On finding the “right” job and applying for it boldly and bravely…
I don’t think I have ever applied for a job that I was truly excited about. I don’t think that’s uncommon, right? But, it’s a fact that I have never actually taken the time to consider until recently.
This isn’t to say that I have never been super eager to get the jobs that I’ve had. But, the thrill was limited to the fact that it is always a relief to be employed and to know that you can pay rent and bills and afford to go out for a drink every once in a while. Unemployment is stressful, and the job-hunt can be exhausting and dejecting.
When I say I’ve never been excited about a job I’ve applied for, I’ve never felt, “Wow, I am genuinely interested in the type of work offered here.” I could never muster up a cover letter or interview points that didn’t feel a little artificial. Again, this isn’t so uncommon. We all grow up, want to be self-sufficient and earn money so we take an offer that seems decent. I know some people who have such incredibly valuable skills that they’ve been able to be very choosey in their post-graduate paths, but they are rare and mostly in finance.
Still, some of my more competitive cohorts dove right into a skilled, tailored job market right after their undergraduate years. When I think about why I never bothered to do such a thing, a few points come to mind.
First of all, I didn’t believe I had the necessary skills to apply for more competitive, skilled jobs, so I stuck to what I had experience in–healthcare, clerical work, and the like.
Secondly, when I was working for my history degree, a majority of people outside academia always seemed to subtly imply that history was a silly thing to study and that I had doomed myself to unemployment by choosing it. They would get strange looks on their faces and ask with thinly veiled disdain, “What are you going to do with that?” Or worse, they would shrug and say, “Oh, you’re going to be a teacher?” Fuck. That. NO. Teaching is an extremely admirable profession, but I am in no way cut out for it.
BY THE WAY, studying history as an undergrad is not a complete waste of time. It sharpened extremely important skills, such as researching properly and backing claims substantially and ethically, as well as forming arguments coherently, reading carefully, writing compellingly, and doing all of this with great attention to detail.
The only thing I would have done differently to get a better edge, which I can actually still do, is focus more in computer science and programing alongside my history studies. I would be unstoppable!! Haha maybe not…but maybe.
Also, don’t make assumptions and assign me a career path (“teacher”) because of a lack of imagination, ok?
The third reason I probably never searched for a job relevant to my interests before is because I had no freaking idea what the hell my interests were! I know I loved reading and writing and thinking. But those are very general pastimes that generally don’t rake in the dough. I couldn’t just graduate from school and go out into the world and say, “Hey, I’m gonna read this book and write about it,” and then hold my palms up to the sky waiting for cash.
So what job could I possibly be happy in? No idea. It caused me a lot of anxiety. I felt as though I was wasting each day in a state of confusion trying to figure out what I wanted. Meanwhile the clock ticks, ticks, ticks. I still feel that way, actually. I had been mistaken my entire life when I thought I would go to college and graduate with a sense of direction. To be honest, I felt more confident about my future and my direction when I was in high school than when I was in college.
Leaving college was like free fall. A terrifying free fall. Many of us spent our entire lives in school and then went straight to college full time. Not all of us, but many of us. And so, when it was all done, the familiar pattern of school–the only pattern I’d ever known–was suddenly jerked away. It’s no wonder I was so scared and disoriented. You know those dizzy races where you put your forehead on a baseball bat and spin around for a while then then start running? It felt kind of like I had been spinning on a bat for 17 years or so, and then suddenly stopped and tried to run towards an ill-defined finish line.
The job application process has always slightly distressed me because of how fake it always felt. Writing resumes and cover letters always felt in some ways like I was manipulating truths and rearranging cliches, and it has always given me a feeling of unease. When applying for those entry-level clerical positions at companies that were irrelevant to my interests, I have to pretend like it’s been my dream all long. This isn’t to say that I’m completely full of shit when I apply and interview, but I do feel like I’m losing a part of myself in the whole process. However, I have been able to land jobs with decent wages, paid time off and health insurance, all of which are incredibly awesome perks.
How refreshing it would be to be as open, honest and creative as possible! This all made me think about Hunter S. Thompson’s prolific cover letter that he wrote to the Vancouver Sun in 1958. This was pre-fame Thompson. It is truly a lesson in arrogance and honesty:
TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN
October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City
I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.
Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.
By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.
I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)
Nothing beats having good references.
Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers.If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.
The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.
Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.
I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.
I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.
If you think you can use me, drop me a line.
If not, good luck anyway.
Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson
Have you ever hear of Joey Comeau’s book Overqualified? It’s a compilation of cover letters he wrote and actually sent to various businesses including Wal-Mart, Gillette and RAND. They grow increasingly more absurd and, in some cases, threatening. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. They’re great reads.
In the spirit of that, I decided to write my own honest cover letter to a major company. I chose BlackRock. I’m not sure I’m actually going to send it, but it’s a nice thought, anyway. It was strangely cathartic to write:
Re: Money Lover for Hire
I would like to begin by thanking you for taking the time to review my cover letter and resume. I am profoundly interested in obtaining a position at your legendary company. You may have met my application with some reservations as I do not possess as much practical experience as many, if not all, of your fine, hard-working employees. In truth, I have none. However, I am highly resourceful and creative, and I learn as fast a jackrabbit on hot asphalt in the boiling desert sun. Furthermore, would it not benefit you to hire someone who is a blank slate, someone you can build from the bottom up, your very own creation serving to your exact specifications?
One thing I do have in common with you brilliant, market-stoked careerists is a love for money. I love it so much that the intensity of my longing for it borders on desperation. At first glance, it might appear that I understand nothing about investing or what a hedge fund actually is, but allow me to assuage that fear and assure you that I am extremely cunning and capable. Even more than cunning, I am motivated. I know how to shuffle money around. It’s like raking leaves around a yard on a blustery autumn afternoon. You put it into neat little piles, sometimes a gust of wind comes and blows it around, but you get a rake and pull it right back in, add to a mound. You kick it around, jump in the piles, roll around in them like an enraptured child. Watch it regenerate and fall from the sky in swaths. Rake it in again. Then you take that giant, glorious pile and burn it. That’s basically it, right?
Of course that takes time and commitment, which is why it is beneficial that I do not have a life outside of constantly wishing I had more money. So in that sense, I am an asset and prepared to dedicate all of my time to this quest. I pretty much do that already.
I do believe that I could offer some new perspectives in the company. I think outside the box, dance on the vanguard. In turn, I am able to offer creative ideas that at first may seem strange or even dangerous, but the pay-offs are so, so sweet. For instance, one idea I have for BlackRock would be to form a subsidiary that we could call CrackRock Investment Management. I don’t think I need to elaborate too much on what these investments might entail. It should also go without saying how high the return would be. There is already a solid consumer base that could be expanded rapidly and exponentially if approached the right way. I would even go so far as to say that if we don’t conquer this market first, you bet that someone else will. Sure, it may be high risk. But that’s why the return is so enormous.
Again, I appreciate the time you have spent reviewing my resume and cover letter. I think I am a good fit and I have a lot to offer. Living in my parents’ basement is alright for now, but I don’t want to do it forever so I need to start earning a comfortable if not outstanding living. I love pulling all-nighters. I love never leaving the place where I eat and sleep (in this case, the office), especially when it’s winter and cold. I love having, keeping, growing money—something I have in common with all BlackRock employees and their clients. Hire me and I’ll toss money into the air like confetti as joyously as the next guy on your team. Maybe even more emphatically.
I reek of success.
What do you think?