"When an $8-an-hour HR intern doesn't return your e-mails, you start to think: Was I a good programmer? Was I a good strategist? Was I a good operations manager," says Jason Alba, the founder of the JibberJobber career management software and blog, who was unemployed four years ago. "I remember questioning everything, all the things I had brought to the table."
Confidence sells. When you go into a job interview, you have to radiate confidence, speak in an informed, but not so informed as to be threatening manner. It doesn't hurt if the employer is a friend of the family or if you're a pretty face, either.
But losing a job is like losing a limb - a significant part of your identity is gone. If you've never had a job and you see others landing them, the why doesn't matter - better connections, better extra-curriculars that they could afford or simple bluster - doesn't matter. It's never why they're getting ahead, it's what's wrong with you. Just as it takes therapy and a support structure to fully recover from a significant wound, it take support to get back on track after losing work.
Making it a bit of a repetitive cycle, really; it doesn't matter where you come from, if you lose a job you step way down on the self- and social-respect ladder, making it that much harder to get ahead. Meanwhile, those with confidence, connections or a great body and smile will make the cut, whether those branding pieces match up with skills or not.
Are we, as a society, serious about success in the Knowledge Economy? Does that involved out-of-the-box thinking, the ability and drive to keep checking assumptions to make sure nothing has been missed and maybe trying out value-add ideas that need some breathing room before they gain their full flavour?
Not really. We like to tell ourselves we are, but the evidence doesn't support this. We want simple solutions, quick fixes and message-point communications. Anything resembling creativity implies uncertainty; the people most likely to come up with the bold, innovative approaches or ensure big messes don't get missed are the ones least like to come off well in a job interview.
There is, of course, a solution to this problem, but it's a complex one that involves changing the education dynamic, revisiting traditional assumptions about training and rethinking the way we design and support work.
Better stick to the devil we know, right? Isn't the devil always in those details we keep telling ourselves we don't have time for?
It's a burning platform, folks - the longer we keep to a reactionary single-focus, the less room to maneuver we'll have when that platform caves in.
Key take-away - altruism is selfishness that plans ahead. It's time we start planning.