Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why Looking for a Job is Fundamentally Demoralising


Looking for a job begets misery because job hunters face brutal free-market competition, the expected time until employment is constant even if a hunter has been unemployed for a long time, and getting a good job means turning down adequate jobs. Ultimately, I aim to encourage my fellow job seekers by helping them to understand their predicament more clearly so they take the bad aspects less personally.

Many people find that looking for a job is a long, frustrating process. No, duh. I'm not here to talk about the beaten-path reasons for why job hunting sucks, I want to convince you that job hunting is fundamentally demoralising. Why?

1) You are un-jacked from The Matrix. Welcome to the real world of free-market competition. At school, or in your last job, someone was telling you what to do so that you could add value to yourself. Now you have to show someone else how you can add value to them. You are truly master of your own destiny. You feel the full weight of your freedom, but also the opposing force of everyone else's freedom.

2) Finding a job can take forever. Think about it like this: you either have a job or you don't. Each day you actively look for a job, there's a chance you might get a ready-to-sign offer. That chance is the same, regardless of how long you've been looking. So the length of your periods unemployment are drawn from Poisson distribution. (A better model would be that they're fractally distributed; read about Black Swan theory.) This has horrible psychological implications because you seem to be making no progress while facing a constant flow of rejection. But, while we're breaking illusions, the rejection is not personal. Employers aren't looking to objectively evaluate prospective employees, they're just trying to find ones that they like without doing much work themselves. Read Paul Graham's essay on judgement.

3) Getting a good job requires reckless bravery. Different job offers have different values to you. You're probably looking for more value than a job at McDonalds, so you might reject some jobs. Some of those jobs would be good enough. But you're trying to do what you love
not just survive. Read Paul Graham's essay on doing what you love. So you have to voluntarily stay unemployed until you get that amazing job offer that you can't refuse. It takes guts to do that.

Misery is in the very essence of the job hunt process. Once you realise that, hopefully you will view your search in a different light. You're not a loser, you're just facing self-interested employers in the free market. Don't give up, you get out of the unemployment rut not by searching for a fixed time but by getting just one lucky break. Be brave, you might just have to turn down an offer. To get practical help on finding a job, read the excellent book by Richard Bolles, "What Colour is Your Parachute?" 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This (job hunting) is fundamentally what a sales person does every day. All the same forces and at play (perhaps the first item is unique to a fresh grad looking).

Try getting a sales job and learning how to sell and you might get insight into how to job hunt effectively.

Historically engineers have trouble with that and sales people do not. I could encourage all engineers to try sales - it can be a way of life :)


Peter Raffensperger said...

Nate, yes and thanks for your thoughts. Indeed, salespeople are usually exposed to the cutting edge of competitive pressure. Also consultants are continuously job hunting.

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