Monday, June 22, 2009

Be sure to use bullet points to highlight your absolute lack of marketable skills

The problem with being in the same room as my dad is that the power of his nagging is amplified by his clever use of nonverbal body tics, sighs, and grunts. When dad gripes "ya still haven't got a goddamn job yet?" on the phone, I am relatively unaffected, and manage to roll my eyes and distract him by asking if any annoying kids have been on his lawn lately.

In person, however, I am witness to the pathos of his response, which involves him clutching at his heart and looking off into the distance, contemplating, surely, my impending death by starvation followed by being eaten by my cats, which he of course is going to have to clean up dammit why does he have to do all the work around here? He sighs. Then his face sags a little bit and the lines around his mouth come out in greater depth and he looks really old. The piteousness of that last bit is only slightly diminished when he darts an eye over in my direction to see whether I am being affected.

Nothing I say or do serves to dissuade him ---- not assurances that I am teaching/have a fellowship/have money to cover the summer/just won the lottery, all of which, except the last, have been true at various times ---- and indeed I know this is a game I cannot win, for even if I were to get a job he would immediately move down the list for the next point of nagging: filling my retirement accounts, presumably, or getting the next job, raise, or additional job (you can never be too careful!).

But this time, or maybe it is that a lifetime of nagging has worn down my defenses and made me susceptible, this time the constant complaints have raised some worry and I have been looking for "something to pick up" over the summer, even though I could just spend the entire summer writing away at my publishing stuff due to my cushion. (Dad's pay-cash-for-everything, buy- nothing, re-use-tinfoil, you-can-never-have-enough-money-for-emergencies, don't-you-know-I -was-born-in-the-Depression-and-had-to-walk-uphill-both-ways-in-the-snow philosophy of miserliness is another trait of his I've unwillingly picked up.)

But this town is not an easy place to "pick something up in." Or I have become spoiled and formed ridiculously high standards of compensation and effort. Or I should have moved into the entry-level grunt jobs back when I was 22 and it hardly would have bothered me and then I would have moved up to actual money and interestingness by now. You know, there really is something to that, so please tell your students. Anyway, reading local job listings has been an exercise in depressingness. I can see now why so many people on that "applying to grad school" livejournal site talk about their jobs as soul-sucking.

However! Something popped out at me on the list one day as something that might be sorta fun. I might like to try that! And if I test it out I will be checking out a possible plan B if the job market this fall does not work. All to the good.

You need a resume and cover letter to apply, though. Turns out I write those much the same way as I write academic paragraphs: slowly and with lots of breaks. And by stealing about a dozen models off the web and reverse-engineering them. Whoo boy --- have you looked at sample letters over on Monster? They read exactly like the spam that gets left on blog comments. I hadn't realized that spam is actually a paragon of good business writing. This depresses me even further. The one upside is that business cover letters and resumes are, probably because the prose is so soul-suckingly godawful, mercifully brief. And bulleted. Even the letter is bulleted, although ---- and I'm giving you a solid-gold job tip here by telling you this ---- you do not actually use bullet points in your address, greeting, or signature.

The bright side of spending time looking at sample resumes and job ads and advice columns and salary scales is that I get to realize: holy shit, I am smarter and more qualified than most of the job seekers out there, if all these articles about applicants not being able to follow the format of a business letter by cutting and pasting sample key phrases and relevant information into a formatted template are to be believed. Or that being able to use Word and Outlook actually moves me up the pay scale. And that the academic job search is way fuckin' harder than any of the application processes out on the job boards. Truth be told, I've never said that getting a nonacademic job seemed impossible, just that, like Bartleby, I prefer not to.

Ok, I was going to do some funny riffs here on a bulleted list of marketable cog skills, as opposed to marketable grad student skills, as well as some sample cover letter poetry, but I just hit tiredness and promise to have part 2 of this post tomorrow. Except: and this is very important! You need to make me promise that the "side job search," spoofs of the side job search, and the side job itself cannot get in the way of the really important activity of this summer, which is to get out my damn publications and prep for the real job search this fall. I do not need to get some job and then be trapped someplace where "a strong ability to alphabetize and file neatly" is a cutting-edge skill.


Anonymous said...

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Bardiac said...


It's amazing how parents wear you down over a lifetime, isn't it. :(

Phul Devi said...

I love the line about how spam is actually a paragon of good business writing! That had me snorting!
Good luck!

Belle said...

Sounds like you have an abundance of nagging, so I'll offer what support I can:

Go Cog GO!!!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I've always thought it was a great confidence-booster, and thus a help on the job market, to know you have a real, viable, tolerably attractive Plan B. So I hope the alternative job thing works well for you, leaves you time to write, and lets you hit the academic market with that attractive "I'm interested in you but I don't NEED you" attitude.

Anonymous said...

Okay, did you talk about spam as a paragon of good business writing in your post, then get a SPAM COMMENT?? That cracks me up!

I had a sort of similar experience when I was trying to figure out what a legal cover letter looks like (which, I should say, I do not think I have fully accomplished, but I got a summer job and various interviews, so I must have done some of it right). 1) it's so frickin short! I mean, you don't have to write paragraphs about the brilliance of your upcoming research plan. How can it *not* be easier? 2) It was weird looking at examples (which I, too, stole from various websites), because I was thinking, okay, this is a *good* cover letter? then what the hell's a *bad* cover letter? I mean, none of them were bad, but they seemed pretty basic and straightforward to me. (Like, if the competition really *can't* figure out how to make a letter look like this, well...)

Again, I'm sure there's nuance I'm missing, but yeah, it was an easier process.

(Converting the c.v. to a resume kind of sucked, but just because I had to figure out how to go from 6 pages to 2. wheeeee.)

Academic, Hopeful said...

I am a fairly new reader of yours, admittedly, but, this would get my hand up when you have your best post vote. The style, the narrative, the characterisation, the humour, the insights - they're all superb.

It helped that I could relate to many of the themes. Right now, I am too caught up in chapter drafts, publications and general panic to actively line up a post-thesis job. Plus, the applications are usually a year in advance and some require a good month's work. This paralyses me. I too have to handle my parents' worries, as much as they try to package them as mere curiosity. I am going home in Nov to live with them for two months which will really test our love for each other.

Good luck! And keep the job search/applications posts coming.

Anonymous said...

Ceci n'est pas un spam. Yeah, academics like to think people in the business world are stoopid - am I detecting that prejudice here? I actually did bullet-point my address. But I'm self-employed, so I hired myself anyway. Perhaps I just wanted to chase myself around the desk.

Anyway, nice blog, if a bit too heavy at times on the "hey, watch me subvert the dominant paradigm" claptrap. But you lied to us: where's Part Deux?