On the difficulties finding work in today's economy: Two perspectives

In his personal finance column a couple of weeks ago, Globe and Mail columnist Rob Carrick referenced a letter he published about a year ago. The letter was from a 29-year-old who had a lot to say about his generation’s difficulty finding work — especially meaningful and/or well-paying work. I didn’t see that letter when it was published last year, but Rob’s column this week made me want to seek it out.

The letter stirs up mixed feelings in me. Here’s an excerpt:

What makes me extremely bitter is how poorly people of my age and younger have been treated by potential employers…

About a month from now, I’ll likely randomly get an email … telling me that while they really liked me, I wasn’t the right person for the role and they hired someone else. That’s it. The kicker? They likely didn’t hire anyone at all and wasted everyone’s time…

Being willing to work is absolutely USELESS if you can’t get a foot in the door. The economy is only part of the problem.

I have to say, this gets my hackles up — for a couple of reasons. First, I can relate. After all, I’m only five years older than the letter writer. Yes, five years can make a big difference in the economic landscape. But things were not easy when I graduated either. (My first job after graduating from university was working for slightly more than minimum wage at a book store.) I understand that things are hard(er) now — but sometimes you really do have to work for less than you think you’re worth so you can build skills and contacts, which make you worth much more.

But what really irks me is his view of the hiring process — because I’ve been a hiring manager, and I can tell you that I find it hard to believe companies are intentionally wasting their own employees’ time interviewing people for jobs that don’t exist. Hiring is a huge expense for a company, and it takes an almost unbelievable amount of time. At one company I worked for, I think I interviewed pretty much every young writer in Vancouver. Clearly, most of them did not get the job. Maybe they thought I was evil and that we never hired anyone. But here’s the thing: Many of them just had not developed their skills to the point of being hireable — yet. I once hired a writer with very little paid experience because she had an excellent blog that showed she could write. When I asked for samples from more experienced writers and they either didn’t have any, or they were badly written, or they spelled my name or the name of the company wrong in the e-mail they sent them in, well, they didn’t get hired. Sometimes I did a round of hiring and didn’t hire anyone — not because there was no job to fill, but because it would have been way too expensive for the company to bring on a new employee that everyone knew was not going to work out.

For the letter writer, I don’t know what the answer is. I know it’s tough out there. I know it can seem bleak, if not impossible. You’re right that by sheer virtue of the time you were born and graduated, you face a tougher road than those 20, 10, or even 5 years older than you. I would just urge you to keep going. And don’t believe the system is out to get you. Make what you can out of the opportunities you’re given. And hope for a little (or a lot) of luck along the way.

For another perspective, here’s another letter from a 29-year-old “job-haver” who wrote Rob to respond to the first letter. As I read it, I kept saying, right out loud, “YES!” A couple of his excerpts:

Applying for hundreds of jobs, over the Internet, in a wide variety of fields…  is the shotgun approach, and it is a big mistake…

This is hard to swallow, but the people who will get their dream jobs are already doing their dream jobs before they get hired. You wanna be an accountant? Start doing your friends’ taxes. You wanna work in an ad agency? Make spec ads for your friends’ and family’s small businesses. Wanna be a journalist? Start making YouTube videos. Mechanic? Fix some cars. Teacher? Tutor poor kids. Yeah, you gotta make money. So sling coffee. And be darn well passionate about it. Find a coffee shop you love and pitch yourself to them, so you can make a few bucks an hour to support your weekends of doing your dream job for free. That’s how economies work. People do things. Real things in the real world with grease and sweat and moving parts and grit. Your credentials are theory.

I could not agree more.