The social dimension of job applications


I have been recently getting into the shocking and yet philosophically interesting process of ‘getting a touch and feel’ of the market place.

The experience I had, after many years of being in a very niche market where fights and competitions are fought with a pen like Cyrano de Bergerac, was disastrous. I had already understood the relevance of the ‘network’ when looking for a job position in academia and although disappointing, it is understandable. What is of difficult understanding is the social dimension of finding a job in the UK nowadays.

 

Good luck applying.

 

The procedure is of an extreme length. Since the number of CVs has increased due to a ongoing and well hidden crisis, each recruitment agency asks to register, add personal information, add job experience and, what is most striking, any ‘affiliation’. Then cover letter, CV and any other documents. But. It is not finished. A little window shows up in many cases (and I have to be honest, academia is the same) where four closed questions are asked: do you have a website? Do you have a LinkedIn account? Do you have a Facebook account? Do you have a Twitter account? The answer is YES or NO. the implications are many. As Deleuze and Guattari argued with regards of anorexia, finding a job today is not only a personal problem, it is a ‘psychological’ but it is also social, ethical and philosophical. (Ian Buchanan on Deleuze and Guattari’s body).

 

Economic Scarcity

 

Scarcity is an economic concept. It is associated to deprivation the the old good fart of ‘opportunity cost’. It is a condition that gives way to the creative process of generation. Production. Then, a long Quesnayian circle seems to be established: I produce, you are interested in what I produce, you have something I can be interested in, we exchange. I have an opportunity cost, you have your own opportunity cost, we fulfill our needs and we generate happiness. Seriously. Happiness is an economic concept too.

Scarcity has been used as a pawn for the justifications of capitalism. Scarcity is also a concept that can be applied to the current job situation, especially in relation to what I would address as the “social dimension of finding a job”. The need to have a social space to support a job application is intrusive of any privacy and although it might be easier for employers and recruitment agents to check their potential employees on LinkedIn and read through CTRL+F rather than spending 15 minutes of their lives to ‘analogically’ read a CV (and it is obvious the reference to Carr’s question on whether Google is making us stupid), it raises questions of privacy, accessibility, and psychological slavery. Most importantly, it represents a potential cost-opportunity for an overall system of production. I will explain each of these points telling stories about my friends, interesting people.

 

 

 

 

Scarcity: fees increases and job competition

 

Education in the UK (welcome to Europe) has been suffering tremendously, especially for students. Fees have gone up, modules and courses have been changed, adjusted, chucked altogether and the class division is very much in your face. Lecturing becomes more than ever a challenge for many reasons. The justification to the increase is an unknown decision to cut funds to education, adopt a managerial mind-set that sees academic work as a ‘productive machine’ that has a cost. And I agree. Academia is a massive economy. Anti-capitalist rhetoric aside, running a university is not much different from running a business. Especially if the business we are dealing with is made of intellectuals (or so!) who constantly apply,  are upgraded, promoted and funded.

Students’ fees have gone up, there is a scarcity of support from the government. Students will have to pay more to access higher education. This will create a very lucrative economic circle built on debt, which will make the US look like a debt-free country compared to us. This will create further scarcity of savings. But this is another story.  Once the student enters the market place, there will be a stigma: what university did you come from? Future job applicants will be told that competition is fierce. And it is fierce cause of the European Union and the tons of brilliant and competitive students that come from a ‘Continental’ education. So, in order to get a job you will be invited to be as competitive. Although there isn’t a scarcity of jobs, there is a surplus of applications for the same job.

I have seen a very bright student of mine opening a LinkedIn account and update it with every single activity she does: photography, event management, exec for a small digital agency. Every time there is a little window that pops up and asks me to congratulate with her for her new job. Competition is fierce, I may just want to open a LinkedIn account and show off.

 

Scarcity: Competition, being noticed and issues with privacy and accessibility

 

I have a friend we call “Treccani”, which is the Italian Encyclopedia. Made of more than 30 huge volumes, the Treccani tells you everything. My friend is a living Treccani. He has bad luck with jobs. He applied to everything. Never got a single job he wanted. Always surviving thanks to his many skills. He is a genius with no Facebook; a fake twitter account and rejects any possibilities to activate a LinkedIn account due to his many interests and many different jobs in many different places of the world. He is now applying for academic and non-academic positions but in 20% (for now) of the cases, he cannot proceed with his applications because he is not ‘socially connected’, or, as he says in French, he is not ‘a social media whore’. He has no access to the job application; has no way of circumventing the social media slavery step and apply for the job he wants. Even if he did, I would question whether his being a non-2.0 fan would penalize his applications, compared to a fond user of the 2.0 platforms that records every single paper published (or to be published), has connections, followers and follows, and has interesting and central actors in his/her circle. This could open the doors to mapping the social connections in relation to centrality and prestige but this is not the point.

 

  Psychological “fractional-Slavery”

 

 Tiziana Terranova wrote about the new digital world as a new system of slavery in terms of content production. She argued that blogs, forums and any forms of content produced online feeds back into capitalism and lucrative practices. I have never really agreed with her positions especially because she never really analysed the reason that brings somebody to produce content. The Deluzo-Guattarian concept of the body would become handy here but I will not delve into this. I would be more inclined in reflecting on a deeper element: the performativity of the data sets. Still looking at the job market and, for this reason, to LinkedIn, I would argue that it is not so much about voluntary slavery in terms of content production; it is psychological fractional-slavery in terms of giving away, fully voluntarily, privacy data.

In 2.0 technical terms, a fractional update is a tiny, small update of a pre-existing software. Fractional updates range from add-ons to “status updates” on Facebook. Whereas up until 2009 people would still argue on the utility of telling your Fb friends that you are going to the gym and feeling great, today it seems normal; if looking for a job, it is also considered sociable and, hence, more attractive to potential employers (really? I hope not. I m theorizing here). Actually, if you update your status adding the map of your local gym, tag one of your mates and ‘@’ somebody…it cleary shows how digital-literate you are. Doesn’t matter youhave no idea of the APIs for google map and Virgin Active, doesn’t matter you have no idea how tagging works and what it implies…you ve done it. You re 2.0literate or, more simplistically, you’re giving away information.

Now, let’s move to LinkedIn. LinkedIn has a profile picture, which you better add if you want to avoid the daily emails “Chiara, you haven’t uploaded a picture of you! Do it now and be recognizable!” Hell, that is stalking! Then you put your current and past job positions. Before that, please give a statement. Sure, copy and paste from your CV. And to this point, it is OK. If you choose to be on LinkedIn is because you think somebody may notice you and you could create a network of acquaintances, which you really don t know but…who knows. What happens when even LinkedIn starts pushing you because you are not a fractional-updater? Disaster. Every day you receive an email with your connections sharing articles, posts, interesting questions, new affiliations, new groups etc… this is creating a massive Mundaneum. If the first one was a failure due to space constraints, I believe this new one is going to be the realization of Bentham’s dream! With an addition: a “please tower: notice me!”. So it is not just a disciplinary society that we are building; it is something I cannot even term nor defined.

 

 

Scarcity and production (lack of)

My best friend is very business-oriented. She keeps telling me that “her LinkedIn profile” is updated weekly. And it really is. If you type her name on Google, she shows up on Twitter, FB, LinkedIn other specific platforms I will not disclose. So, I ask myself a very simple question.  if I am spending 20% of my weekly time finding new interesting and potentially useful connections, 20% of my time updating my LinkedIn profile and, let’s say, 20% of my time updating my status (although I may have Atomkeep on my deck that reduces my time to 10%). Add another 10% of my time looking for interesting articles to share. And, let’s be honest, an additional 5% of my time peeping others’ (especially colleagues we dislike) profiles, we have invested (or wasted) between 65% and 75% of our week-time in social activities just on LinkedIn. Add the Facebook and Twitter time (replies, #, @, comments, retweet –although random and not pondered at all). That would mean that on average I spend between 13% and 15% of my working day (assuming I only work the usual 5 days a week) doing this.

I am not sure fractional updates are made in the evening while watching east-enders, Hollyoaks or Channel Four special reports on something intellectual. So…what are the cost-opportunities for production? And If I do this at lunchtime, what is the cost opportunity of my mental health?

 I leave this to recruiters who are insistently asking poor people to be more active on social networking sites.

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