Archive | April, 2010

Contingency Plan: In Case I’m Still Unemployed in a Year

30 Apr

In my mind, there are only three realistic possibilities if I’m still jobless come this time next year. 

Note: This is not my real post for today.  I just wasn’t finished yet, and thought, “Hey, instead of being, you know, PRODUCTIVE, I’ll just doodle on MS Paint instead.”  Expect some real, articulate thoughts from me this afternoon.  Which will be a first, coming from me.


You’re Swimming In It

29 Apr

As you know, we’re out to answer questions of employment and the value of a liberal arts degree. For all the thinking we do on the subject, sometimes it helps to bring in the big guns to help us with these questions. Here’s David Foster Wallace with some prime lines pulled from the “This Is Water” speech he gave at the Kenyon 2005 commencement:

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration.

…And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving… The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

Here’s the condensed version of this speech. It’s good, read the whole thing to understand the title of this post and the title of his speech.

I posit that liberal arts students are good at giving a damn, but I’m not so sure many of us won’t fall into the trap of “comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life” in which we are “dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting.” What do you think? Comments appreciated.

Bad Interviews: We’ve All Had One

28 Apr

As I was gearing up for a phone interview this morning,  I took a moment to reflect on my past interview mistakes.  When you’re applying to a competitive job, employers can afford to be choosy, and one wrong question or a couple too many “ummms” can rule you out as a prime candidate.  These missteps have definitely cost me at least a second round interview, if not a job offer.

  • I have the weirdest nervous twitch. I like to rip things into a million tiny symmetrical squares, and then play with the confetti I just made, like I’m in my own little birthday party.  I have enough sense to know that I can’t tear up my interviewer’s office, but this twitch morphs into me playing incessantly with my pen. I’ll doodle, I’ll click, I may tap the manic rhythm of Everytime We Touch.  All these things help hone my focus, but I’m fairly certain it makes my interviewer want to commit a gruesome, bloody homicide.
  • I can’t shut up.  I’ll get asked a question, and my mouth goes like a runaway train.  My brain, through its anxious side commentary, tries to temper my response, but it rarely works.  “You’ve said that already.  You can probably shut up now, I think you answered the question, although I don’t think you know what it is anymore.  Oh look, rhinos just went extinct.  I think that’s a sign you can stop.”
  • I’ve never understood that you’re supposed to ask questions too. It shows that you’re genuinely interested in the job as a career choice, and not as something to do for eight hours a day.  My interviewers were constantly asking me if I had any questions, and I thought it was impressive that I understood everything they just explained the first time.  One time though, I was interviewed by an alum, and she kept pressing it, probably because she had my best interests at heart.  So I asked about the one thing I really I wanted answered: salary and benefits.  During the first screening interview.  Facepalm.

I have a couple more, but with every blog post, I seem to lose a couple shreds of precious dignity.  Please, let me be a cautionary tale, so I at least know I’m not sharing my failures for nothing.

I do take solace in the fact that at one time or another, everyone has committed some kind of interview faux-pax.  For example, I’m sure someone has gone to an interview wearing only underpants.  Find yours at The Oatmeal’s 10 Types of Crappy Interviewees.


27 Apr

I have been dishing a bunch of career advice” on this site, but I want to come back to one of the core tenants of why this site was founded: liberal artists everywhere. I am a liberal arts graduate, a damn proud one at that. But what does that give me? Where does that get me? And how does that make me more employable than the next guy?

The Director of the Career Center at Amherst College Allyson Moore tries to answer and writes,

Job-search success often hinges on your ability to clearly communicate the relevant skills you possess. …Too often, liberal-arts students fail to recognize the value of their own education, which is understandable when the competition for each job is as fierce as it is today. …I could cite hundreds of students who greatly benefited from their liberal-arts education and later enjoyed incredible success throughout their careers.

No offense to Moore or Amherst, but her article is entirely useless to graduates and represents why liberal artists everywhere are acting like deer in the headlights. We feel like superheroes walking off the stage of our graduation but realize that “analytical, problem-solving, and reading and writing skills” mean nothing to us. That’s why we’re all so scared. It’s not because we don’t understand the value of our education. It’s because what we’re told repeatedly that all of our skills are relevant and we’re so lucky and blah blah blah.

So again, what really sets liberal arts student apart? [Note: This question is not answerable in a single post so gear up, friends — it’s going to be an ongoing subject here at I’m going to be wrong on this a lot before I am right…]

[Now back to the action:] I think liberal artists are particularly inclined to be generous. Generosity is certainly more wishy-washy than the “analytical, problem-solving, and reading and writing skills” that are oft cited liberal arts pluses but hear me out:

The best liberal arts students are generous with their work and that is the differentiating factor. Yes, I know you’re thinking of those two grade-grubbers and those three kids so busy padding their resume that their Google Calendar looks like a rainbow on the front of a Lucky Charms box. But I genuinely believe that a liberal arts environment tries to reinforce the idea that giving gifts is good. And gifts can be money, time, and art (at least says Seth Godin). I am arguing that the bleeding heart campaigns for bed nets to prevent malaria, solar decathlon challenges, and even Teach for America are about all about attempting to make a difference. These are the people that can’t help but give a damn about others. And if you make a difference by being generous, people take notice. Really, they do. Because there are way too many people out there who just do the bare minimum and don’t care. And when people take notice of your generosity, you will be hired. Liberal artists are famous for wanting to make a difference, so don’t shy away from that.

Adventures in Networking, Pt. 2! Exclamation Point!

26 Apr

After a couple long chats with my parents, there is a new life plan: to focus on finding a local job, save enough money for a move up north, then I can live in a big city in a swanky apartment with all my friends like they do on How I Met Your Mother.  You can’t have charming, uproarious shenanigans in New York with your best pals if you can’t afford to relocate.  Hello real life, my name is Sarah, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.

The dream.

I can handle this development.  All I have to do is network and make connections and yadda yadda blah blah. Except who the hell do I know in Lakeland, FL?! My parents moved here from New York when I was in college, and I spent my summers away.  So yes, I’m totally friendless, but I’m not out to make friends.  I’m out to get a job.  I need to work my professional network, which means I have to target my dad’s connections and my alumni brethren.

I love HIMYM, so you better believe I spent my weekend networking.  I wanna live the dream, man.

I found an alum in Tampa (a 4o minute commute from me) who currently practices law.  Throughout college, I was convinced I was heading to law school.  I took a couple practice LSAT questions, and got all of them wrong.  I also found out that I would be saddled with 30 years of debt, and as a public interest lawyer, my yearly salary would be less than a construction worker’s. I figured that I was too dim-witted to get into law school, and if I did miraculously manage it (does University of Phoenix give away law degrees?), I would develop an intense hatred and jealousy of construction workers everywhere.  Also, I’d probably be eating Vienna sausages for dinner every night, due to my noble pursuit of legislative reform.

This was the future I had envisioned after six practice questions and a quick Google search.  In other words, I gave up on my dream before I even tried, and before I had talked to a real live, breathing lawyer who could shed some light on his occupation.  I figured reaching out to this alum would be a good way to get some questions resolved, and maaaybe finagle my way into a legal assistant position.  Are Vienna sausages yummy?  Are construction workers good people?  Would University of Phoenix turn me down?  I needed answers.

It didn’t totally go as I had hoped, although it was still a helpful, informative interview.  What’s more, it taught me how to properly conduct networking interviews in the future.  Lookit, I made a chart for you describing my experience and the wins and fails of networking. I had one other networking adventure this weekend at Universal Studios, but I’ll save that for some other time.  Are you titillated with anticipation?  Fabulous.

What I Did Do (Huzzah!) What I Didn’t Do (Booooo)
  • Be friendly! The five networking emails I sent before were very matter-of-fact and to the point.  This one had an exclamation point!  This connotates that you are a nice, outgoing person and aren’t just using them for personal gain(even though you absolutely are)!  The  naive enthusiasm that this punctuation symbolizes is endearing and people will be inclined to help you! Also, make a light joke if you feel comfortable, but don’t overdo it! Exclamation point!!!
  • Have a list of prepared questions ready before the interview Don’t wing it, otherwise you’ll look like an unprofessional asshole who is wasting a non-asshole’s time.  I was glad I did, because I was a bit nervous talking to someone who charges his time by the minute, and was thus very efficient in his responses.
  • Be gracious. Thank them!  The follow-up email is integral in making a good impression, and shows that yous be a classy fellow.
  • Taken total control of the interview from the start I realized that the people you’re contacting are just as clueless about networking as you are. We just assume that real grown-ups know how this works, and so they’ll guide us through the bizarre process, like our college advisors did, but that is E-RRON-EOUS.  It’s entirely up to you to get the results you want from this connection.
  • Made sure my contact knew who the hell I was We exchanged a couple emails before I called him, but I never sent him my resume, which would have effectively told him about myself.  On the phone, I pretty much said, “I LIKE LAW LMAO!” Mid-convo, he stopped and said, “Can I ask what you majored in?” Yes you can, sir.  Incompetency and humiliation.
  • Not babbled! ‘Nuff said.
  • Grown a pair–asked the questions that I want ed to ask When push came to shove, I couldn’t ask the one fairly innocuous question that would’ve maybe led to a job offer.  “What’s a good introduction to the legal profession for someone who’s on the fence about it?”  Totally harmless, but I still couldn’t do it.  As a result, I hung up with the lawyer and immediately wailed to a friend about my dissatisfaction with the interview.
  • Take

  • total control of the interview from the start. I realized that the people you’re contacting are just as clueless about it as you are. We just assume that real grown-ups know how this works, and so they’ll guide us through this bizarre process, like our college advisors did, but this is E-RRON-EOUS!  It’s entirely up to you to get the results you want from this connection.
  • Make sure your contact knows who the hell you are. We exchanged a couple emails before I called him, but I never sent him my resume, which would have effectively told him about myself.  On the phone, I pretty much said, “I LIKE LAW LMAO!” Mid-convo, he stopped and said, “Can I ask what you majored in?” Yes you can, sir.  Incompetency and humiliation.
  • Don’t babble! ‘Nuff said.
  • Grow a pair-ask all the questions you want. When push came to shove, I couldn’t ask the one fairly innocuous question that would maybe lead to a job offer.

Your Liberal Arts Degree is Needed

23 Apr

I know your type. You feed off the thrill of inference and small, instructor-led discussion. You think you’re some kind of invincible God just because you have cursory understandings of Buddhism, classical literature, and introductory linguistics. Well listen up, cowboy. You make one false move up there, be it a clumsy thesis statement, poorly reasoned argument, or glib analysis, and your team is dead, along with this whole sorry planet.

Great article on liberal artists needed to save the world. Only issue? This isn’t a joke to me.

Guest Post: Just Ur Average

22 Apr

This is a guest post by Sophia T. She tweets @Just_urAverage with an ongoing list clearing-up what it means to be part of Generation Y (or Millenial, as I call it). She is from San Francisco. Her post below reflects many of the values of She helps give voice to this story and her advice is sound. Interested in writing a guest post like Sophia? sayhello at liberalart dot us. -Ryan

I’m not your average college grad. I’m ambitious in every sense of the word, but my ambitions have not caught up to my resume or potential employment opportunities. Let me back-track and introduce myself, my name is Sophia. I graduated in 2009 with a B.A in Political Science. Unlike other college grads, I actually had a resume. I worked on my college campus as a student office assistant for two years. I had a summer internship in Washington D.C. working for an association, for God-sakes – yet my job prospects were slim, zero, zilch!  Like most college grads, I moved back with my parents. I uploaded my resume on Monster. I went to temp agencies. I read the “how-to-get a job” books, the how-to-network books, and most of the self-help section. Yes, I even read The Secret. When I did get the occasional job interview, I was clobbered. I went home depressed, disappointed, and ultimately defeated.

My turning-point came at one particular job interview when I was asked, “What have you been doing for the past year?” I said, “Personal growth.” I came out of the interview and I was pissed, “How dare they ask me something like that?” But deep down inside, I knew being pissed wasn’t going to be the answer.

I created @Just_urAverage not because of angst, but as a proactive way to voice my concerns for my generation and our democracy. You are not alone. The way employers treat young grads and young people, in general – is unfair. Writing covers letters, perfecting resumes, and cold calling potential employers are not going to get you the job and here are 10 reasons why:

  1. While the “too big to fail banks”, ran to the government asking for a hand-out. We asked, “What do we need to do to land jobs in a recession?” Where is our bail-out? There is none. Period.
  2. There’s a big empty blackhole on my current resume. How do I put survived the Great Recession on my resume? You can’t.
  3. Having a mind and knowing how to use it should be a marketable skill – but it isn’t.
  4. Volunteer work doesn’t pay for food or bills or anything else a person needs to survive. (Non-paid internships fall under this too.)
  5. Thinking of how far behind I am from my peers – in terms of a career is enough to get me depressed every time.
  6. Online job boards like Craigslist and Monster are nothing, but a source of frustration especially during a recession. Frankly, it is not the way most people find jobs.
  7. You must have concrete examples on your resume showing you can an indispensable part of an organization. The problem is teachers teach students how to be proven followers, not proven leaders.
  8. You don’t like solicitors. I don’t like solicitors. Don’t tell us to be solicitors in our job searches.
  9. Don’t waste our time being nice to us at an interview – letting us think we got the job. Then waiting a week to tell us: “We decided to go with a different candidate.” It’s torture.
  10. A decent job for a college grad should not be a prerogative especially in the US. Skyrocketing increases in tuition, plummeting revenue for state colleges (budget cuts), knee-high student loan debts + no job prospects = unacceptable.

A lot of us think that we have no control over how things are done, but let me tell you: the best way to voice your mind is through the ballot. Having a Black man become the President of the United States should be enough proof that – WE have the power to enact changes that are seemingly impossible.