Employment and the Lack Thereof

Something made me really angry today. A friend of mine has been looking for work for some time – months. I sympathise; I was unemployed and job-hunting for around eight months before I returned to university to tutor and, eventually, start a masters thesis. It wasn’t my original plan, but I needed a job, and the truth was that people weren’t very willing to give me any kind of chance. I was fresh out of university, had minimal work experience, and a degree in the arts (forgive me for treating three years at university as something other than a corporate training course).

So this friend of mine, he went to an interview for a job he would be great at, which applied skills he uses in his everyday life even if it wasn’t related to what he studied. He was told:

“How can I hire you if you’ve been unemployed for a year? You will have forgotten how to work!”

This is what makes me mad: the idea that having trouble finding a job will make it harder for you to find a job. The idea that lacking experience means no one will ever give you the chance to get some experience. The idea that someone who has spent months of truly crappy, disheartening, depressing time searching for work must just be lazy or useless, and will never make a good employee. The idea that once you graduate and you put yourself out there, open to opportunities and new things, if you don’t know someone who can get you a job at their work instantly, you are screwed.

This guy would have been ecstatic to get a job. He would have worked so damned hard, to be worthy of it, to make sure he didn’t make a hypocrite of himself for all those times that he had said he would do great if someone gave him a chance. He probably would have put up with shit from his bosses because, you know, finding work is hard! Let’s not jeopardise this. I know – I was the same. A number of recent graduates that I know, undergrad and postgrad, are the same. No one is giving us a chance (most of those I know have gone to Australia, and never looked back).

Apparently, there is no place in the world for those of us who think, those of us who took university as an opportunity and a challenge and did more than the bare minimum to pass the rite of passage. Apparently, we should have just trained for a desk job, because no experience or skills are valid unless you have a piece of paper qualifying you in them – and a degree only qualifies you to be a student, as far as recruiters are concerned.

Aparently, it’s always our fault if we can’t be constantly a cog in the great commercial machine.

Well let me tell you this: seeking employment constantly for a long time is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever done. It makes you feel worthless, rejected, and wasteful. It makes you wonder if your image of yourself is a lie, and you’re actually nowhere near as good or worthy a person as you hoped you were. To suggest that we put ourselves through that because we were lazy, selfish or elitist is bullshit.

I cannot believe the cold, calculating lack of empathy behind this interviewer’s comment. I only hope that there is some way we can make integration into the workforce a productive opportunity, rather than an awful trial where everything we were ever taught about effort, merit and proving yourself independently, is proved a lie.

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2 Responses to Employment and the Lack Thereof

  1. Ravious says:

    This sucks. That statement was kind of raw, but to be a pragmatist (with a US point of view)… Would you rather hire your friend jobless for a year, or hire your friend who has been working a crappy, hourly, thankless job for a year?

    It does suck. I had a lunch with a top guy at his company, and he said he would never hire another greenie straight out of school again. He said he lost hundreds of hours that he will never get back from those experiences. You are right. Who is going to bite the bullet?

    Interestingly enough I saw a recent statistic that the salary gap between between someone over 40 and someone under 40 is becoming quite large… I wonder how this is effected by or feeds that widening?

    • Curuniel says:

      It’s not helped by the fact that people have been losing their jobs all over for some time now, and so even applying for a job, say, working reception or sorting mail, a graduate is often going to be going up against people in their forties with years of experience at that job. And at least where I live university courses are getting more and more specific, so while an arts graduate could do HR just by being organised and personable, why would you let them when you can get someone who did a three years degree in HR?

      I guess from the employer’s point of view, it’s hard to tell what you’re getting from an interview. Some people will lie or bluff their way through on charisma, then be useless – similarly, some people will be quiet or less sure of themselves, but work really hard given the chance. I suspect that those who excel in ‘selling themselves’ will get the opportunities, regardless of their actual ability (not to mention work ethic, morals, commitment etc). I started to get the feeling that being honest in job interviews would hurt my chances, but people bluffing through them (“oh yes, this is DEFINITELY what I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do!”) will surely hurt the employer too.

      Sigh. It just sucks. You spend your youth being told how important school is, and then you get good grades and get a degree, and then discover no one cares that you applied yourself and managed your time and whatever. It seems academic achievement is counter to commercial achievement these days, hmm?

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