As the current legions of school-leavers filter out into the wide world with dreams to fulfill and ambitions to pursue, it’s an unfortunate fact of life that the more efficient the world becomes, the fewer people it needs to employ. It’s a subject that has been bothering people since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.
I recently spoke to a former telecommunications engineer who retrained as a bomb disposal officer and now works in the devastated trouble spots of the world. His life, from Kosovo to Libya to Gaza and soon to Syria, now revolves around defusing or safely detonating devices designed to kill and maim, and which are still capable of doing that to him and his colleagues.
When asked what satisfaction he got from his new role, the first thing that came to mind was this:. “It’s very hard for my family as I’m away a lot but I’m thankful for being employed…”.
There are now very few places in the world where most people can take working for granted. Although where you live may be more fortunate in this respect than many countries, try telling that to the small percentage (5.4% in the UK, 5.5% in the US) who can’t get a job. In Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean, the accepted image is of some sort of paradise with sun and beautiful beaches, but a conservative estimate of the unemployment situation is a frightening 25 per cent.
The world of job-seeking is changing all the time, and employers are trying to be smart. As the number of applicants per vacancy grows, so does the need to be selective, and that means applications are often pre-screened, not by anyone at management level but by a member of the administrative staff who has a simple list of criteria to work from.
The days of being able to get an interview and then charm your way through it are over. Now it’s facts and figures that matter to the exclusion of all else. So the people working their way through the deluge of applications aren’t looking at how you’ve written the covering letter, they’re looking at the fact that you haven’t got this qualification – in the bin – or that bit of experience – out you go.
Age comes into it too. The world is very aware of the problem of youth unemployment, but that doesn’t stop the Catch 22 situation: you can’t come in because you haven’t got the experience, and you can’t gain the experience because they won’t give you a chance.
At the other end of the scale, while being over 50 has yet to be declared a crime, it is considered deeply unattractive. You’ve got the experience, yes, but you’re also going to expect a decent salary, and if the company is loaded with younger people, how is it going to work if you’re old enough to be the father or mother of your line manager? Possibly not a problem, but, employers think, it just might be.
The employment agencies will often give advice on how to prepare your CV and what personal attributes you have to claim, and what that means is that every application in the world includes the words ‘team player’, ‘initiative’ and ‘innovative’. It doesn’t mean that any of those things are part of the applicant’s make-up. It’s just what we’re told employers want to hear.
All of this sounds rather negative, perhaps, but it isn’t – it’s realistic. It’s up to the individual to be positive and keep being positive in the face of rejection – but even rejection is not what it was.
Many employers nowadays don’t even grant unsuccessful applicants the courtesy of telling them they’re not getting an interview. They inform the lucky winners and ignore the rest.
So keep smiling, all you job-seekers young and (relatively) old. Good luck and don’t let the bastards grind you down.