The Lies They Tell the Young

I saw this article in the Huffington Post a few days ago.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/employers-college-graduates-educated_n_3054028.html

When I read it, my immediate thought was, “now that’s a pile of shit.”

I say that as a Drone who holds an M.A. in a humanities discipline, and who has been at the Hive for nearly 20 years. Back in the early 90s, there were companies who looked to hire young grads who were smart and well rounded.  That has all changed. What employers want now is an army of automatons that can “hit the ground running” and who require no training or investment.  They whine about the nonexistent “skills gap,” in which they want that elusive purple unicorn candidate–the one who is a finance whiz, who can work in Dream Weaver, has a great presentation style, can write technical specs, can deliver new products, comes to the job with a following of 500 accounts, and can speak Mandarin and Latvian.  In other words, they want one person who can do everything.

What this means for liberal arts grads is that the deck is stacked against you, more so now than ever before.  The skills you bring to the job–clear communication, research skills, critical thinking–mean nothing to them.  It will be incumbent upon you to help show them the money.   First, you’re going to need more than just a one-semester internship.  You’ll need at least two semesters of internship, and those done full time at a recognized company are the best.  Yes, this might mean having to suck it up and miss a full semester of liver damaging binge drinking, but it will be worth it in the long term.  Second, you need to think about where you plan to live/work after graduation.  If you want to move to New York and work in advertising, then you need to go to New York and do an internship in advertising.  Don’t do your internship with an ad agency in Harrisburg.  Madison Avenue won’t care about that, and they will have other applicants who have more impressive internships.  Third, get some kind of crappy job while you are in school and use it to your advantage.  I worked part time in an office for 2 years while I was going to graduate school, and that experience, not my degrees, led to me being hired into my first full time position.  Yes, employers now want experience even for entry level candidates.  A friend’s daughter finished her M.A. in French last May, and still has no job prospects.  No experience, no job.

Think about how your skills, internship, and job experience relate to the position for which you are interviewing.  Whatever you do, DO NOT go to an interview and talk about something like the content of your thesis.  Yes, we know you are proud.  We know you spent a lot of time on it, and that it is your opus.  But you don’t go into the interview and discuss Goethe, the Boer War, or gender based poetics.  No one cares.

Most importantly, you need to lower your expectations.  Your first job is going to suck.  You’re going to be doing stuff that you don’t want to do.  You might find it demeaning.  You will be paid crap.  You’re going to be bored.  You’re going to think that maybe you should go to law school.  Get over it.  This is how it is.  You do not need a degree of any type in order to do most corporate jobs.  Most jobs  could be performed by a trained circus monkey.  But the degree is a filter that an employer applies to screen people out.

Not only are articles like this one from the Huffington Post irresponsible in that they are giving young people false hope, they are patently offensive!  A fellow Drone pointed out that, immediately following the article, there’s a slideshow about the most sought-after college majors.  There are no humanities disciplines listed at all.  In fact, when I first saw the title of the article, I thought that it must be from The Onion. 

Passion

Most of us have something which inspires us, and motivates us to strive to improve ourselves in some (often intangible) way.  We relentlessly pursue it.  It is our dream, our passion.

Passion is not missing from the life of the Corporate Drone; it’s simply that we drones find our passions outside of the walls of our cubicles.  Management types, however, love to go on and on about “passion,” and how “passionate” they are.  Let me make this very clear:  when someone tells you that she is passionate about branding, sales enablement, IT infrastructure, data analytics, financial modeling, project management, digital hierarchies, or any related topic, that is your proof that you are talking to a total fraud who also has a high likelihood of being a complete asshole.   “This increased functionality is very exciting!”  No, it’s really not.  But the fact that you just uttered that line of bullshit makes it perfectly clear to everyone that you are a jackass.

Can you find passion in your work?  Absolutely.  Some people who are passionate about their work include actors, artists, carpenters, chefs, hair stylists, massage therapists, glassblowers, scholars, museum curators, research scientists. . . .because these people have jobs that matter to the universe.  Do you notice what’s missing?  Corporate functions.

For drones, I suggest dismissing the idea of being passionate about your work.  It will only lead to disappointment.  Instead, pursue your passions elsewhere, because your employment really has no karmic purpose other than providing for you and your family.  I am passionate about clear communication and good grammar.  I’m passionate about lying around on the couch and reading novels.  I’m passionate about going for a walk with my dog.  None of this translates into bottom-line strategy, and that’s just fine.

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You’re not Working on a Cure

There is a fellow drone at my workplace who gets very upset over things like managerial and operational inefficiencies and ineptitude. This drone takes such things to heart. I’ve had to remind her, on several occasions, that what we do at Acme Widgets, Inc., has little inherent value in the universe. It’s not like we’re working on a cure.

You’re not working on a cure either. Sting isn’t calling you up, asking you to help him save the rainforest. You’re not spending your day being a fierce and fearless advocate for the poor, marginalized, or downtrodden.

You either work for a big company whose shareholders want increased profits (dubbed “shareholder value” by Management) and aren’t particularly concerned how the numbers on the bottom or top are achieved, just that they are achieved. Or, you work for a smaller company that helps big companies maximize their profits by saving time or money.

Neither has any impact on the world, humanity, or history. In fact, when I’m in my Existential Crisis Mode, I will assert that the very idea of corporations, business, and profit is false. It’s all papier mache. Even companies who purport to be working on the cure are not working on the cure. Those companies are working on treatments that prolong the disease so that consumers can continue to spend money on their treatments.

Why do we drones do it, if we know it’s all bullshit? Very simply, most drones desire to live a middle class lifestyle. Maybe we share a collective unconscious idea about the American Dream and the middle class existence is part of that. Drones don’t go off to cubicle land each morning feeling like they’re making the world a better place. Drones go off to cubicle farms because we need to pay the electricity bill, the orthodontist, and the mortgage.

Dronedom

Most of us are drones.  Management types like to call us “team members,” but we’re really just cogs in the wheel.

I sometimes feel like I’m trapped in that Talking Heads song, and I say to myself, “My God, how did I get here?”  But I know how I got here.  It’s no mystery, and the story isn’t particularly heartbreaking or unique.

In the early 90s, I was a liberal arts major, working on a liberal arts graduate degree, at what was, at best, a second rate university.  (To my credit, I only went there because I was awarded an assistantship!)  I never had any money, and when friends with great, $25K/year jobs would want to go out and do things, I would have to decline.  But who cared about money?  I was going to have a career in academia, and I was going to do what I loved.

The department advertised an opening for a tenure-track assistant professor position.  The curricula vitae (nearly 600 of them) poured in from all over the world.  One day, I rifled through the stack of C.V.s that was sitting on the secretary’s desk.  This was the “thanks, but no thanks” pile, and the credentials were way more impressive than those I had at that point, and way more impressive than what I could expect from myself.  These candidates had Ph.D.s from places like UC Berkeley, Cambridge, Yale, Oxford, and they were all vying for one position at one crappy university.

I realized that I did not want to spend the next six years of my life holed up in some university, conducting esoteric research on a topic that, when all was said and done, no one really cared about.  What I did want was to be able to get new brakes for my beater car without having to go to the bank of M&D, yet again.  I decided that I would complete my M.A., and then sell out and get a job in business.

Twenty years later, here I am.  Cubicle dweller, PowerPoint producer, widget maker.  I still sometimes feel like a sellout, but I’ve come to realize that it’s important not to take any of it too seriously.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s preferable to be a drone, because most drones retain their humanity and have interests outside of the world of work.  We read novels, not management books.   In our free time, we see plays instead of watching webcasts on product development.  We definitely don’t work phrases like “proactive synergies” or “boil the ocean” into our conversation.

Everyone has a story.  Embrace the dronedom.