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who wants to hire me? October 13, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Getting Hired.

A friend* on one of the many social blog communities I belong to recently posted that she needs a new job, and is having difficulty finding one, perhaps because of some of the qualifications she posted on her page:

I’m 5’10” so I can reach things on high shelves.

I speak Spanish and English, obviously.


Oh and I have a Bachelor’s in Microbiology, but that seems to be completely irrelevant when I apply to most jobs.

I’m single and have no kids, so I won’t be rushing off to go pick my kids up from school/daycare/after school activities.

I think I’m pretty smart too. My IQ is 135. However that also seems to be irrelevant when I apply for jobs, considering that fact that some people hire retards.

A professional young woman. (cc-licensed photo by cotaroba)

A professional young woman. (cc-licensed photo by cotaroba)

Let me hit these one at a time:

Height: Useful, but it’s more about strength — as in, an employer can say you need to be able to lift 30, 50, or 100 pounds, but they can’t say you need to be tall to accomplish this. It’s in the rules that they have to provide stepladders and such.

Another height issue, though, is that tall women tend to come off as more capable and more dominant in the workplace, and an insecure boss — male or female — will be negatively affected. And I’m not just talking about short bosses — one of my old bosses is about 5’3 and, while he did have a Napoleon complex, it never impacted his hiring practices and he hired employees of all shapes and sizes. Even a tall person can be insecure.

Languages: Given that she is bilingual, it surprises me quite a lot that it’s so hard to find a job. In this job market, being able to speak Spanish is a huge plus — it is, after all, one of the most-spoken languages in the U.S.** I wish I spoke it better (I can muddle through if the other person speaks slowly). Fortunately most of my jobs (at least, since I got out of retail) haven’t required bilinguality (bilingualism?) to be a part of the job description.

Microbiology: Yeah, unfortunately there are a lot of undergraduate degrees that don’t lead to good jobs. My wife has one in Psychology, and she’s basically a secretary and web content updating person. My friend Dave has one in Communications, and after getting laid off from his news broadcasting job, he was hired as an elementary school teacher, which has nothing to do with his degree. One of my former co-workers is a web developer who majored in History. And somehow one of my friends managed a degree in Japanese but has always worked in graphic design. I’m sure she (the woman looking for a job) is extremely smart, but what can you do with an undergraduate degree in Microbiology besides get a graduate degree in something else? If you’re looking for a job as an executive assistant, it’s unlikely you’ll make use of anything you learned in your Microbiology classes. Which sucks. Secretaries with lab coats and microscopes sounds really cool.

Family: It is against the law to discriminate against someone who is pregnant, who has a family, or who has children. Likewise it is against the law to discriminate against someone who doesn’t. I mean, if you’re trying to become the webmaster of a social network aimed at mothers, you probably ought to be one, so the best candidate will be a mother. I could get that job too, except that I’m a man so I don’t have insights into certain women’s issues, such as exactly what goes through a woman’s mind during a gynecological or obstetric exam***. There have been articles written about how to handle job hunting while pregnant, and discrimination happens, I’m sure. But bringing up this point during an interview (that you are family-less/childless) is probably not a good idea.

IQ: This is a big one. Smart people are a huge asset to companies — as a former boss, believe me, I know — but being too smart can also backfire. For example: three jobs ago, I went to my local Office Supply Chain Store to get a part-time position. I needed to earn some extra money for a trip I wanted to take, and since I was unmarried and childless, I had the time to work two to four nights a week. So I went in, applied, got hired, and proceeded to make a mess of things because I was too smart. I thought I knew how to do everything, and I rushed through certain projects, which made things worse for me (because I had to do extra work to make up for it) and for my managers (who had to train me again so I could unlearn my bad habits). I’m sure this doesn’t happen to everyone, but I guarantee it does happen quite a bit.

Then there’s this: really smart people get bored really quickly in drudgery-filled jobs; when I was in college, I worked at a Video Game Chain store and, while the job was fun and the people were cool, I found myself going crazy trying not to look like I was holding up the counter the entire time. It was mostly boredom, and smart people have trouble dealing with that. The whole “taking out a notebook and writing a novel” or “drawing passers-by in a sketchpad” doesn’t happen in real life. Ever. Bookstore cashiers don’t get to read when they’re bored; they have to clean up, or put returns back on the shelves, or (worst of all) find mis-filed books and put them away. Retail is boring; employers don’t want to hire people they think are going to be bored the whole time because bored people feel unfulfilled and that kind of mood brings everyone down.

And finally, smart people with degrees deserve a higher paycheck, which is something companies don’t want to provide right now. I get that; I really, really do. But on the other hand, companies need to learn that unemployed smart people are going to be very hard workers because they know:

  • This is all they can get.
  • This may end up being a career, so they’re going to work hard.
  • They’re used to working hard; they were laid off from good jobs, or they’ve taken difficult paths of study in college.
  • They have families to support, and they’re going to do everything they can to not get fired for slacking off.

So, what advice can I give my friend? The same advice I give everyone.

Yup. You guessed it. I’m saving that for tomorrow. Hey, writing a new post every day is hard!

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* In this usage, “someone who reads my posts, and I read her posts”. Kind of like on LiveJournal, except I’m not talking about LiveJournal here.

** At my old job (before the reorganization), I rarely spoke directly to consumers, but on occasion someone who spoke little or no English would call. The front desk people would frantically search for Wally or (before he quit) Daniel, both of whom were fluent Spanish speakers. If they weren’t there, the caller usually heard “no hablo espanol; por favor llame a (whatever time Wally or Daniel would be coming in). As for where I am now, that won’t be a problem; the person who sits next to me is a (legal) immigrant from a Hispanic country, and speaks both languages fluently.

*** I know what was going through my mind during the times my wife was at the doctor for her checkups while she was pregnant, but not really what she was thinking or feeling beyond what she told me.



1. That Guy’s Tips for Job Seekers « corporatespeak - October 14, 2009

[…] lowball, o'reilly, patience, programming, recruiter, tips trackback cc-licensed photo by Dani LurieYesterday I mentioned a friend of mine who was having trouble finding a job. The short explanation of her problem was that she was poorly qualified for a lot of jobs out there […]

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