Job skills and my Posh Tan in Tahiti

Posted on Oct 29 1999

Job training is a theme we’re hearing more and more about in the Commonwealth, as the economic crunch has made landing employment a tougher proposition for a lot of folks.

The situation is an age-old Catch-22: without skills, you can’t get a job; but without a job, you can’t build the skills.

Based on my experience and the experience of my friends, the only effective way around the situation is to doggedly pursue an entry level job somewhere–anywhere–in order to get the job skills ball rolling. I can’t claim that working as a gas pumper and dish washer in high school directly translates into any skills I use today, but either you’re in the game or on the sidelines, so if you want a job…well, you have to take a job.

Starting out at the lowest rungs of the career ladder isn’t a light and lively proposition, but that’s where most of us have had to start out. It’s a grim matter of mustering the motivation to put on some good clothes, typing up a basic resume, screwing on a smile, and going eyeball to eyeball with every guy in the area who might be able to hire you.

It is, in other words, a matter of personal resolve and motivation. There’s not much an outsider– be it an institution, a person, or whatever–can do for you on that count.

Job training, then, is more than a merely passive proposition. Institutional funding for training, such as government programs, is justifiably aimed at part of the equation. The other part, though, is something an institution or teacher has no control over: the resolve of any given person to tend to the grim and hateful task of pounding the streets looking for a job.

The pounding the streets part actually seems to get worse–not better–as you move up the hierarchy. Interviewing for a job as, say, a dish washer, takes about five minutes, and you’re probably dealing with a relatively normal person such as a restaurant manager who you can relate to on a fundamental level.

By contrast (and a hateful contrast at that), interviewing for a job as an executive can involve a week of torment. This may involve a series of meetings with bozos, no-talents, pin-heads and pencil-necks straight out of a Dilbert cartoon strip.

They ask questions like “where do you see yourself in five years?” (Well…what am I, a fortune teller? If I could predict the future I sure a heck wouldn’t need a job.) You’re supposed to kiss butt, gratify the ego of the interviewer, and tell him how much you’d love to someday aspire to his lofty position.

Correct answer: “Sir, over the next five years I’d like to slave diligently for whatever you’re willing to pay me, within the sterile confines of this grim office, so that I may someday be promoted to your position and still work for you since you’ll be the CEO by then.”

Incorrect (but truthful) answer: “In five years I’d like to be on a Tahitian beach with Posh Spice and CNBC’s news anchor Christine Tan, living off the $10,000 per month allowance they give me out of their royalties.”

Any way you slice it, looking for a job is a rotten experience. Maybe that’s why lottery tickets are so popular: they sell the illusion (however briefly–if even for a few seconds) that it is possible (not likely, but possible nonetheless) that you’ll never have to find a job again.

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