Sunday, March 20, 2005

Why I STILL Can't Find a #%*@#! Job

Or, how to politely tell someone to just die already and stop wasting the world's precious and limited resources by keeping his/her useless carcass alive, Part 2.

I promised myself that I would never, ever rant about personal matters on my public blog (people have enough shit to deal with in their private lives without reading about mine, too) and I would at least attempt to maintain some level of objectivity about my life here (especially about those things that I am completely powerless to change), but my resolve has cracked: This is a rant. Seriously, I need to vent before I implode or die from despair. I apologize for this. Please move on to my next message if this sort of thing bothers you. There will be more useful and interesting essays coming soon (I have been trying to write them today, without much success). All I need to do right now is produce my cosmic scream.

Basically, I try to remain calm about my current un(der)employment situation but this is increasingly difficult as I watch my miniscule financial reserves slip away and as my financial dependence on the kindness and generosity of others increases dramatically. But my no-rant resolve was shattered on Friday when I read an LA Times news story by Nicholas Riccardi that made my heart skip a beat or two. In fact, I am still unable to shake the fear that this story inspired. There are two points in this story that haunt me. First;

Even with the national unemployment rate at a relatively low 5.4%, the share of those out of work for more than six months is higher now than during the early 1980s, when the jobless rate was in the double digits, analysts say. The average length of unemployment is also higher now than at any time other than the early 1980s.

Okay, that is absolutely horrible, especially when one realizes that the government compiles their unemployment statistics from data based on state Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits paid each week and by randomly calling people on the telephone to ask about the employment status in the household -- does anyone see a flaw in this process? I do! I do! First, UI benefits last only six months and are never extended under any circumstances, so people who are unemployed longer than six months disappear from state unemployment rosters. Coincidentally, "disappearing from unemployment rosters" is also what unemployed people do after they find jobs, even if they only get a part-time temporary position that places them at or below poverty level. In fact, there are no reliable methods to track the fates of the long-term un(der)employed so, for this reason (and several others), I think this problem is grossly underestimated. The only way to capture even a fleeting glimpse of this problem is by randomly calling households on the phone to poll them, which leads me to my second point; how many un(der)employed people have telephones? Not many, I can assure you. Many un(der)employed people rely on the pay phone on the nearest street corner or on a sympathetic friend or family member to collect their phone messages, or they might be lucky enough to still have a cell phone, as I currently have. Even though a cell phone is cheaper and more convenient than a conventional land-line for most people, especially the un(der)employed, let me remind you that the government doesn't call cell phones (nor pay phones!) to collect their statistics.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the story made another point that grabbed me by the throat and shakes me awake in the middle of the night in a panic;

The number of long-term unemployed who are college graduates has nearly tripled since the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, statistics show. Nearly 1 in 5 of the long-term jobless are college graduates. If a degree holder loses a job, that worker is now more likely than a high school dropout to be chronically unemployed.

I simply must repeat that last sentence because it has made it nearly impossible for me to eat or sleep much these past few days; If a degree holder loses a job, that worker is now more likely than a high school dropout to be chronically unemployed. Notice that we are not talking about newly minted college graduates who only have so-called "book learning", these are degree holders who already have work experience but are unable to find any sort of job after they become unemployed. Honestly, this statistic robs me of all words, rendering me nearly catatonic, so I'll let you connect the dots while I breathe into a paper bag for a few minutes.

Okay, I am still conscious and relatively coherent right now, so let me change course somewhat and tell you that I received another rejection letter the same day that I read this news story, which certainly compounded my reaction. Perhaps the text of this letter can provide insight to you as to why I am astonishingly, insultingly underemployed in a part-time temporary position that ends in a couple months, earning barely enough money to simply pay my rent.

7 March 2005

[GrrlScientist Note: I guess it took the secretary a few days to lick those hundreds of stamps because I did not receive the letter until 11 March]

Dear [my corporeal name],

Thank you very much for your application for the faculty position in Evolutionary Biology at
[elided]. I speak for the search committee in saying that we appreciate your interest in our College (sic) and our Department (sic), and we appreciate your patience as we wound through the seemingly interminable search and interview process.

[GrrlScientist Note: If he thinks their search and interview process is "seemingly interminable", then I invite the entire search committee to stand in MY shoes for a few hours out of the more than 500 days that I've already devoted to finding a job!]

It is now my unpleasant duty to let you know that we hired someone else for the position. We were greatly impressed by the quality and quantity of applications we received, and we were consequently able to apply very specific criteria reflecting our departmental needs for teaching and research areas. A large number of applicants were competitive for the position, and many more would have been competitive for a slightly different position here.

[GrrlScientist Note: Basically, they are seeking perfect people who are a 110% "fit". This is the standard for hiring these days, as my colleagues and fellow un(der)employed pals tell me. However, after more than 500 days of job hunting, it has become clear to me that I will never be "perfect" by anyone's standards (neither for a job nor for anything else, for that matter) and further, I realize that by diligently following my passions, I have effectively transformed myself into a person who will never be a 110% "fit" for anything that actually pays a (living) wage.]

We wish you the best of luck in all future pursuits.

[GrrlScientist Note: Because I will need it, especially when fighting with the local drunks, crackheads and nutjobs for a park bench to nap on in Central Park this summer.]


[name elided]

Chair, Evolutionary Biologist Search Committee

The personal touch in this letter is surprisingly satisfying because the few rejections I've received are very cold and formal letters that could have been written to almost anyone, well, anyone except a potential future colleague. On the other hand, this letter is also disarming because it makes it easy for me to feel that it is a rejection of me as a person. But at least they sent me a rejection letter, which is more than I get from approximately 90% of my academic and non-academic applications. In fact, most positions that I apply for (and all of the positions that I've interviewed for, save one), have not sent any letters at all, except for those familiar affirmative action postcards that universities send out to their job applicants. Even though I try not to think about it, I am sometimes left wondering what the hell happened? for months afterward.

The implication of this lack of rejection letters is that all those hours I invested into finding the job, assembling the application, researching the school and the departmental faculty and then writing a specific-for-this-job cover letter were so worthless as to not even warrant a response. Further, because these sorts of creative writing exercises consume most of my free time, the oblique implication is that my time is worthless (and it's easy to make the small trip from there to thinking that I, also, am worthless).

Well, on that happy note, I have finished ranting to you about Things That Cannot Possibly Be Fixed In My Lifetime. It's time for me to wade out into that nasty rainstorm that prevented me from distracting myself from my woes by hanging out under Pale Male and Lola's nest today.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

24 Peer Reviews:

Blogger Miranda said...


I just finished PZ's post on The American Street and I think it parallels your situation. Since science now takes the back seat to propaganda, is it any wonder that jobs for honest scientists are few and far between? I don't want to rant my rant on your space, but I do understand where you are coming from. A good friend is nearly ABD and idea that she will need employment soon has started to creep up. Its all enough to make me want to switch my major to something that isn't patient care and still has a job forecast.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Mike the Mad Biologist said...

I'm also a post-doc. Fortunately, I have funding. I share your frustration. I've applied for jobs, and even had chances to interview, but no permanent positions yet. I've also been at the point where I was close to being unemployed. It's really frustrating: you can be very good at what you do, and work hard, and still it doesn't seem to matter.

In a sense, you (or at least I) feel betrayed. What did one spend all those years of delayed gratification for? I know this doesn't help you find a job, but I understand what you're going through. Hopefully, you'll be able to find a position related to what you want to do.

It's a lousy deal all the way around.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Tabor said...

The Federal budget is being slashed as we speak and this in turn will trickle down to the state budgets and affect things like hiring for education or any other socially related programs. This does not reflect lack of talent, skills, connections, etc of our citizens. It is just the ugly reality. Ten years ago I had a young Russian come to repair my dishwasher. I found out while talking to him that he was a Physicist but couldn't get a job in Russia. We are now entering that same era of our development. I know this doesn't cheer you in anyway. But, you are smart and strong and you WILL survive.

12:58 PM  
Blogger zuzula said...

Ah - that really sucks. Good luck - really hope you find something soon. It seems crazy to me that a person with so many qualifications hasn't been snapped up... but I guess that's not what you want to hear! :(

1:16 PM  
Blogger Pinky said...

Gosh, that just SUCKS.

I didn't go for a post-doc (good idea? bad idea? I'm not sure.) and I got a job right out of getting my PhD... however, the company folded and now I've been unemployed for...well...a while. That news article is not making me feel too good. :/

I hope you can work soon. Things have to get better for science, right? They certainly can't get worse...

2:35 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting. I am still reeling from all this so I don't feel very communicative right now, except for my desire to bitch about this impossible situation.

And yes, Mike, you hit the nail on the head. I feel incredibly betrayed. I was actually writing a longer and somewhat more articulate message about the depth and breadth of this betrayal when my computer crashed and destroyed the message as I was making my final edits to it. As upsettting as that was, I view my computer as a sort of electronic filter that crashes periodically to keep me from making a complete fool of myself on-line. So, in the spirit of honoring my computer's thankless duty, I will spare all of you any more commentary about my ongoing and deepening feelings of betrayal.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

I keep telling myself that I'm not going to be stuck in this situation after I finish grad school, but I wonder to what degree this is a delusion.

If a degree holder loses a job, that worker is now more likely than a high school dropout to be chronically unemployed.
I presume it's because Wal-Mart has no use for people with college degrees. Wal-Mart will say it's because of overqualification. Probably it's also because people with degrees might complain about systematic abuse and mistreatment. The last thing you want in a hierarchy is literate peons.

I really don't mind you ranting. I don't know why, but I actually enjoy reading people who bitch about their lives.

6:11 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hi Alon (and everyone else). I am still recovering. Regarding your assessment of Walmartization of the American workforce, I agree. In fact, this is precisely the reason I've been told repeatedly that I will never find a job outside my field, regardless of how many lies I tell on my resume about my er, lack of an edumacation .. I have been told "you are too smart for your own good! DUMB IT DOWN!"

As if being a real blonde isn't already "dumb enough" for potential employers.

In response to your comment that you don't mind people bitching about their lives, Alon, well, I have been sitting on a HUGE rant about my PT temp position that I have not yet indulged myself in on my public blog (still waiting for them to deliver that rejection letter so I can reveal the real behind-the-scenes shennanigans that they've subjected me to during the past seven weeks, without losing a job. Even my fellow adjuncts say it is over-the-top. Grrrr .. grrrrr ... grrrr ... ).

Some weeks, I amaze myself with my self-control. These past seven weeks qualify me for an Academy Award nomination (along with a lifetime supply of valium).

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, can I relate (and painfully so)!

I do have a hypothesis about the current job market that may be applicable to the both of us. Try this on for size: Assumption: Most people do not know how to interview. Which techniques work, measurably so, and which techniques are based on pseudoscience of one kind or another? Assumption: Most people don't even know what they are measuring in a job candidate. They probably don't have a theoretical model of any kind to work from. All hunches, guess work, and simple emotional impulse. For most people, the "best" candidate is probably the best fit for them in a "fashion" sense. Penultimately, it probably comes down to physical and emotional attraction more than anything else. In short, candidate selection is (in my opinion) probably random.

I don't think it's about you, nor is it about me. Random people occasionally bump in to each other, and once in a random while some people stick together. Call it the kinetic theory of the job market! On top of this, we live in an economy which is becoming more and more efficient every day (especially in the financial theoretical sense of the word where information flow is important). I take this to mean that any one job type has a shorter and shorter expected lifespan as time goes on. The picture you should have is that we job seekers are shooting at moving targets in terms of the market's expectations of our skill sets.

What do you and I do now? I don't know. Heck, as a 20 year veteran of the software industry, I am a generalist who should appeal to just about everyone, yet... I have programmed in just about every language on the market, I have designed and architected almost every manner of software application, I have managed projects and even owned my own business. Heck, I even know how to write good documentation and can teach! Nope, not good enough. I don't "specialize" in anything according to one person. I am too much of a specialist according to another. I am...I am always something or nothing. I am convinced these responses are random.

I believe we are at a point in history where the efficiency of our market has jumped ahead of most people's ability to understand who it is they need to employ for any given task. A "science of hiring" seems to be non-existant, so no repeatability exists with the techniques employed by most job seekers (even with companies who train their managers to hire--of what I have seen, the techniques usually promulgated in such places do not seem to be based on any worthwhile scientific approach that I can detect).

Will this situation ever get better? I don't know. Perhaps all of us job seekers are no longer "brains" but sales people who must "bond" more than anything else. Perhaps the resume doesn't matter after all.

As a side note, take it from me, if you are too smart you will intimidate most people you interview with.

Nicole Tedesco, near Seattle, WA

10:41 PM  
Blogger Dr. Charles said...

thanks for the rant, i think "being jobless" is one of those primal fears that evokes our animal instincts to survive. I wish you lots of good fortune in finding that job, but at the same time take comfort in your (assumed) good health, lack of hunger, and possession of warm shelter. the rest will fall into place soon!

12:21 PM  
Blogger gollux said...

And they wonder that depression stats are on the rise. Imagine an already depressed person attempting to get a job in this climate. The week or two after rejection already sucks.

Man do I want a job.

Still, before you become a crackhead or whatever, move here and live in my garden.

2:13 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hi Nicole .. your ideas about interviewing are interesting, I'll have to think about them further. Maybe we can propose a hypothesis about the science of hiring and get the funding to test it? By the way .. how do you like living in my other beloved home (Seattle)?

Thanks for appreciating my ranting abilities, Dr. Charles .. I sometimes feel inadequate in the "rant department" when compared to PZ. As you suspected, I do enjoy good health right now. Even though I am not hungry, I will freely admit that I am being tortured with dreams of steaming hot nachos loaded with lots of melted cheese, jalapenos and "the works" .. and I always wake up before I manage to pop one into my mouth!

Where the heck are you located, gollux? As I imagine is true for any unemployed person, depression is my number one enemy right now and in fact, I often feel suicidal because of my job situation. It's a good thing that I have my parrots to make me fly straight (although .. I am trying to sell them, too, sigh!).

6:19 PM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

Take everything I say here with a whole fistful of salt considering that I've never interviewed for a job.

With that in mind, I think that your being a natural blonde could require you to dumb it down even more in interviews. If you exceed your interviewer's expectations then it's good up to a point, beyond which you overwhelm him. When you're blonde, the expectation would be lower. So in fact you have to act even dumber because of your hair color.

10:41 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hrm. Interesting hypothesis, Alon. It deserves to be tested. Maybe I'll get stoned before I go to my next interview. I should blend right in, in that case.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

Only if your interviewer moved from the West Coast a week before the interview.

8:49 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hee! You might have a point there ..

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Nicole Tedesco said...

Here are some thoughts that may help you through your journey of deciding whether or not to "leave science" in order to make a living:

* I personally feel that science
is in the same position that "great music" was around the 1800s. During the Baroque and Classical periods, big name musicians like Bach and Mozart lived off of "patronage" or sponsorship from government, large institutions (e.g., The Church), or the rich (the Medici of Italy). Guess what? Patronage dried up as a viable way for big name musicians to make a living, but that didn't mean that Big Music died. Over time, musicians found other ways to make a living. (I think Mick Jaggar is doing pretty well these days, don't you?)

* I had my own computer consulting company going at the time I finished my B.S. in physics. Over beer one night with some fellow students and a few professors, in the midst of griping about the death of the Supercollider project, I asked everyone what they thought about me getting my PhD. "Don't do it!" they all seemed to shout in unison, "You're doing just fine now! Keep doing what you're doing!" You see, they were mourning what they saw as the death of Big Physics, even though I retorted that I still saw quite the active life in physics, in the business world! "But it's all applied physics!" one prof shouted. I figured so what, physics is physics! I stuck to my software anyway, ignoring the PhD.

* You know, over the years I have actually had the chance to apply my physics background several times, most notably while working in the world of Boston/Wall Street High Finance.

* You may leave science, but science will never leave you. What this world needs actually is more scientists climbing down from the Ivory Tower and enter the world of the living. To begin with, most people I know don't actually understand what it means to "think critically." Applying the scientific method to all activities in life, and teaching others to do the same, actually saves lives.

* You know, most recent advances in computer science have actually been inspired by biological metaphors. "Object-orientented" programming is one of best examples of this that come to mind. Also, consider the different ways computer scientists are developing to fight "computer viruses."

* In my opinion, the world is the oyster of any scientist. Don't be afraid to "cross-polinate." Although I will always feel this is true, this doesn't mean that being the scientist amongst the Great Unwashed is by any means easy as you can develop a bit of the Cassandra Syndrome and find yourself saying, "I told you so." too often. Still, it is worth being a scientist!

- Nicole

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello! Thank you to Hedwig for this blog. I found it when looking online for the kindest and gentlest way to let four applicants know that I had decided to hire someone other than them. I have been on the other end of things, having recently applied for this job, so I all too clearly remember the ups and downs of job searches. I want to let people down so kindly that they do not lose heart, or think that there is something wrong with them. Well, for three of them anyway, they were all wonderful in many ways. The fourth had an abrasive personality ill suited to the job in question. I just want to treat these folks like I'd like to be treated. As the mother of a college sophomore and junior in high school those statistics were pretty darn scary. The job search seems to echo the search for one's life partner in some ways...there are so many great people out there and so few jobs, just as there seem to be so many wonderful women and so few equally wonderful guys. Anyway, thanks for pouring your heart out. It was a cautionary tale for me to try sincerely to avoid some of the worst rejection foibles you've endured. May you soon find work that puts your skills, your interests, your personality, and your life's dreams into the best possible combination! From someone hiring a part time person for a large organization, and wanting to do it right. (just call me nonprofit nan, I guess)

12:55 PM  
Anonymous ex-committee-chair said...

procrastinating, poking around the Web, I found my way here via Pharyngula...what a surprise to see my words posted in italics. Yes, I am the author of the rejection letter quoted in the original post. Yes, I was the chair of the evolutionary biology search committee at the elided college (sorry you didn't care for my capitalization). Not sure what to say about it...I'm sure you realize that a rejection of an application for a specific position is hardly a rejection of you as a person. In THIS case, we wanted somebody who could a) develop and teach a course in evolution, b) teach our woefully overenrolled core course in Ecology, and c) ideally, take over the Invertebrate Zoology course once our current invert guy retires next year. Since we have no graduate program, we were also looking for somebody who really and explicitly wanted to teach and do research with undergraduates. We had enough applications to be able to get that specific, and we hired somebody who fulfills all of those criteria. An avian systematist just didn't meet our needs, regardless of qualifications and even more regardless of Worth as a Person.
I really do empathize...I too have applied for dozens and dozens of faculty jobs. I too have received many rejection letters. I have interviewed for positions I really really wanted and then didn't get them (and I can assure you, a rejection following an interview is much more devastating than a paper-only one!). I took a job in a backwards redneck bible-belt rural hellhole because it was my only offer and I needed to support my daughter. To get the hell out of there I repeated the whole job-search process again, three years worth before I one in a civilized region. The "scientific life" sucks in many ways and the job hunt most of all...what, your mentors never told you that?
In a supreme little bit of irony, after my year of search-committee chairdom, the Provost decided I wasn't publishing fast enough and declined to reappoint I'm back once again on the @#%$&*^ing job market too. I really do feel your pain. Stiff upper lip!

11:48 AM  
Blogger Shaggy said...

I gave up on the field of Mechanical Engineering after 4.5 years study towards a 4 year degree, as I couldn't find any work in the field while I completed my degree.

I founded a high growth business, after failing to secure a position from over 250+ companies I applied to, only securing interviews with 30% of these.

I took the business national, and found it increasingly difficult to manage, the business later failing as a result.

I was totally "burnt-out" & for the first time in my life I now had to manage depression.

I am now completing an MBA and have a distinction average for the first semester. Again, I can't secure any work, this time achieving interviews for 50% of applications.

My problems are at the interview level, where I present well and am able to demonstrate that I am extremely intelligent, but I am weak at good communications and particularly I feel awkward relating to other people.

Unfortunately, these are the very same skills required in managing a business.

So, I don't know what to do now. I am extremely good at the analytical side of business, but have to force myself to achieve the other skills required.

I am seeing a Physiatrist & I am about to join group sessions as well, but don't know how to break the cycle of zero finance since 1998, and now depression.

Please help me.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this blog still open?

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find myself i the exact same position as you.

I get rejection letters to every few hundred jobs I apply for, and the are usually generic ones.

I've been out of work for 7 years now, and my future looks so bleak I've been considering suicide as a way out of this misery!

I'm living off my girlfriend right now and I know she doesn't mind so much but I need to feel a valuable member of society again, and pay my own way in life.

I feel that I have wasted my time getting my degree as it doesn't seem worth all that effort in hind sight.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Code-ster said...

Hey, just stumbled upon your blog randomly and couldn't help but feel your pain, even if a few years old by now. I hope you have found something since you wrote this little rant. I, unfortunately, haven't. I am a college graduate and have been unemployed for over two years. I have been forced to move in with my mother and whatever money I had saved is nearly gone. At 32 years old, it feels like I have no life and no future.

I get frustrated by the fact that so many employers are so unwilling to train someone for a position. In my experience, it seems that most employers are looking for someone who fits their open position perfectly. I sit here day in and day out writing specific cover letters and resumes and then never even get a response. It's hardly worth my time anymore. All during school I kept hearing that it didn't matter what I got a degree in, and ever since all I've heard is that I don't have the right degree. What a bunch of bullshit.

I'm curious, have you found steady work? If so, what kind of advice can you give? I've pretty much given up on finding a job and am planning on graduate school for the fall. Hopefully that will change things around for me. Sorry for the rant, but I think you know how it is.

Take care.

1:40 AM  
Anonymous Stacey, Parkville MD said...

I feel your pain... I have a bachelor and master of science... I have been applying for every position that I have the qualifications for that I see on monster and careerbuilder. I recently moved to Baltimore and after 7 months of applying and looking I still have yet to get hired for a career position... I have had to sucumb to taking work at walgreens overnights so that I can have some income, insurance and day time to look for real work.... I dont get it... spending money on college degrees to get ahead has gotten me no where... why is it even with a 2 college degrees there is not work

2:01 AM  

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