Monday, March 29, 2010

Perils of Job Searching

I have a job. Maybe a career even, as an ESL teacher. But one that is poorly paid, in a field being "professionalized" and "standardized" as we speak. Yawn. In addition, I work at an organization that is, to put it kindly, in "transition." No need to say much more about all that; I've had plenty of job issue posts in the past.

Moving on. People like to do that. I like to do that, too. Of course, we all seem to want to do so on our own terms, which rarely happens. And so, there are lots of silly mind machinations that occur, victim narratives, arguments, frustrations, disappointments, despite questions "Why can't I just have something good happen to me now?" It goes on and on. You probably know this stuff all too well if you're paying attention to your life.

I find job searching to be a humbling experience. There are many jobs you get disqualified for before you even finish reading the description. Others are painfully under paid, or clearly displaying the red flag of overworking. Still others you end up applying for, only to receive a kindly e-mail a month later stating that several hundred people applied for the position and this e-mail is just to inform you that you haven't made the cut. A few others call you for an interview, perhaps, but then choose someone else.

It's easy to forget that sometime in the past, it was you that was chosen and all those others who had to keep sloshing along. It's also easy to forget that none of this is personal, not even when it slides into the personal.

I wanted to check out my graduate school's job site this morning, only to find that they had completely changed it. Now, you have to fill out a questionnaire stating that you have a connection to the school, you're authorized to work in the U.S. and some other fine things. Then you have to confirm your e-mail address. And then, once you're in, you discover that the whole thing is set up to "maximize" matches to jobs. This is all well and good, except that in order to search, you need to get specific, really specific - entering in job categories, locations, filling in a resume helps, etc. etc. In other words, be prepared to spend an hour, or two, just to search the jobs.

What I like to do is search a general category like non-profit work, or education work. I've always been a generalist, a person with a wide range of experience and interest, who doesn't zone in on a specific, end all to end all career. I'm very skeptical of the specialization that seems to have developed in much of the job world. It feels limiting and limited, and I say this as someone who has "specialized" job-wise in adult basic education for most of the past decade. In fact, there is a contradiction between the kinds of specialization I see employers requiring, and the trend towards several careers over a lifetime that clearly is the way most of us under 50 are dealing with these days.

Back to the job search engine, I tried to bypass the specialization being called for by typing in my location, hoping to get any job in the area. This is what I got in return:

The search you have entered will return far too many jobs, and will negatively affect other users response times.

In my mind, I'm feeling negatively affected by this search engine, but press on, adding the "keyword" nonprofit.

A list of 10 jobs is returned, including one dated June 2008."

Pretty cool, eh? I've heard many "experts" speaking about the recession's impact on the job market. There was an article in the local paper about people "adjusting" to new jobs that are two or three rungs down the ladder from their previous job. I laughed while reading it, thinking that two or three rungs down for me would be a part-time overnight gig at Wal-Mart cleaning toilets.

My mother is trying to create her own business, again, with thoughts of quitting the decent paying part-time job she has in the near future. She's doing ok, but not well enough yet to move on. I have had similar thoughts about stepping off the tread mill and making my own mark somehow. Scary. Exciting. Cloudiness.

I have the week off, and this is how it is beginning. No worries, though. The sun is out, and the garden I started Saturday is waiting for me.


Jennifer Campaniolo said...

Hi Nathan,

It's bad out there. Good for you for looking anyway. I have several unemployed friends (one is a mother of twin infants, and her husband is also unemployed!) My dad, a hard and dedicated worker, has been out of work since October. Meanwhile, I cling to my job because I like it, not because the pay or benefits are that great. This is publishing we're talking about!

So yes, I have gone backward in title and salary a few times now. It's frustrating--it's not what any of us expected. We all expect that if we have the experience and the skills, we'll get ahead. But sadly, like you said we're all getting specialized so if we lose our job or want to find a new one in order to climb up the ladder, we have to find something that's exactly like what we had before.

But keep looking. You're in a good position because you have a job so you're not in a tight spot. Have you considered taking some classes in a different field that interests you?


dragonfly said...

Great post, Nathan. I'm in a similar situation right now - not actively looking for a change yet but I will be within the next 3-6 months. Have you looked at or other similar sites? I found some links here: (not that I have found a job on one of those sites yet, but I feel some of them are on the right track for me).

Nathan said...

Hi Jennifer,

I'm considering taking some classes in a few areas. Haven't quite decided about that yet.

Thanks Dragonfly for the links.


Mark said...

This is great information you got here...pretty exciting personal experiences as well...

I do agree that searching a job just humbles you to the maximum level and it simply takes sometime before you really get the hang of it. As the saying goes, you have to feel several unhappiness to find your true happiness indeed!