Last month, I started my career as a freelance writer/borderline homeless person. Although I have some other sources of income, my day is mostly going to be dedicated to writing. It’s something I really want to try, and if I fail, it will at least be spectacular in scale.
This decision comes in the wake of the fact that I have spent the last year and a half actively (and passively) job hunting to no avail. I’ve concluded that it’s become a waste of my time and, like an angry teenager, quit out of protest. I also bought black eyeliner and plan on telling my mom that she can’t make me do something in the near future.
At the very least, I’d like my experience to have been worth something, so I’ve decided to share what I learned over the years. Some of you reading this may already have your dream job, or at least one that won’t make you kill yourself. That’s fine. But I’m fairly certain the majority of you didn’t quite end up where you thought you would be 5 years ago.
First, I’d like to clear up the biggest myth of the job market: that there are simply “no jobs.” If you actually believe that, it’s because you heard it on TV and never bothered to look yourself. Two seconds of searching, and I can prove this isn’t true, at least anecdotally.
A more accurate complaint would be “there are no jobs for me.” Here’s why.
1) Your Degree Is Basically Worthless
Years ago, graduating high school gave you a huge leg up on the competition because everyone lived on farms. When high school became more universal, it became necessary to go to college to prove that you were worth more than the next guy. It was part of the American Dream to go to school, land a guaranteed job right after, and take an irresponsible amount of painkillers until your kids reached 18. Then your kids would have to go to.
But wait, if everyone’s kids go to college, then what’s setting them apart from everyone else? The answer is the amount I’ll be able to get in 20 years for my signed, pre-suicide Hannah Montana backpack, i.e. Nothing.
Think of it this way. A college degree used to bring you 10 meters ahead of everyone else in the race. Now, it seems like getting a college degree simply gets you to the starting line, next to everybody else. A college degree is now a basic minimum requirement for most non-service jobs, which practically defeats the purpose of it as a resume booster.
So what’s next? What happens when going to college is universal? Then it becomes an arms race that never ends.
Here are the unemployment rates in 2012 based on educational attainment. Looking at this, you might think it’s proving the opposite thing; that college is definitely worth it. I mean, the unemployment rate clearly correlates downward with greater education. But remember, a bachelor’s degree is now the default. So yes, it’s worth it, because the alternatives are way worse. Would you rather start at the starting line or a whole lap behind?
Of course, some degrees are worth more than others. Computer Science and other specific technical degrees can carry some weight. But for the majority of liberal arts or “soft” majors, its a piece of paper that grants access to the job market while simultaneously starting you off in the red financially. Leading nicely to the fact that:
2) It’s A Buyer’s Market
Regardless of whether or not we are technically still in a recession, the fact is that the power in the job market still lies with the employers. They have the freedom to pick and choose when the supply is large. The supply in this case being bachelor’s degrees.
Because of this, you will almost never see an entry-level position read “no experience necessary.” In fact, you’ll rarely see entry-level positions at all.
Employers want candidates who don’t exist. They want somebody just outta college with 3-5 years experience for an assistant level job. Well, where the fuck do you expect me to get that experience if no one will hire me because I lack experience, jackass?
Employers can put up a help-wanted sign and sit back. Instead of taking a chance on a fresh graduate with minimal experience but a good work ethic, they’ve gained a magic DARE ability to just say no, because they just assume someone better will eventually come along. I’ve heard back months after I’ve applied for a job that the answer was a no, as if they seriously had the conceit to expect that I was just sitting there for 60 days pressing refresh on my email until I heard an answer from them, like I haven’t already fucking moved on by that point. In fact, even today I still get rejection letters from jobs I barely remember applying to.
I’ve been told I didn’t have enough experience for one job, only to see the same exact job pop up a year later. So you’re telling me you’ve had literally nobody working this job for months? It’s obviously not very important. Just cut it out of the budget and maybe you can hire someone else.
This puts employees in a desperate position where you are forced to carpet bomb hundreds of resumes to Uganda to even have a chance at a call-back, and then you are practically guaranteeing that you will hate the job you eventually get.
This is all assuming you even do get contacted back. If you do, you will quickly realize:
3) Everyone Involved In The Process Is Lying
Everybody pads their resumes. There’s some tiny, little thing you have exaggerated. It can be as simple as adding an adjective to a task you did at another job, like “efficiently checked email.” Maybe some claim you made didn’t really happen, but nobody is left at the last place you worked that can confidently say it didn’t.
But you tell yourself that you have to do it to compete with everyone else who are ALSO lying on their resume. You’re the guy stuck in traffic complaining about it. “Well, I need to get somewhere.” You don’t think all those other people need jobs too?
Anyway, after you’re done reading through the job qualifications (which are 95% exaggerations), you arrive at the interview. Both of you should be 100% aware that you are about to straight up lie to each other for 2 hours. The most common interview questions are the stupidest fucking things you could ever ask somebody, because they REQUIRE YOU TO LIE if you hope to ever hear back from these people again.
Q: “What is your biggest weakness?”
Correct Answer: “I’m almost too organized.”
Incorrect Answer: “If there is cheese somewhere in the room, I will murder someone with my hands to get to it.”
Q: “Tell me about a time where you made a mistake at a previous job and how you dealt with it.”
Correct Answer: “My team accidentally added a zero to a Quarterly Report so we got together and erased it.”
Incorrect Answer: “I tripped an EPA inspector into a vat of boiling plastic. We pooled our money and raised almost $40 towards his crippling hospital bills!”
Q: “Have you ever had difficulty with a boss or manager?”
Correct Answer: “No.”
Incorrect Answer: “Ya, Joe was a real asshole. He threatened to eat my dog if I didn’t bring my sales numbers up. On Thanksgiving he emailed me a picture of the utensils he was going to use.”
The last one is especially sinister, because every single person in the world has had a horrible boss. The owner of the grocery store I worked at when I was 15 would make the baggers wash his Mercedes in the parking lot by hand, but if I ever acknowledged in an interview that, yes, sometimes people in power are genuinely sociopathic, then that’s it. They will automatically assume you will say the same about them. Of course, if they aren’t dicks, then what do they have to worry about?
And then when you don’t get the job? You can pretty much expect:
4) No Feedback Whatsoever
The worst feeling in the world is staring at a rejection letter from a job you thought was a sure-thing. Your first thought is going to be, “what did I do wrong?” Did you say something stupid in the interview? Did another candidate have more qualifications that you? Did you smell bad?
You will never know. In a weirdly backwards way, employers try to be as non-offensive as possible with their rejection letters to the point where it’s completely unhelpful to you. It’s actually negatively helpful.
Here is, word-for-word, a rejection letter I got months after I applied to a job:
Dear Christopher Rio:
Thank you for taking the time to apply for the position of [the position] at [the company]. We greatly appreciate your interest in [the company]. Your application and credentials have been evaluated by [the company], along with the other applicants. We have received a high-volume of applications and the position is now filled. I would encourage you to continue to review job opportunities at [the company's website].
Again, thank you for your interest in [the company] and best wishes for a successful employment search.
So…I didn’t get the job? I’m actually confused. The entire time the letter side-steps around telling me that I didn’t get it, like they are bringing up an uncomfortable topic at a family reunion. It’s not an exaggeration to say that simply changing the last sentence of the big paragraph to the word “Congratulations!” instantly turns it into an acceptance letter.
Sometimes, they even have the audacity to include the whole “we’ll keep your resume on file in case your credentials match what we’re looking for in the future.”
Spoiler Alert: They will never call you back.
This person has never and will never exist. Seriously have you EVER heard of this happening to anyone you’ve ever known? (Ya I know he looks 12, but the point stands.)
So, because it is considered rude to tell a job candidate why they didn’t get it, you will never find out that your brother took your resume and Find and Replace’ed all instances of the phrase “Skilled in customer service” to “Proficient with every major brand of penis enlargement device.”
5) The Traditional Job Paths Are Different Now
The majority of my money nowadays comes from jobs that didn’t exist when my parents were my age because they all involve the Internet in some way.
Imagine trying to explain to your grandparents that you develop videogames for a living. You’d likely have to describe what videogames even are before you get to any of the details.
Let’s go back a little further and just say that you are a kid who wants to develop videogames. Good luck getting help from Mom and Dad on what courses to take, what college to go to, and who to bribe. They are gonna have no idea how to help you get from point A to B. Your Dad is a lawyer? Easy, go to law school, make a connection in the industry. Mom’s a doctor? Easier. Go to med school and intern in a hospital you want to work for. They probably won’t know what to do for you though, so it’s up to you to figure it out.
Speaking of internships…
Free Internships are probably the single most ridiculous thing to ever be created. The fact that they are legal makes my head spin. “But my internship led me to the exact job I wanted!” Bingo. That’s exactly my point. You were forced to work for free in order to even get a chance at getting where you needed to be.
Here’s a story to illustrate how ridiculous this gets. I did a communications internship back in college for a whole summer. I worked 3 days a week for about 5 hours a day. It was probably the most fun thing I ever did, but don’t get me wrong, I actually did a shit-ton of work. Interestingly, this internship was required as part of my degree. And for those of you keeping score at home, that means I had to pay for the credits. Wait. I paid money in order to work? Isn’t that, like, super-slavery?
The majority of structured, free internships are a farce that are actually worse because they operate under the guise of helping the student. Look at the trifecta above. Who is actually benefitting here? The University gets tuition money without providing anything (remember, they are the ones who made up the fact that I had to do it). The business gets completely free labor (again, the job I was doing could have been done by a paid worker). I get something to put on my resume. Why didn’t I just lie and say that I did it?
The powers that be believe that the access you get as an intern is worth more to you than money (That internship eventually connected me to a job I have now, but was it worth losing out on thousands of dollars?). And when the supply of financially-dependent students is as large as it is, you can bet your ass that they are absolutely, 100% right.