The facade and futility of finding a job

Photo by Casey Gomez

It’s career fair season. That means it is time for thousands of Tech students to put on their costumes and play pretend.

You’ve seen it before. The horde of job seekers in the suffocating air of the CRC’s fourth floor, their eyes perpetually peeled for the logos that represent the companies they hope to one day stick on their LinkedIn profiles. The gold badges and plain nametags that seem to indicate a student’s place in a sort of career-based caste system. They crowd around recruiters the same way that children may clamor for a famous athlete’s autograph. Friends and classmates become fellow job-seekers, every man and woman for themself.

This picture is vivid in my mind because I understand fully well that I have been one of these people. I too have navigated the delicate balance between making innocuous small talk with company representatives and finding ways to link the unseasonably hot weather back to a point on my resume. We don’t do these things because we enjoy them; they’re just a box that must be checked.

And what does that hold for us? Case interviews, behavioral interviews, coffee chats, networking dinners — they’re all chances for us to market ourselves, building a brand that hopefully grows so strong that no company is able to resist it.

The true tragedy of this big song and dance is not that it is stressful or time-consuming, although it is both. It is that the job search process tells companies so little about who we are as interns or full-time employees. We all put on an affect in these settings. A three-month project which went nowhere becomes “a valuable lesson in research design”; that one time you spent an afternoon working with Habitat for Humanity might become “a humbling experience that shaped my perspective on making a difference.” How are employers to know which among us are the truly passionate and accomplished and which are merely very good at playing the part?

A few weeks ago, I spoke to a recruiter about my frustrations — not in the course of interviewing for a job, of course; that would have been foolish. And I was surprised to find him agreeing that yes, the career search process does a poor job of separating good from bad. Why not have candidates selected for a second round of interviewing complete some sort of group project? Why doesn’t every field have an equivalent of consulting’s case interviews or tech firms’ coding interviews? Where in the midst of a classic “tell us about an item on your resume” interview can a hiring manager determine whether someone is reliable or capable?

Tech students are by and large accomplished, talented people. So rather than having us speak about our greatest challenges or proudest moments, companies ought to make us prove it.