The Paradox of Job Searching

Over the past few months, I have applied for an uncanny amount of jobs and haven’t got anywhere, largely because I keep running into the same problem: job postings asking for 1+ years experience in whatever field the job is. Just about every job listed on Craigslist has this criteria. After a while, I had to wonder, if every job is asking for more than 1 year of experience, where does that 1 year come from? You can’t get experience if you can’t get a job. This creates a major problem for the unemployed: there’s no point of ingress into the workforce. As the GOP debate continues, the most used phrase is “create jobs.” But when jobs require 1 year’s experience, will creating new jobs have any real effect on the people who are already unemployed? What’s the difference between being in a hallway with 1 locked door as opposed to being in a hallway with 100 locked doors?

Here is the essential paradox of job searching: to no longer be unemployed, you have to find employment, but to find employment, you have to be employed. It’s no surprise then that the unemployed are losing jobs to people who are looking for secondary jobs. If you have a career at all at the moment, it’s in part because you were lucky enough to find a job when you first joined the work force that didn’t ask for 1+ years experience, or if your employer waived this requirement. For this reason, finding work often means knowing the right people.

It seems very possible to me that the campaign rhetoric at the moment is aiming to deal with the issue of unemployment while glossing over the unemployed. To create jobs sounds fine, but how do you ensure the unemployed actually find their way into these jobs? I have heard very little on this subject from politicians (except for some rather racist remarks from Newt Gingrich).

I have heard another interesting theory on the matter. The corporate system actually benefits from keeping some people unemployed. The benefit of having people unemployed is that they’re so desperate for work, they’ll jump at the opportunity to take a position the first opportunity they get, even if the pay is way too low. This prevents employed people from getting higher wages, since the boss can always use the rhetoric that there’s 100 people out there who will do their job for less (or possibly several hundred people as the case may be).

The situation reminds me of one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s lesser known stories “Wakefield.” In this story, a man decides to leave his wife without a word of goodbye. It’s originally an experiment. He moves in the house across the street from their home, and lives there in secret. He is curious of how his wife will react once she is alone. At first, the experiment is meant to be brief, but as more time passes, the more difficult it is for him to try and return, until he ends up living alone for a full fifteen years. The message seems to be that if you step aside from the action of the world, it’s very possible you’ll never get back in.

This is the problem many of the unemployed face: at some point, they stepped aside from the work force, and before they knew it, they couldn’t get back in. This is the tragedy of what happens to war veterans–somehow soldiering doesn’t pass as “work.” This is also what sometimes happens to people who quit their job to take care of ailing family members, or young people who take time off to find themselves, or, as in my case, people who devote time to personal pursuits like developing a talent or creating art. When you turn back to re-enter the world you knew, you’ll find you mistakenly locked yourself out.

What’s to be done about this? Right now, one of the biggest ways that the unemployed are finally finding work is by finding a job with friends or family employed there who are willing to open the door despite the person’s lack of experience. This to me seems like a highly imperfect system, as it means that the employer has to break their own principles if an unemployed person is to ever find work. Ideally, corporations and small business won’t simply lower their expectations but instead will raise their faith in human intelligence.

Years ago, when the economy was in a better place, I was able to find a job at a retail store largely through luck. The store was apparently desperate and didn’t ask for any previous retail experience. I was employed there even though I’d only had one job before and it was irrelevant to the work at hand. Now, a majority of retail jobs I look at online require 1+ years experience (and I didn’t stick with my previous retail job for a year). When I did work retail however, in no means did it seem like it could possibly require one year’s experience. Everything I needed to know about retail I learned during the first two weeks of work.

What’s needed then for the unemployment problem to be fixed is for employers to admit to themselves that their work is simpler than they make it out to be. People have a wonderful ability to adapt and learn things quickly. There’s really no reason why jobs in cafes or supermarkets or department stores should require a whole year of experience. If these prerequisites don’t change, we’ll be a nation of Wakefields.

In the Hawthorne story itself (spoiler), the man eventually works up the nerve to cross the street and knock on the door of his previous home. His wife welcomes him in. The unemployed can only hope for the same good fortune.

———————-I have self-published two books in the last year, The Madness of Art: Short Stories and A Rapturous Occasion. Both are available through Amazon in paperback and as ebooks.

Click on the image to see my book A Rapturous Occasion on Amazon


Do you have an opinion on what makes job searching so difficult?


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