Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bait and Switch: The Job Hunting Racket

Author of Nickel and Dimed, (which I should read next) Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover to learn what job hunting is like for the over-35, college educated professional. She experiences "loopy" pop-psychology career counseling, passive networking events, and expensive image consultation. The loopy pop-psychology she refers to is the Myers Briggs test and the Enneagram. The problem with Myers Briggs, she asserts is that it's not reliable and she found the Enneagram too esoteric. Now I've done both and if you spend some time with the later, you will gain insight into your personality and motivations. Myers Briggs isn't a bad test I think, just an overpriced one. The real problem is that many career counselors use these systems, it seems, so that they can say they've done something with a client. Once you're in a job, there's little formal use of these or any personality systems to help you find your niche or progress.

She comes to realize how irrational this process is, how little one's talents, skills or experience are compared to a winning smile and a Brave New World inspired cheeriness. She learns that to remain in the corporate realm one shouldn't succeed too much since a big salary is like a target on one's back inviting HR to cut you from the fold.

Last January, hoping to get some assistance in becoming more strategic in my career planning, I paid for career counseling sessions and attended some networking events which were an awful lot like those Ms. Ehrenreich did. Yes, you will learn the importance of coming up with a good "elevator" speech and that you should make job hunting a job. You don't learn much, but they keep you occupied. The sharp job hunter will question the point of the busy work and abandon these groups in favor of a cheaper, more creative and more effective way to find work.

She spent $6000 in nine months on the various experts and travel to the useless jobfairs and networking events where little interaction was on the agenda. In the end she did not get a job. Her only offers were from Mary Kay Cosmetics and AFLAC, both independent sales "positions" with no office, no insurance, no vacation pay, minimal investment in your success. She realizes that usually a job hunter can use referrals, the best source of networking, but she didn't want her friends to lie on her behalf. It would have been interesting if she had because I'd like to have heard her take on real interviews and negotiations.

In an environment that claims to be so team-oriented, people she spoke with talked little of prior office cameraderie. Passion and cheerfulness, in the forms of a cheerleader smile or wearing one's company's logo, seem to count for a lot more than creativity, diligence or intelligence. How is today's white collar worker supposed to summon such emotion and devotion to company after company? As Ehrenreich points out prostitutes aren't even expected to cop to that attitude customer after customer.

In the end, Ehrenreich questions why the underemployed and long term unemployed, whose prospects are bleak, don't get active. Storm the Bastille or something. She suggests they organize like doctors, lawyers and teachers. Sounds like a good idea, though these professions are experiencing new hardships and uncertainty.
Some quotes from the book:
I may cite common white collar wisdom, "your most important client is your boss." If your boss is your most important client, what is your product--flattery?

  • Though most of us were taught that smarts, independent thinking, creativity and loyalty were valued in corporate America, we know now it's all a lie.
  • If you think out of the box, you're out in the cold.
  • If you tell a truth the company doesn't want to hear, you have a negative attitude.
  • If you miss the boss's Superbowl party for any reason at all, you're on the corporate fecal roster.
  • The real mantra of surviving in the workplace is "go along to get along."

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