It’s not just the economy: Why U.S. job seekers get discouraged — Ofer Sharone

MIT Sloan Professor Ofer Sharone

MIT Sloan Professor Ofer Sharone

From Fortune

As the release of January’s jobs report will likely remind us on Friday, unemployment is a double whammy for white-collar American workers. In addition to experiencing financial stress, many unemployed workers end up fearing that something is deeply wrong with them.

I interviewed more than 170 white-collar job seekers in the U.S. and Israel between 2004-2006 and between 2011-2012 for my new book, Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences, and I was surprised by how many of the unemployed Americans confided that, in the course of their job searches, they had come to feel “flawed.” Israelis who had gone just as long without finding a job didn’t tend to blame themselves that way; they were convinced it was a flawed system that kept them unemployed. It didn’t seem likely to me that Americans were inherently more self-blaming than Israelis. Instead, my research revealed how the particular and peculiar process of American white-collar job searching — a process I call the “chemistry game” — renders the players vulnerable to a debilitating self-blame.

American white-collar job searching focuses a great deal on establishing rapport and interpersonal chemistry in the course of networking and interviewing. Chemistry, in turn, requires job seekers to present not only their skills, but also the self behind the skills. This means that when you are rejected for a job, it often feels like it’s not your qualifications that have been rejected — it’s you, personally.

It’s a whole different story in Israel. While American white-collar job searching involves a “chemistry game” that stresses intangibles such as rapport and fit, the Israeli version relies heavily on supposedly objective and definitely impersonal methods such as short screening interviews and pre-employment tests. This process is what I call the “specs game.” It rigidly focuses on credentials and on factors that are assumed to be proxies for skills or the lack thereof, such as age, gender, test scores, and gaps in one’s resume. Israeli job seekers often feel arbitrarily and impersonally excluded by tests and proxies that seem irrelevant either to the job or to their actual qualifications. So instead of blaming themselves for not having “what it takes,” Israelis blame the system for being blind to what they do have.

Read the full post at Fortune.

Ofer Sharone is the Mitsubishi Career Development Professor and an Assistant Professor in the Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER) at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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