i dream of being possible

While I appreciate the good intentions...

Dorothea brought up the classism inherent in things like cover letters, partially by linking this post about the unwritten rules. This started another round of reflection on the nature of hiring practices and how employers can best determine whom to hire in an ethical fashion.

I’ve elsewhere mentioned that I no longer listen to job advice and made another tweet about how most job advice suggests that you lie on your cover letters. I’ve also talked about my problems with being too honest. Right now I’m hearing from a few people who, in trying to be helpful, are giving me advice, which I’m no longer listening to.

Advice which either seems to assume I share a similar level of privilege (in the vein of too much honesty: job search advice from white/straight/cis men is pretty much useless for me) or just appears to be cementing my understanding that cover letter advice (and some interview advice) mainly amounts to: lie as much as you think you can get away with.

Now, to clarify, what I’m talking about here is not saying you have a degree when you don’t. Rather, I’m talking about when (as mentioned in a previous post) you are asked if you are good at multitasking, the answer is “yes” even if you are terrible at it. Or when asked about your weakest traits/qualities you need to answer with three things that aren’t actually your weaknesses but that conform to some socially acceptable notion of a ‘weakness’ that doesn’t really impact your job (search me for what the hell this means).

I also mentioned on twitter that I’m fairly certain the only reason why I managed to snag my current job is because, since it is a part-time contract, I was able to apply with an application form and resume. It was also an interview I did really well in because I wasn’t asked any of the bullshit HR questions that I pretty much always fail at, instead they asked about my knowledge in the technical areas I was going to work in and about my general knowledge of scholarly communication. And since I’m actually passionate about both digital preservation (and library tech) and scholarly communication, I was able to convey my enthusiasm. Yay me.

As I tweeted, I’m fairly certain that this will be my last library job that I’m able to get (unless I’m somehow promoted within my current institution). Don’t get me wrong, I’ll stay in this position for as long as they’ll have me, but it’ll probably take a miracle for me to get another one.

I’ve been looking for full-time employment for over two years. In this time, I’ve managed to get a total of two interviews. And I’ve sent out a lot of applications. A lot. I think the best estimate for my ‘success’ rate is about maybe 1/20, and I’m probably being generous. I’ve applied at positions I’m well suited for and have relevant experience (on top of the applications I sent out of desperation).

I say all of this, not to whine or complain, because this is what my current situation is. It has taken a while, but I’ve also made my peace with it. I’ve done all the things that the varied advice has suggested.

Not only do we kinda live in a not so great time to be looking for work (particularly in our field) but also the unwritten rules. I grew up in a poor, single-parent immigrant home. There was no one to teach me about these things. And, there is evidence to suggest that even were I to adequately learn, the unwritten rules change. Look at the debate about anti-Asian quotas at top American universities, the goal posts are constantly shifting.

Add this to both implicit and explicit biases, like the fact that just my name decreases my chances for getting an interview, other issues of race, class, and gender: suddenly, my situation isn’t looking very great. I try not to lie to myself (as much as possible). My prospects aren’t great and the world is what it is.

I don’t really attribute most or all of my lack of job hunting success to things out of my control (ie, my name, race, gender, etc). Some things like cover letters and such I could conceivably learn1, if only the advice out there wasn’t full of contradictions. I’m also sort of at an impasse right now with certain things (still waiting for my name change to be official and change all of my documents). Stuck in the cycle of poverty wherein I need professional clothes but have no money to buy them with2.

But as I’ve said before: this is not a meritocracy. Ensuring that my resume/attitude/interview skills are just right won’t change that. And, while the advice and encouragement is nice, I feel people’s energy and attention would be much better directed to trying to effect change in hiring practices, rather than attempting to get me to conform to current practices, which aren’t very good in the first place.

Just a thought.

  1. I haven’t yet and there is some reason to think that it actually may be out of my ability to learn. I guess we’ll see what happens after I get my brain MRI in December and talk to a neurologist – even so, while it has taken me almost 30 years to realize, my brain legitimately does not function as most people’s seem to. I’m not sure how long it’ll take to figure out why and understand the full implications. 

  2. This is actually the main reason why I’ve stopped looking for now. Waiting until my tax return in the spring for some extra money to buy professional clothes, because from all accounts, showing up at a job interview with bad clothes is insta-fail. Such is life.