“Standing in the Job Search Line”

Chapter Excerpt
“Finding Work When There Are No Jobs
From Part I: “Standing in the Job Search Line”
Copyright 2010 Roger Wright

There is NOTHING Fun About this Line

It’s the giant, universal line to find a job. THE JOB SEARCH LINE. As you stand in the line, it barely moves. Up at the front you’ve heard tell there is a job. But you can’t see the front. No one is smiling in this LINE. Sound familiar?

In the JOB SEARCH LINE almost everything you know about finding work has been turned upside down.

• EXPERIENCE—can hurt you.
• WELL WRITTEN RESUMES—mean nothing.
• PERFORMANCE or RESULTS—don’t matter.
• LOYALTY or LONGEVITY—is a quaint memory.
• WELL RUN COMPANIES—are no longer the goal.
• ANONIMITY —must be maintained.
• ADVERTISING A JOB—often doesn’t mean it exists.

Perhaps the most diabolical characteristic of the “JOB SEARCH LINE” is that if you don’t look hard, everything can seem just fine. Business as usual.

There are lots of reasons for that. All of which have to do with job search being a system. A big, whirring, humming along machine that has a big red switch on the side which says, RAISE THE PROTECTIVE SHIELDS whenever it senses a thinking job applicant swimming like a shark nearby.

If the machine could talk it would say to you” Keep walking, folks! “Go about your business. Everything is fine here.”

You shake your head, blink your eyes, and loose any lingering thoughts of systems protecting themselves. You assume that all is well. You’ll just send out a few more resumes. If something is wrong here it must be your fault. Right?

So you turn back to the Internet Job Search site, type in the name of a job, and start pushing resumes out into cyberspace. You’re working. So you must get something back from your work, right? Hmmm. No response? Better just work harder.

And that goes on till a stray thought floats across your mind . . .wait a minute Mister Person Offering A Job . . .. tell me again why I’m not allowed to know your name?

The JOB SEARCH LINE can —above all—be deceptive.

So in order to make sure you get out of it—and on to the business of finding work—lets take a very hard look at the JOB SEARCH LINE.

The Giant Line Starts with Labeling

The Giant Line starts with “labeling.” When you get in the line, you get labeled.

Labeling people always leaves someone out. Even labels like “Unemployed” or “Underemployed.”

Standing on the fringes of those labels are individual human beings. And every single person’s story is unique.

Perhaps you wouldn’t give yourself a label. For you, there’s more to it than “Unemployed.” Perhaps not. You used to have a paycheck. Now you don’t. Or the paycheck you now have has a much lower number on it.

Maybe you are a person who used to look for work, and now you don’t even try anymore. Why should you? Nothing happened.

Maybe your job search is more like a story where nothing happened.

See? You just got in line and already there’s a problem. A “Label.” One that really doesn’t capture who you are. Often doesn’t even come close.

And There You Stand

Now labeled, you stand. And THE JOB SEARCH LINE can be pictured something like this.

You are standing in a really long line. Shuffling slowly towards the JOB at the front. The line stretches around 3 city blocks, winds its way out to the edge of town, travels past empty houses, deserted farms and barren fields, stretches on out to the next town where it passes by tumbleweed empty abandoned factories, boarded up storefronts, and crumbling parking lots in front of empty office buildings. You can’t see much of anything beyond the person in front of you because it’s dark as night.

No one speaks. Above all, it’s quiet. A disturbing quiet.

In the search for JOBS, everyone’s alone. And quiet.

When you first took your place in the line, somebody handed you a book. In the book were the basics of how to get a job. Most everyone still has his book—though some lay scattered along the ribbon of people winding their way across a dark, still wasteland where jobs once grew.

What’s in the book? Cautionary tales of chewing gum in job interviews, warnings of letting the new boss know you were fired for punching the old boss in the nose, dreams of the perfect resume.

All the usual advice. All based on the usual premise that the shortest distance between two points, the shortest distance to the job, is a straight line. Logical assumption. So you stand in the line. The line for the job. You might be munching on potato chips watching a daytime talk show or staring blankly at an internet job board, or filling out a profile in an HR office. But even then you are also in a line. That giant line for a job.

The line inches forward so slowly you can feel wrinkles in your face growing deeper.

Finally, you get to the front of the line. You are dressed in your finest job interview clothes. The hair is perfect. The handshake is firm. You are just about to look the hiring manager straight in the eye and the thought flashes into your brain like a buzz saw.

There is no job. All the jobs are gone.

There are no jobs.

Now what?

You’ve reached the front of that seemingly endless line and there are no jobs.

What do you do now?

You are standing there dumbfounded. Not sure where or how to move. You’ve gone through the line. Done everything asked of you. And nothing happened.

The way the system is set up didn’t work for you.

So you begin to wonder. What if . . . . .

• You had your own damn line? Why not? The one you were standing in with everyone else didn’t work.
• The entire SYSTEM surrounding how we search for jobs does more harm than good. Ever spend a moment on an internet job board? Apply for a job that doesn’t exist? Ever wonder if perhaps useful, fairly paid work and not a “job,” would be a better goal for you?
• The best path for you, in your search for work, was NOT a straight line? As silly as it might sound, what if the path to work for YOU required some zigging and zagging?

That big, giant single line for the JOBS might be the loneliest place you’ve ever seen. . Besides being quiet, the other thing about that giant line for THE JOB is that it’s desperately lonely. Even when you religiously take your daily two tablespoons of “networking,” recommended by pretty much everyone—the LINE is lonely.

Nothing feels lonelier than walking into a networking event where you don’t know a soul.

But these “What if’s . . .” are pretty radical thoughts. So before you try anything too wacky, giving it all up and joining some other circus, lets see what’s at the front of the line.

At The Front of The Line

At the front of the silent line of people winding their way through that endless darkness, nobody has to tell you there are no jobs. Nobody has to read you a list of statistics. You just know. Even in that deathly night silence when no one is speaking.

You already know because all the places you’ve tried don’t even bother to send our rejection letters anymore. You know from the looks when you walk in to fill out an application. You already know because you can see it in the faces of the other silent, head down souls in the line

So you’ve snaked your way up the line, waiting for your turn, because that’s all you know how to do. And now you’re at the front. Your turn.

But again, you are greeted with silence. And this is what you imagine.

At the front of the line, stretching out to the left and right you see a counter. Like a barricade. Behind the counter sit faceless, black hooded people never speaking. Just shaking their heads and silently mouthing the word “No.”

On a big sign tacked up sloppily behind the counter you see a list of promises.

• Read this book and you could land the job of your dreams.
• You too could make $10,000 a month from the comfort of your very own home.
• Complete this training program and join the other sales professionals sharing investment advice with their friends and family.
• Register here for jobs in the $100k and up level.
• $1,000 will buy you the perfect resume.
• $400 per hour will buy you Coaching on job search.
• More education, more job.
• I did this. . .so you could too.

You already know about schemes that prey on the vulnerable.

So all of that is what you face if you go forward.

Now what? Could you go backwards? Maybe go stand in the line again? As if you missed something? Stranger things have happened. People keep sending résumés to internet job boards—by the millions—even though nothing happens.

What if you were to turn around and get back in line?

You turn around and gaze back over that useless line still stretched out behind you, even longer now. From the front of the line you have a better view of what’s behind you. What you’ve just walked through. You can see more clearly.

Strewn along the line evokes an image of rusted out cars, refrigerators with the doors pulled off, burning tires, coffee grounds, crumpled newspapers, old neon signs ripped from the front of failed businesses, office furniture slashed with the stuffing popping out, giant metal fabricating machines from once humming factories rusted and cold. The battered ruins of so many places where people used to work. In these smoking mountains of trash it’s as if you can see the pride, the self respect, the training for a trade, the tools and even the passion for doing the work that all the people in that endless line used to do so well. Abandoned self-respect and pride smell of sulfur in the acrid night wind.

And sprinkled along this parade of broken dreams, like the cut glass shards of a shattered mirror you see the remnants of questions littering the night. Questions so clear they might as well be written out on scraps of paper.

What did I do wrong?

Where did I mess up?

Is this my fault?

Is this fair?

Why is this so different than I expected it to be?

Should I just try again?

Maybe try harder?

Can anyone help me?

And that’s even before you start hearing the swelling chorus of “other people’s success stories.”

Often presented as inspiration, but sometimes with a thinly veiled patronizing tone just below the surface; other people’s success stories can be well intentioned. Or they can be clever ways of blaming the victim.
Inspirational stories don’t have to be evil or patronizing. Sometimes they help. And sometimes somebody wins lotteries too.

In the end though: it’s your story, not somebody else’s success story that matters to you.

So before you turn around and try the line again. Or, before you keep walking past the faceless demons at the front of the line into deeper darkness; lets try something different. Perhaps try thinking differently.

Let’s start with telling your story.

3 Responses to ““Standing in the Job Search Line””

  1. Paul Haider Says:

    This has reminded me again of the Gary U.S. Bonds song “Out of Work” from 1982. I recently changed the lyrics of it in my mind to remove the “we’ve got to do our best to whip that inflation down” line to something different. “Hey, Mr. President, I know you’ve got good plans/You’re doing all you can now to help the little man/We’ve got to do our best to find some employment now, Maybe you’ve got a job for me just driving you around/These tough times they’re enough to make a man lose his mind/Up there you’ve got a job, but down here below I’m out of work.” It’s a good thing that unemployment benefits have been extended yet again.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    The saddest thing about the employment situation in our country today is that most people want to work, they want to make an honest living and contribute to society. Unfortunately, the opportunity to do that in a meaningful way is no longer available to everyone. On the other hand, a recent survey I read showed a large percentage of the population unhappy about their current jobs – wanting to do something different if the situation, mood and reality of the situation were different. So it leads me to wonder what percentage of the population is truly happy, meaning they are not unemployed, or they are not living in fear of losing what job they have or they are not desparately looking for something new. Makes me wonder how American businesses will continue to effectively compete in the global marketplace with this much employee unrest and turmoil.

  3. Dale Says:

    Several deft touches in this. Two lines that really stood out for me were these: “In the search for JOBS, everyone’s alone. And quiet.” and “The line inches forward so slowly you can feel wrinkles in your face growing deeper.”

    Great book you’ve got going here, Roger (he said admiringly but sadly).

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