Wednesday, February 19, 2014
How not to say what kind of job you're looking for
What I've been up to
No luck in the job hunt over here. I've gotten pretty used to unemployment. In Germany I was just screwed because almost all of the sort of jobs I could have done really needed someone fluent in German to perform them. We survived fine on one income, so, spoiled, I never felt pressured to take a job outside my field in order to keep afloat. We've been surviving fine here so far, too, although I've been looking because I'm still telling myself I might have a chance at a job in my field here, now that I speak the language well enough. Also, we haven't been surviving quite as well as in Germany. I don't know where the extra money is going but there have been more expenses somehow. We are still fine but I'd like a bigger cushion.
Anyway, a friend of mine helped me get a temporary (aka casual) job as an administrative assistant where she works. As an extra bonus, the place has lots of jobs relevant to my field, some of which I've unsuccessfully applied for. We thought that if I just took this temporary position and met a few of the right people, they'd remember my name the next time I applied for something there and I might have a better shot. Plus hey, income.
The temporary position is meant to a fill the gap someone left until they hire a permanent new someone to take it. I could have applied to be the permanent new someone. The deadline for it was yesterday. I hemmed and hawed a bit, but I didn't apply. It's not what I'm looking for and I'm still being optimistic - I don't want to take that job and have them fully train me up, only to bail on them quickly thereafter when I find what I'm looking for. Maybe that was an ignorant decision, I don't know, but it's too late now.
This morning as I was pouring everyone's tea, one of the other administrative staff asked me if I'd applied for the position. I felt straight away I might be in trouble, and that the only good answer might be yes, but somehow I still managed to find the worst thing to say.
Prepare to cringe.
Fellow Staff Member: "So, did you apply for the position?"
Me: "No, I didn't."
Fellow Staff Member: "Why not?"
Me: "Well, it's not really what I'm looking for, and if I were to get the position I wouldn't want to have you guys train me and everything only to run off and leave you hanging when I found something else."
Fellow Staff Member: "Oh, all this time we've never even asked you about what you do or your hopes and dreams! What kind of job are you looking for?"
Me: "Well, I have a master's degree in epidemiology..." (Trailing off because the answer in my brain - explained below - is so long I'm not sure where to go with it next.)
Fellow Staff Member: "OH, MY GOODNESS! YOU MUST BE SO BORED SITTING DOWN HERE IN ADMIN!! THIS MUST BE SO BORING FOR YOU!" etc and etc onward. Followed by overhearing snarky cracks later in the day about people with degrees being too good and all that. Now, the British will keep you from taking yourself too seriously every second, and thank goodness for that, but there are times when it crosses the line from a bit of ribbing to some genuine chip-on-shoulder action, and I felt I drove this person to go to that level with my hideously poor answer.
What my answer meant to me
"Well, let's see, I don't know what the hell I'm looking for. I am afraid that if I leave my field I'll never get back into it. But I don't know what is possible to get in my field in this country, given that I have only a master's degree in epidemiology, on which I spent time and money. Although I could get a research job in Germany with this degree or a public health job in the US with it, here I can't figure it out. I can't find public health jobs listed at all. All the research jobs require a PhD, which I don't have. And if I say I'm an epidemiologist in answer to this question, people will think I'm a researcher, but I don't think I can be a researcher here, so I don't want to give them false ideas. That's what happened when I first came and everyone thought I was going to be this awesome useful biostatistician that would come work with this guy they know who really needs one. I don't want to go into a detailed job history although I guess that would explain pretty well the kind of jobs I'd like. Well maybe if I just say what I studied and to what level - so they won't mistake me for a PhD - someone here will know what you can do with that, like their niece or neighbour or someone has that and does something particular I could try, this is one of those countries where job possibilities are really narrow based on degree, right? Help??"
What my answer meant to her
"I have a master's degree so I am too good to work with you."
That totally didn't occur to me at the time and to make this whole thing even cringe-ier I've been using that answer ever since the early days when "I'm an epidemiologist" raised people's expectations too high. So who knows how many people think I'm some pompous jackass trying to flash a degree around? Because of D's work, a master's usually identifies me as a regular old person, a non-academic in a sea of PhDs. And now it's identified me as an insufferable snob.
What I should have said
"Something more data-y." Any other good ideas?