Dueling Conundrums: Existential, Institutional

Christopher Carr

Christopher Carr does stuff and writes about stuff.

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15 Responses

  1. North says:

    Terrifying post, and thus awsome.Report

  2. Joseph Cox says:

    I find the truth of “it only take one” both terrifying and reassuring. It’s a numbers game, but that means it is just a process. You could get “lucky” and get a job you like after only 20-30 applications; or it could take 200-300… If my eventual (I’m in grad school) job search turns into a war of attrition, then I’m just glad to be an excellent waiter. No shame in making money until you find a “real” job.Report

  3. Will Truman says:

    I can’t believe I missed this post!

    You sort of mentioned, but kind of stepped through one of the requirements that some articles have been written on recently, which is “we will only hire people that are currently employed.” It’s a requirement I find aggravating, but that I can’t argue the sense of. Sure, you’re going to overlook some great candidates, but there are enough of those to go around and you’ll also weed out more worthless ones. It’s a better method than most, but from a social productivity standpoint, very problematic. You pick off someone and suddenly the other company has to replace someone. They pick off someone and suddenly they need to replace someone. Meanwhile, there are a lot of people who are further and further out from having meaningful experience.

    One of the results of all of this I think is that networks are more important now than ever. It seems that more jobs are going unposted. Or they’ll put something on their website and nowhere else.

    Strangely enough, I visited my home city a few weeks ago and got to hear the other side of things. Over and over, I found myself talking to employers who couldn’t find people to staff their job openings. I was stunned. I’m not going to go into all of the conversations I had*, but four different companies in a couple of cities were either having trouble finding someone or were hemorrhaging people (who either found other jobs or felt confident enough in finding one that they would just up and quit due to a corporate culture clash).

    I wrote a post on the bizarre experience (http://hitcoffee.net/index.php/file/2794). “Colosse” is the fictitious name I give the city. Notably, the first comment comes from someone in a different part of the country with similar problems at his employer. I guess it’s an IT thing, or maybe a “Colosse” one. And yet… it’s just antithetical to so much that I hear and read about (even involving IT).

    Another thing I’ve noticed is how more and more employers are leaning on contracting jobs. My last “real” job was a contracting job and my current semi-job is a couple layers of contracting (contracted to one company who contracted to another). My contractor at my last job contracted their benefits to another company, who contracted COBRA to yet another. It seems to me that there’s a whole lot of “we want the job done, but don’t want to mess with any of the details” doing on, as well as a lot of “we don’t want to be on any sort of hook if things don’t work out.” In addition to not wanting to hire, I think there’s a particular aversion to commitment. Labor flexibility, writ gigantic.

    Sorry for the long and meandering response. You touched on some issues that I have been pondering and thinking of posting about (or already did) for a while.Report

    • Christopher Carr in reply to Will Truman says:

      Thanks for the link. I enjoyed your post. That’s a good Megan McArdle piece as well that you linked to.

      You’ve touched on a lot of the topics I plan on covering in detail later in this series – particularly the subcontracting phenomenon, and this comment definitely deserves a post-length response.

      I was thinking of writing something about Richard Florida. In the past, I’ve run hot and cold on Florida, but I’ve never really questioned his underlying assumptions. I’ve been outside the U.S. for the last five years, and before that, I was at a collegiate enclave, so I’ve never really seen the “creative class” in action. Now that I’m here I don’t think the creative class exists.

      I agree with you that not considering the unemployed is rational from an employer’s perspective, as much as it tends to foster the creation of a permanent underclass. Even if jobs and job-seekers coordinate on a non-meritocratic, totally random basis, there are so many applicants and only a limited amount of company resources to consider applications that employers can afford to just throw away broad classes of people arbitrarily. It seems a true reduction in the unemployment rate has to come from outside the system (i.e. government) or from the unemployed themselves (entrepreneurship).Report

      • I thought the McArdle’s piece was just fantastic. Especially about the psychological toll of being unemployed. It really resonated.

        I’ve almost always disliked R. Florida’s thesis and his support for it. At base, it’s obvious (“white collar workers are good for a city”), but as he expands on it, the data doesn’t support his thesis (Portland does everything he says a city should do, and yet doesn’t meet his criteria for success). Oh, I can go on and on about this subject. So, moving along…

        If enough companies were to start hiring enough people, I think that eventually it would reach down to the point that the unemployed would get their shot. But those unemployed for a while… that’s tougher. It would require a really tight job market. One we’re unlikely to see for some time. It’s not the most pressing concern, but it would be vexing even in the event of a jobs recovery.

        I am typically mistrustful of targeted tax breaks, but I thought McArdle had what seems to be a decent suggestion to confront a real problem (http://bit.ly/nY4sfI). This seems to be a problem where the market clashes with social good. Any thoughts?Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Will Truman says:

      “I visited my home city a few weeks ago and got to hear the other side of things. Over and over, I found myself talking to employers who couldn’t find people to staff their job openings.”

      If I lost my job here in (city), then I need to find another job here in (city). Because this is where my house is, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to sell this place. There might be umpteen zillions of jobs available in (anywhere else), but if I go to them then I’ll never own anything again that I don’t pay for in cash up front, because I’ll have defaulted on the loan for this house.

      So that job better pay damn well. That better be the best job in the universe, and I better stay there forever, because there are people who’ll consider me a moral failure if I do what’s necessary to take it.Report

      • Duck, no doubt. A lot of people are tied down to where they live. Moving for a job is risky. I’d be hesitant to do it even if I didn’t have a mortgage (which I don’t) or a wife whose job won’t let her move (which I do). I might if I were desperate and didn’t have either of those things. But it would probably be a last resort, if I’d set down any kind of roots where I am.Report

      • Christopher Carr in reply to DensityDuck says:

        But there are also people who consider you a moral failure if you don’t do what’s necessary to take it.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Christopher Carr says:

          I’d suggest that you’d be hard-pressed to find a Democrat who genuinely considered it a moral weakness that someone couldn’t find a job near their home and went on welfare (unless, y’know, they live in a suburb or something like that.)

          On the other hand, both sides will say that a person who defaulted on a home loan is a bastard.Report

  4. RTod says:


    I am really liking this series you started on unemployment. I know that it’s using your micro experience to examine macro issues, and so I’m pretty sure I am about to dive into places I have no need (or right) diving into, but just in case…

    Regarding your own job hunt: This is the second post where you’ve talked about frustrations with the process surrounding documents (i.e.: job postings, resumes, applications, etc.)

    Do mind if I ask if this is how you’ve been looking for work? If so, I’d like to be the 7 millionth person to offer some advice. Most of the companies I work with don’t do any actual hiring using these systems, even those that have “mandatory” systems on the books saying they do.

    Have you considered trying either a networking or informational interviewing approach, or both? You might find it more productive than the numbers game resume & job app approach.

    (Apologies if you have already gone down this road, or if I am sticking my nose in too far.)Report

    • Christopher Carr in reply to RTod says:

      Nope, not at all. I have tried those approaches, and I plan on covering that a bit later on in the series, but it’s taken me this long to realize that the cover letter > resume > interview > job model just doesn’t exist anymore no matter how much I may want it to or believe in it.

      The problem is as described above – the existential-institutional tornado that creates too much noise for the old model to function. Will Truman described how companies are feeling similar frustration that they can’t find people. It’s largely because there’s so much noise separating jobs and job-seekers, and it’s just getting noisier.

      I’m glad you brought up that most companies don’t hire based on the old system even if they pretend they do. I find this practice disgusting. I’ve heard through the grapevine (but have yet to formally research) that here in Massachusetts there is a LAW on the books that all positions must be advertised in a public forum and “remain open” to all applicants.

      I could write an entire post on that law (if it exists) and all the negative effects it has on the jobs market and how it’s indicative of the kind of quixotic liberalism that ignores economic realities, etc.: how many of the 70+ resumes I’ve sent out went to jobs that were never even available? How much earlier could I have realized that nepotism is the only way to get a job? Two months ago? Three?

      Also, I don’t really feel embarrassed or depressed because I’m unemployed since I can easily rationalize away any personal responsibility for this (minus “karma” or any other magical explanations). I’m lucky that I don’t have to be bitter about this whole thing. I’m more just observing an absurdly broken system and writing about it.

      So anyways, please don’t feel like you’re sticking your nose in too far.Report

      • I’m glad you brought up that most companies don’t hire based on the old system even if they pretend they do. I find this practice disgusting. I’ve heard through the grapevine (but have yet to formally research) that here in Massachusetts there is a LAW on the books that all positions must be advertised in a public forum and “remain open” to all applicants.

        I can’t speak for Massachusetts, but I know that it is common in government to put up public postings when everyone knows who the hiree is going to be. Maybe not for every job, but for a lot of them. My father’s replacement quit after a month and they had decided to hire the runner-up from the previous interview process. But they had to wait for 14 days after the initial job posting.

        There is also my alma mater, a state university, that had to do a public job posting for Head Football Coach. This is a Division I-A school. They weren’t going to find their guy in a newspaper ad. Even if they’d found their guy the day after, they wouldn’t have been able to hire them for 10 days (I think).Report