Friday, July 25, 2014

Employing some reflexivity

So I've ended my job hunt (phew) so finally, I can settle back to finishing the last leg of my thesis. As some of my friends have helpfully reminded me, I've come a long way and it's foolish to give up now. I have been tempted to move on to the "next big thing" but I owe it to myself to write a kickass paper for submission.

The reason for that temptation, is how utterly eye-opening this whole experience was. I have formerly written about some self-discovery moments as I walk through different doors for interviews in my previous post. After wrapping up what must be months of knocking on doors, and stressing if you'll be getting The Interview, there are a couple things I gathered from this entire process.

1. It doesn't matter, your education certificate is a membership card.

I am a hardcore believer that every discipline is useful and important in framing our critical understandings of society. I am also a firm advocate that taking your studies seriously in University is something every student should do.

However, the aim of taking your studies seriously shouldn't be done in the hopes that you can impress your future employers with your shiny new certificate and accompanying transcript.

Truth is, no one cares. I have worked my ass off 2 years in graduate school to get a 30,000 dissertation, with complex arguments and theories. However, none of my employers have quizzed me about the work I've done and questioned how those skills are transferrable.

Employers already know certain universities have a reputation for certain calibre of students, and those mindsets don't change.

(P.s. I didn't come from a good junior college, and there was a managing director who assumed that I didn't have a good command of the English Language because my GP was a C. I mean dude, that's 7 years ago? Plus, I don't see how I can be admitted into NUS's Geography without having awesome language skills.)

Well, bottom-line is that university is a gym, and your brains are the muscles you lift so that you have the capacity to go on to do other tasks. It might sound utilitarian, but doing other tasks does not always refer to economic activities. It is also social - change the way we treat others, cultural - more compassion towards difference, and of course personal - finding answers to some of the roadblocks we felt earlier in our lives.

Education, especially higher education, is a privilege. Not an entitlement. It gives your education a bad taste in the mouth if we act as if we "deserve" to certain set of benefits. Bitch please.

2. Passion is overrated.

Passion is not an excuse for mistakes made on the job. It is not an excuse to not take your OTJ training seriously. You know how those reality shows where they show contestants being bitter about leaving because they felt that others who were selected to remain didn't have as much passion? We always judge the person as being a "sour grape" but in the end, we commit the same problem when we invoke passion as justification for higher rewards. It is a mask for self-entitlement.

People also ask me, why not continue teaching since I've done it for a long time, and I am also good at the job. Well, to use a somewhat cheesy analogy. Sometimes you have to leave a person, no matter how much fun times you've had, because you know in the long run things are not going to work out. It's the same with my attitude towards passion in one's career. True enough, we must be interested in what we do, and at least have a healthy dose of curiosity over the career we're in. However, passion and love are very different things. We love what do we, despite its ups and downs, bad and good. We love someone because of the tough times we've been through together. So passion is necessary in the beginning, but perseverance is needed to make it into a job you love. I respect people who do that, no matter what job they have, because really, who are we to judge.

(p.s. I do not regret not signing my name on that line all those years ago. It's still one of the best decisions I've made. I am still passionate, but I'm also passionate about a lot of other things.)

3. Not all that glitters is gold.

The word "con" comes from the slang use of "confidence" and thus when you've been conned into the something, it's about betraying that sense of confidence (in something). So technically, employers and employees alike are out to build your confidence about their abilities. It only becomes a con when that claim do not match up with reality. In that regard, it's always easy to buy into something because as a prospective employee, we are not the ones in power. It's also a problem of information asymmetry because we are not in the job to realise the challenges they face.

That's why people compare pay and benefits, because these are tangible things we can measure. However, don't let that distract you from the other more shadowy parts of the job. I am a great believer of organisational fit. The work does not matter as the people you work with, because ultimately, new opportunities rise in time and space and job description change all the time.

We are going to spend a large part of our adult lives around the people we work with, so while pay and benefits may seem nice at first, do not be "conned" into a bad toxic environment. I have learnt that once we are "in", no amount of pay is going to make up for the unnecessary stress and tears.

(p.s. I went for an interview with an employer who promised me that I can be making 5,000 a month in a year. Later I found out that it was a MLM marketing company that promised people that if they sold enough keychains door-to-door, they will be able to work their way up the ladder and get high pay by managing a "team".)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Seeking Employment

This is (part of) the story of my job-search thus far.

I've gone through all the phases of a job-seeker except the last one. Exhiliaration of first "venturing" out into the great unknown, to a sense of insecurity after realising how limited my choices are, and finally a sense of acceptance and cautious optimism after getting some results from my hardwork. I hope against the odds that I won't ever have to feel despondent and despair over my ever decreasing chances.

It has been a humbling and an eye-opening experience. Blog posts, reviews, magazines and websites about interviews, CV writing, internships vs perm is really mind-numbing. I don't know where to start, who to believe and what to think anymore. It's one of those things that career centres in universities can babysit, but up to a certain point, we have to learn how to walk through the brimstone and fire ourselves.

I've been fortunate to still have some choices with regards to the industries I want to join. As I apply for more positions and do more digging, my initial idea of wanting to "get out there" is as daunting as it is exciting. I learnt that being passionate in my academic studies, is hardly the same as being passionate in the corporate sector. They run on very different engines, and this means I need to learn how to drive differently - and fast. I gathered the fact that interviewing the boss is as important as being interviewed by him/her.

I also finally understand how pressurizing this process can be. The need to have to "get a good job" as soon as you graduate is an unspoken rule in my family (and I believe in many others'). My dad frowns when I am considering an internship at a prestigious firm, rather than seek security in the civil service for full time pay and benefits. Well-meaning friends ask how my "job hunting is going" out of concern, can sometimes become reports of failure and despondency.

It's not an easy process and suddenly social networks become a valuable resource. Without the back up of institutional credentials, seeking knowledge about an industry becomes more of a favour justified solely on the grounds of personal rapport.

I am lucky that people see my potential during interviews and I am grateful to all those who took time to get to know me more. I have received replies thus far from prospective employers (although those are far and few between) and already consider myself lucky.  Being in this position with friends who are already working advising me on the type of jobs helps since I constantly consult them on to ask interviewers and learn from their mistakes.

This short recount ends with a very simple realisation. Time is our most precious commodity and finding a career is really finding the best way to invest the most of our time. We want returns - whether it be monetary or career opportunities. Yet on the other hand, we don't realise that as we trade time for a salary, we also have to be discerning as to who and what we are giving it to. 30-40 years down the road, I hope the accumulation of those choices is going to make me a better person than I am today.