the job market

So I asked hime what would you say are your weaknesses?

I’m talking about the ones I know, like daughter Ruth, son-in-law Ben, their circle of friends, and a handful of nieces and nephews, who are all 30 or thereabouts and, I suppose, officially grown-ups, but, in any case, they flabbergast me.

Ben, a cellist, teaches music in a charter school, gives private lessons, takes classes at Georgia State for his official K-12 teaching certificate, and performs several nights a week with a number of different alt-rock-jazz bands. A pack mule would collapse after half a day under his burden.

Ruthie, as I write, is giving a “job talk” at a distinguished university. Tomorrow she gives a lecture, and around those two highlight events is a packed schedule of meals and meetings with important names and faces. This is the two-day culmination of a process that began with the standard (book-length) written application and proceeded to a Skype interview. I’m sure she’s delighted to be among the final candidates to have made it this far, but, jeez, a job talk? Apparently she has 40 minutes to elucidate her scholarly interests and ambitions, her teaching experience and philosophy, and her credentials as a servant to the greater good, and then demonstrate how perfectly these qualifications mesh with the academic department’s current needs and goals as well as with the university’s idealized vision of itself. Of course this “talk” is delivered to a number of exalted excellencies, none of whom she knew before her arrival on campus.

When Dede applied for her job in the English Department of Kennesaw College (now KSU) 30-odd years ago, she had an interview with an assistant dean who glanced over the application she had sent in and said, “Well, this all looks fine, hon. Just pick up your fall teaching schedule from your department secretary and we’re good to go.” Or something like that.

The one get-dressed-and-go-to-the-office job I ever had required no application, no interview. I got a phone call with the job offer. True, the person offering me the job knew me personally, knew of my at-that-moment desperate circumstances, and realized, shrewdly, that in my mind the real-job-sounding title “associate editor” would outweigh a pay package that had INTERN stamped all over it. I was 40, by the way.

I needed the job because a long-running freelance gig (writing up market research reports from transcribed focus group interviews—I swear) had at last played itself out. I got the call from my boss early one morning, Dede and I still at the breakfast table. The recent relocation to Miami had been expensive, business was stagnant, blah, blah, blah. Upshot: she needed to move the work I did in-house. We had become friends, so it wasn’t easy for her, but I was grinning like a kid on the Friday-afternoon school bus. There may be a job out there that you don’t eventually get sick of, but this wasn’t it. Dede had no idea what was making me so giddy, until I covered the mouthpiece and whispered rapturously, “Teresa is firing me!”

That was the good news. The bad news was that I was now—and seriously—on the job market. With, I might add, few prospects. All those mornings I spent hunched over the want ads, answering anything that made even the remotest reference to the word “writer.” I got zero, zilch, nada. A month. Several months. Then one day I was called to interview for a job as a “technical writer.” Okaaaay! Here I come, y’all, and I’m looking good! Did I first take a moment to acquaint myself with the duties and skills of a technical writer, or even the basic job description of same? No. My ignorance remained complete when I sat for the interview and was asked to elaborate on my credentials for the position. I replied—no doubt with a bit of a hitch in the old eyebrow—“Well, I mean, what is technical writing? After all, it’s writing, isn’t it?” Mercifully, the publishing company called not too long after that.

Oops. Sorry for the bumpy ride along my career path. Point is: the kids today are a lot smarter than I was. Which is a good thing. We wouldn’t want Ruthie beginning her job talk by saying, “Well, just what is an assistant professor?”

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John Yow

John Yow

John Yow has written two books about birds, both published by UNC Press: The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds (2009) and The Armchair Birder Goes Coastal: The Secret Lives of Birds of the Southeastern Shore (2012). His blog, "From Pumpkinvine Creek" ( is generally concerned with the fate that awaits birds and all other species if we don't stop trashing the planet. Yow and his wife Dede live in the woods in northeast Paulding County.