dunk their hand in the barrel, and pull another 50 of them out.

Here’s the thing, though. Part of this is that I can see where they are coming from, and can’t say I wouldn’t think the same way, were I in their shoes. From an impartial, rational, emotionless angle of pure business, this makes perfect sense. When you’re shopping in a grocery store, or buying clothes, or anything essential, and you’re savvy, you look for deals. You shop around. You try and find ways to keep your precious stash of cash as big as you can. Companies that act this way are simply doing the same thing.

This is related to a theory I’ve had floating around in my head for some time now, something I’m calling “political pessimism,” until I come up with a better term. I’ll get into that more fully in a future entry. Simply put here, though, it’s folly to assume that the Powers That Provide Us With Employment are going to pick the humane option out of some sort of sense of moral duty. Capitalism isn’t about moral duty, it’s about expanding your stash at any cost. The people that became these Powers probably got there by being what we call thrifty, by being those people shopping around for deals, picking the option that benefited them or their company, rather than the moral one.

So, what’s to be done? I have no idea. No one has any idea, really. This is simply my attempt to describe the sentiment I feel from where I am. I’m employed, I’m making and saving money, but this is still what I feel as I attempt to jump-start a career. In all likelihood, others my age are feeling this too.

One last thing. Just because I feel like understand how the game’s rigged against me doesn’t mean I’m not willing to play it. Especially because as far as I know, it’s the only game in town.