The Other 90.9%

Since the dawn of dot-com career sites, a job search entails little more than an endless browse—the online equivalent of wandering past every shelf in a bookstore, head cocked to one side, scanning the bindings. Looking for something, but the author’s name hangs just past the tip of the tongue. Unemployment is at 9.1 percent; in a surprising twist, I’m dying to be a part of The Other 90.9.

The slow burn of online job searching opens the door to a certain degree of poetic license, if only to assuage the litany of nouns that couldn’t possibly apply to sad, sweatpanted, page-refreshing you: analyst, executive, coordinator. The last thing I coordinated was the programming on my DVR (when you wake up after eleven you miss all the morning Frasier reruns). And so, the unemployed multitudes arm themselves with vocabulary and a generous belief in their abilities and wonder aloud into the wee hours whether “head photocopy intern” might be better expressed as “director of photography.” (My favorite such semantic upgrade is my boyfriend’s translation of “busboy” as “waiter’s assistant.”)

Unceasing, eventually-self-loathing searching and re-searching slowly reveals to the would-be employee that his skills, experience, talents, hopes, and dreams will find no harbor of tender understanding and gainful employment, but must instead be slotted into preexisting job descriptions, each more predictable than the last. “[Blank] seeks an enthusiastic and flexible individual that can multitask in a fast-paced environment for the position of [blank].” Call it a Monster.com Mad Lib.

[Name of a Company] is an organization that prides itself on [abstract noun] and [abstract noun]. The ideal candidate for [menial task] will be [adjective] and [adjective], and able to work [adverb] under pressure. He or she will have [large number] years’ experience [verb ending in “-ing”] in [industry]. This is a(n) [adjective]-level position. Salary: $[small number],000/year

The work force is not a seller’s market.

Still, I make my daily rounds, and as I lose conviction in the equivalence of “Facebook user” and “social media developer/expert” I begin visually weeding out anything containing the words “director,” “manager,” or even “experienced.” Instead, my mouse wends its weary way to postings titled “entry-level” or “assistant,” even landing (with all due post-graduate shame) on that desperate little word, “intern.”

One might be tempted to think, having earned a degree, that that little word may never again have opportunity to perch upon the leathery back of one’s résumé, eating mites and other parasites. Indeed, foolishly, one might even be under the impression that said degree would be enough to get by without these hangers-on, and that, instead, one might graduate to a paid position, on the basis of intelligence, experience, and all-around just deserts. Were one under such an impression, one would be frightfully mistaken.

Biologically, an internship is a form of symbiosis—a relationship between individuals of different species from which both individuals derive a benefit. The usual example is that of a cow and the bacteria in its digestive tract: each gains something vital from their association with one another. A company (a cow) has a great deal to gain from its interns (intestinal bacteria). The former is afforded free labor, and the latter gains résumé-worthy experience—“coordinator of food processing systems.”

That prestigious title aside, I, like many job seekers not yet wilted from disappointment, happen to find my particular collection of skills and experience unique and worthwhile. And yet none of it seems to match the fill-in-the-blank Job Libs I’ve found. I have some experience here, a little there, I can talk about what I learned, what I did, who I met and how I feel about it, but my résumé can only speak so loudly. I’m at a loss as to how to concretely and convincingly document “creative problem-solving,” except to add “Creative problem solver” under “Special Skills,” or “Hobbies,” or, “Now, This!” My résumé is an annotated list of titles I’ve had the pleasure of carrying, lacking (I think) the depth and dimension of a wiry young graduate like myself.

An emphasis on the Liberal Arts at colleges and universities has created a highly intelligent, highly uncategorizable generation of self-interested free thinkers—and what could be worse for business? I imagine the stocking-ed droves of turn-of-the-century career girls, every one of them a typist, and almost wish for such a concrete set of skills: 60 words per minute and a nice set of legs. If I’ve learned anything from the job postings I don’t even bother opening, it’s that I should have been a computer programmer. CSS is touch-typing for Gen-Y.

Alas, I am not a computer programmer. This is because I don’t really like it. (Also because I haven’t the faintest understanding of it.) When I went to college I was told to follow my heart, expand my horizons, and fifteen other platitudes about being an individual, and they have not led me to a cubicle and a salary. Quelle surprise!

But this is precisely the point: I followed my heart, rather than Job Hunting for Dummies (though I can’t even score their jobs), and so here I am with a heart and no paycheck. College doesn’t come back, and I have to believe that sincere heart-following is worth the sharp drop-off in daily validation that follows that B.A. It just has to be.

So I browse on and search forth, hoping someone somewhere is looking for a bright and outgoing Easy Mac specialist with eleven months’ experience job hunting. Nope, scratch that—“one year experience writing and publishing in unemployment research.” Much better.

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