There’s about 8 of us. A motley crew of unemployed academics shuffled together in a room to participate in a course on how to successfully apply for jobs. We are here to find the way out of unemployment and get our lives back on track as it were. Today we will be taught how to get through the job interview.
“So why did you study philosophy?” she asks me.
“Because I thought it was interesting.” Not the most elaborate answer, I know, but it’s the short version of the truth.
She smiles a condoning smile: “Yes, that’s the way it is when you’re young and don’t know about the labour market.”
And for a second I feel stupid. Clueless. Because in a way this career consultant woman is right, studying philosophy is not a very smart career move. But then logic and reason return and I realize that what she just said is actually a perfect testimony to everything that’s wrong with our famous western civilization. It’s all about making yourself attractive on the job market. To get ahead of the competition. Adapt to what the almighty Market wants. The greed game. Consumerism. All bottled up in that one remark. Studying philosophy, yes the follies of youth… No. I can safely say that my academic choices were not a result of youthful foolishness, nor do I feel the need to think of creative ways to explain why I, according to her understanding, wasted my time with this. In fact, if I could reverse time and do it all again I would. No hesitation. And I am actually proud of having that on my CV. And maybe, partly, these studies are also the reason I can see why it actually is something to be proud of rather than something that has to be explained away. Because unlike her and the Job Market, I actually see a value in having intellectual assets that go beyond pure business know-how. To pursue interests that don’t necessarily have a monetary value tied to them in terms of forecasted career opportunities. I try to explain this to her in an unthreatening manner, but I fear all I actually accomplish is to reinforce her impression of me as a freak.
By no means is this lady bad or stupid, she’s giving very good advice and she comes across as very knowledgeable. Professional. But the message she’s conveying makes me want to throw up. It’s just so disgusting and degrading to us as a species. Time you don’t invest in your professional career is wasted. Even what you do in your spare time counts, because in the end it all feeds into the bigger goal of the career, and what ever will make you more attractive on the Job Market is the smart thing to do. It shows you have orientation, ambition. It shows you have a Plan. And one must always have a Plan. A Plan for ones career. And it doesn’t even have to be that specific, but one thing has to be on it. Money. Lots of money.
“Money is important.”
And when she says that I have to swallow really hard to keep my stomach from turning inside out. Maybe she also talking about things such as getting fair compensation for the work you do and the time you invest, but above all it underlines the core message about value: You only gain value by adapting to the Job Market’s expectations and failure to internalize these will render you worthless. Of course it’s not really her fault, she’s just the messenger. But what a message it is…
She goes on to talk about how you should present yourself at a job interview and what you should respond to generic questions. Sure, all good advice, but the core message is: how to play the part they want you to play.
“We all have our roles to play. There’s a difference between who you are in your professional role and who you are in private.”
Sure. We do have levels in our personality, different layers of self, of who we are, and that’s how we manage to maintain our integrity in any type of social interaction, how we manage life. But what she’s talking about is something very different. It’s about playing games, making a good impression and fulfilling expectations. Or to put it differently: manipulation of and compromising with who you actually are. I.e. adapting to the requirements of the Job Market.
Among us is a young lawyer fresh out of law school. She gives an example of a question about work ethic and collegial manners she was given in a recent job interview. She gave the wrong answer and is now seeking advice on what the right answer would have been. Upon getting this postulated right answer she diligently writes it down so she can remember it for her next interview. And again I feel the nausea rising. How can teaching us this be a good thing?! If she doesn’t know the preferred answer it means she actually doesn’t posses the desired qualities and what good does it do her if she manages to fake it in the job interview? How does that help? She still won’t be able to handle a similar situation if she actually gets the job. Or will she? Maybe the whole idea is to internalize the values by imitation? If we manage to pull off the desired profile in the job interview that’s the first step in our transformation to valuable resources on the Job Market. We are supposed to be introduced to the correct frame of mind so that we can adopt this as part of our future professional personality. We are here to learn about the essence of having a Plan. And alongside that we also learn that if we don’t already have a Plan, which we most likely don’t since we are in fact sitting here like unemployed parasites on the body of society, the main thing is to sound as if you do have a Plan. So basically on the one hand we are given the information on what we need to do and on the other hand we are being told that we are useless. And the schizophrenia of telling us what expectations we have to live up to while at the same time teaching us how to hide the fact that we actually don’t is mind-boggling. “You all have something to offer.” Just not what’s actually being looked for…
From this avoidance strategy we move on to the topic on how to tackle questions you don’t really want to answer. At first I think she’s going to tell us how to politely tell someone to fuck off, but as it turns out we’re still on the same path. The path to the getting the job. But still I politely raise the point that if a presumptive employer asks you questions you find offending and rude, maybe you actually don’t want to work there in the first place, so thinking of good ways to counter these types of questions and remarks might actually be a huge waste of time.
“Yes, but it’s also important to get an entry into the job market.” Translation: Suck it up, or starve. Fit in or die trying.
Real people with real lives are rapidly becoming redundant on the Job Market. And the fact that you have to take courses on how to actually get a job is a very good indication that something is fundamentally wrong with the Job Market. Because it’s not only losers like us, i.e. unemployed people, that do these courses, no it’s become a whole industry. Books, consultants, lectures, courses, you name it. And the arguments used are all along the lines of the “tough conditions on the Job Market”. But there’s actually not that much of a job shortage out there. It’s just that we’re letting ourselves be fooled by the Market. The greed game. We buy in to the lie that money is important. But money is something we have invented. It’s not part of ‘nature’, it’s just a symbol, a tool that we have created. And the practical value of money has long been replaced by the symbolical. We are taught to crave materialist wealth, that monetary value is all that counts. A value that has completely and utterly enslaved us all. It’s given to us as an indisputable truth. But in reality we actually don’t need more than a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs. We actually don’t. And the most radical thing we could do as a society would be to guarantee this to everyone. To provide the basics, abolish the fight for survival. Because if we did that, maybe people would actually have the time to check their heads. To wake up and realize that we are heading down a dead-end road to ruin. Money is not a sustainable path, the one with the most money doesn’t actually win and you can’t take shit with you when you die. And yet everything we are being fed in the greed game tells us the exact opposite – it’s all about financial assets. I suppose that’s capitalism. But logic would tell you that the final step of capitalism is one person owning everything. So what happens then? I think we are in the process of painting ourselves in to a corner big time.
In the end I did manage to prevent myself from puking, and I managed to stay in the room. Mainly because I was too curious to leave. The watching a car crash way of curious. I didn’t really learn anything new, I already knew most of the bullshit ideals she was presenting, but I didn’t know they were that widespread. When I heard some of Obama’s speeches during the election campaign I was very much disgusted by how similar his language was to that used in the corporate world and already then I was scared, but this experience made me terrified. Because if even a machine engineer has to adhere to these absurd rules of conduct and engage in this mindless game in order to get a job, then we as a society are in serious trouble.