Re: Jobs: Fear or Uncertainty?

by The Escaped Inmate

There is no overt authority which intimidates us, but we are governed by the fear of the anonymous authority of conformity. . . .

—Erich Fromm, The Sane Society

Certainty is the region of death, uncertainty the valley of life.

—Edmond Jabes, The Book of Yukel

Two big factors in the current job market are certifications and experience.  I have a certification, which opens some doors but closes many more.  My peculiar combination of education and experience make me a great fit for a few jobs, but those are truly very few.  This is true of many current workers who have become increasingly specialized.  I saw ads for many jobs that I knew I was capable of doing very well, but I wouldn’t have gotten in the door because I either didn’t have the right certification or I didn’t have the amount or type of training and experience desired by the employer.

Most employers, despite what they say, realize they don’t do a good job of training, so they abdicate that responsibility to the institutions you’ve been around in the past, who aren’t necessarily that much better at it.  Even though hiring is supposed to be about the future and what you are capable of doing, it turns out to be mostly about the past and what you have done.  Another reason certifications are so popular is that they prove you will jump through hoops at the direction of an institution.  You don’t get certified by rocking the boat, you get certified by doing as you’re told.  Employers generally like that a whole lot.  No wonder that the highest paying jobs go to the people who have taken the most time-consuming and expensive certifications – they’ve proven they’ll jump through any hoop put in front of them.  Similarly it’s no wonder that employers usually don’t try to select employees based on their intelligence or demonstrated knowledge – people who are knowledgeable and confident just might do things their own way, rather than the corporate way.  For all the talk about vision as a priority, you don’t see many conspicuous visionaries getting decent jobs with established employers.

I took a popular recent route to my current job.  Sure I sent out a ridiculous number of resumes and went on a few interviews, but right now I’m working as a temp — albeit with the possibility of eventually going permanent.  That’s one of the few really rational developments in the American workplace in recent years.  Some people can’t handle the degree of uncertainty involved in temping.  I feel sorry for them.

The same day I was offered the temp job I’m now in, I was also offered a permanent job, through an agency with which I’d registered.  The work would have been reasonably interesting, with appropriate pay and apparently ordinary working conditions.  I’d have been working for a small consulting firm that does work for lots of prominent business interests.  One thing stuck in my head, though, the recruiter told me that the employer was looking for, ‘people who aren’t very assertive and who are really motivated by fear of losing their jobs.’   That’s the first time I’ve ever heard it put so bluntly in that context.   So my choice was between the uncertainty of a lengthy audition and a stable position in a workplace built on fear.  Not a difficult choice for me!   The sad thing is that so many people would have made the opposite choice.

Temps have it good in a few other ways too.  If we suddenly quit, it isn’t so obvious and it isn’t as hard to get another (temp) job relatively quickly.  We have a unique perspective on the company and, as much as we’re being auditioned, we can be auditioning the employer.  Of course there are lots of drawbacks, especially as regard benefits.  Some of us can take advantage of it though.

Studies suggest that employers will use temps more and more as time goes on, and it stands to reason.  After all it’s almost like the certification and experience issue I mentioned earlier:  the employer is relying on the temp agency to decide if you’re a good fit to work for the employer.  What’s next, an agency to represent employees applying to agencies?


works cited:

  • Fromm, Erich, The Sane Society,  Rinehart & Company, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1955, pg. 102.
  • Edmond Jabes as quoted in Taylor, Mark C., Erring: A Postmodern A/theology, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London, 1984, pg. 176.

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