The Job Search — the things they don’t tell you

Or more aptly the things they tell you, but you insist they must have you confused with someone else.

I graduated with an Oxford degree and before this a Stanford degree. This is not something I tell myself, but a fact people kept reciting to me over and over, as if reading from the same hymn sheet.

‘But Tebello, you’ll be fine! I mean you went to these places, so if they don’t take you, who are they hiring then?’.

I did not know who they were hiring. Just that it was not me. I sent out countless resumes, some of which I never got responses for. I was rejected for a myriad reasons — having the wrong passport, being too smart for the job (a statement meant to placate, but which, regrettably, only insulted me because I was both too smart and still without a job. How?). Sometimes I was too experienced, and other times not experienced enough. The comic part of the job search, especially for a person starting out, is that you are expected to have experience and yet no one is willing to give that to you. It signifies, for me, the laughable laziness of some employers — their insistence on having fully baked employees without ever wanting to spare resources in the making of such people.

So I began to ask myself the same question. ‘If they didn’t take me, then who were they hiring?’ The answers I came to are the things they tell you that you don’t believe until you are out on these streets, searching for jobs in alleyways and under the carpet.

Some of the jobs you apply to aren’t real, not yet anyway

This is an insight I gathered from an industrial psychologists with years of experience in recruitment. That digital analyst role you saw on Linkedin that stayed on for 3 months without getting filled? It was possibly not a real job to begin with. Recruiters post fictional jobs on job websites to get a talent pool of applicants from which they can pick when something actually opens up. This tactic, for its cruelty, can only be conceived by people who have had some distance from (or are indeed on the other side of) the recruitment process themselves. Only a person for whom the emotional labour of conjuring up an application — of convincing yourself that you are indeed the person summed up in 10 bullet point job description on an online advertisement — is only a hazy memory could sanction such a practice. This method of broadcasting the company’s brand is more ubiquitous than one might think.

So what is one to do with this information? The unsatisfying answer is that there is nothing that can be done. The practice is completely legal and I have not yet encountered a nifty algorithm that rummages through all the hoaxes and leaves only the real vacancies. But finding out that this practice was being done gave me a little solace, which is incredibly important in the capricious process of finding employment. It helped me explain away some of those roles that I never heard anything back from and, in doing so, helped me repair some of the damage that every silence and rejection causes. The ethics of the practice are up for debate, but I suspect that the severity of the injustice will dull the further I climb up the career ladder.

Sometimes you’ll accompany people to the job interview

This is conventional wisdom in Lesotho. One accompanies another to the interview if the other person has, for all intents and purposes, already secured a job that for the sake of protocol, has to be publicly advertised. I used to think it an artefact of developing countries where nepotism and clientelism didn’t lurk in the shadows, but existed in plain sight. But I have found that even in the Queen’s United Kingdom, we accompany people to the interview. The practice has just been christened with a more palatable name. It is called, ‘using your networks’- a legitimate form of clientelism.

While I was an undergraduate in America, I heard an acquaintance whose mother managed a prestigious firm tell her girlfriend, ‘Tell him to email my mother as soon as he sends his resume!’ The him in question would go on to get the job. I suspect he was qualified, but he also had the job before he could jump through the many hoops of the recruitment process. I used to feel slighted by the idea that I’d attend interviews where recruiters were looking not for why I would be a great fit for a role, but why the person already chosen was more suitable. My contempt for these people we accompany to interviews has lessened, both because I was at some point one of them, and because meritocracy itself is an aspiration a tad out of reach. When I was offered a position that would later be opened to other people in order to comply with labour market laws, it was not because I wasn’t competent for the role. It was because, as is the case in most job applications, I was fortunate to have met someone who could provide the sort of recommendation for me that none of the people in the picking line had. This additional information in the form of a recommendation made me not a hypothetically good candidate, but a certifiably good one (based on the recommendation of a trusted colleague). A majority of job offers result from these many accidents of proximity, and however unfair it is for people who don’t have such benefits, it is a route to employment that a person starting out in the world of work would benefit from cultivating. It is unfair that a fluke stands between those with and those without, but I am trying to see in that as well, an erosion of the hubris of the idea of deserving or having worked for our success. It is an indictment on me to make chance more ubiquitous.

It will all end, eventually

The standard thing to do for a person who is going through a job search is to remind them that they are not alone, that other people are going through precisely the same thing. I gave this advice to a friend who went through it, and she told me the same when I was looking for work. The thing they don’t tell you is that despite the rational knowledge that you are part of some abstraction, the pain of rejection and uncertainty feels particular. The misery of job hunting seems to require this individuation. When you are struggling to get through the front door, it can feel like every force of the universe is against you, specifically you. At that point you start to see the narratives of others as so different from your meandering one. To me, it appeared my friends applied for jobs, interviewed, and got them. The ones who tried harder seemed to wait only for a couple of weeks, a month at most. My own journey seemed to be more belaboured, with more detours and dead-ends than the rest. It is only when I emerged on the other end, alive and intact, that I appreciated that all job seeker stories seem straightforward once they have come full circle. All the rejections seemed essential parts of the story of how I got to where I am now. They became things that I HAD to go through to find myself in this particular office, with my new set of luxurious problems — who to live with? How much to save? What my next move might be? I began to summarise my job search in three or four sentences, layering the abbreviated rejections with significance and ending with ‘and then I interviewed for this role, and I haven’t looked back since.’ The volatility of the search itself is becoming a footnote, and eventually, I’ll end up forgetting that there was any struggle at all.

The thing that they should have told me is that it takes most people, even people with Ivy League degrees, more than 2 months of looking to find something. They should have made clear that when they say 100 applications for 1 eventual job, they are not exaggerating. They should have told me that I’d suffer through the process, and that I’d shed my confidence and battle with self esteem, but also that I would emerge at the other end of upheaval, and that I’d start to forget the difficulty.

It is amazing that memory works this way. It erases enough of the bad parts so that eventually when I have to do this again, I forget that I have the wrong passport, and that I may not have sufficient ‘networks’.

Writer | Lover | Young professional

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