Being a Privileged Job Seeker
Friday, August 3, 2012Tweet
I'm currently knee-deep in job searching, which is exciting and terrifying for the same reason: I have multiple pathways open to me right now, and I have no idea which if any will eventually lead to a job. Or, if multiple ones do, if they will do so within a close enough time frame that I will actually get to choose between them rather than having to simply decide whether to take the first offer I get. As a result, I'm trying to get in as many applications as possible right now so as to maximize the likelihood of having options, while still being selective about applying only to jobs I would actually enjoy and be qualified for.
All of this to say: When I find a job opening that is an exact fit for my skills and interests, I want to jump on it right away.
So this brings me to Wednesday, and how I discovered firsthand (1) some obstacles that can exist in a job search and (2) the privileges I have in conducting my job search.
It's around 12:30 on Wednesday, and I'm dressed up for a 2:30 interview, taking a break from prepping to run another search for openings. I come across an opening that is a perfect fit for my experience and see that the deadline is THAT DAY. (Somehow I hadn't found this opening before, despite searching every day.) Then I see that I can't apply online because all applicants have to be pre-screened by another organization. The webpage provides a list of phone numbers for the organization's various locations.
So I call up the closest location and, after two attempts at navigating their phone menu, get connected to a guy in the employment center. I explain that I found this job online and it says I need to get in contact with them to apply. He asks for my name, confirms the spelling, and finally says he can't find me. Am I registered with them? I say no, I just moved here. He says I have to come into their center to register.
I do a quick Google Maps search, then look at the clock and think there's no way I can get there and back in time to catch my 1:30 bus downtown for my interview. A 2:30 interview will probably go until 3:30; it's an hour bus ride. They close at 5. I explain that I have an interview at 2:30 and there's no way I can get in register, but that the job closes today. He seems unconcerned and says, "Oh." I say, "So... I guess I can't apply." He says, "OK."
I take the bus downtown, do my interview, which lasts all of 20 minutes, and take the bus back to campus. Seeing that I have time after all, I get in my car and drive to the center to register. I get there about 4. The woman there is confused, and sets me up at a computer to register, then after I discuss the job with her tells me I don't have to register, then finally looks up the job herself and agrees that yes, I do have to register. Also I have to take a skills test. But the computers are going to shut down at quarter to 5.
So I get my profile set up and do as much of the skills test as I can before the computers automatically power down. She checks my ID and says she'll have to get on the next day to verify it once I've gone home and completed the skills test, and hands me a paper confirming she's referred me to the job.
I go home and do the skills test. Mike and I go out to dinner for our anniversary, and then before I go to bed I look at the paper she gave me and realize it says that I need to go to a separate website in order to actually apply for the job, which she never mentioned. I go to that website, and it lists the deadline as "open until filled," so I have no idea if I have to try to get an application in by midnight or not, or if I even can without my profile being fully verified yet. I opt to go to bed. Then the next day I check the registration site and see that my ID was never verified, so I have to call and leave a voicemail explaining the situation.
I have no idea how much of any of this actually affects my ability to be considered for this job. It may be a lost cause at this point.
Whereas I had a previous opportunity to reflect on how many obstacles someone could have to applying for a job, on Wednesday I was acutely aware of the privileges I had that helped me at each step of this process. Here are some:
I have a computer with Internet access.
Because I didn't have to travel anywhere to access a computer, I could leisurely flip through job postings an hour before I had to leave for another interview, which meant I was able to find this position before it closed. I was able to quickly look up the number for the nearest registration center, as well as directions for getting there. Then, when I didn't make it to the registration center in time to complete my skills test, I could do it at home rather than having to go back the next day to finish it. I could also check on it the next day to make sure everything was set.
I have access to transportation.
I can afford bus tickets to take me to an interview 8 miles away and back. I also have a car, so when I had to get to the center quickly to register before it closed, I didn't have to try to figure out a bus route and wait for a bus. If I'd needed to come back the next day for any reason, it wouldn't have been a big deal.
I have a phone.
I was able to call immediately about finding the job posting and get the information about what to do next. When I saw that my registration hadn't been completed, I could call right away to get it fixed.
I can type quickly.
Growing up with constant computer access means that I've learned to type very quickly, so when I had to fill out pages and pages of profile information in about 20 minutes, I could get it done without any problem.
I can read quickly.
I had to take a reading comprehension skills test and a math skills test, and I was trying to get through them as fast as possible to make it in under the deadline. I don't have any learning disabilities, reading issues, or vision problems that could have hindered me in completing the skills tests.
I'm (probably) not discriminated against.
I touched on this briefly when talking about privilege and work, but I can't imagine if I'd gone through this entire process and then, when the specific organization offering the job opening was actually revealed (which didn't happen until the very end of the process), found out that it was an organization that was known for discriminating against women, Catholics, white people, or whatever other category I might fall into.
What's amazing to me that even with all of these abilities and resources, I still didn't manage to get registered and apply for the job by the deadline. And if that actually matters (which is still unclear to me), that's a loss for everyone -- for me because I need a job, but also for this organization, who would presumably benefit from someone coming in with all of the skills, experience, and education they're looking for.
It's not that I have an issue with having a pre-screening process, but when it's complicated, confusing, inconsistent, and inflexible, it's an obstacle for everyone. And I can see how it might be too large of an obstacle to overcome for people who are already lacking resources and/or abilities.
I'm also privileged in that I have other options; although I would like to apply for this job, not doing so wouldn't be a huge deal, as I have several other applications in already and have made other contacts that may lead to job offers. That's because most of those applications can be completed on my own computer at home, and I can make connections by driving places to meet people. If every job application took as much effort as the one I described above, I'd have a lot fewer done. And that means less chance of multiple offers, which means less choice in what job I take and less leverage to negotiate my salary.
I felt I needed to write this to round out the previous discussions on the obstacles someone can face when trying to "just get a job already." If we want to do something about the inequality of employment opportunities, it's not enough to point at problems: Some people are poor. Some people didn't have a great formal education. There is racism and sexism and heterosexism and ableism.
It also requires pointing at the privileges that can be invisible when assumptions are made in constructing a hiring process: Everyone has access to transportation, or a phone, or a computer, or a permanent address. When applications continue to come in, it can be easy to forget about the applications not coming in -- the ones from people equally as educated and skilled, maybe even a better fit for the position, who have been unintentionally screened out by some facet of the application process itself.
There's not one perfect solution here, but I still think it's a conversation worth having. Let's continue that conversation in comments.
When have you run into obstacles in a job search? What other privileges do I or you have in this situation that run the risk of being invisible when they're not discussed?