The Job Search is Broken

A few months ago, when I last updated, I dropped how I’d lost my long-time (what I thought was my) forever job in a surprising flash into a post about how Charles had gone missing. Those two events overlapped, causing me to be in a Not Very Good Place for a few weeks. Charles returned home, I managed a recipe blog post and promised more, and then . . . nothing. It’s been crickets.

Which is not to say I haven’t been cooking or doing anything; rather, I have been on a grief journey that at times energizes me with possibilities and potential and all the “be-positive-speak” one encounters endlessly on LinkedIn and at other times breaks me. To have to come out of May, limping through the finish line of another academic year in the trenches of budget cuts, scant resources, and increased pressure and responsibility to “make it work” and “be impactful!” and “basically be all the things to students because you’re on the front lines!” but “we can’t pay you a living wage, sorry not sorry” only to be told there’s not enough money for me to retain that job . . . *sighs*

So into the job search I went. I spent hours reading about resumes and cover letters and trying different templates and comparing with other people on LinkedIn. I created a professional portfolio website here on WordPress. I tried to make the LinkedIn algorithm work by interacting meaningfully on posts and “creating content!” so that employers could know what I was about. I applied and applied and applied and wrote and wrote and wrote: cover letters that are unique and speak to the bullets listed in the job description, resumes tailored for each position–“don’t make recruiters go searching for why you’re a good fit!” (but isn’t that their job?!), message recruiters on LinkedIn, but only this way and not that way and most of them won’t respond but you also have to network! Networking will get you a job! But it takes me all day every day to fill out an application because I have to link to my LinkedIn, upload my resume, and then fill in each individual blank that requires all the exact same information on LinkedIn and resume, but won’t autopopulate. So, I guess I network in the evenings and on weekends now? (hashtag: social saturday!)

I sent out 100 resumes at first and got very minimal response.

“You’re not optimizing your resume for keywords.”

What?

Yes. Larger companies run resumes through a software program searching for keywords and auto-reject resumes that don’t meet their standards. So it doesn’t matter what I’m applying to, we all have to metatag our resumes now.

Weeks go by and I throw more resumes into the ocean, disappearing beneath waves never to be heard from again. I land a few first-round interviews where I learn to “be authentic and personable; this is a conversation!” but also, and I’m being 100% serious, “dance, motherf*cker, dance!”

You see, these “conversations” where I’m supposed to be authentic are anything but–they are performances, plain and simple. You don’t want authenticity, you want me to perform “culture fit” or “team player” in a way that you can easily recognize and interpret. You don’t recognize the power you have over me. You don’t recognize how your questions are personally invasive and/or so incredibly general and vague but somehow you want specific answers that conform using specific methodology (“use the STAR method! Be impactful!”). You don’t recognize your own inherent biases to judge how I’m “a good fit” are largely based on how comfortable I make you feel while I’m experiencing extreme discomfort (“but relax! Remember, you’re interviewing them as much as they are you!”) Yeah, whatever. I need to be able to keep my house and feed my family, so while I’d love to be all choosey, I really can’t afford to.

It doesn’t matter that for every interview I take the job description point by point and write a response that includes examples and specifics of how I have accomplished this point in previous positions and plan to pursue it in this position. No interview ever asks me for that. Instead it’s stuff like, “So why do you want to work here?” You don’t want to hear how I desperate I am. How tired. How completely burnt out and overwhelmed and I just want a living wage for a job I can do well without it eating my life and wellbeing like my last one. No. I have to tell you specifics, which means I have gone to your website and researched your company to pull out values and mission statements and culture clues. And yet you sit there READING MY RESUME WHILE WE TALK (“I see here you have experience doing . . . “) Didn’t YOU prep before hand?

“Tell me about yourself,” without you telling me anything about you.

“What’s something interesting about you?” without you telling me something about yourself.

Again. That’s not how conversations work. It’s a one-act, one-person performance with you as the audience, director, and critic.

Round 2 may or may not be in the hands of the person interviewing me for Round 1. They take notes and then some person who hasn’t talked to me and likely passes over my materials vaguely looking for keywords of interest makes that decision. I don’t make it in, despite having almost a decade of experience doing this thing, only in a different context. They can’t see it. Somehow that’s my fault. If only I’d tried harder!

If Round 2 is in the hands of the same person from Round 1, I’m judged based on how successfully I extroverted in Round 1.

In Round 2, a panel of people will interview me. The last interview I went on a panel of people interviewed me first, then another panel of people interviewed me directly after, then I delivered a prepared 20-minute presentation on a general prompt, before another person interviewed me. Back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

Automated email rejection. (But please tell ME to be more personable.)

I’m an introvert. I also have an anxiety disorder. Can we talk about how this process in no way helps you understand how I might actually interact with people on a daily basis, you know, when I’m not completely overwhelmed by constant performative bullsh*t?No one and I mean NO ONE seems willing to actually consider the specificity and individuality of the bodies interacting here. The interviewer is seen as objective (they’re not). The interviewee is told to be relaxed but impactful, conversational but be specific and thorough! (I’m reminded of the “leading lady sketch” from BBC Comedy where they want the female lead to be “curvy but skinny!” and “innocent but a total sex goddess!”) And there is not reciprocity. Sure I can ask the interviewer questions–after they’ve grilled me for 30 minutes and I’m exhausted.

Using notes is frowned upon–“be spontaneous and personable!”–and so your ability to judge whether or not I’m a “good fit” for this position resides on my ability to perform intelligent, coherent, personable, relaxed, competent for however many rounds of “conversational” interviews where I field the same somewhat vague questions over and over and over again from different and sometimes the same people (but with additional people) just waiting to see if I trip up.

I’m exhausted. I’m not an extrovert and never will be. I will never be able to relax because I, unlike you, am KEENLY AWARE of the power dynamics and emotions circulating through the interview–the ones you’re trying to ignore because “it’s just a conversation!”

If I could write an essay for each interview, I guarantee you I’d have a job by now. But that’s not how it’s done, is it? It’s done this way, which privileges certain kinds of people who think and act and perform “competent, culture fit” a certain way.

Yes, I do struggle to answer some of your questions because they’re general. I’m a big picture person who zooms down to the impact of that picture on bodies and situations, but I always have the big picture in my head. There’s a veritable constellation of experiences, people, events, ideas, problems, solutions, impacts, and dynamics going on in my head for every. single. question I get asked. How do you want me to respond? My brain swirls with the sheer complexity of what you’ve asked but you seem to not be able to see. Most often, you want the simple sound byte, like the headline news without the actual evidence. And so then I work hard to meet you where you’re at–I simplify, erasing bits and pieces of information I deem necessary just so I can fit the answer into the time and format allotted. And I’m tired of it. So tired.

I’m actually super personable. I have built a career on kindness and relationship-building. I’ve written papers and book chapters and delivered conference presentations on connection, empathy, and community. But I can’t do it meaningfully in this format. Nothing about it is authentic, empathetic, or reciprocal. Nothing about it is accurate to the complex, messy humans we all are.

The job search is a generalized, inherently biased, impossibly impersonable system masquerading as being all about meeting and networking with people. It’s broken. And I’m just so, so tired of it.

Published by kelinmchull

Wife, mother, teacher, dreamer/doer, adventurer, wannabe farmer, writer, and all around curious gal.

2 thoughts on “The Job Search is Broken

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