Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2014: Everyone is trying to give you advice. Some people are even trying to sell it. Let me give you the only piece of advice that I currently think is worthwhile: Turn your job search into a drinking game.
We are not graduating into the worst job market in this country’s history, but it is a pretty rough one. If you’ve had an internship in the last few years, then you already know that a great deal of work can be had for free, from people who are desperate for experience or for exposure. People are coding, writing, researching, performing and organizing for these privileges without ever seeing a check. And yet your student loans are going to come due frighteningly soon. This search is about a lot of things, but one of the most important ones is money.
As we’re four weeks away from graduation, you should have started your search already. I started six months ago. Five months ago, I invented this game. The rules are simple and brief:
1. The search must be productive. Each time you sit down to apply, you must successfully complete the process of at least three applications. No exceptions — even the ones that want you to upload your resume and then retype it piece by piece into their forms.
2. Every time the search is laughable, depressing, offensive or makes you want to give up and become a stripper/aimless stoner/trophy spouse, you drink. And you persevere until step 1 is met.
3. You livetweet the search. This is the best part. This is where you share the specifics of how awful this process truly is, both to people who can commiserate and to people who might be able to make this easier on you. Stay straight, proofread your tweets, but be candid. #jobsearch
This game is the only way I’ve been able to deal with the last five months. At first, when I’d read a job posting that specified entry-level pay and recognition but required five years of experience, I laughed it off. I thought it was a misprint or wishful thinking. When I saw it again, I got a little concerned. When I realized that it was nearly a rule, I poured myself a whiskey and soda rather than sit at my laptop and cry. I kept going.
I’ve found jobs making grilled cheese sandwiches in food trucks that required a bachelor’s degree. Drink. I found a personal assistant job that specified that the lucky winner of the position would be expected to drive her own car to pick up children, run errands and act as a courier without compensation for gas or insurance. Drink. I’ve searched for jobs specifically seeking college-educated applicants that specify duties including making coffee, cleaning up after office-mates and handling pool chemicals.
There’s nothing wrong with any of those jobs, and I don’t mean to impugn the honor or dignity of any work. But as a person who left the workforce to get a degree specifically so that I would have different choices, this kind of listing is discouraging in the extreme. Drink.
I’ve also read descriptions of great jobs at startups and small companies that sound exciting and offer an opportunity to use my skills in a way I have never considered before. I eagerly click through window after window of repetitive data entry to apply for these jobs, only to be stymied by bizarre personality-based questions that leave me wondering who the hell they want me to be.
Questions like, “Where do you occur in your family’s birth order?” Are they hoping that I’m independent like an only child, or a leader like the oldest of many? Because I was adopted as a teenager, I didn’t even know how to answer. Which family? What’s the right answer? I don’t know. Drink.
“If you could have a theme song that played when you walk into the room, what would it be?” Should I tell them that without a doubt it’s “Cornflake Girl” by Tori Amos? What if they hate that song? What if they’ve never heard of it? In the end, I chose a top-40 pop piece I figured was at least unobjectionable, but the process of choosing left me shaken. Drink.
“Do you use Mac or PC?” I’m comfortable with either and can adapt to any kind of office machine, but are they asking me to choose a side? Is this a philosophical question? Does the company look like they value style over substance? I chose PC. I never heard from that job. Drink.
The right job is out there. A job with reasonable expectations for an entry-level position, fair pay, decent benefits, close to BART, ready to take me on. There’s one for you, too. Until then, the search is a soul-suck. BYOB.
Contact Meg Elison at [email protected].