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Ted Margalis
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Ted Margalis

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So much career advice I receive is something along the lines of "You need to network more".  Allow me to try to explain why that is not helpful to me, or anyone in my position.

1) I have insufficient social skills.  
Sure, I can hold a conversation just fine, but I don't know how to properly read a situation, or the appropriate amount of information to convey, or how to make an impression.  These skills are necessary in networking, and if you don't have them you will not be able to get what you want out of your social interactions.  That is not to say that it is impossible to learn them, but that would require lots of time and a devoted mentor and teacher, none of which I have (remember that I don't have income?)

2) I have no career.
I have never had a full time job.  Before leaving grad school, the only time I spent outside of academia was a year between undergraduate and graduate studies.  All of my professional contacts are professors, or former bosses or classmates who don't care for my plight and/or couldn't help even if they wanted to.
I don't know how to describe what I've done in layman's terms because I've never had to.  I can talk about specific projects, but unless you're in the field, you won't understand any of it, or simply don't have time to get into the details.  This is a problem a lot of people face when starting their career, but most people don't proceed to long-term unemployment immediately after getting out of school.

3) I have no direction.
I hope this doesn't happen to any of you, but there is a point you reach when unemployed for long enough when you stop caring about HOW to make a living and you just want to make some freaking money.  It might come when you realize you don't have enough saved up to pay for rent, bills, and food for another winter; it might be when you get your third rejection after interviewing for a position for which you were a perfect candidate; it might be after you hear that a company who interviewed you multiple times "decided not to add the position" you were supposed to fill; but if you're unemployed for long enough, you will reach that point.  The problem is that all anyone wants to hear is what kind of work you are looking for.  This is actually a two-fold problem.  
(i) The whole ecosystem of networking is based on one simple principle – connecting a job seeker with an employer looking to hire someone to do a specific task.  If you are not looking to do a specific task, how can anyone help you?  Even if you hook them, and they are interested and genuinely want to help, what can they do for someone who doesn't know what they want?  If they are really kind, they might connect you with someone who they think could help you.  But this leads to the second part of the problem.
(ii) No one will hire someone who doesn't want to work for them, with a specific position in mind, with EVERY FIBER OF THEIR BEING.  If your answer to "Why do you want this job?" is "I didn't pay my heating bill last month and now I have to wear snow pants and my warmest coat in my own apartment.", then you are wasting your time even applying.  No one wants an employee who is just doing the job for a paycheck, regardless of whether this person could do the work in their sleep.
That is why I hope none of you reach this point.  Because once you realize that everyone is really only working for a paycheck but anyone who says it out loud gets fired and shunned, you start to question the whole process, and then you have to become a professional actor for every single interview.

These issues all intertwine to make a nice long-term unemployment basket.  Even if I had the social awareness to make effective impressions, I would get nowhere without any direction.  Even if I knew exactly what I wanted, I would get nowhere without being able to convince people and/or having connections to help me out.  Even when I do get a good lead, I can't get the job because I am overqualified, underqualified, or just don't make the right impression.  Perhaps I should stop letting them ink my hands.
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