Friday, June 28, 2013

My Adventures on the Job Market, Expressed by the Onion

'I Would Be Absolutely Perfect For This,' Report 1,400 People Looking At Same Job Posting

from The Onion

SAN FRANCISCO—Upon coming across the same job posting Monday for a full-time position at a local startup company, an estimated 1,400 people reportedly described the opening as “a perfect fit” for their qualifications, saying it was exactly the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. “I have all the skills they want, my experience matches up—I honestly don’t know if there’s anyone out there better suited for this job than me,” said unemployed man Charles Duncan, echoing the sentiments of 1,400 others, 900 of whom believe their facility with social media and knowledge of web design will definitely make their application “stand out from the rest of the pack.” “This position just makes so much sense for me. My résumé and cover letter might not get me the job outright, but once I go in for the interview they’ll see why I’m ideal for it.” Sources later confirmed a family friend of a top executive at the company had already accepted the position, which had been unofficially promised to him long before the job was even posted.


So many times I thought exactly this and never got a callback, no word at all. 
And now that I'm in the position to recommend people for positions, I feel myself completely at a loss for how to find the perfect fit. How does one write a job description hinting that "humility" "collaboration" and "team-first, me-second" are more important to our organization than the specific research you did for your dissertation? I want people-oriented rather than the aggressive academic type. Is there a code word for this? ("Student-Centered"?)

They should teach us more about administration in grad school. Before you know it, I'll be making the same mistakes I bitched about when I was on the market.


  1. The scenario portrayed by the "article" is not entirely far-fetched, which I know from personal experience.

    But it's long been like that as I went through the same situation 30 years ago. One major difference now is that much of the pretense about a job posting and how one actually gets it has been cast aside.

  2. That was a funny article, thanks.

    Why not phrase the ad exactly as you stated above? Or are you worried about the possibility that young people with good research potential would recoil at an emphasis on "humility", "collaboration" and "teamwork"? Even in this job market, it can be challenging for employers trying to hire the empty set.

  3. I have very little experience in hiring (a bit at church; none at school), but I do think the options for what you can include in a job ad are limited by a number of factors (not least anti-discrimination law). That said, I think I've got some of the qualities you're looking for, at least on my better days (but no, I'm not looking for a job, at least not right now). So, for whatever it's worth, here are my reactions. As a job-seeker, I'm turned off by "student-centered" (even though I do believe in meeting students where they are, and am happy to make teaching the center of my career); to me, it reads as "we've put the inmates in charge of the asylum, and are more concerned with making them happy right now than giving them something they'll recognize as valuable within a decade or two." I also recoil at too much "team" language, mostly because I'm an introvert, and tend to be most productive when a pretty high proportion of my work time is spent by myself. While I'm happy to spend the amount of time necessary to work out problems, approaches, etc. in a group, I don't want to find myself in a culture that assumes "let's do this as a group" is always the best approach. "People-oriented" raises similar problems. I doubt the lawyers would allow "humble" (too subjective, though so is all the "team" language, when you think of it), but "collaborative" and variations strike me as possibilities, as does "cooperative." Even "mission-oriented" might work -- a bit business-speak for my taste, but it gets at the idea that the group goal/task, rather than the individuals, matter most.

    Of course, all of this will work best if it really is a collaborative, cooperative, etc. environment; my other fear when I hear "team-oriented" is that all too often there's someone who envisions him- (or occasionally her-) self as the coach, and hence not only the final but also the sole authority. Most athletic teams aren't particularly democratic, after all. One of the things I most looked forward to as a member of the academy, and most miss actually having, is the division of responsibility implied by the phrase "shared governance" -- shared authority, yes, but also shared responsibility, shared problem-identification, shared finding of solutions, etc., etc. Anything you can do to communicate that this will be that sort of atmosphere (assuming it will be) is probably going to attract the right sort of person.

    The other obvious thing would be to pay attention to pronouns: how often does the candidate use "I" vs. "we" in describing past accomplishments, especially in response to a question that specifically asks hir to describe work in a group/collaborative situation?

    Maybe this is a situation for some of those situational/hypothetical questions that job seekers often hate, but apparently can be quite effective (and so are used by a number of companies and government agencies)? There are plenty of books on dealing with such questions for candidates; presumably there's also a literature for employers (or you could reverse-engineer from the ones for job seekers).

    At least, if all else fails, you can actually send acknowledgments for applications (even automated ones that include some "don't call us; we'll call you" language), and polite rejections to candidates who advance beyond the earliest stages.