Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Job Eavesdropping

For this story to make sense, I have to give a little background on my office.

Now, the people I'm teaching for don't have lots of institutional power, and that is reflected in the square footage they control on campus. Thus, I get to use an office --- which I have been greatly appreciative of --- that is shared by about 4 or 5 other adjunct lecturers and is also being used to store lots of random disused office furniture. I'm not on the same floor or even the same building as either my home department or the department I am working for. And whatever, that's fine. I haven't even ever seen any of my other officemates this quarter.

Today, coincidentally, I posted my little post about job things while holding office hours after no more students showed up. I had my door open and was surfing the web, when I hear someone down the hall with hir door open, making a call. I've talked to this person maybe three or four times in the hallways; zie is very nice and seems to have a job that keeps hir stuck in this rather underpopulated hallway and kinda likes to have some human contact.

My ears pricked up, then, when I heard this person leave a voicemail message about a job posting. Hmm, I think. That might be the one on this campus I applied for. A little while later, the phone rings and I start listening in on the conversation, because this person is clearly describing the job posting as well as its current status and backstory. How could I not? I was just complaining that I know nothing about this type of job search and I feel like sending out staff/nonacademic job applications feels a lot like the black hole of academic job applications.

Now this job is a contract job --- hours, no benefits. And they only want to offer around 40 or 50% time. Frankly, I was thinking of it as a "backup" rather than a "real" job. So I was chagrined to hear this administrator type person tell the caller that they have already moved on to a first cut, but that the top candidate had bowed out already and zie was calling to let this other person know to apply.

"I've told Director X that you might be interested in the job and I can cc you both and you send in a resume to have it looked at," said the administrator person. "I also had mentioned in the initial screening that they would be more likely to get someone good and hold them if the time was bumped up and Director X is going to go to the higher ups and try to get this up to 75% time. I mean, it's not ideal, but it's a job. And you have three years experience with these contracts --- I don't think there's really any learning curve to go from NSF to this stuff."


So much for that one.

But a useful learning experience nonetheless. Clearly the networking and "secret job list" effect is much stronger on the staff side than the academic side of the university, and also, at least in this recession type time, hard experience in the field is going to trump any sort of "but I have lots of generally applicable skills!" type statements. And this job was not a particularly plum one because it is not even full time, but this little conversation is making me wonder if I know how to read these job ads and how to find the appropriate level to apply to.

I sent off a bunch of apps recently that were not for entry-level jobs, and I think I'm going to need to aim much lower on the career ladder. The thought of dropping all the way down to the lowest dept. secretarial support is humbling and annoying, partly because those jobs run about 8 bucks an hour but mostly because I was believing all the crap about my PhD having wonderful skills that I could teach people to recognize and appreciate. I think I am going to have to start over on the absolute bottom, as if I had just graduated from undergrad. And I'm wondering if anyone would even consider someone outside of the area for those types of jobs --- maybe I'm going to need to lie and use my cousins' or parents' home addresses and apply to stuff near their houses?

The good news is that rather than being depressed about this discovery, now I am seeing this as a puzzle, a tough nut to crack, and that plus my whole "fuck you I won't do what you tell me" attitude, which often extends as far as cutting off my own nose to spoil their face, will probably combine advantageously. (being given no advice whatsoever and told there was no way I was going to finish was wonderful motivation for finishing the PhD. Or at least the thought of showing everybody up was.) I like solving problems; what is this problem? what are the secret ways in? how to disguise myself as what they want?

Relatedly, while a lot of the administrative jobs sound horrible --- anything with marketing/sales type stuff, or living in the student dorms, bleah --- I'm liking the thought of these more problem-solving, analysis-oriented type jobs. I'd rather have a job that centers on solving problems or negotiating ideas or bureaucracies than a really people-intensive job, like this person working away in a random deserted wing of a building. Teaching is face-time-intensive, true, but it is also a very controlled, one-way performance that I like.

So the question is how to get this sort of experience and break in to this type of job. Especially when I'm not seeing entry level grant/analysis/coordinating/development type jobs being posted. It could just be a matter of timing? Where should I look to get the info on this type of job --- other than hiding in that wing with the door propped open?


yolio said...

I am not sure that moving down the ladder is the right thing to conclude from this. A typical admin job would view any PhD as being overqualified. Keep in mind, their concern is that they will invest time in hiring and training you and then you will promptly leave for greener pastures. And they aren't wrong...

clio's disciple said...

Can you talk to your hallway-neighbor about it? Strike up a conversation, comment about being interested in moving into admin / analysis etc., and ask for advice? If that person is friendly and has some connections, that might be one way to get the lay of the land.

Flavia said...

Re: entry-level jobs, uselessness of Ph.D.-earned skills, etc.:

What I've seen/heard, anecdotally, is that many academics transitioning to a new career (intellectual but non-teaching/researching), do have to start at the bottom, but often don't stay there long; I've known people who had to put in 6 mos. or a year (at entry-level, or sometimes interning for free a couple of days a week), but then after that experience their superiors or the people at other, similar jobs suddenly see the Ph.D. as an asset, and can imagine other kinds of positions for them within the organization.

I think it's partly a matter of foot-in-the-door, partly a matter of proving oneself in the relevant field, and partly that, as you're suggesting, not all jobs are advertised--sometimes because the employer doesn't exactly know what he needs or wants until he sees a person with the relevant skill set.

(All of which is to say: I have no real advice, but I do believe that, in the long run, smart, talented people usually find reasonably fulfilling jobs--just not always jobs they knew existed, or can imagine until they have them.)

Belle said...

I feel your pain, and it reminds me of my own. In a rather dismal period in my life, I couldn't get a job because (and I was told this) I was overqualified and overeducated. I had an MA; what you're facing is even scarier. A couple of years ago, I couldn't get a job at the local mall selling during the holiday season; 'it isn't a good fit' was the reason. I took that to mean that the other retail staff would be uncomfortable with a PhD doing retail stuff on the side.

It ain't pretty. ((((Cog))))