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W.E. Gutman: The truth behind want-ads

The Long View

Posted: June 6, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: June 6, 2010 4:55 a.m.

In the beginning, comes inexperience.

Armed with little more than snippets of lore and a zest for life, my nephew Eli, soon to graduate from college, is looking for work. Finding a job that harmonizes with his grades, aspirations, self-view and crass earthly needs won't be easy. He is a fount of erudition but he lacks "experience."

Take heart, I reassure him, life's lessons guiding my words. Inexperience translates into "under-qualification." The underqualified always find work. They are the backbone of the labor force, the silent legions who energize America's economic engine - the multitudes eager to be consigned to a life of mediocrity just to survive. (Employers consider "under-qualified" any 22-year-old, first-time job-seeker lacking a Ph.D. and at least 10 years of experience, and/or anyone unwilling to slave at below-subsistence wages for the privilege of forking over half their earnings to the IRS.)

Work hard, I cheer him on, and in 20 years you will surely come down with a common malady that afflicts all 40-something job seekers. It's called overqualification.

This pre-existing condition encourages employers to play mind games and to offer a salary they know is shamefully incompatible with the applicant's skills and experience.

One can narrowly avert being considered overqualified by simulating underqualification and/or dyeing one's hair a shade darker.

Left untreated, overqualification results in irreversible unemployability. An unemployable person is entitled to great respect but no paycheck.

As we perused the work offers, I taught Eli to decipher the buzzwords. Job descriptions are cleverly crafted paragons of equivocation swathed in minimalist prose.

They lack the lyricism of truth. They rely on the banality of tall tales. To wit:

Ideal candidate: Mythical creature invented by employers.

Highly organized: The boss is highly disorganized.

Bright and eager:
Naive and stupid.

Willing to bend to crass conformity. Don't expect recognition for your talent, which in no way must be allowed to eclipse that of your superiors.

Unimaginative automaton.

Taskmaster-in-training; middle-management recruit.

Swim or sink in a shark-tank atmosphere.

Team player:
Self-effacing milksop keen on sacrificing personal growth for the good of an enterprise that doesn't give a damn whether you live or die.

Cheerful and hard working: Witless beast of burden.

Flexible: Willing to be tied in knots.

Strong interpersonal skills: Shifty, manipulative sycophant.

Highly motivated: Willing to slog along without acknowledgment or recompense, promotion or reward.

Must work well under pressure: Must have the constitution of a mule, the temperament of a saint.

Detail-oriented: Must not see the forest from the trees.

Meek and unassuming. Certified yes-man.

Entry-level position: No-exit career.

Exciting work:
Excruciatingly dull.

Bright future:
Somber present.

Excellent opportunity: Risky gamble.

Comprehensive salary: Colossal exaggeration.

Generous benefits:
Bottom-of-the-barrel health care coverage, legal holidays and the tedium of an obligatory annual loyalty oath disguised as a summer picnic or Christmas party with people you can't stand.

Good opportunity for growth: If you're under 21, you can expect to grow another inch or two.

Outstanding opportunity: Stepping stone to nowhere.

Will train: Will domesticate.

Pleasant working conditions: Cramped quarters.

Modern facility: Claustrophobic, windowless cinder-block bunker.

Conveniently located: Decrepit downtown dungeon.

Having gotten the message and intent on avoiding the humiliation and pitfalls of job hunting, Eli will not look for work just yet.

He's decided to stay home, demanding that he be housed and fed, by arguing, as I counseled, that he didn't ask to be born in the first place.

Eli's parents have withdrawn their dinner invitation and are now threatening me with a bill for their son's college education.

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist and author. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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