Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Stench of Academia

I just finished reading a book called Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich. In it, she goes undercover as an educated and otherwise experienced professional who ostensibly is ‘in transition’ and looking for a new position in the corporate world. She chronicles her experiences reading career manuals (ugh!), taking personality tests (double ugh!), getting image makeovers (potentially OK, but probably ugh if it has to do with the corporate world... hello, camel toes and yeast infections!), networking (uggity-ugh), and applying to hundreds upon hundreds of corporate jobs (sigh-- this gives me the cramps), all to no avail. Her and her fellow disenfranchised white-collar workers struggle to avoid the pull of downward mobility, but unfortunately, many of them end up settling for jobs that pay far less than their previous positions, offer no benefits, expect them to work ridiculous hours and discourage or even flat out reject the use of independent thinking skills. That is, of course, if any of them are even offered a job. (Most of them are turned away from position after position for being ‘overqualified’. Go figure.)

The book jacket describes her project as “Alternately hilarious and tragic”, and that’s pretty much how I felt about it, too. It was hilarious to read about an image consultant dissecting the impressions that business professionals supposedly projected to potential employers with their outfits and makeup. Note to self for future interviews: skirts are for Republicans, and gold-on-tan outfit ensembles project a ‘winning attitude’. Who knew? It was totally tragic, though, when it became painfully clear to me that the subtitle to the book could have been ‘The Story of My Life, by Dana L.’ Tragic in the sense that I can totally relate to the sad experience of downplaying or even omitting my credentials to land a job (on paper I am now MA-less), and also tragic in the sense that somebody already beat me to publishing my memoirs… There’s something very peculiar and unnerving about stumbling across the Story of Your Life and having it be written by somebody else.

I discovered in this book that many employers recoil from the 'stench of the academy'. I know from my own experiences in grad school that the university doesn't exactly smell like roses (unless the thorns have their own special scent), but certainly it doesn't smell that bad... right? On second thought: after removing my own university degrees from my resume in an effort to get called for job interviews (and having it work), maybe university does stink. I wonder if they make a deodorant for that...


Wednesday L said...

Dana, I love your MFA!
And you!!

Rose said...

How depressing on this fine Thursday morning. I always like to think that if you're not getting hired because of some past experience, etc is because people are not valuing what you value and so it wouldn't be worth it anyways...but you've now turned my comfort around...what am I to believe?

Hoping your jobs are at least going well.

MFA, that's funny.

granolagirl said...

Heehee, I can totally relate as well, when I was in forestry skirts were off limits as well as makeup if you wanted to land any position (femininity was views as a major nono). I also remember when I got my leg tattoo, my mother was devastated that now I could not wear pantyhose to work, my reponse, well I didn't want to anyway.

Gingersnaps with Tea... said...

I can relate to this. With 7 years of Art college inder my belt, I was senior designer for a large firm for 10 years. Top of my pay grade, 4 weeks a year holidays plus flex days and a week off at Christmas. when they did a major reshuffle. It coincided exactly with my taking stress leave due to my sudden, completely unexpected and very painful divorce. Funnily enough the 10 people they gave packages to had all taken some type of medical leave in the past year. I am use to it now and have embraced my low stress retail job. I don't regret the 7 years Art School and actually like what I am doing now better.