Job hunting sucks. It sucks to do now, it sucked to do at all times prior to now, and it will suck in all possible futures. It is a process designed to maximize fear, self-consciousness, and indignity, as potential employers go on a Unicorn hunt to find the one true candidate who provides a maximal combination of (genuine or performative) enthusiasm for their bullshit organization, inability to negotiate a fair salary, and hyper-specific and utterly unrealistic sets of prior experience and qualifications.
Before you even apply for a job, you need at least three (and these days, you really need four) things. You need to create a resume. Creating a resume is easy as hell, and I know this because even I can whip one up without too much effort. The challenge lies in creating a resume that ‘stands out’, an empty buzzterm that functions as a stand-in for whatever inscrutable, arbitrary qualities the poor HR goon or middle management sap will find impressive. Ask five different people about what makes a resume ‘stand out’ and you will get seven different answers, but once you sit down and think about those answers two distinct themes emerge.
First, your resume must be aesthetically pleasing. I hope you paid attention in art class the last time you had to take art class (shoutouts to eighth grade). Second, you have to make at least one formatting decision that is different from standard resume formatting, and you have to make that decision purely for its own sake. There are more ways to do this than there are assholes in Congress. The point is, if your resume is merely a condensed, easy-to-read list of your skills and your prior work experience, you are wasting your time and everyone else’s.
Second, you need to write a cover letter. Cover letters are the worst. I would rather the halftime show of the Super Bowl cut to a live feed of me jerking off on the toilet than write a single cover letter ever again. Writing a good cover letter combines the unknowability of creating a ‘good’ resume with the performative horseshit of a high school pep rally, as you contort the knowledge and skills you’ve gained in your career to date to fit the twisted, tangled, and not-actually-existent mold of skills the job listing in question specifies. On top of that, your cover letter must also present you as excited for the opportunity to work at a company you ultimately know nothing about, other than the fact that they will, at some point, try to fuck you. Like every company you have worked for or will ever work for, they will try to fuck you on pay, they will try to fuck you on benefits, and if they only try to fuck you metaphorically, then you have lived a deeply privileged existence, as the #MeToo movement has finally made undeniably clear.
Third, you must also have references. Really, this is the easiest part of the whole process. As long as you have worked somewhere at some point, you can get references. You didn’t even need to have done a good job at your last place of employment to get a good reference. But still, you have to keep track of those people kind enough to agree to serve as your references. Sure, they gave you their email address and phone number, but it was almost certainly their work email and number, so if they get a new job it behooves you to be appraised of the situation. This requires a baseline level of competence at keeping in touch with people, a skill I (and many people I know) still haven’t developed when it comes to good friends, let alone co-workers.
And finally, because we have the grave misfortune of living in a time when the unending hatefulness of end-state capitalism and the unending hatefulness of the internet exist concurrently, there’s LinkedIn to contend with. Who’s the douchebag who thought LinkedIn was a good idea? Who sat down and said “Facebook is great and all (IT’S FUCKING NOT!), but wouldn’t it be better if the whole point was that your current and future boss can see it?”Unfortunately, it appears that many, many douchebags thought this was fantastic idea, and therefore a concept that should have been relegated to the startup landfill has caught on to the point that not having a LinkedIn profile will make all your other application materials appear illegitimate. Therefore, it is now necessary that you present your LinkedIn profile as part of your application as a final act of ritualistic self-salesmanship.
Anyway, once you finally have everything ready, you submit your resume, cover letter, and references for judgment, and you will almost certainly found to be lacking. You will not be informed of this, and as a result you will get to spend the next week or so after submitting your materials stewing in your own terror juice as you wonder what exactly you did wrong this time. No answer will ever be apparent or present itself after the fact, meaning that you will gain no insight or experience to prepare you for the next time you have to do the whole thing all over again.
In the highly unlikely event that you are contacted to schedule an interview, your psyche will flood with a new set of distinct but closely related anxieties. Oh god, I finally got an interview and what if they don’t like me? What if they hate my stupid face on sight? What if they can tell how nervous I am? Wait, I’m supposed to ask them questions as well? How much preparing is too much preparing? How much preparing is too little? Oh shit, I need to get my suit dry-cleaned. Oh shit, I need a haircut. Oh shit, WHAT DO I DO WITH MY HANDS?????
` All of this is an awful, unending nightmare carousel of fear that employers insist on putting prospective workers through, and the worst part is it doesn’t even work! Companies hire bad employees all the fucking time, and it’s impossible to interpret this as anything other than a symptom of a process for hiring people that in no way demonstrates the skills or duties that most actual jobs consist of. It’s all sales, and it demonstrates the extent to which our means-of-production-owning overlords want everything to be sales. Sales make money, so if you’re good at sales, you’re good at making money. You are only useful to your employer to the extent that you not only do exactly what is asked of you, but that you exist exactly as they want you to exist.
It’s necessary, at this stage, to point out that in my current search for a new job, I have it better than just about everyone else currently looking for work. My wife is working and doing well enough to support both of us for now, and therefore I am under no immediate pressure to find a job right this very second. I can be picky about not only the sort of work I want to do, but the sort of place I want to work at. In fact, I can spend all day writing for a blog that brings in no money and is read by approximately seven people, in the completely delusional hope that hey, maybe I’ll get discovered as a writer and get a job offer at Deadspin/Stereogum/The AV Club/The Ringer/etc. Very, very few people who are looking for work have this level of unbelievable privilege. I have a choice, but in this completely unfair-by-design job market, almost no one else does.
But still, the pressures and anxieties of the job hunt are such that my reaction to every possible job application is fear. It’s the stomach churning wave of anxiety I got when I asked a girl to slow-dance with me in middle school all over again. For the past few years, when I’ve expressed interest in finding a new job, my wife has responded by thoughtfully and helpfully taking time out of her legitimately busy days to send me job listings she think might be a good fit for me, and I’ve always reacted by lashing out with the terror I feel when I think of applying a job. I’ve been out of school for a decade, and job hunting still gives me more anxiety than I can process in a healthy way. My wife, to her unending credit, has been patient with this, which is better than I deserve.
My point here is that I don’t know why I put up with this, or why anyone else does either. Everything about applying for a job is a test of subservience. I like to think I’ve matured enough that I know longer enter a state of instinctual rebellion whenever someone tells me what to do, but I’ve had moments at every job I’ve had as an adult where I ask myself: Why am I doing this? Why am I stressing myself out for this shit? What do I stand to gain? If this company does better, I’m not going to reap the benefits. Somebody else higher up will. We do our jobs and we do them well, and our reward is an ever-widening wealth gap and the increasingly fractious class divide that goes with it. The methods capitalism uses to strip us of our dignity are endless both in their number and in their ability to make all of us feel like lesser beings.
I’m here to tell you that you’re OK. You are a unique human being, and that is valuable for its own sake. Money can only take away the things you give it. Seize the means of production. All power to the workers.
2 thoughts on “Job Hunting Sucks”
Okay, this is now turning out to be a good evening after all! I stumbled across your blog while despairing over an anticipated job search and after Googling a phrase often used in conjunction with lawyers. (Yes, you guessed it: starts with an A!) This post gave me a much-needed shot of humor. You are an outstanding writer. Seriously. Thanks for this and please keep writing.