Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fear and Loathing: On the Job Market 2008

Here are some highlights of my recent job hunt:

1. Chainsawing my resume to exclude my graduate degree and all my publications and presentations, in order to make room for my mad Microsoft Office skillz and my vast knowledge of phone-answering techniques. I'm a blink away from writing on there that I have over 25 of experience in answering phones. I think I was about five or six when my parents started letting me do that, so it's not a lie.

2. Filling out a lengthy questionaire at a temp agency about the types of welfare I've received in the past year, watching a video that offered interview tips such as "Be on time" and "Thank the interviewer for his or her time," browsing a catalog of $8.00/hr jobs advertised as being on the bus route, then being told with a straight face that my lack of administrative experience will be a problem because "companies come to us to get the best."

3. Being told by another temp agency that they did not have any jobs. None whatsoever. At least they leveled with me!

4. Talking with a friend who recently had a position open at her job. She told me that they have put all hiring on hold, that one of her other co-workers just left so she's down to one part-timer and herself. She told me that the state arts agency taht partially funded the position I was applying for has gotten massive cuts and she doesn't know what's going to happen. On the bright side, she is a delightful person and it's always nice to talk to her, even when she has bad news.

5. Visiting the website of a professional organization that updates their job listings weekly and realizing that there have only been two new postings all month.

6. Spending all day filling out forms on the websites of two branches of the nation's armed forces (because they won't accept a normal resume). These forms contain much of the same data that's found on my resume, but are not customized for my field. So there's no way to tell them about my presentations and publications, just a way to express my utter inexperience at operating a backhoe, drill press or snowplow. A month after I filled one of these out, I received a letter in the mail congratulating me on the fact that they had not, in fact, decided to use my electronic form as e-kindling. Maybe by next summer they'll call me for an interview.

7. Checking in on my jobs newsgroup and realizing the postings there are as sparse as the ones on my professional organization's website. This is particularly bad because the moderator casts a broad net that encompasses the federal and state jobs websites, all of the postings on all of the professional organization websites (there are local, state and regional orgs for every part of the country), sites like and, international postings, and postings that seem to contain inside information.

8. Realizing, depressingly, that the days I get up early and devote myself to job-seeking are yielding the exact same results as the days when I slack off.

Folks, it's rough out there. This is possibly the worst time to be looking for a job since the late 1980s. My field is tight during the best of times, but charitable giving is usually the first thing people cut when looking to save money, foundations aren't seeing the income investment that they used to be, and governments often cut cultural funding first.

Yet it seems that once you go a particular route in life, it can be difficult to change course. If you try to switch to a different field, you're up against people who have degrees, experience and connections in that field while trying to show why you're a better fit than they are. Even survival jobs can be tough. No employer wants to act as a holding pen, and you may get the bizarro experience I did of being both overqualified and underqualified for a job at the same time.

This is usually where the "loathing" starts to come in. If you troll job forums, you'll notice a lot of anger towards employers, people demanding things they probably know they have no right to expect out of pure frustration. It's hard to send out applications and never even get a response. It's worse when you've taken a step backwards in what you're applying for and still don't get anywhere. My friend Stella Devine is also looking for work right now, and I can sympathise with her when she says she's considered calling on apprentice welding and junior police officer positions, thinking "How hard could that be? Probably good money in that..."

Stella writes about the need to stay calm, above all else. Fear and loathing almost never lead to good decisions (see presidential election, 2004). But when the "jobs" special section of the newspaper is too thin to make a good bootrest, when the jobs websites for your field are on the verge of folding, and when every day brings worse economic news than the day before, it's a damn hard task.